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.