In this post I want to take a look at how you can use the typical average speed walking or hiking To estimate how long your planned hike will take. Before going into that in more detail I want to give some quick background on how this came to my mind for a post.
I was taking part in a hike recently and the usual pre-hike questions were in full flow. The detail of this hike was shared with everyone in advance as normal. Typically this includes things like meeting point, start time, distance and so on.
How to Estimate Hike Duration
One question came in from one of the hikers inquiring as to what time the hike would finish at. A comment was made, in jest, that as the starting time was clearly given, it should be easy for them to work out the duration from that based on the other factors that were also listed, including distance. A conversation then ensued about how to
judge the average length of time for a hike.
I knew what it would be myself but was a little surprised to see that quite a few folks couldn’t make a reasonable estimation off the top of their heads so thought it might be useful to add a brief post on estimating the duration of your hike when planning out your route. It’s a useful and simple enough piece of knowledge that’s not hard to remember or apply.
As an aside, estimating the time duration of your hike should be a standard part of mapping out your hike in a ‘route card’ before you set out on a hike. Completing a formal route card is a good idea but you need to have the navigation skills to be able to follow it and so it’s perhaps for the more experienced /advanced hiker.
Most hikers, newbies included, should be able to make a base estimation of time duration if they have some basic information like distance and so on.
Average Speed Per Mile / Kilometer
The most important thing we need to establish first is what is the average speed you will be hiking at!? This can differ a lot across many individuals. However when looking at estimating an average time, it is safe to use the average walking speed of a human which is about five kilometers per hour, which gives twelve minutes per kilometer.
This average is of course based on normal flat ground so you could argue that this would be incorrect for hiking as you will be going across more difficult terrain and going up. That is considered further on in the calculation but even with people of different hiking speeds, it is safe to use the average of twelve minutes per kilometer.
I should add a note here that no direct consideration is given for speed gains going down. Savings in time, due to a faster pace across flat land or going down, are compensated for by losses in time, due to a slower pace across more difficult terrain. In short, the average works out fine.
If you want to get an even more precise time, you then add in the next two items.
When hiking, altitude of course comes into the equation as you will likely be ascending upwards as you progress throughout your hike. You of course go slower when going up so that needs to be factored in. Allow 1 minute for every 10 meter rise in altitude.
Now, you do need a bit of experience to be able to work out more exact distances in height from a map. Good maps will have contour lines, see the green arrow pointing to a contour line in the image below, which indicate the shape of the land but also use a standard height distance between them, e.g. 10 meters, to indicate altitude.
Count the contours and multiply by the distance between each contour and you have your height. Contour distance does vary from map to map though so you need to figure that out.
Now, that may sound complex, especially to someone new to this but any good map should also have some numbers on it. These numbers are usually at height intervals on the contour lines e.g. every 50 or 100 meters.
You can use these to get a basic idea of height by finding a number close to where you’re starting and one close to where you’re going.
Finally, as mentioned above, you will also encounter difficult and tricky terrain and maybe end up going a little bit sideways or something like that.
To help allow for things like this, add an additional bit of time, say 10 minutes, for every hour from the total of the first two parameters. This can vary but 10 minutes is a reasonable rule of thumb for a group hiking at a reasonable pace.
So, with the above in mind, let’s put all this together and look at an example. First a quick summary of the rules we are to apply:
- For one kilometer in distance give twelve minutes (average human walking speed of 5km’s per hour)
- For every ten meters you go up in height add one minute
- For every hour you get as part of your result using the first two points, add ten minutes
So, if you are hiking 10 kilometers distance and you will ascend 500 meters in the process, you would calculate your estimated time as follows:
Distance: 10 (kilometers) * 12 (minutes) = 120 minutes
Altitude: (500 (meters) / 10 (meters)) * 1 = 50 minutes
Total time (So far)= 170 minutes or 2 hours and 50 minutes
General Addition: 10 minutes per hour on two hours and 50 minutes = approximately 30 minutes (I rounded it up):
Total Time: 200 minutes or 3 hours and 20 minutes.
So there you have it, not too difficult at all to make a decent estimation of how long your hike should take. I should mention that the parameters listed out above are based on something called Naismith’s rule. It is the commonly accepted method to estimate duration.
It’s worth noting that this is far from an exact science and I typically find the time given here quite generous. There will of course be difference’s for very fit people or if a group is moving at a very fast pace. Also, terrain can also play a significant part and so there are more advanced calculations within the rule, and extensions on it that other folks have added over time. Even with that, it is never precise.
However, from my experience, the above works pretty well to work out an average duration of a hike going at a standard pace. You can of course play with it to see what works best for you but it’s a handy and very easy piece of knowledge to have and to remember.
I hope you found this useful 🙂
Roger Shann says
Great bit of information here. I remember being taught that average speed method on a mountain safety course many moons ago. I realise that I probably had forgotten it now.
Thanks for the reminder. Looking forward to your updates on the Mont Blanc trip.
Yes, it’s a pretty handy little method to use to gauge speed, time and so on. It is pretty accurate. That’s cool you did a mountain safety course, I think that stuff always stays with you in some way and, as you say, sometimes you just need a reminder.
I will indeed be posting up lots of stuff on the Mont Blanc trip, I can’t wait for it!
Great guide here Colm, I wounder how accurate it is? Have you estimated a hike to find your completion was spot on, over or under time?
What about carrying gear if you are laden down with a tent and equipment you will go slower I guess, is there a parameter for how much you are carrying?
Hey Mark, glad you found the guide useful.
It is surprisingly accurate. I have used it only for day hiking on an even mix of terrain (going along the flat, a bit of ascending, a bit of descending, etc.) and I have found that I’ll come in, in and around the time, if not pretty much exact, based on the parameters. Naismith’s rule does have extended parameters and corrections that people have added over the years but I haven’t experimented with them too much.
You raise a good point about carrying heavy gear or maybe having other things that could mess with the parameters like very steep inclines. I think some of these things will have an impact if they are constant, like a heavy pack. However, with a pack, in all likelihood I think you could possibly get back close to the average as you adjust to the weight. That is after hiking with a heavy pack for a time, you should get more used to it and I would guess that you would move back closer to the average speed again. Steep inclines on the other hand are bound to slow you up consistently but there would be an element of adaptation too.
I think the only way to check it is to do tests to see what works. So wear your back pack, go up consistent steep inclines and check the variables. I do plan to do this soon as I will be climbing Mt. Blanc in June. In preparation I will start, very soon, to hike with weighted packs. I’ll be sure to update the post when I see how that goes 🙂