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How (and Why) to Know Your Hiking Pace

When planning for a hike or backpacking trip, you likely have an idea of how long you’d like to be out. Maybe you want to squeeze in a morning hike before the afternoon rain rolls in, or maybe you just need to make it to your campsite by sundown. Either way, it’s going to be easier to plan if you know how long it takes you to hike from point A to point B — also known as your hiking pace.

When planning for a hike or backpacking trip, you likely have an idea of how long you’d like to be out. Maybe you want to squeeze in a morning hike before the afternoon rain rolls in, or maybe you just need to make it to your campsite by sundown. Either way, it’s going to be easier to plan if you know how long it takes you to hike from point A to point B — also known as your hiking pace.

Your hiking pace will help you estimate how many miles you can expect to cover in your desired time frame and it is key to efficient planning and staying safe. Once you know your pace, you can determine how far you can hike in the time you have. Then, you can use the mileage filter in our Hiking Guide to find hikes that fit your schedule. After you’ve found your ideal trail, your pace can also help you figure out what time you need to be at the trailhead, when your turnaround time should be, and what time you anticipate getting back home — great information to share with your emergency contact!

pace goat rocks maura brady.jpg
Two hikers traverse a narrow trail surrounded by fields of green and yellow meadows to the left and right. Forested blue hills and a prominent snowy peak are rising out from the horizon. Photo by Maura Brady.

Plus, knowing your pace can be helpful when searching for a hiking buddy. While it’s not necessary that you and your hiking partners share the exact same pace, knowing where everyone is at can aid in group planning and shine a light on how you might need to adjust your pace.

Start the clock

To find your hiking pace, your best bet is to simply head out for a hike. We recommend pacing yourself in two different scenarios: on a relatively flat, well-maintained trail and on a trail with a bit of elevation gain. Fill up your pack with your usual gear, and make sure to bring a smartphone or watch with GPS capabilities. When you reach the trailhead, start a timer, turn on your GPS and head out at whatever pace feels comfortable. After an hour, stop hiking and take note of your mileage — that’s your baseline miles per hour. (Hiking paces vary dramatically, but you can expect to be somewhere between 0.5 miles per hour for a leisurely stroll and 3 miles per hour for a fast-paced hike. If you find yourself well outside that range, it’s worth checking again.)

These baselines are an important tool, but your pace will change depending on the trail and the conditions you encounter. Things like heavy packs, snow cover and poor trail conditions are bound to slow you down. To account for this in your planning, make sure to read through hike descriptions and recent trip reports to figure out what you can expect. If it sounds like you’re going to hit obstacles, lower your expected pace a notch.

It’s also important to keep in mind what type of hiker you are. Do you power through long uphill stretches or do you prefer to take breaks along the way? Try to account for rest when pacing out your hike. For example, reserve 10 minutes of every hour as rest time and subtract that from your mileage. You might also find that your pace decreases throughout the day as you get tired. If you’re headed out for an all-day hike, know that your last few miles may be done at a slower pace than your first few.

With all of these considerations in mind, you’ll have more information to help you plan your next safe and fun hike.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Support trails as a member WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.