Hiking time estimation is one of the most important trip planning skills for figuring out how long it will take you to hike a trail, climb a mountain, or backpack a route. One way to figure it out is to look at a guidebook or app, which will often list the length of the trail, the amount of elevation you’ll climb while hiking it, and a time estimate. This is often referred to as “book-time,” from the days when people used guidebooks instead of apps.
If you’re not using a guidebook, but have a topographic map handy, a navigation app like Gaia, or an online mapping tool like Caltopo, it’s easy to calculate a good time estimate using a formula known as Naismith’s Rule, which factors distance and elevation gain. This is the same time estimation formula used by most guidebooks.
Naismith’s (Time Estimation) Rule
Add 30 minutes for each mile of distance or 1,000 feet of elevation gain (climbing).
Here are some examples of how you’d apply it:
- For a trail that’s one mile long and doesn’t climb any hills, it will take you 30 minutes.
- For a trail that’s one mile long and climbs 1,000 feet of elevation, it will take you 60 minutes
- For a route that’s five miles long and gains 1,500 feet of elevation, it will take you 195 minutes.
The time estimate generated by Naismith’s rule generates time estimates for the “average” hiker and factor in variables like rest breaks, layer brakes, bathroom breaks, and so on. Its value is in helping you figure out if you can hike a route and return before nightfall or how far you should plan on hiking for each day of a multi-day backpacking trip.
If you know that you hike faster than the 30 minutes per mile or 1,000 feet of elevation gain, you can plug those numbers into the formula instead. With experience, you’ll figure out your own hiking pace in different terrain and climates for planning purposes.
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