Hiking Speeds

Posted by: Bill_in_TR

Hiking Speeds - 02/16/15 11:19 AM

OK. Right up front let me say that I realize there are a lot of variables involved in what I am asking. I am posting the question here because I believe people near my own age (68) can give me more representative answers for me.

I am getting back into the hiking and backpacking world this year as soon as it warms up. Right now I just want to do some preliminary planning. My health and fitness are pretty decent for someone my age. I am not doing triathlons but I do walk 3 to 4 miles several times a week. And I am working to improve my fitness.

What I am trying to figure out is what is a realistic number of miles per hour to plan on covering. The Foothills Trail in upstate SC is the type of terrain that is representative of where I will be hiking. There are some pretty decent elevation changes to deal with but nothing I would consider extreme. I have done day hikes over the past year or two in the same general area and terrain and have not encountered anything I could not handle.

I plan on starting out with a 2 or 3 nighter and building to a 5 nighter by early fall. But I am trying to determine how much of a trail to realistically plan on covering on an hourly/daily basis. I would like to plan around an hourly rate because I still need to determine how many hours per day that I am ready for right now.

Like I said, I know that a lot of variables are involved but I would like to get a feel for what some of you other senior citizens are doing.
Posted by: Pika

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/16/15 03:27 PM

I generally plan on making between 1.5 to 2.0 mph going uphill on reasonably well graded trail. My downhill speed on similar trail is about 2.5 mph. On level trail, I tend to average a bit over 2 mph. These are rates that I know from experience I can maintain without needing to stop to rest. Again, from experience, I know I can sustain a daily mileage between 10 and 15 miles per day for several weeks if I wish. In rougher terrain and on steeper terrain, my mph and daily mileage drop markedly. I hiked ths JMT last summer in 21 days for an average of a bit over 10 miles per day. I'm in my late 70's.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/16/15 04:16 PM

When I am backpacking I tend to limit my daily miles to between 10 and 12, allowing for about 2500 feet of elevation gain and a total load in the neighborhood of 27 to 31 lbs. I rarely carry more than 34 lbs. My speed tends to average right around 2 mph when I am actually walking, give or take. I try to strike a pace that I can sustain uninterrupted for at least an hour without a stop, but of course I stop to take pictures or admire a view. The trails around here are never particularly level, so I can't say much about my speed on the level.

In contrast to Pika, I am 60 years old and I envy him a bit. I hope I am as fit at his age.
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/17/15 06:07 PM

I'm 65, and (at least for planning purposes) also use 10-12 miles a day as a reasonable estimate. I've never done more than 15, and I have been with beginner groups that stopped at 8 - which was a short day of about 6 hours of hiking with some longer stops for teaching presentations.

But, for my own trips, 10-12 seems to be the sweet spot. After all, it's not really about the mileage.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/17/15 06:51 PM

Bill, do some long dayhikes with a heavier pack and see what you can do. It's pretty much an individual matter. Plan easier trips early in the year and gradually increase your mileage, speed and pack weight.

I have been slowing down the last few years, unfortunately. For me, I figure 1.0 miles per hour average, including a 10 minute break out of each hour. One reason is that i've gotten quite slow on both steep downhill and rough spots. Trekking poles help, and definitely speed me up on uphill and level trail, but as soon as I hit a rough spot or steep downhill, I have to pick my way slowly. I actually go faster uphill than downhill! For backpacking planning, I figure 5-6 miles per day. It gets better later in the trip as the pack gets lighter!

Several issues have slowed me down. One, I had to take almost a year off due to severe plantar fasciitis (never neglect Achilles tendon stretches!). I still haven't quite recovered the fitness I had before, such as it was. Second, because of a detached retina in one eye some years ago which left scars, I don't have binocular vision closer than about 6 feet. It's still fine for driving, but a bit iffy for what's under my feet, (Threading a needle is really hard!) Third, my balance, like the old gray mare, ain't what it used to be, mostly because of that year of plantar fasciitis. I'm doing quite a few exercises to improve this, and they do help.

Not that I plan to stop backpacking, as long as I can manage to put one foot in front of the other! I just have to be more careful and lower my goals!
Posted by: Bill_in_TR

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/18/15 09:20 AM

This is really good information. The numbers that everyone is giving here I am comfortable with. I have been doing fine on my unburdened day hikes around here so far and don't have any serious health issues at this time. I will do a couple of longer day hikes with a pack on my back to see how it affects me. But it sounds like I can reasonably expect to cover 10 to 12 miles a day, maybe a tad more on easy terrain.

Pika, I sure hope I am still able to do what you are doing when I get a few more years on me.
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/18/15 10:12 PM

We are both in our early sixties, and hike about 1.5 to 2 miles per hour in most conditions. My wife goes slower in very steep (uphill or down, doesn't matter) and while we have done up to 14-15 miles in a day, we prefer to stay in the 8-10 mile range most days....and some days we only hike 4-5....or even take a rest day.

After all, we're supposed to be on vacation.
Posted by: wandering_daisy

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/18/15 10:25 PM

My daily mileage depends on where I want to camp and how much I am willing to suffer. I am not interested in simply walking the miles. I want to end each day in a fabulous spot, with enough time to catch a fish for dinner and photograph in the late afternoon, early evening hours. When I plan my trips, I first list where I want to camp, then do the math to see if I can do it. I pay more attention to duration of hiking than miles. I aim for 5-7 hours of hiking, try not to plan more than 8-10 hours. I use 2 mph on trail, add 1 hour for each 1000-1500 feet of gain. This rate includes a 10 minute break every hour.

Like OM, as I get older, downhill is becoming more slow travel (old knees). If I have to go down steep terrain, I plan about 1 mph. Off trail I usually average 1 mph. I also find that as I age, I do better off-trail than on the trail. Off-trail travel is slower because you have to micro-route find. This forced slowness actually means less stress on my body. Some days that means I go 12 miles, others only 3 miles. In general, not counting on stopping at a particular campsite, I usually do about 7 miles a day off-trail and 10 miles on trail. The off-trail rate depends on difficulty - one trip I actually only did 1 mile in 8 hours! Four hours were spent getting around a cliff. Ended up building a raft from driftwood and putting the pack on the raft, and swimming around the cliff. Then I was chilled to the bone so had to spend an hour in the sleeping bag warming up!

And the weight of the pack makes a HUGE difference. When I do a 14-day trip, I am so loaded that it is a major chore just to get 7-8 miles on a trail. By the end of the trip, I can easily go 12-15 miles. Particularly at high altitudes, plan shorter days so you can acclimate.

Every now and then I am willing to suffer big time. The approaches on the east side of the Sierra can be rigorous. Two years ago, I wanted to get to a lake on Day 1 of a 12-day trip. Great fishing in this lake is what made me do this. I went up Taboose Pass - about 9 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation gain to get to that lake. I probably was going 0.5 mph the last mile! Nearly crawled into camp, but I did catch a big fish for dinner.
Posted by: Bill_in_TR

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/19/15 09:01 AM

My interest in hearing what people my age are doing is not because I want to try and accomplish some arbitrary distance to prove something to myself or anyone else. Like most others here I just want to be out there and enjoying the outdoors. My main interest is solely for hike planning purposes. When I look at a trail map I want to be able to plan my take out points realistically. If it is 30 miles from the trailhead to the first access point where I can arrange to be picked up then I just want to know that I should arrange pickup in three days rather than two. The same thing applies to sights that I might want to see or camp near. I don't want to expect to get somewhere in an unrealistic time.

For me busting my butt and finishing a hiking day exhausted just to say I covered a certain mileage that day is not what it is about. I am trying to ease back into this backpacking sensibly and plan to do a lot of walking, prepping and research before I do my first trail hike which I currently hope will be the Foothills Trail since I live so near to it.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/19/15 12:12 PM

I'd throw in an extra day for contingencies. Until you try trail hiking with full pack, you really won't know. That's why I suggested dayhiking with a full pack first, to find out what you can do. If you're almost there with a day left, you can find a nice place to camp and just relax. Of course, if you have cell phone coverage out on the trail (we seldom do out here in the western mountains), you can call if you're ahead of schedule.
Posted by: Bill_in_TR

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/19/15 12:34 PM

OM, yeah all part of the planning and preparation. I will sure be doing as you suggested. Cell phone???? shocked Are they allowed? All kidding aside I don't know what if any dead zones are on the Foothills Trail but I expect that I should be able to get a signal along a lot of it.
Posted by: 4evrplan

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/19/15 12:56 PM

Just one nuance to remember with cell phones, is that being out of a service area drains the battery fast. It's a good idea to turn it completely off and only turn it on when you use it.

ETA: This has the added benefit of keeping smart phone junkies like me from being too absorbed with their technology.
Posted by: Bill_in_TR

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/19/15 01:20 PM

Yeah, I learned that lesson the hard way long ago. Completely drained my battery on a fishing trip one day when I was in an out of coverage area. Also, even if that were not an issue I doubt my battery would last the length of a 3 night or more hike even if I wasn't using it. I may look into a portable charger just for safety sake.
Posted by: Glenn Roberts

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/19/15 08:45 PM

It's not always easy, but if you can plan circular routes, or even out-and-back trips, the first few times, you don't have to worry about getting the number of days right or making some arbitrary pick-up date. Since you're starting and finishing at your car, you can plan 8-10 miles per day, If you finish early, you don't have to wait around. If you find you're slower, you're not inconveniencing someone by making them wait around. After a few trips, you'll have the planning part figured out. (I'm assuming you're driving yourself to the trailhead.)
Posted by: BrianLe

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/19/15 10:33 PM

I think there can be quite a variation, regardless of age. I'm less than a week back home now from a 5 week trip hiking half of the Florida Trail. I'm 58, my hiking partner is 66. I have a hard time keeping up with him. We had another friend who did the first 3 or so weeks with us, he's also in his 60's.

Florida is pretty flat, but hiking in January there's a limited number of daylight hours. Starting out we hiked lower miles; still, we did 14 miles our 3rd day out. 19 miles the 4th day, and by the second week we had settled on "low twenties" as what we shot for each full hiking day. After we were fully up to strength, it was more typically the amount of daylight that limited us to this.

My point is that age alone isn't an automatic predictor of lower mileage. In the long distance community, often it seems like the older hikers do as many miles per day as the young folks do. We just do it differently. They'll sleep in, take long breaks, etc, whereas the older hikers get up with the dawn and just sort of "keep going". To be clear, average sustainable hiking *speed* will be higher for younger hikers --- definitely. But I think that miles per day is a better metric to consider than average walking speed (which is just one factor in MPD).

Not for everyone, but don't automatically lower your expectations based on age if you're overall in (or can get in) good condition. A lot is based on "style" and expectations, process. And, of course, total pack weight (these are all related).

Best wishes regardless of the approach that works best for you!
Posted by: hikerduane

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/24/15 01:58 PM

I can usually maintain 2 mph unless the terrain/trail is really strenuous, then it kills me for the next day. I'm disappointed that I may not ever now be able to do some high and remote lakes off the PCT/JMT or see Amphitheater Lake area again. 8-10 mile days are good, but like Nancy, I pick out a destination, not how many miles I want to do each day. I'd like to do the JMT, but see my strength going downhill each year now, so not sure I could do it in two weeks. I don't care to eat a large lunch, most stuff I take does not appeal much anymore. If I could make myself take hourly breaks or at least every two hours, I might not be so tired. I'm afraid someone is going to get the last campsite if using trails. frown
Posted by: GrumpyGord

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/24/15 03:12 PM

I am finding that as I get older I do not want to do as many miles as I did when I was younger. I used to figure 2 MPH now 1+ is more like it. Another thing that I have found is that out and back trips are not really bad and eliminate a lot of the planning and take the pressure off for finish times. You do not have to be dependent on meeting someone else for transportation. Five day trips are 2 1/2 days in and 2 1/2 days back and the trail looks different in the other direction and you see stuff you missed on the way in.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/24/15 03:35 PM

I agree with GrumpyGord about out and back trips. However, i've found that the return trip is faster, probably because I've consumed over half the food in my pack. In other words, if it took 2 1/2 days to get in, I usually can come back out in 2. I remember one trip in which I'd planned 1 1/2 days for the last stretch, figuring I'd get to the trailhead in early afternoon of the second day. About halfway through day 1, an apple I'd left in the ice chest in my car started calling me! Instead of camping a few miles short of the trailhead, I went on back to the car and camped at the trailhead, it being too late to drive into town and find a motel. Despite the fact that it was warm and a bit mushy, that apple tasted wonderful!
Posted by: Bill_in_TR

Re: Hiking Speeds - 02/25/15 08:56 AM

The out and back sounds like a very good way to get back into this once I am ready to go past an overnighter. Up until now I had been thinking about doing sections of the Foothills Trail once I felt ready. This would eliminate any concerns about how many miles I am covering in a day and would also eliminate having to try to reach a particular camping location at the end of each day. I could just plan around how many days I want to be out and not worry about distance.