The longer your hike is, the more difficult it will be. Experienced hikers can usually cover 2 to 3 miles per hour; however, beginners should plan on going 1 to 2 miles per hour.
In addition to allowing one hour for every 2 to 3 miles of hiking, you need to tack on extra time for elevation changes. One rule developed by a Scottish mountaineer in the 1800s says that you should allow an additional hour for every 2,000 feet of climbing. Depending on your ability level, you might want to plan an hour for every 1,000 feet of ascending.
Keep in mind that the higher you go, the slower you'll probably hike. Trails that go above the tree line can be rockier and more difficult to traverse, but elevation also has a big impact.
Be particularly mindful of hikes that go above 8,000 feet, especially if you aren't used to hiking at higher altitudes. Mild forms of altitude sickness can slow you down substantially, and more serious reactions can halt your hike altogether. Be aware of how you feel and don't hesitate to turn around if necessary.
Steepness, or grade, refers to how much elevation you gain in a given distance. Trail grades are determined by dividing the horizontal distance by the vertical distance at any given point. A trail that ascends 1,000 feet over the course of 5 miles, is less steep than a trail that ascends 2,000 feet over the course of 2 miles. Beginner hikers should choose a trail with a mild grade to start.
Current Fitness Level
Your fitness level plays an important role in determining the type of hike you should choose. Hiking above your ability level can lead to trouble on the trails, such as exhaustion, injury or an inability to finish. Instead of choosing a difficult hike to "get back into shape," go with something that matches your current fitness level. It's more likely you'll enjoy your outing and continue to make hiking a part of your outdoor experiences.
Also remember that you only hike as fast as your slowest hiker. If you're going with kids, keep it short and sweet.
Aside from the difficulty rating, consider what you actually want to get out of your hike. If you're interested in learning about the local plant and wildlife, try a nature walk. If you're more concerned about getting a workout or soaking in the local scenery, choose a local hiking trail that suits you.
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