Estimating Hiking Times

We were standing just off the parking lot, looking across the lake where we could see our destination. “It should only take about three hours,” my hiking partner announced. It ended up taking closer to five. Why?

Elevation gain is only one factor that can affect estimated hiking time. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

The rule of thumb (aka Naismith’s Rule) for coming up with approximate hiking times is 1 hour for every 3 miles forward, plus ½ hour for every 1000 feet of elevation gain.

Assumptions of Naismith’s Rule:

  • Hikers are reasonably fit
  • Hiking typical terrain (not too much up and down)
  • Normal hiking conditions (dry trails, straight forward travel…)

Our destination was only 6 ½ miles, but half of that distance was on a route, not a maintained trail, with an hour’s worth of travel through a forest with downed trees, another hour and a half of serious uphill with loose scree, and a section kicking steps across a late summer snowfield.

Factors that can increase or decrease estimated time:

  • Weather
  • The number and length of rest breaks and photo stops
  • Navigational obstacles
  • Weight of backpacks
  • Individual fitness levels
  • Age of the hikers (e.g. young kids don’t walk as fast as adults)

Estimating hiking times is a good practice, but the reality is that it may end up taking a little longer than you think. It’s always a good idea to plan accordingly with sufficient food, water and warm gear to get you to your destination.

So who was Naismith?

William Wilson Naismith (1856-1935) was an avid Scottish mountaineer. At age nine he summited Ben Lomond and before he was 14, he made a winter ascent of Beinn Bhreac.

© 2011

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