Time and distance planning for your hikes

How long does it take to hike from A to B?

On any hike it is important that you know the length of the hiking trail and how long the hike will take. Time and distance planning is particularly relevant when hiking with other people and over varied terrain. For every hike you plan, take the time to consider how long does it take to hike from A to B?

Time and Distance Planning

Correct time and distance planning involves having a good understanding of the different types of terrain and vegetation cover that will be traversed and the probable speed of the group. Following are a few different terrains you may encounter on your hikes. Each of them will have a different impact on your hiking time.

Hike Schedule

  • Use the Naismith Law to estimate the time required for your hike. According to this law, a fit adult can cover 5 km of level ground per hour, and an extra hour should be added for every 600 m of uphill hiking.
  • Plan to end your hike two hours before sunset.
  • Select a gentle slope to go uphill. Avoid challenging yourself with a very steep or treacherous route right at the beginning.
  • The party’s entire load should be distributed among all members of the group, taking into account the strength of each member.

Is the group fit and fast or tired and slow? Consider the pace and energy level of the average walker – high energy after breakfast, slowing down to lunch, slight increase after lunch but getting gradually tired and slower late in the afternoon (especially after climbing up hill all afternoon). What packs are they carrying – light day packs or heavy overnight packs?

A guide as to how fast a group of average hikers (say 6) with overnight packs can travel.

1 kph – Climbing up a steep sloping spur with thick scrub
2 kph – Scrambling over large rocks along a steep sloping creek
3 kph – Walking down a steep sloping spur
4 kph – Walking along a flat track (this pace can be maintained all day)
5 kph – Walking with extra effort – Eg. Making an effort to catch the train
6 kph – Walking with considerable extra effort (only maintained for several minutes)

Modify pace according to:

  • Faster if – Fit, small light packs, less dense vegetation, flat ground, long legs, high energy levels, early in day
  • Slower if – Unfit, heavy packs, thicker vegetation, steeper slopes, short legs, low energy levels, late in day, injuries/blisters

To determine the expected time taken, divide the estimated distance by the guesstimated pace of the group. Eg. 2km distance divided by 4km per hour = half an hour to walk 2km.

Add up the times for each section of the hike, allow for rest periods (5 minutes/hr), tea breaks (additional 5 minutes every 2 hrs) to give a cumulative time for how long the walk is expected to take. Experience will fine-tune your guesstimating skills.

Schedule breaks

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to taking a break on the trail. Some hikers prefer regular breaks (such as every half hour) while others call for a break before or after a tough section of the trail, or in a cool, shady, or scenic spot. My suggestion is to allow for short rest periods of five minutes every hour. Leave your pack on so that your muscles don’t cool down as this makes it harder to get started again.

For lunch or tea breaks I would stop for a maximum of 15-20 minutes.

  • Never eat or drink while moving.
  • Relax to take refreshments. Don’t hurry your food or drink.

Finally, remember that most hikes are not races (unless you are on one of my hikes). Get wet to cool off if you’re getting hot. Unwind. Relax and take the time to observe and appreciate the natural beauty around you. Learn to look for the birds, plants and animals. They also need water and food to survive. Your observations may one day save your life.

Plan your hike for the slowest person

Plan your hike for the slowest person. One that is suitable for everyone in your party and let the slower person set the pace. There is nothing more frustrating and potentially dangerous than a slow hiker falling behind the group.

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