When I first started hiking, I searched the internet for information about realistic goals and distances. It’s an important question.
How many km can you walk in a day?
If you don’t know how much distance you can cover in a day, it’s difficult to assess how much time it will take for you to complete a trail. If you’re going on a 60 km hike you need to know if it will take three or four days to complete it.
If you don’t know how long you will be hiking, how can you plan your meals and know how much food and supplies to take with you? By the way, I have a whole separate blog post about hiking and calories which will teach you how to plan your meals and make sure you have enough food to keep you going.
It will also mean some difficulties on the trail. You might need to reach a certain point by a certain time – a campsite or wilderness hut before it gets dark, a water source before you run out of water.
The answer is.. it depends
Unfortunately, the Internet wasn’t very helpful. The best advice I got was from a colleague of mine who used to teach outdoor survival skills in the army and has taken soldiers out into to the woods for training for years.
He told me that a beginner should plan about 10-15 km of hiking per day.
Now, initially that seemed really low for me. If we walk with an average speed of 4 km an hour, we should be able to cover 15 kilometres in less than 4 hours.
When I started hiking, I realised that my buddy with the military background was right. You have to start slow.
The distance you will be able to walk in a day depends on four variables: elevation profile of the trail, difficulty of the trail, pack weight and your personal ability. Let’s take a closer look at all of these.
Elevation profile of the trail
Some trail maps give you a graph that represents the elevation profile of the trail. Or you can see it when you study a topographical map of your trail that has contour lines that mark elevation.
Certainly, it’s easier to walk on a trail that follows a river in a valley with very little elevation gain along the way. It’s another thing to go over a mountain pass for instance, climbing hundreds of meters along the way.
If the elevation profile is challenging, plan for more time.
Difficulty of the trail
Difficulty of the trail is also sometimes indicated on hiking trail maps or brochures. Other times it’s not. Sometimes you only find out once you’re there.
Then there are various obstacles that can slow you down.
For instance, if you have to cross rivers or streams you might have to hike upstream or downstream before you find a suitable place to do so.
Here Google can help. Search for your hiking trail, sometimes other hikers have blogged about their experience on the trail with useful information.
Pack weight makes a big difference.
Even if you’re gear and clothes are lightweight and you are not carrying too many things, you might still have a heavy pack at the start of your hike because you have all your food at that point.
On some trails you have to carry a lot of water.
If your pack is heavy, you will need to walk more carefully on difficult terrain, take more breaks – this will slow you down.
Your personal ability
Of course, a lot also depends on your fitness level and experience.
Over time, you get used to the outdoors and carrying a backpack. Your fitness level will also improve.
Some hikers or soldiers can walk a very long way each day – over 30 or up to 40 kilometres a day.
But don’t forget – these people are professionals, they train a lot and have been picked from a lot of people for their role.
Don’t compare yourself to a Navy Seal if you are an office worker glued to a desk and computer for 8 hours a day.
You’ll only learn by experience
When I started hiking I used to check my ability by taking a heavier pack on day hikes.
So, for instance, I found out that I can easily walk 15-20 kilometres with a 10 kg pack. With a 15 kg backpack the same distance was initially much harder and took more effort.
These days I usually plan to walk around 18-20 km a day and I know this is the right distance for me.
If the trail is very difficult then it will take me longer to achieve that goal. I’m sure some would consider this low – and that’s fine. Everyone is different.
Go on day hikes and find out what you are comfortable with.
Don’t push yourself too hard
It’s important not to push yourself too hard. First, this might lead to injury that will take a long time to recover.
Secondly, as runners know – overtraining can alter your mood, so instead of a pleasant time in the outdoors, you will end up feeling unhappy and unsatisfied with your experience.
What you should definitely avoid is any kind of sharp pain – if you have to push through pain you are clearly doing something that will have negative consequences for your body. Stop.
I hope you liked this post and if you did I also suggest you read another one that deals with solving common hiking problems like a heavy backpack, feeling cold (or hot), mosquitos etc. Have fun out there!