Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Estimate Trail Distance

It takes me almost exactly 2,000 strides to hike a mile, a fact I recently double-checked while hiking out of the Pemigewasset Wilderness along easy-cruising Franconia Brook and Lincoln Woods trails. I also measured how quickly I could hike on the even, level terrain, walking as briskly as possible without breaking into a trot. The result: just over 3 miles per hour.

Hiking speed varies depending on terrain and gradient. Similar past experiments have provided approximate personal hiking speeds of ~2 miles per hour over rocky, undulating terrain; ~1.5 mph and/or ~1,500 feet of elevation gain on steep ascents; and 2-3 mph on downhill stretches, depending on the terrain underfoot.

The number of steps per mile also varies, though not as much as I would have guessed. Except for the steepest uphill sections, it almost always falls somewhere between 2,000 - 2,500 strides.

I use these personal factoids all the time when I hike to estimate distance. When I tire, I often begin counting steps to provide some goal to keep me going and my brain occupied. If I know the distance remaining to my destination, I can estimate the number of steps it will take me to arrive—and count upwards until I reach it.

I'm a reasonably fit, tall guy (6'5"). As a result, my pace may be faster and stride longer than yours. You'll need to measure your own stride length and hiking speeds. To do so, identify a stretch of trail with a known distance and terrain type. Hike it steadily, without break, for an hour. Remember the result and refine it over time as your hiking experience and fitness levels increase.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.


John said...

I do this too, and wear a little "trail abacus" I made on my pack to keep track. It is just a cord on a split ring with snug fitting beads, 8 of one color with a different color in the middle and separated by a knot from 4 other beads. I count a Roman legionnaire's pace of L-R-L as one pace. After a hundred such paces, which is about 1/10 of a mile for me on level ground, I slide one of the 9 beads toward the knot, and so on. One hundred paces after moving the 9th bead, I return all of them, and slide one of the other four to mark 1000. Everything resets after 5000 paces, which is about 5 miles and time for a breather. It is remarkably consistent on out and back trails. Apparently steep places which slow your steps going up, equally slow you picking your way down. I have had 6-7 mile round trips where the count going and coming differ by less than 50 paces, so it is great for marking progress homeward. My biggest problem is forgetting to note where I am in a hundred count if I stop for something interesting or to chat with another hiker. That hundred count interval is also a good time to stop, turn around, and look at the back trail or see a view you might otherwise have missed. jbjhjc

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