One part of hiking, whether day, section or a thru-hike that people always have questions around is on speed. Everyone wants to know "how fast do you walk when hiking" and what the speed of a hiker is going to typically maintain during a hike, for most this is something that changes during their hike.
Most hikers with their packs will average between 2 to 3 miles per hour while hiking. This typically can amount in one day to 16-24 miles in distance covered, this speed will depend on terrain and weather. In addition, your body masters the movement and will become more adept and durable the longer you hike.
I'm going to dive into some more reasons on the variability in hiking speed that all hikers encounter. If you want to get a gauge on what you will be able to cover then the below will help you understand over time how much more of an expert you become the longer you hike.
Most people are so excited to start their hike that they start off like a rocket, going as fast and as far as they can. While this sounds like a sound approach while your body is not sore or achy, nothing could be further from the truth.
If you start this way you will end up hitting a physical wall where your body will want to stop. Especially if you haven't been putting in miles and training prior to the hike, not bringing gear and carrying the same weight will all come for you.
Instead, I would propose you manage your miles in the first couple of days, especially the longer a hike you plan on taking. Anything longer than a day hike will provide you much more pleasure by giving yourself the time to adapt to the changing nature of your days.
As you move forward in the next couple of days start to look at increasing the distance between breaks and this will extend your distance traveled. Just pay attention to signs your body gives you to ensure you don't cause an actual injury as this could permanently sideline you!
This is when you will begin to feel that you are able to stretch out some distance without too much soreness building up. Most of the time this is where hikers start to pull 8-12 mile days which is when you start to cover much more ground faster than before.
Though you are less sore now is the time where you should take the time to stretch out your legs when you are done at the end of the day at a minimum. This will keep them in top shape for you, you want to roll your ankles around in circles, rotate your toes and feet as far forward and backward as you can.
Your body will be very versed in the hiking motions, balancing, walking, gaining and losing height on the trail and you will breath a little easier. All of these little changes show your body is getting more adapted to the stress you are adding onto it, this will continue as long as you properly feed it and provide the supplements it needs to maintain optimum performance.
You will start to feel way more comfortable with the grind of putting one foot in front of the other and to a certain extent hiking will become less thought and more second nature. This is where you start to work on mileage and you should start to see you distance traveled increase tremendously.
Many in this first month will start to have heavy distance days of up to 12-16 miles or even sometimes more without issue. This is where you will start to cover distance on your hike and your body will have finally adapted to the consistent aches so as to signal less.
Due to less overall noticing of issues you must pay more attention at the breaks and during the end of the day to your lower body and give it the TLC it needs. Many times you will want to get wet items off them as soon as you possibly can to ensure you don't end up with trench foot from being water logged too long.
Towards the end of your first month as long as you have been taking care of your body properly you should be hitting your stride. People in this phase are sometimes pushing 20-40 miles in a day and are able to do this for multiple days without much issue.
This also comes with time and learning how you need to care for your feet and body. You need to treat your feet and legs like kings and queens as they will be what carries you to the end of your journey with success or in failure.
Your average hiking speed will vary according to your fitness level, the steepness of the terrain, weather and whether your route requires crossing streams or other obstacles. Paul Tawrell, author of "Wilderness Camping & Hiking," cites an average pace of 2.5 to 4 mph over flat ground. You can use this average to estimate the duration of a particular hike.Livestrong.com
Most come to find at this time frame that they don't notice the large uphill sections or downhill sections as much. Whether this is due to fitness levels overall, carrying less weight or building more muscle no one can say for certain.
Being outside on a hike is an amazingly fun, introspective journey which can teach you a lot about yourself. It forces you to use your brain and body together and in harmony which isn't required in most peoples lives any longer do to cars and electronics.
Take care of your body and mind and you'll make it through your hike successfully. Pay no heed to those two things and you will face a lot of obstacles in completing your trip, your mind is an amazing tool and needs to be exercised as much as your body!