Have you ever gone out on a new loop trail that you thought you could tackle in a few hours, and then it's lunch time and you wish your granola bar was a sandwich and your car still seems miles away? If so, chances are, you haven't thought enough about hiking pace.
Hiking is not the kind of activity that requires specialized skills. Nevertheless, there are some simple ways to make your wilderness adventure safer, more enjoyable, and more invigorating. Too many newer hikers either get worn out too early, or bite off more trail than they can chew in the time available.
Just as a long-distance runner does not sprint until he's exhausted, and then he plods along, you're going to have to pace yourself for a long hike. If you've got a 7-mile hike and a 4-hour hike to complete, then planning a little more than 2 miles per hour will help pull you through. Using your map will help determine if you're at a pace, too fast, or too slow.
The most reliable way to stay on track is to develop a hiking rhythm. This is a cadence that you can keep going for a long time without requiring a break. Hiking to the rhythm has advantages:
It is easier to walk with a group when everyone uses a stable rhythm.
There's less chance of injury. Hiking faster increases the risk of going wrong and getting injured. A slower pace with less rests is better than a faster pace with more needed rest stops.
Find Your Pace
Developing your own rhythm and finding your pace may take a while, and it will shift with the environment and your skill level. Your rhythm is a relaxed, mile-eating pace that you could keep up with and is fairly consistent.
Start at a pace that seems pretty easy.
Walk at this pace for 5 minutes, taking the same pace of length and the same speed of step.
After five minutes, stop and check your breathing. If you breathe normally, then increase your pace a little and start over. If you're breathing heavily or you're sweating, then slow down and start.
Repeat until you get settled on a pace that almost raises your breathing, but does not make you perspire.
Using this speed, walk for 30 minutes and see how far you have gone. Multiply that range by 2 to find your pace of miles per hour. You may want to measure the distance in your car later.
The next day, walk the same distance, trying to keep the same pace you used before. See if you need the same amount of time. When you can cover the same distance fairly consistently at the same time, you have found your steady pace.
Set Your Rhythm
Once you've got a steady pace, you can sync every moving part to set up your hiking rhythm. The objective is to get your body moving in harmony so that it is more efficient and can cover more ground before you get tired.
A few simple techniques will help you maintain a good rhythm:
Don't start the excitement of the new day too quickly. Take it easy, warm-up, and get to the rhythm as soon as you can.
Count your steps. If you are more analytical, counting your steps helps keep you consistent and gives you something to think about. Calculate how many steps per mile or hour.
Practice breathing, man. When I exercise more, I breathe in time with my steps. Getting my breaths synchronized with my steps will start my whole body moving in rhythm and working as a unit.
Take smaller steps when you slow down to go uphill. You keep the same rhythm, but the mileage you cover is lesser. This is better than taking normal steps, which require an excessive amount of effort to climb.
Take some longer steps downhill. Cushioning your joints is important, so do not clomp, clomp, clomp down a hill just to keep your rhythm going. Breaking your downhill rhythm will have the least impact on your overall pace, so go ahead and be safe in steeper, more dangerous sections.
Keep your rhythm as close as possible to small rises or obstacles. You might need to push a little bit harder, and then coast a little for short distances. Just alter your rhythm when you really require to.
Swinging your arms will keep your lower and upper body synchronized and in step with better momentum.
You will need to take a break to allow your heart, lungs, and muscles to rest. Breaks will also allow you to identify any hot spots, sore spots, or potential issues that you might not have noticed while you were in motion.
When you take a break from your hike, try to minimize your impact on other hikers and the situation.
Get well off the trail to allow others to pass.
Rest on a durable surface, like sand, rock, or log, not grass and flowers.
Chat softly and quietly so as to not disturb other hikers and wildlife as well.
Patrol the area well to find any bits of trash you might have dropped, or others might have dropped.
Using a comfortable pace of hiking, you'll need fewer breaks to rest, but you'll still want to stop eating, use the toilet, and enjoy the scenery. There are three kinds of breaks that you're going to plan:
Rest Stop-2 minutes to check your pack, drink some water, enjoy the view, and then move on. Leave your pack at this stop and keep it very short. They work well if you find a large rock on which you could set the bottom of your pack and lean against it to take the load off your shoulders for a few minutes. Use this time to check if everyone has a good pace. Plan to stop rest every 20 minutes from starting and reduce to 30 minutes if needed.
Gas Station-7 to 10 minutes to have a snack, use a toilet, and rest your muscles. Find a nice, long-lasting area off the trail. Remove the packs, sit down, and relax. Stretch out your muscles a little, drink some water, and let your body recover. Take a break at a gas station every 60 to 75 minutes.
Restaurant-30 to 60 minutes for lunch and dinner. Find a good spot with a nice view and protection from the sun and wind, if possible. It's a good time to remove your boots and let your feet relax. If you brought a pair, wear sandals instead. When your break is over, put on a new pair of socks for the rest of the hike. Recording this stop 2/3 of the way through the hike usually works just fine.
More Pacing Tips for Hikers