We’ve had a love affair with Zuke’s since before they had any idea who we were and we are proud to have them as one of our long-term sponsors. Their continued support helps to make sure we have the treats we need to fuel our adventures and that I can continue to share our stories and tips.
In a perfect world, I would be able to head out on a hike with Chester and Gretel and come back when whenever we feel like it. That us not the reality though. You have to consider time when you are planning your hike.
On a day hike you are constrained, at a minimum, by daylight hours. Sometimes there are “life” constraints. Last week when I went hiking with the Adventureweiner Club I had to be to work later that day. When you go on an overnight backpacking trip you have to time it just right so you end up in a designated campsite when you are tired or it gets dark.
Back in my early days of discovering the wilderness and working for a National Park, I read a lot of books on trip planning. I don’t remember the books now but I do remember some of the very important things I learned. Many miles of trail later I take a lot of it for granted but I know that there are some people just getting into hiking that may not know.
One of these things is estimating time when you are hiking.
What You Need to Know Before You Start
One part of the equation is your hiking speed. You can geek out on the details discussed in point three of this PeakMind blog post but the general rule is 3 miles per hour. If the trail is steeper, or you are out of shape, you need to add a little time to that. If you are in great shape, the trail is flat or you are hiking downhill you can subtract some time off of that. I would say adding or subtracting 30 minutes would do the trick.
You need to know how many miles it is to your destination. In the case of a day hike, that destination is usually the trailhead because ultimately you will end up back there. In the case of a multiple day hike you may have mulltiple destination options. In that case you would look at a trail map to determine where the campsites are located along the trail. Each of these could be a potential stopping point.
You will also need to know how many daylight hours of hiking you will have.
There are a few ways you can manage your time based on whether you are going for a day hike or a multiple-day backpack trip.
The first method is ok if you know you have enough time and you just want a general estimate of when you will back to the car. In this case, all you have to do is divide the length of the hike by your hiking speed. For example, I went on a 6 mile round trip hike (trailhead, to lake, back to trailhead) the other day and estimated that it would take me 2 hours at 3 mph.
The method I use to figure out when I need to start my hike, and make it out by dark, is the “work backwards” method. I determine what time I would need to be back at the trailhead. I divide the trail distance by my hiking speed. I subtract the result from the time I need to be done with the hike and don’t start any later than that.
For example, say I have to be out of the woods by 4 pm. I know the trail is 4 miles round trip and I will be hiking about 2 miles per hour. Four divided by 2 mph is 2 hours so I subtract the estimated 2 hours from 4 pm to get a start time of 2 pm. I always like to add in another 30 minutes just to be safe so I would make sure I have started my hike by 130 pm.
If you are going on an overnight hike, consider your start time and then when it will get dark or you will bet tired. Multiply those hours by your speed. That will tell you the maximum distance you will be able to hike that day. Look at your map and find the marked camp sites that are within your time window. That will be your stopping point for the day.
For example, I am starting the hike at 8 am and I know it get’s dark (or I will be tired) by 2 pm. That means I have 6 hours of hiking. I know that I will be hiking an average of 2 mph. Since I take out an hour of time for breaks, I would multiply 5 hours by 2 mph and know that I can cover a distance of 10 miles. On my map there is a campsite at 8 miles and 12 miles so I pick the one at 10 miles to camp at.
Reasons You Should Add Time
Your calculations are just good estimates. There are things you should consider that might make your hike longer than you think. These things are:
- Hiking ability of people you are hiking with – are you going to have to hike at a slower pace or take more breaks?
- How crowded the trail is – will you spend some time stopping to let people pass or hiking behind a slower party?
- Your dog’s speed – Does your dog hike at your speed or is it slower?
- Terrain – really rough terrain, a steep trail or obstacles such as big rocks or downed trees can slow you down.
- What are you carrying – If you are carrying a large, overnight backpack you will be hiking slower than normal.
Add time accordingly based on those things. If any of those things might slow me down, I add another hour or two to my time depending on how long the hike is.
No matter what, you should always carry a flashlight or headlamp in case you DO get stuck out after dark. Be safe out there.