Maintaining a solid pace while backpacking is essential if you want to make it to your campsite at the end of the day before dark. But what is a good pace for backpacking, you might ask?
A good pace for most backpackers is about 2 to 3 miles per hour. This is a good speed if you’re looking to cover about 5 to 10 miles a day. If you’re carrying a very heavy pack or you’re hiking off-trail, you might not be able to walk faster than 1 to 2 mph. Ultralight backpackers, on the other hand, can often maintain a pace of 4 to 5 mph. So, make sure to factor in your terrain and pack weight when calculating distances.
There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to walking speed on a backpacking trip as it’s important that you maintain a pace that’s comfortable for you.
However, it’s nice to know what a good backpacking pace is so you can better plan your trips into the mountains. In this article, we’ll discuss what average and fast paces are for backpacking so you have the knowledge you need to make the most of your time outside.
What is the Average Backpacking Speed?
The average backpacking speed is about 2 to 3 mph, so this is what most people are referring to when they talk about setting a “good pace for backpacking.” While 2 to 3 mph might sound slow for those of us accustomed to zooming down roads at 70 mph in our cars, the reality is that this is the pace that most people normally hike at on a trail.
This is slightly slower than the average pace that many people maintain when walking on flat ground (that’s around 3 to 4 mph). But it’s worth remembering that carrying a heavy pack and walking uphill can be quite tiring, so most backpackers tend to hike slower on trails than they would on a paved sidewalk.
Also keep in mind that everybody walks at a different pace and you shouldn’t feel pressured to hike at a certain speed just because it’s what other people are doing. Your walking speed is determined by a range of factors, including your age, fitness levels, and physical characteristics, so what’s comfortable for you pace-wise might not be the same as what’s best for someone else.
Additionally, 2 to 3 miles is considered the “average” backpacking speed if you’re carrying a modest amount of weight and if you’re hiking on-trail at a reasonable elevation. Backpacking off-trail, at high elevations, and with a very heavy or very light pack can all affect your hiking speed.
What is Considered a Fast Hiking Pace?
A fast hiking pace is about 4 to 5 mph. Most experienced hikers can hike at 4 mph, but maintaining that speed over a long distance—especially if you’re carrying a backpack or walking up a steep slope—is very challenging.
Relatively few people can hike at a pace of 5 mph and those that can are often either day hikers or ultra lightweight backpackers. Maintaining a 5 mph pace is super difficult, so it’s something that speed hikers tend to work up to over time.
If you start “hiking” at a pace that’s faster than about 6 mph, you’re probably running, not walking. In this situation, your adventure might be better classified as a trail run, not a hike, but it all depends on your personal trekking style.
How Many Miles a Day Should I Go While Backpacking?
Most backpackers cover approximately 5 to 10 miles per day on the trail, so striving for a daily hiking distance within this range is normally ideal if you want a mix of activity and in-camp downtime during your trip.
But there are many backpackers who hike much more than 10 miles in a day and many others who prefer to walk around 3 to 5 miles. Neither of these distances is inherently better than the other as it all depends on what you want to get out of your backpacking experience.
For example, a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail might strive to hike 20 or 30 miles in a day. That’s a whole lot of hiking for a short backpacking trip, but when you consider that thru-hikers are often trying to complete trails that are 3,000+ miles long, lengthy days like that are just a part of the challenge.
On the other hand, new backpackers or anyone that’s simply looking for a more relaxing outing might not want to walk more than 3 to 5 miles. If your favorite part about backpacking is hanging around at a beautiful campsite and cooking gourmet food, then you might not want to tackle more than a few miles each day.
Additionally, even backpackers that would like to hike more than about 10 miles a day might find that doing so is difficult, if not impossible, due to the challenges they face during their expedition.
Think about it: If you have to deal with extensive off-trail navigation, technical river crossings, or large boulder fields during your trip, your hiking pace will probably be slower and your total daily distance covered will likely be shorter than someone who’s following a very well-maintained path in a forest.
All this is to say that you should plan your backpacking itineraries based on how much you’d like to walk each day—not based on how much you should walk. You may need to walk more or less than you’d like in a given day depending on campsite availability, but your personal hiking style should be at the forefront of your route planning strategy whenever possible.
Remember: Backpacking is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Keen backpackers love to chat about hiking paces and many people find that their trekking speed is a point of pride on the trail.
But at the end of the day, every backpacker and every backpacking trip is different. The average backpacking pace might be about 2 to 3 mph, but if you want to walk faster or slower than this speed, then power to you.
As the late climbing legend Alex Lowe once said, “the best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.” So regardless of what speed you choose to hike at, make sure it’s something that supports your personal adventure style. See you on the trail!
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.