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286 Hiking Skills - Pace 2010-09-27

backpackers heading up Longs Peak

In the Summer of '10 Amy and I left the Longs Peak Trailhead to climb Longs Peak. It was around 4 in the morning and we moved at a calculated pace. We had a long day ahead of us and set a pace we could sustain.

Soon a hiker passed us. He was moving very fast. Not far behind him came a group of three hikers, they were trying to move fast. They too passed us. It was not long before the three hikers were stopped catching their breath. As we were passing them, one commented that we would probably be seeing a lot of each other on the trail. When we were out of ear range, Amy and I discussed the hikers.

The trail leaving the Longs Peak Trailhead is smooth and wide. With an almost manicured tread, hikers often times try to walk faster than there bodies will allow. These three guys were stopped, panting and were less than a half of mile from the trailhead. We didn't give them much of a chance of summiting.

About three quarters of a mile from the trailhead we came across the solo hiker. He asked about the three hikers. They were a group. He was trying to figure out why they were so slow. We were trying to figure out why he had left them.

We continued on the trail and never saw them again. Maybe, there was a mutiny.


Pace is your walking speed. It is your all-day rate of travel. We try hard to set a pace that is constant for the length of our walk. By setting and maintaining a constant pace we move faster and with less fatigue. In other words, we walk at a pace we can sustain all day long.

A few factors that effect pace ...

Goals for the Hike
Are you just going out to stretch your legs, watch nature, or are you planning a twenty mile death march? Your pace would probably be different for each. How many hours are you planning to hike? How many miles are you planning to cover. Are you planning on taking breaks? How many and how long will the breaks be? Good planning allows you to set realistic goals.
Fitness Level (if in a group the fitness levels of everyone)
As you become more fit, you will be able to walk faster and longer. Put in the mileage to increase your fitness level. If you are with a group, you can only walk as fast as the slowest hiker. Note: many times I have been asked if they (the asker) could climb a certain mountain or hike a certain trail. The first thing I want to know is can they walk that far? If they cannot walk that far (15 miles) on an easy path (or greenway) how do they think they will be able to hike that far with varying trails, tread, and conditions?
Steepness of the Trail
Steeper trails are harder to walk than level trails. A steep section of trail tends to slow hikers down. A trail with switchbacks helps tame most hills. A trail that goes straight up the steep hill tends to tame the hikers. To maintain an even pace, you should try to continue at the same cadence but with an adjusted stride. As I have grown older I have found that I hike faster going up the hills and slower going down hills. When I was younger I was much faster going down the hills.
Weather Conditions
Weather conditions definitely effect your pace. Extreme conditions can grind the pace to a halt. Wind, rain, snow, hail, cold, and heat all impact our speed. Having proper clothing will ease the conditions; but not eliminate them. I have many times seen hikers at the first drop of rain coming from a seemingly passing cloud, stop to put on their rain gear. Ten minutes later they resume walking clad in the finest rain apparel. Ten minutes later they are stopped again, this time to take the rain gear off. Know when to put on and take off gear. Good clothing will allow you to continue your pace without overheating.
In the east this is not an issue; but if your travels take you to the mountains above 8,000 foot, then the lack of air pressure filling your lungs will slow you down.
Pack Weight
Carrying a heavy pack will definitely slow you down. Carefully watch what you are putting in your pack.
Gear (including clothing)
Good gear does not inhibit your pace; but bad gear does. For example - If you use good rain gear you can walk through an all day rain storm in relative comfort. If you have bad rain gear (in the same rain storm) you will be heading home as soon as possible. Also never underestimate the importance of good footwear - that fits your foot. I have seen blisters humble the fittest of the fit.
Trail Conditions (tread)
Rocks, roots, and uneven tread - slow you down. A well groomed trail will let you walk even faster. Either condition effects your pace as you adjust your stride to match the conditions.

All of these factors influence your pace. If you want to be a good hiker, then hike. Put in the mileage and work on your pace. The subject was longer than expected... oops. So we will continue
Hiking Skills - Pace 2 next week .

Happy walk all day long trails.



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