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If someone asks you to go on a day hike with them. How far is that? What is a typical length for this type of hike? On hikes that last more than a day, how many miles are covered in a typical day?
Avid hikers max out at an average of 16 miles for a full day of hiking. Difficulty of terrain, fitness level, as well as the weight of your pack if you are backpacking are the main factors that impact hiking distance. Beginners should not attempt to hike more than 8-10 miles in a single day.
We asked a lot of hikers how far they could hike in a day and you’d be amazed at the variety of answers, and it proves the fact that planning on how far you can hike in a single day can be very complicated! We’ll jump into the data and then we’ll talk about some of the factors that can impact how far you can hike.
How Far Can You Hike In a Day?
The average daily mileage limit from people who are into hiking was about 16 miles a day. Most people said though that they prefer to hike 12 miles or fewer in a day. Any more mileage than that and the fun decreases.
Take note, though. 16 miles is a LONG way.
As a beginner, you should plan on a max of 8-10 miles in a single day. Your body is not used to hiking those distances, especially if you are carrying a fully loaded backpack.
Survey Data from 65 Hikers
We asked a Facebook group that consists of avid hikers what their maximum mileage is for a hike in a single day– not what their absolute longest hike was, but more along the lines of what would be a comfortable distance for a day. Of the 65 respondents who gave actual numbers, the lowest was 5 miles, and the highest was 30 miles. Given three categories for mileage, the rest of the breakdown looks like this:
|Range of Miles||Number of Respondents|
|Low (12 miles or fewer)||24|
|Medium (13-19 miles)||22|
|High (20-25+ miles)||19|
The average was 16 miles, but it should be noted that only five people actually had that number as their answer. Averages can be useful, but as an example of how they can be misleading, the average motor vehicle has 3.97 wheels if you include motorcycles!
It’s far more likely that for your comfort zone, you will find yourself in one of the three ranges listed above, and not right at the average.
Factors Affecting Average Hiking Distance Per Day
The two main factors that will affect how many miles you feel comfortable hiking in a day are fitness and terrain.
Fitness: If you have never hiked before, and are looking to increase your physical activity, the idea of hiking as much as 8-10 miles may sound daunting. In that case, it’s best to start with some simple two or three-mile hikes. Pick something with a good view or some other reward like a nice lake or stream. That will keep you coming back for more, and maybe give you the desire to increase your miles, so you can see even more cool stuff.
If you’re in fantastic shape and feel like you could eat eight miles for breakfast, then the sky is the limit, but try not to fly too high. Remember, mountains cannot be conquered. They were there long before you and will be there long after you’re gone. It’s best to just enjoy the privilege of being there.
Terrain: The difficulty of the terrain is a huge factor in the miles you can comfortably cover. Some respondents felt that if the hike was straight up a hill, then they would only be able to hike just a mile or two.
Also, remember that coming down can be just as punishing as going up. Your knees and feet can really take a pounding on the downhill sections and will leave you more tired for any remaining miles you have to cover.
Before you set out, be sure to consult a topo map or a good GPS map that shows terrain. If it’s really steep, you might have to cut your comfort zone miles in half.
Bonus Factor – Elevation: You may have read accounts of Himalayan mountaineers. These are people who at sea level could probably hike all day with no fatigue. That’s an extreme example of what elevation can do to your physical abilities, and it’s good to keep in mind on hikes where it may become a factor. The higher the elevation, the more difficult to get oxygen into your blood and the more difficult your hike will be.
This happened to me in my last trip to the mountains. As we got higher and higher it was more difficult for me to catch my breath and I was huffing and puffing. My muscles weren’t responding as quickly. Elevation makes a huge difference in difficulty.
Depending on where you live, elevation may play a role in how far you can hike. In the Western states, trips in the alpine country above 10,000 feet, regardless of terrain, will wear you out much more quickly than a comparable distance at sea level or close to sea level. If you’re not acclimated, you may need to slice your comfort zone number in half.
But you don’t need to be in the Himalayas or the Rockies to be affected by elevation. Even modest elevations in the Appalachian Mountains (above 5,000 feet) can have a noticeable effect on hydration and stamina – not enough to halve your number of miles, but enough to chop it down 2-3 miles. In any case, be sure to add elevation to your list of knowledge for any area. It’s not just fun trivia. It may just save the day . . . day-hike that is.
What is a Good Hiking Pace?
On flat, even terrain, a typical walking pace is about 3+ miles per hour. However, hiking usually involves hills or even mountains as well as uneven surfaces. Add to that the fact that the reason you’re on a hike is to enjoy nature, and maybe relish a good view, so stopping is not only customary, it’s encouraged. With these two factors considered, a typical hiking pace is about 2+ miles per hour, so that “average” 16-mile day hike is going to take you about 8 hours to complete.
We talk about hiking paces more in our article, here, and you can learn what’s considered a really decent hiking pace.
How Far Should I Hike In a Day
Just because you can hike 16 miles doesn’t mean you should. It’s tempting to try and make as much distance as you can in as short a period of time.
Do I have to Hike All Day?
Of course not. Backpacker Magazine just came out with an article about the best 10-mile hikes in North America. Sometimes, just a few miles can get you into some spectacular places. Not to mention, long hikes are sometimes just exercises in endurance, and not always more enjoyable.
A long day on the trail can have you pretty wiped out with only a sunburn and some serious blisters to show for it. A shorter hike can often leave you energized for more.
The only time you may need to hike all day is if there is a specific destination that you must get to such as a campsite or even just back to your car and it’s not in your best interest to take your time.
Make sure you you understand what your limits are before you go on a long hike. You don’t want to be dragging yourself down the last two miles, out of water and daylight, in stumbling daze just to say you completed the whole thing.
Have I done that? Nah. That’s advice from a “good friend” of mine.
This “friend” one time, at the end of a very long day of hiking over 16 miles in one day, had to keep hiking even when the sun went down and we had to use headlamps to pick our way through a rocky trail. The blisters were really bad that day.
What about Long Distance Trails like the Appalachian trail?
Some people do what is known as “thru-hiking” on trails that may be hundreds or even thousands of miles long. A thru-hiker hikes every day and tries to cover 20-25 miles each day. For a beginner, that may seem close to impossible, but very fit hikers who are used to these kinds of challenges can “get into a groove” and knock out high mileage every day.
In some cases, they may have no choice. They may need to get to the next campground or even to the next town to re-supply food and water. I know hikers who have covered as much as 35-40 miles in a day on these trails and sometimes can even average 30 miles per day for a week or so. I mention this because it represents what is possible, but not what is typical.
If you are interested in “thru-hiking”, make sure and start small and work your way up. These types of excursions are treacherous and you have to budget food very closely to make sure you don’t end up between a rock and a hard place.