If you’re like me, you’re always looking for a good excuse to get outside and spend some time in nature. And if you have kids, there’s no better way to do that than by hiking!
Hiking is a great way to unplug, get some exercise, and enjoy the beauty of nature all at the same time. But if it’s your first time hiking or are new to the sport, planning a hiking trip either for a day, overnight, or multiple days can be challenging if you don’t know how long it takes you to cover a given distance.
Beyond that, if you have children, there are additional factors that affect your progress on the trail.
Knowing how long it takes you and your crew to hike a given distance is among the first things you need to plan a successful excursion; so, today, I’m going to share with you my tips for how long it takes to hike 5 miles (or any distance for that matter) – based on my personal experience!
- Naismith’s Rule: A Good Starting Point
- Other Contributing Factors to Consider
- Calculating Your Unique Hiking Pace
- How to Maintain an Ideal Hiking Pace
- After All Is Said and Done …
Naismith’s Rule: A Good Starting Point
Once upon a time (the late 1800s), a Scottish mountaineer by the name of William Naismith came up with a simple, reliable rule to estimate how long it would take the average person to hike one mile.
His rule goes like this:
The average hiker, carrying no weight and following a path of even terrain with no elevation change, will progress at a rate of approximately 3 miles per hour (with an additional hour for every 2,000 feet of elevation gained).
So, the average hiking pace for the average person is 20 minutes for every 1 mile. This is referred to as book time.
Based on this alone, you’d expect a flat 5-mile hike to take you approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes (5 miles x 20 minutes = 100 minutes or 1 hour 40 minutes).
Cool, but what if…
- You’re carrying a light daypack or heavy backpack?
- Or, hiking in the hills or mountains with elevation changes?
- You take a lot of breaks?
- The trail is undulated and rocky?
- You get caught in a downpour?
What if you’re like me and are larger than the average-sized human?
And if you’re smaller?
Helpful Tip: The average American male at 20 years of age is 198 lbs. and 5’9″ tall. The average American woman clocks in at 170 lbs. and stands 5’4″ tall.
Oh, and what if you have small children coming along. Hm … things just got complicated.
For example, one of the most difficult shorter hikes I have experienced was with my 11-year-old son Luke in Yosemite National Park. We tackled the grueling 135 switchbacks to the top of Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in the U.S.
While the trail was only 7.6 miles round trip, the elevation gain was over 3,000 feet! While on flat ground, this might have only taken us 2.5 hours to complete, the elevation gain, the intense heat, and the amount of food and water we had to carry affected our pace resulting in a 6-hour day hike!
That doesn’t count the amount of time we stopped to enjoy the views from the top!
Other Contributing Factors to Consider
Using Naismith’s Rule is a time-tested-and-proven method for determining a basic point of reference; however, there are other factors to consider that will impact how long your hike will take.
Level of Fitness
Time to be honest with yourself: What’s your current fitness level?
This will play a big role in how long it takes you to cover any given distance on the trail. If you’ve been leading a sedentary lifestyle and have never hiked before, 5 miles is going to take substantially longer than 1 hour and 40 minutes – especially if you’re carrying a backpack.
Even if you have some experience hiking, but aren’t in the best shape, it’s still going to take you longer than the average person to hike 5 miles.
On the other hand, for those who have been training or are experienced hikers in great shape, you can likely cover 5 miles in less time than the average person.
Age & Size
When asking the question, “How long does a 5-mile hike take,” your age and size are also important factors that affect your hiking speed.
In general, younger people will be able to hike faster and longer distances than older people. This is because they generally have more energy, stamina, and strength.
Similarly, larger people (like me, over 6 feet and 200+ lbs.) will tend to hike slower than smaller people. This is because it takes more energy for us to move our bodies (and any gear we might be carrying) down the trail.
Gravity’s a cruel taskmaster.
So, if you’re an older hiker or on the larger side, don’t expect to cover 5 miles as quickly as a 20-year-old who’s smaller in stature.
Terrain and Trail Condition
The type of terrain and condition of the trail will also affect your hiking speed and how long it takes you to hike 5 miles.
If the trail consists of flat terrain with few rocks or roots, you’ll be able to cover ground much faster than if the trail is undulating or has a lot of obstacles and rough terrain.
Similarly, if the trail is well-maintained, you’ll be able to hike faster than if the trail is overgrown or in disrepair.
Gear and Pack Weight
When hiking, every ounce becomes a pound.
The less gear and the less weight you’re carrying in your pack, the faster you’ll be able to hike. Additionally, a small backpack allows for more mobility than larger packs.
On the other hand, if you’re carrying a lot of gear in a heavy, larger pack, your hiking speed will be slower.
Elevation Gain or Loss
If the hiking trail has a lot of elevation gain or loss, it’s going to take you longer to hike 5 miles than if the trail follows a relatively flat surface.
This is because it takes more time and energy to hike up (and down) hills and mountains, especially with a steeper grade.
It’s a good idea to procure a topographical map of the area you’ll be hiking to ascertain the changes in elevation along your route. Then, apply Naismith’s Rule of adding an hour for every 2,000 feet of elevation gain.
On the other hand, as contradictory as it may seem, hiking moderate or steep downhills requires more energy than doing so along a flat route.
This is because your muscles have to work harder to control your descent, which can lead to fatigue more quickly, especially when packing a lot of weight.
In general, adding 20 minutes to your hiking time for every 2,000 feet descended is a good idea.
Rest Stops & Breaks
How often you take breaks while hiking will also affect how long it takes to hike 5 miles.
If you like to hike non-stop, you’ll obviously cover ground more quickly than if you take a lot of breaks.
However, even if you don’t stop for extended rest periods, you’ll still need to take brief breaks to catch your breath, drink some water, and eat a snack, especially on a longer hike.
Considering Younger or Less-Capable Companions
If you’re hiking with younger children, someone who’s new to hiking, or someone who isn’t in the best shape, it’s important to factor in their abilities and consider a different pace.
They’ll likely need more (and longer) breaks than you, which will add time to your hike. Additionally, they might not be able to hike as long or keep up with your average pace, which will also add time to your hike.
Keep in mind that it’s better to take your time and enjoy the hike than to push yourself (or your companions) too hard and end up feeling exhausted or even getting injured.
Ultimately, the faster more capable hiker should assume leadership and pace the group that’s appropriate for the slowest hiker.
Helpful Tip: When planning your trip with young children, check for different routes to your destination that may be more appropriate (and enjoyable) for them.
Unfavorable Weather Conditions
Bad weather can make it take longer to hike 5 miles (or any distance).
During heavy rain, the trail will likely be slippery, making it more difficult (and dangerous) to hike. Strong winds can also make it difficult to maintain your balance, especially if you’re carrying a lot of gear.
And, if it’s extremely hot or humid, you’ll need to take more breaks to cool down and prevent heat exhaustion.
All of these factors can add time to your hike.
Calculating Your Unique Hiking Pace
Simulate Your Planned Hike
Nothing is more accurate when determining your average hiking speed than actually DOING it. Strap on your pack with the amount of weight you believe you’ll be carrying and hike a mile around the neighborhood, keeping track of your time.
If you’ll be accompanied by young children or someone less physically capable than you, they should go along to determine the group’s average time.
Multiply this by the distance you plan to hike on your trip and you have a more personalized point of reference. Still, consider this a rough estimate as the paved road in your neighborhood is likely less technical than the dirt trail you’ll be hitting.
Use an Online Hiking Time Calculator
Another method is to use a pace calculator, like the one found on TrailsNH.
You simply enter the distance you plan to hike, elevation gain, your hiking pace, and the trail conditions and the algorithm will spit out a convenient little approximation.
Helpful Tip: A word of warning: as I always tell my math students, a calculator is only as smart as the person using it. For it to be reliable, you need to be informed of a realistic prediction of your pace when on location and have done your research on trail conditions.
Also, be sure that you have already planned out how much weight you’ll be carrying. All of these factors need to be determined before trusting the output of the calculator.
Learn From Your Experience
As stated before, nothing beats just doing it. The more often you plan for and execute hiking trips, the more proficient you will become at calculating a time estimate that takes all of the variables into account.
You’ll even develop a “sixth sense” for what you can accomplish on any given day. This comes with conditioning your body to hikes, practicing hike-specific skills, and gaining an understanding of both your limitations and capabilities.
All of these factors will contribute to your ever-growing confidence in predicting how long it will take you to hike a certain distance under a variety of conditions.
How to Maintain an Ideal Hiking Pace
You’re finally out on the trail, enjoying nature and a much-needed adventure.
But as the miles start to add up, you might find yourself and your companions slowing down or even taking more breaks than you had planned. Here are some tips for maintaining an ideal hiking pace:
1.) Start With a Slow Pace
It’s important to warm up your muscles before picking up the pace. Starting off too fast can lead to injury or exhaustion later on in the hike, especially if carrying a heavy pack. A good rule of thumb is to hike slowly for the first mile or so, and then gradually speed up to your desired pace.
2.) Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to how your body is feeling as you hike.
If you’re starting to feel fatigued, take a break. It’s better to hike slower and take more breaks than to push yourself too hard and risk getting injured or becoming too exhausted to finish the hike.
Also, keep a pulse on younger, weaker hikers, their fatigue, and hydration levels.
3.) Bring Plenty of Water & Food
Dehydration and hunger can both lead to fatigue; so, it’s important to drink plenty of water and eat snacks or meals regularly throughout the hike.
4.) Take Breaks Regularly
Everyone needs a break now and then, especially when hiking in hot weather or carrying a heavy pack.
Try to take a short break every 30 minutes (or less with little ones) to drink water and rest your muscles. And, if you’re hiking with others, take a longer break every couple of hours to share a meal and enjoy the scenery.
5.) Stay Focused
When you’re out on the trail, it’s easy to get distracted by the beautiful scenery, your thoughts, conversations with your companions, or the needs of young children.
While these things deserve your attention, if you’re the group leader, it’s also your responsibility to check the map regularly, pay attention to trail markers, and provide warnings of hazards along the trail. Stay sharp to prevent getting lost or someone getting injured.
After All Is Said and Done …
So, how long does it take to hike 5 miles? How about a 10-mile hike? Or 20?
Knowing how to calculate the amount of time you and your family will take to cover a given distance on a short hike or long hike is a valuable skill, but it’s only one part of the equation.
If you find yourself frequently needing to know how long it will take to hike a certain distance, I encourage you to try using one of the methods above for estimating your hiking time. With a little practice, you’ll be a pro in no time!
The most important thing is to get out there and hike! With every experience, you’ll become more confident and proficient in predicting how long it will take you to complete a hike of any given distance under varying conditions. So lace up your boots, grab your pack, and hit the trail!
Now, get out there!