An 8 mile hike might seem like a lot for beginners, but it’s just a bare entry point for seasoned backpackers. Knowing how fast or slow you hike might not seem like a big deal, but it really helps with planning out a hike. You don’t want to get stuck miles away from your car/camp as dusk approaches. I like to look at the terrain difficulty and set a goal that gives me some wiggle room to take breaks and enjoy the scenery.
How Long Does It Take To Hike 8 Miles? It shouldn’t take longer than 4 hours to hike 8 miles on flat easy terrain. Most beginners can hike 2.5-3.5mph so it’s easy to do the math. Higher elevation trails and mud/snow can add a few hours to your trip time.
I’ll go into finding and estimating trail time below, but lets start off with determining your average hiking speed.
Figure Out Your Average Hiking Speed
In reality, knowing your average hiking speed is crucial when it comes to planning. You don’t want to get stuck miles away from your car as dusk approaches. There are lots of way to measure your average hiking speed, but I recommend picking up a pedometer.
It’s a safe bet that beginner hikers will fall somewhere in the 2-3mph range with a light pack on flat terrain. You might even get into the 3.5-4mph range with an light daypack and you’re generally healthy. Just don’t expect to hold that pace over longer 12+ mile hikes.
If you’re on a budget you really can’t go wrong with any of the Fitbit Models to measure your pace. I picked up a cheap Fitbit this year on black friday for like $60. It’s waterproof, links to my phone, and all I really need on 99% of trails.
My wife bought me a Garmin Vivoactive 4 for my birthday and it’s great for backpacking trips, but completely overkill on local trails. I really like that it has a built in GPS that links with my Alltrails account. It tells me when I venture off the trail and has a bunch of other cool features.
Most experts estimate that the average walking speed for adult hikers is 2.5mph without accounting for stops. Just remember that 99% of hikers are beginners that don’t keep up with the hobby. A seasoned hiker can easily handle a 3.5mph pace over a short hike.
How Long Will An 8 Hour Hike Take?
Beginner hikers tend to get lost when it comes to total trip length. Unfortunately, trying to estimate a hikes length is easier said than done. It all depends on the terrain difficulty and the total elevation you’ll be traveling. So how long should an 8 mile hike take?
Generally speaking, a beginner should be able to get through an 8 mile hike in 4-7 hours. Total hike time will depend on the speed you’re hiking, terrain difficulty, and total elevation change throughout the duration of the hike.
If you’re new to hiking, I would set a 4 hour goal on easy terrain. That gives you a 30 minute lunch break and time for a few breaks to stop and enjoy the scenery. Most healthy people can handle a 3mph pace over the first 2 hours on level ground. I usually start at a 3.5-4 mph pace and slowly drop down to 2mph throughout the day (2.5-3mph average).
Why does knowing your average hiking speed matter?
- It gives you a rough estimate on total trip time when planning a hike. This gives you a good idea on how much food/water you’ll need and keeps you from working beyond exhaustion. You don’t want to get caught out after dark or stuck in rain and thunderstorms. I’ve had to face my wife’s wrath after underestimating trip times and getting back to my car 3 hours late. She’s a seasoned backpacker as well so she always understands the situation, but that doesn’t keep her from worrying.
- You can have an eta for your return. Dangerous things can happen on the trail so you want to give your loved ones a rough idea on when you’ll make it out. One of my good friends had a heart attack and ended up dying on a hike. There’s wasn’t much that could have been done for him, but his family had no idea where to find him. I like to give myself an hour cushion when estimating trip time.
- Knowing your baseline lets you set targets for the trip. I like to keep a 3 mph pace while hiking and give myself a 4 hour window for an 8 mile trip. That gives me plenty of time to eat, relax, and enjoy the scenery. I dabble in professional photography so I like to time the trip around the lighting to get the best possible shots.
Use Alltrails.com To Get An Estimated Trip Length
I highly recommend creating an account on Alltrails.com. Most people can get by with the free version, but I use it constantly so I decided to pay for the pro-version ($2.50 per month) so I could download maps to use without cell service.
Alltrails should give you a great idea of how long the hike will take. There are dozens of easy 7-10 mile trails by my house and they all have 2h 45min to 4hr estimates.
With that being said, you really need to pay attention to the estimates. There’s a 3 mile trail by my house without many reviews that has a 5 hour estimate. I decided to head out after work, because I thought it had to be a typo. It was the hardest 3 mile hike of my life, branching through a river valley and climbing steep scrambles.
Hiking 8 Miles On Flat Terrain
On flat mild terrain, a beginner should be able to handle an 8 mile hike in 3-4 hours. Lots of breaks and heavy pack might slow you down a bit, but most hikers can maintain a 2-3 mile pace on flat ground. I tend to average about 2.5 miles per hour not accounting for stops.
I can usually keep up a 3.5 mph pace over the first hour and I’ll slowly start to drag down to 2mph as I start to tire out. With a light pack I might even be able to hold a 3-4mph pace throughout the entire 8 mile hike. There’s an easy 9 mile trail that I like to hike with my dog after work that takes about 2.5 hours to finish with a quick snack break half way through.
Hiking 8 Miles On Elevated Terrain
It will take much longer to hike 8 miles on elevated terrain. With a little bit of elevation you can expect to add 2-3 hours to your total hike time.
Mount Si Trail (pictured above) near North Bend, Washington is the perfect example. On paper it’s a well manicured 7.1 mile trail that should be easy, but the constant slope can really tear through a beginner. It’s a fairly easy trail for healthy people, but it’s all uphill so your calves/feet will be barking by the end.
Looking back, I was completely out of shape the first time I hiked the mountain. I thought I was a seasoned hiker but took almost 8 hours to get up to the top and back down. It was good that I brought a headlamp, because it was getting dark by the time I reached the peak.
I kept going back every weekend and after a month it took less than 5 hours to finish. Now that I’ve been trail running for the last decade I could easily get up and down in under 3 hours. How long it takes to hike an elevated trail is entirely depends on your overall fitness level.
Using Naismith’s Rule To Calculate Trip Time
Most hiking calculators use a variation of Naismith’s Rule to calculate trip time. It was developed in 1892 by a Scottish Mountaineer named William W. Naismith. It’s a fairly simple calculation that takes total trip length and adds time for every 2000 feet of ascent.
Here’s how you can figure out the calculation in your head. You allow one hour for every 3 miles you have to travel and then add an additional hour for every 2,000 feet you climb. This can get a little tricky on loops since half the travel time is descending back down, but it should give you a rough estimate.
Here’s an example assuming your trail is 8 miles long with a 4,000 foot ascent. You would take 8 total miles divided by 3mph which gives you 2 hours and 40 minutes on flat terrain. Then you would add 2 hours for the 4,000 foot climb. So completing the trail should take approximately 4 hours and 40 minutes.
Naismith’s rule is great for gauging time on most hikes, but it has a major shortfall. It doesn’t take the difficulty of the climb into account. A 1000ft vertical scramble is way harder and will take much longer than a 1000ft walk up a 5° grade. So take Naismith’s rule as a rough estimate and use real world data on Alltrails to come up with a realistic guess.
A Few Other Factors To Consider
I’ve taken quite a few assumptions throughout this article that need to be addressed. Most of my hiking speed estimates are based on a mid-length 8 mile trip with a light pack on easy terrain. Every hike is different, so there are a few more factors you’ll need to consider.
- Fitness Level: Most people start off with short 2-3 mile hikes that they can take after work. Once the weekend rolls around you might go on longer trips that your bodies not accustomed to. I’ve found that my pace drops off about 5-10% per mile past my comfort level.
- Total Trip Length: I don’t care how athletic you are. There will be a serious difference in pace over the course of a multi-day backpacking trip. You might be able to handle 4mph on day one, but by day 4 you’ll barely hold 2.5mph.
- Group Companions: You can only travel as fast as the slowest member of your group. I can barely keep a 2mph pace while hiking with my 5 year old son. A few of my friends also fall into extreme height differences. My best friend is 6’8″ and my wife’s about 5’2″. She has to either speed up to match his ridiculous stride length or he needs to slow down to match her comfortable pace. It ends up being a balancing act where she falls behind and he has to slow down to let her catch up.
- Pack Weight: Pack weight plays a subtle difference when it comes to hiking speed. Most people estimate that 1% of body weight added to your pack will shave about 2 minutes off your mile time. That might not seem like a lot, but it’s a 20-30 minute difference after an 8 mile hike. Plus you’ll be slower as the day goes on and you start to get tired.
- Trail Conditions: There’s a huge difference between your hiking speed on well maintained public trails and navigating off trail through national/state parks. Lots of fallen trees and brush can seriously impact your pace. You may also run into mud and storms that can significantly impact your pace. I might be used to hiking 4mph on a bright sunny day, but throw in some freezing rain and my brisk pace turns into a absent minded angry trudge.
- Steep Inclines: You can expect to slow down by as much as 30% on sections of trail with a 10°-15° incline. All of a sudden your 2.5mph pace drops below 2mph.
- Stream/River Crossings: This might fall into trail conditions, but I figured it needed to go into its own category. On long backpacking trips, you will probably run into a stream or river that you’ll need to cross. A shallow stream might not take all that long, but what if you’re wading through waist high water or trying to navigate across slippery rocks? You might have to find an alternate route around or risk the slow crawl through waist high water. That can turn what seemed like an easy 100ft stream crossing into a 3 mile trek to find a safer route.