I grew up a few miles from the Appalachian Trail in Southwest Virginia and my grandparents lived in the Shenandoah Valley, near Big Meadows a popular stop-off for trail hikers. While I’ve never had any inclination to take the entire trail from Georgia to Maine, I have done a few tiny sections — an hour or two hike each.
It’s way too late in the year to start a thru-hike (doing the entire trail), but a section hike would be perfect for a lazy summer day. These are generally less than 5 miles, though you could string together two or more for a weekend adventure. And if you’re nowhere near the Appalachian Trail, just choose another trail to explore.
But how much time should you allot for your hike? This is an important consideration, since it will determine the time you set out (there are no lights on the trail, so once the sun sets, it’s black as pitch) and what you’ll need to bring (food and water are essentials if you’re planning to be gone more than an hour or so).
Experienced hikers can probably gauge how long it will take to hike a given number of miles. But if you’re like me, you don’t have a clue. That’s where pace counting comes in. The length of your stride will tell you how many steps it will take you to go a certain distance. From that, you can get a good estimate of how long it will take you to complete the hike.
To measure the length of your stride, you’ll need two pens, a tape measure and a long hallway or sidewalk. Place one pen at the end of the hallway or sidewalk and stand with your feet together and hells against the pen. Now, walk 10 steps, taking normal strides. After the tenth step, bring your feet together again, and place the second pen behind your heels. Measure the distance between the pens, using the tape measure. Then divide by 10 to find your stride length. Ta-da!
Another method is to estimate your stride based on your height. There’s a simple formula for this, but you’ll first need to have your height converted to centimeters. If you’re a man, multiply your height (in cm) by 0.415; women will multiply by 0.413.
Once you have your stride length, you can use this to estimate the number of strides you’ll take when hiking a particular distance. Let’s say your stride is 28 inches long, and you’re hiking the Chestnut Knob section in Virginia, which is 2.6 miles round trip. How many steps will you take in that hike?
Ultimately, you’re going to divide the total hike by the length of each stride. But that means you need to have these measurements in the same unit. In other words, you need to convert 2.6 miles to inches. There are 63,360 inches in a mile, so the entire hike is 2.6 • 63,360 or 164,736 inches. Now divide, to find the total number of strides:
164,736 ÷ 28 = 5,883
So on this hike, you’ll be taking a total of 5,883 strides. Still, you don’t know how long the hike will take you, right?
For that step, you need to know how long it takes you to walk a certain number of strides. Let’s go back to the where you found your stride length. If you timed how long it takes you to walk 10 paces, you can easily find the time, right? All you need to do then is use a stopwatch while you take 10 paces. Let’s say that value is 6 seconds. A little bit of math will get you closer to your answer.
First, divide the total paces by 10. Why? Because your time is based on 10 paces, not one.
5,883 ÷ 10 = 588.3
Now multiply this answer by 6 or the number of seconds it takes to walk 10 strides.
588.3 • 6 = 3,529.8
So, it will take you 3,529.8 seconds to hike this section of the trail. It’s probably easier to understand, if you convert this to minutes or hours.
3,529.8 ÷ 60 = 58.83 minutes or just under an hour
Of course this estimate assumes a lot of things: that the terrain is easy to maneuver and that you’re not going to stop to look at the view of Burkes Garden. In other words, you can bet that you’ll be on the trail for longer than an hour, especially if you’re there to metaphorically or literally smell the flowers.
Still, you can use these calculations to estimate the time it will take you to complete any number of hikes. Once you know your stride length and the time it takes for you to walk 10 paces, the math is pretty simple.
What kind of hiking do you love to do? How have you used math to help you plan a hike or other outdoor activity? Share your stories in the comments section.