Planning your next hiking or backpacking trip? Searching through the National Parks App or other hiking apps will open your eyes to some fantastic trails- many of them 40+ miles long. That’ll likely leave you wondering how many miles you can handle in a single day. So, how far can you hike? This quick guide will help you gauge whether a trail is too short, too long, or just right for you.
How Many Miles Can I Hike in a Day?
The quick answer is that a hiker who’s in decent shape can handle about 20 miles in a day. The actual number of miles that you’ll be able to hike is determined by the type of trail you’re on, the weather that day, and your level of personal fitness. The average hiking speed is lower than the average walking speed, about 2 miles per hour compared to 3.5 miles per hour. Expert hikers, though, can hike just as fast as everyday people walk!
What Factors Determine Hiking Speed?
- Elevation Gain/Loss: Flat ground is a lot different than a trail in North Cascades National Park! The more elevation gain/loss on a trail, the slower your hiking speed will be.
- Altitude: High-altitude hiking means less oxygen entering your lungs with every breath. This means you’ll have to take more breaks, walk slower, and get tired faster. If you’re hiking at higher altitudes than you’re used to, your hiking speed will be affected drastically.
- Weather: Rain, snow, and temperature extremes all slow you down. Depending on what time you hit the trail, your hiking speed can change.
- Physical Fitness: This one goes without saying- the more you exercise, the easier hiking will be. If you want to maximize your daily mileage, check out these 12 exercises for hiking fitness to help you get into serious hiking shape!
- Trail Traffic: Heavily trafficked trails on busy days mean you’ll be waiting for people in front of you and stepping out of the way for others constantly. That contributes to some pretty slow miles!
- Experience: The more miles you hike, the easier it is to hike faster. Especially on narrow, high-altitude thrails, there is a confidence that comes with experience that can’t be replicated. The more you hike, the more sure-footed you are and the closer you’ll be to that magic 20 miles a day number.
Average Distance for Different Types of Hikers
- Beginner Hiker: 5-10 Miles a Day
- Average Hiker: 10-18 Miles Per Day
- Very Fit, Experienced Hiker: 20 Miles a Day
- Extremely Fit, Serious Thru-Hiker: 25+ Miles Per Day
Can You Hike 20 Miles a Day?
Many people prepping for a thru-hike such as the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail ask this question. When you only have a few months to hike more than 2,000 miles, you have to be able to make solid progress, day in and day out. It’s certainly possible, but it takes a while to build up that sort of endurance and strength. This is why thru hiking takes a few months of prep hikes to be done well. Many hikers train for about 400 miles before they set off on their journeys!
Your first week or so on the trail, 20 miles will be pretty difficult. By the end of the trail, though, you might be hitting the 35-mile mark every so often without feeling exhausted! Compared to the way you start, the end of a thru hike feels a lot like a sprint!
If you’re not planning on thru-hiking, you can still work your way up to that 20 mile number by taking several day hikes to train, as well as regularly hitting the gym. 20 miles over the course of 10-12 hours works out to less than 2 miles per hour, which isn’t too difficult at all!
The average person’s hiking speed is about 2 mph; yours may be faster or slower depending on your level of physical fitness. When planning your next hike, research the elevation gain, altitude, and weather to make sure you can conquer the trail without exhausting yourself!