How Far Can a Beginner Hike in a Day? We Found Out!
Hiking is a great way to get out in the outdoors and get some exercise. With a little bit of planning, almost anybody can get out onto the trail. It’s hard to get started hiking without a little bit of help.
Every hiker has to start somewhere! There’s no reason to get in over your head and end up miserable. Find a reasonable hiking distance on easy terrain and get hiking. How far can a beginner hike in a day?
Table Of Contents
How Far Can a Beginner Hike in a Day?
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information out there to help beginners start hiking. Beginners can quickly start to feel overwhelmed by purchasing gear and planning their first long-distance hike.
Don’t Worry! Getting into hiking and backpacking really isn’t all that hard. Start off slow and built up mileage over the hiking season. You’ll be surprised how fast you can get into hiking shape.
How Far can a beginner hike in a day? The average hiker in decent shape can hike about 3 miles per hour traveling at a moderate pace. Start off with a 2-3 hour hike (5-6 Miles) on level ground and plan on taking lots of breaks.
Of course this there are a lot of other factors that you need to consider. Factors like your age, weight, health, and physical fitness level will make a huge difference when starting out.
Try not to push yourself when first starting out. Getting to the point where you’re sore and miserable is just going to hold you back. Definitely pick up a tube of Desitin (On Amazon) to heal and prevent chafing when first starting out.
Extend Your Mileage Once You Get More Experience
After a few months of regular hiking, you should be able to increase your hiking distance a bit. Start off slow and gradually work your way up to those longer 15-20 mile hikes. You’ll be out all day, but the feeling after a 20-mile hike is amazing.
It’s not about increasing your hiking speed. Just wake up earlier and spend more time on the trail. An easy hiking speed of 2-3mph hour over the course of a day will get you 20-30 miles.
If you’re struggling to increase your mileage try shedding a little pack weight. You won’t hit 20 miles in a day with a heavy pack(35lb max).
Factors That Affect Beginner Hiking Distance
Before you plan a long distance hike there are a few other factors you need to consider. Try to start off slow and over time you can start going on longer more challenging hikes.
Hiking is for everybody! Who cares about your age, medical history, weight or physical fitness level. Hike at your own pace and look for easy hikes to start out. If you’re older or have knee problems I highly recommend picking up a set of trekking poles.
Figuring out your own fitness level is harder than it looks. If you workout a few times per week and stay moderately active hiking should be fairly easy. The average office worker is going to have to slow down their pace and plan on adding a few extra rest breaks.
Just remember that hiking is supposed to be fun. Start off with easy hikes and work your way up to challenging terrain. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your body will adapt to the additional milage on the trail.
When first getting started you should stick to flat easy terrain. Even experienced hikers have a hard time with high elevation hikes. Stick to flat level ground with minimal elevation change. Once you’re comfortable you can add a little bit of incline.
Make sure you look at both the elevation change and hiking distance. Hiking up 3000ft over 2 miles will be much harder than hiking 3000ft over 10 miles. Be careful when choosing your first couple of hikes. Try not to hike over 1000ft incline until you start to get the hang of it.
Planning your hike around the weather is easier said than done. Weather plays a major part in planning where and when you should hike. Hiking through muddy challenging trails isn’t fun. Plan around the weather and save challenging terrain for the dry season.
Be especially careful when hiking in the heat of summer. In the heat of summer, you’ll need at least 1 liter of water per hour on the trail. Heatstroke is a serious concern for beginner hikers.
Personally, I wouldn’t tell beginners to hike throughout the winter months. The injury risk is much higher, there’s a higher learning curve, and you’ll need way more gear to get started. Just head to your local gym and try to get in shape for the spring.
On a short 2-3 hour hike, you shouldn’t need all that much gear. Get a lightweight pack to hold your water, lunch, compass, raingear, etc. Just try to keep your pack light because the extra weight will slow you down.
Start off with a light pack and slowly add gear over time. You shouldn’t have to buy much gear before starting out. All you really need is a couple of water bottles (my favorite) and a pair of tennis shoes(hiking boots are unnecessary). After a few hikes, you should know exactly what you need to add to your gear list.
Time and Distance
For your first couple of hikes plan on only going out for 2-3 hours(about 4-5 miles). Try to keep a moderate pace and take lots of snacks and lunch breaks.
Just make sure you give yourself enough time to get back to your car before dark. Keep a slow easy pace and plan on taking longer than you’d think. You’re probably in worse shape than you think so take it easy and drink lots of water.
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About The Site Owner
Hi, I’m Justin the owner, content manager and primary writer on TheHikingAuthority. I grew up in a small Ohio town just outside of Cleveland. My parents started me off right and I’ve been camping/backpacking since before I could walk.
Throughout the years I’ve spent countless hours researching gear and perfecting my backpacking setup. Now I want to share what I’ve learned with you. Feel free to ask me questions by following the contact us page below.
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Hiking For Beginners: How Many Miles Should You Hike Per Day?
If you are planning for your first hike, there are plenty of things to prepare and consider. One thing that sometimes gets overlooked, but never should be underestimated, is how long you should hike each day. There are a lot of factors in deciding how long your hike should be. Let’s consider those factors to find the right distance for a beginning hiker.
While the recommended daily distance for a beginning hiker may vary, there are some universal considerations that apply when deciding on how far you should hike:
- Overall Fitness Level
- Amount of Preparation/Training
- How Much Time You Have/Total Distance Of Hike
- Elevation Gain
- How Much Gear You Plan To Carry
- Why Are You Hiking?
The average backpacker will walk at about speeds between 2.5 and 3.5 miles per hour. So, if you hike 6 hours per day, you should cover 15 to 21 miles per day. However, there are many factors which may cause you to go slower and hike less. I would recommend that a beginner try to hike no more than 10 to 12 miles per day during his/her first hiking trip. If this not a problem, you can reconsider your next hiking trip and push yourself a little harder and farther.
How To Determine How Far You Should Hike Each Day
Overall Fitness Level
The very first thing that will determine how far you go on your first hike has to be your overall fitness level. While hiking, especially on a multi-day hike with 30 or more pounds on your back, is a unique physical activity, your fitness level should give you a good indication of how far you can hike.
The fitter you are, the farther you will be able to hike, even with a heavy load. While hiking is not the same activity as running, you do need to have good cardio to be able to hike at a good pace for longer distances. Even a moderate one-hour hike can burn 400 calories – so if your body can handle such activity, you can hike!
One more consideration is the strength of your core. Hiking with a heavier pack will demand a strong core to carry the weight. If you do not have a strong core but have a heavy pack, your pace will be slower.
Amount of Preparation/Training
Regardless of you how fit they may be, new hikers will be engaging in an activity that will challenge their bodies in new ways. Carrying a heavy pack up and down mountain sides is not easy – and should not be underestimated.
New hikers should go on several day hikes with differing weights on their back to prepare for their first hiking trip. I would recommend a 5-mile hike over relatively flat terrain, with moderate elevation change, to prepare for a first hiking trip.
A focus on teaching your body how to hike at a comfortable pace, both gaining and losing elevation, with weight on your back, will put you in good position for more strenuous activity.
How Much Time You Have/Total Distance Of Hike
Next, consider how long your hiking trip will be, both in terms of distance and time. If you allocate 3 days to hike 30 miles, you should be able to plan for 10 miles of hiking each day. Of course, there are other factors that may come into play, such as elevation, which we will discuss later.
Nevertheless, you need to plan for your total hike in terms of distance and time and make a plan. Consider the fact that some days might be more strenuous than others, or that your body will likely be more fatigued on Day 3 than it was on Day 1.
An extremely important consideration for determining how much a beginner should hike elevation gain. On relatively flat terrain, the average hiker should be able to walk between 2.5 and 3.5 miles per hour. However, this amount changes with the amount of elevation gain in the hike.
Naismith’s Rule – named after a mountaineer from Scotland – suggests that the average hiker will hike 3 miles an hour over flat terrain, but should add about 1 hour to his hike for every 2000-ft climb. As such, a 12-mile hike with 4000 feet of elevation gain should take about 6 hours to hike.
Of course, other variables, such as your fitness level, the weight of your pack, and the terrain among other will impact this calculation. There are plenty of resources, such as maps and apps like AllTrails that can give you accurate information about elevation gain for your chosen hike.
Your pace will slow as you gain elevation, but it will also slow as you lose elevation. Hiking downhill can be strenuous as you try to lessen the impact on your knees. As such, a beginning hiker should not view downhill sections of the trail as a chance to make up time.
How Much Gear You Plan To Carry
The amount of gear you plan on carrying will have a major impact on your pace during your hiking trip. On average, over the course of a multi-day hike, a beginning hiker with average gear can expect to start with about 30 pounds on his or her back.
This is where training for a hiking trip with a weighted back becomes so important. Your body needs to have an idea of what carrying a heavy pack feels like.
Planning for a hiking trip always requires considering comfort vs. weight. The more gear you bring, the more comfortable you might be. However, you will also burn more calories as you carry more of this gear, which means more energy exerted and a slower pace on the trail.
Ultimately, you should find the amount of gear that works best for your chosen hiking trip, and plan on a certain pace accordingly. If your pack will weigh 30 pounds, you can perhaps hike 10 miles per day over average terrain. However, if you drop 5 pounds of weight, you may be able to hike more, say 12 miles, per day.
In any event, do not underestimate the fact that the amount of gear you carry will impact how far you can hike each day.
Why Are You Hiking?
A final consideration for a beginning hiker on his or her first hiking trip should be the “Why” – why is he/she going on this hike?
Some hikers love the challenge of putting as many miles behind them as possible. If any beginning hiker who is in good physical condition wants to take on this challenge, then perhaps a goal of 15 miles or more each day is feasible.
However, if the goal is to enjoy nature more, to capture great views and beautiful scenery with many photos and videos, then the pace will be considerably slower – perhaps only 7 to 10 miles per day. The nice thing is that there is no right or wrong answer. Any pace works so long as you get to enjoy your time on the trail.
There are many considerations in play when a beginning hiker decides how far to hike each day. A more fit hiker with 25 pounds in his pack will be able to hike farther than a less fit hiker with 35 pounds in his pack. However, if the first hiker has 6000 feet of elevation gain, while the second only has 1000 feet to climb, then the second hiker may be able to hike farther for the day.
It certainly is not an exact science, which is why I recommend that a beginning hiker choose a trip where he/she can put in 10 to 12 miles on the trail each day. This way, they can put their body under some stress, perhaps pack a little heavier for comfort, and yet have the time to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. If the hike is a success, then maybe the next hike can be a little longer and/or go at a faster pace.
New to Hiking – How Far Should I Go?
This is the second post in a series, for people brand new to hiking, on some items for consideration and review before setting out on your first hike! In the last post we started by looking at where to go for a first hike.
Distance may seem simplistic when you’re first starting out but it’s something you’ve really got to consider as you only want to take on a hike that you’re capable of finishing comfortably.
I think this is something that is very unique to each person and most people can really only answer it for themselves.
For example, if you are a very fit individual who exercises regularly in other aerobic activities, like running, rowing, cycling, etc., you are probably more than capable of taking on a longer hike, say three to four hours, up relatively challenging paths and steep hills.
If however, you’ve just quit smoking and the most exercise you’ve been doing are jaunts from your couch to your fridge or into your car, you probably want to take on something much smaller at the start! Starting out by walking in your local park or in your local area for twenty minutes a few times a week and building up to a few hours, may even be the best way to get started before ever venturing onto any trails!
When trying to gauge how far you should go on your first hike always take the following into consideration.
Incline and Altitude
The hike may only be four miles but if the first two miles of that are up a steep incline it will take considerably more effort and take a lot more out of you than going along on a relatively even level.
Incline and altitude are things that can also be very deceptive, slow rises that go on forever can catch anyone out and if you’re not used to consistently walking upwards, you will feel it. Not only when you’re actually hiking but even more so the following day.
In general, altitude, in terms of being in a position where you will experience sickness as a result of it, is not something most newbie hikers need to be concerned with. You normally need to be getting to 11,482 feet (3500 meters) above sea level before that needs to become a cause for concern. If you’re attempting that on your first hikes, you’re either Superman or just plain crazy
Going higher does bring some other challenges though, it can get a lot cooler as you go further up so do keep that in mind too.
Pace and Speed
Will you be taking a nice easy pace or do you plan to go hard and fast? This is worth considering as you don’t want to do the latter and end up running out of steam halfway through your hike.
As you gather more and more experience hiking you will really start to notice how big an impact pace has on your hike. I hike with all sorts of hikers but my core group are FAST! We would do 4 miles (approx 6 km) in an hour quite easily. Of course, on the flat it would be faster and on steep ascents over rocky terrain it would be a bit slower but we’d comfortably keep that pace.
Now, here’s the thing. I know people in that group who can go even faster! Of course on the other side of the coin, I also know other groups who like to take a nice and easy pace. It really is a mixed bag and very personal but it is something that is important, especially in bigger groups as gaps can very easily form in bigger groups with slower folks being left behind. Not good in case people get lost, especially in bad weather.
In summary, when you’re starting out, find a suitable pace that you, and your hiking friends, are comfortable with. If you’re unsure, better to start slow and take time getting a feel for it. You don’t want to burn yourself out half way into the hike a remember, you’ve got the second half to contend with
You can also put the slowest person at the front and agree to always keep them as the pace maker. That way, your group should stay together and gaps won’t form.
Terrain and Climate
For a starter hike, I strongly recommend you stick to well-worn trails. However, even at that, it is worth considering what the trails are composed of e.g. a dirt trail when its wet will again take more effort than if it’s dry. If your trail is covered in ice or snow, again more effort will be needed.
Again, it’s always best to do your research beforehand so check out your hike in advance, ask an experienced hiker or someone who has already done the specific hike a few times.
So, there you have it. If you’re new to hiking this is one of the basic things you need to seriously consider. Ask yourself these questions and be honest with your answers! How fit am I really? Could I walk 10 miles around my local neighborhood? If the answer is no, then you already have a good yardstick to use to help you make a reasonable estimation of what you’re capable of in a more mountainous environment.
Finally, it’s always better to undershoot than overshoot. That is, better to have found your first hike easy, so you can make adjustments to do more the next time out, than, as mentioned above, finding it hard and running out of steam in the middle of it! Next up we’ll start to take a look at gear, which is a very important part of your safety while out on the trail, even when you’re just starting out. Specifically, we’ll start with hiking pants first.
What do you think? Any tips on how best to decide how far you should go out on your first hike? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below!
Note: When making any significant change to your normal exercise routine, always consult your physician first. See what they advise but they probably will be very happy to hear you’re planning to take on some new hiking activities!
If you want to go to the start of this series of posts on hiking for beginners, please click here.