How to calculate your hiking time

It is tricky to forecast and predict one’s hiking time. To calculate the tour time, you have to take different factors into account. We will show you what the most impacting variables are and how to figure out your walking time.

Two key factors are decisive reasons to calculate the walking time: vertical elevation gain and distance. Both values have to be considered for the ascent as well as for the descent. International alpine clubs  now agreed to a consistent and standardized formula to calculate the average walking time on a hike in the mountains. Nevertheless, this is a rough estimation for your trip and other factors may influence your time.

The formula:

The model understands that mountaineers need about one hour to climb 300 m / 985 ft in vertical elevation gain and one hour to descent 500 m / 1,640 ft. Furthermore, they can hike 4 km / 2.5 miles per hour on flat terrain. Out of this basic information a formula can be derived:

  • Calculation of horizontal and vertical distance
  • Halve the smaller amount
  • Sum up the two results 

Example of a hiking time calculation:

For one of our acclimatization tours we expect 1.200 m / 3,937 ft in vertical elevation gain and 12 km / 7.5 miles in distance.

  • First, we’ll calculate the time consumption for vertical distance: As we need one hour for about 300 meters in altitude, our ascent of 1.200 meters takes 4 hours. Furthermore, we have to add the time of the descent. As we need one hour for 500 meters, it takes us 2 hours and 24 minutes for the 1.200 m downhill. This adds up to a total hiking time of 4 h ascent + 2 h 24 min descent = 6 hours and 24 minutes.

    Afterwards we calculate the horizontal time needed. As we walk about 4 km in one hour, the horizontal time would be 3 hours. Most of the times, this describes the whole trip and not only the ascent. We don’t need to take the descent into account.

  • The second step is to halve the smaller value. In this scenario it is the horizontal time of only 3 hours. Hence, the result is 1 h and 30 min.

  • Finally, the last step adds the halved time to the rest of the hiking time. In our case this is 6 h 24 min + 1 h 30 min = 7 hours and 54 minutes.

Higher Altitudes:

If you are climbing in high altitudes the estimated time for elevation gain might change. The higher you go, the less oxygen is available in the air. Therefore, hiking and climbing becomes more difficult, which can slow down your hiking time drastically. Franz Berghold and Wolfgang Schaffert created an estimation about elevation gain in higher altitudes. The following table was published in their book “Handbuch der Trekking- und Höhenmedizin (2009)” (Handbook for trekking- and altitude medicine, 2009):

ALTITUDE (in meters) PROFESSIONAL CLIMBERS TREKKERS / AMATEURS
under 2.000 m / 6,562 ft 500 m / 1,640 ft vertical elevation gain per hour 300 m / 985 ft vertical elevation gain per hour
approx. 3.000 m / 9,843 ft 425 m / 1,395 ft 255 m / 837 ft
approx. 4.000 m / 13,123 ft 375 m / 1,230 ft 225 m / 738 ft
approx. 5.000 m / 16,404 ft 325 m / 1,066 ft 195 m / 640 ft
approx. 6.000 m / 19,685 ft 275 m / 902 ft 165 m / 540 ft
approx. 7.000 m / 22,965 ft 225 m / 738 ft 135 m / 443 ft
approx. 8.000 m / 26,247 ft 175 m / 575 ft  105 m / 345 ft 

Example Cotopaxi:

One of the most popular mountains in Ecuador is Cotopaxi. From the refugee it is about 1.200 m / 3,937 ft in vertical elevation gain and 3 km / 1.86 miles to the summit. 

  • The speed for vertical gain is slower in higher altitudes. We are mountaineering at approximately 5.000 m / 16, 404 ft and therefore climb 195 m / 640 ft in vertical elevation gain in one hour. This results in 6 h and 9 min for the ascent. For the descent we still calculate 500 m / 1,640 ft per hour, which is 2 h 24 min. The round trip takes us 6 h 9 min + 2 h 24 min = 8 hours 33 minutes

    The horizontal distance is only 6 km / 3.7 miles for ascent and descent and as we walk 4 km / 2.5 miles per hour this would take us 1 h and 30 min

  • For the second step we halve the smaller amount, which is the horizontal distance. This leads to a time of 45 minutes. 

  • We sum up the two numbers and get an estimated hiking time of: 8 h 33 min + 45 min = 9 hours and 18 minutes

Different factors:

Of course, this is only an estimated hiking time. You still have to consider different factors like weather conditions, climbing speed, equipment weight and trail conditions. In general, we recommended to add at least one hour for breaks or unexpected obstacles. 

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