Backcountry Time and Distance

Fire starting, Water and Camp site locations

Backcountry Time and Distance

Postby kevin_t » Wed Dec 07, 2016 8:31 pm

I've seen numerous questions and discussions around how far and how long backpacking with "X' load. This is intended really as an information sharing for those who have paid attention to weight and milage. In reality, there is no right or wrong answers. It really is "hike your own hike" and probably as you hike along .you will go longer and further as long as you don't injure yourself. Here are my general guidelines ... it is not that far off of a lot of working out principles. Also, as note, you can do a lot of distance ..if you need to , but it might not be comfortable and may leave you regretting doing such.

In general I feel the following

- A person can do 3X normal milage with a lightish load for a couple days .. for instance , if you feel ok hiking 7 miles in the mountains in a day you can "probably" do around 20 miles a day in similar terrain for a couple days ....if you start early and don't allow yourself time to get stiff lounging around camp. Unfortunately , much of this recovery and stiffness is probably age dependent. This is not super far off from say working out ..if you can squat X amount you can probably do 3X the reps spread over day for a little bit of time.

- Likewise ... if you can hike "X" amount as a max amount of mileage ..say 20 miles is reasonable ..that is a hard out in the terrain ..you can probably do 50 - 65 percent with a light pack and work up after to the "max" milage in a few days. So ..if you can throw a day pack on and go 20 miles .. reasonable 20 -25 lb backpacking weight is 10 -13 miles and probably working up to near 20 miles per day in 5 -7 days.

Adding more weight ..somewhat depends on how well trained you are. Going to 35 lbs is probably not that big of a deal ..going to 50 lbs is much more of a big deal and that probably requires some training. I hesitate to talk about backpacking and training together ..partially because you should be having fun (of course fun is subjective). However, there is really no way around the fact that our bodies .. can acclimate pretty quickly to conditions. If you don't carry weight ..well it acclimates ..if you do train with weight well ..it acclimates.

Personally .. more weight untrained ..and this is just a wild ass guess ..I'd probably take adding 20 percent of my body weight (35 - 40 lbs) added to say my 25 lb light pack weight (total 65 lbs ) and cut it in half for any sort of duration (5 -6.5 miles) . Of course I "could" do a lot more miles for one day and maybe two .. but to do it day over day the lower milage would probably work fine and then I would work up over 5 - 7 days.

Our bodies are amazing and the acclimate quickly .. but over stressing them can quickly leave you sitting out for a day or two. Anyway, this is really intended as a discussion starting point. I look forward to you sharing your experiences in an effort to help provide guidance to others.



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Re: Backcountry Time and Distance

Postby Philip.AK » Fri Dec 09, 2016 10:58 am

Most of my backcountry trips here are 50-60 miles, involve 20-25k feet of elevation change, and offer essentially no trails to walk on. My 'base' weight (not including food, water, or the clothes on my back) is 16-18 pounds. Food is 1.5-2 pounds per day. My trips are generally 4 days long, so I have about 8 pounds of food with me, for a total pack weight of about 25 pounds. This weight allows me to average 17 miles per day of brushy or mountainous off-trail travel. Adding packrafting gear drives the weight up by 9-10 pounds.

I bring the weights up because they have a huge effect on my perceived effort and my daily mileage. Up to 20-25 pounds I hardly notice the weight and it does not affect my ability to travel much compared to carrying just a day pack. From 25-30 pounds hills get harder and I notice myself sweating more. My daily mileage drops. From 30-35 pounds things get even worse and mileage drops more. The max I have dragged around was a trip carrying 9 days worth of food and packrafting gear where my pack was just shy of 50 pounds. I suppose if I actually had access to trails to walk on my experience would be dramatically different and I could carry more, farther.

If you can find that break-point (for me it's 25 pounds) where your load suddenly has a minimal effect on your daily mileage, it's a wonderful experience. This is an example of doing a hard trip with a 25 pound pack: Crossing Kodiak: Old Harbor to Larsen Bay
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Re: Backcountry Time and Distance

Postby kevin_t » Fri Dec 09, 2016 2:17 pm

Philip.AK wrote:Most of my backcountry trips here are 50-60 miles, involve 20-25k feet of elevation change, and offer essentially no trails to walk on. My 'base' weight (not including food, water, or the clothes on my back) is 16-18 pounds. Food is 1.5-2 pounds per day. My trips are generally 4 days long, so I have about 8 pounds of food with me, for a total pack weight of about 25 pounds. This weight allows me to average 17 miles per day of brushy or mountainous off-trail travel. Adding packrafting gear drives the weight up by 9-10 pounds.

I bring the weights up because they have a huge effect on my perceived effort and my daily mileage. Up to 20-25 pounds I hardly notice the weight and it does not affect my ability to travel much compared to carrying just a day pack. From 25-30 pounds hills get harder and I notice myself sweating more. My daily mileage drops. From 30-35 pounds things get even worse and mileage drops more. The max I have dragged around was a trip carrying 9 days worth of food and packrafting gear where my pack was just shy of 50 pounds. I suppose if I actually had access to trails to walk on my experience would be dramatically different and I could carry more, farther.

If you can find that break-point (for me it's 25 pounds) where your load suddenly has a minimal effect on your daily mileage, it's a wonderful experience. This is an example of doing a hard trip with a 25 pound pack: Crossing Kodiak: Old Harbor to Larsen Bay


Thanks for chiming in Phillip. Sounds somewhat similar to my experience that below 25 lbs you can max out. My weight in the summer is usually ~25 lbs as well . For me maxing out may leave me a bit sore or it may not. It's been hit and miss. As with me at 35 it reduces .. at 50 it really reduces at least until I've gotten used to it. 4 -5 K vert per day is pretty normal here. On the more "established" routes the vert is usually not as severe.
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Re: Backcountry Time and Distance

Postby Camber » Sat Dec 10, 2016 11:27 am

Appreciate this info, and I hope more chime in. As a beginner (really only do day hikes, maybe 1 a month because of the distance needed to drive to them), these numbers are pretty baller to me :). With a pack probably between 10-20 lbs yesterday (total guess), the wife and I did 11 miles with about 2500 feet in vertical change in 5.5 hours. We pushed ourselves a good bit to do this, and both are a little sore today. I could do it again today without too much problem, just be slower, but I think a third day would be tough. I would be slightly more optimistic about these numbers if it was warmer out, say between 40-85.

I agree with you though Kevin, that doing then 14-15 in a day wouldn't be too bad if I could start early and go until mid afternoon (with 2-3 hour drives to and from trail heads, that's not possible at the moment). And that is in fact the goal. This coming summer I'd like to do Mt. Marcy in NY, which is about 15 miles, in one day. Doing the hike yesterday gave me confidence that I can, even if I don't think I could repeat the effort the next day at this point.

I would love to get to the point where I could do 3 mph and do put in 7-10 hour days for 3-4 days in a row, but that's a goal for when/if we can move.
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Backcountry Time and Distance

Postby ktimm » Sat Dec 10, 2016 5:34 pm

Just my opinion ... it's not a race , enjoy yourself . Train if you want at other times , otherwise just hiking will make you better . Sometimes I go fast ... sometimes I go really slow and sometimes somewhere in between . I've went out at times to see how far I could go in X time .. and I've went out for the whole day but never planning to go far .

Don't get me wrong it's a good skill to go fast or knock out big miles but don't let it rob the moment. Sometimes ... I just love a place so much I lay down and enjoy it for a while


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Re: Backcountry Time and Distance

Postby MontanaMarine » Sat Dec 10, 2016 8:11 pm

I'll share some of my 25-year USMC experience. Keep in mind this is Marines who are maintaining a good level of fitness already, and moving usually on dirt roads, not busting brush.

The passing standard for a unit march per the Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation, was for a unit to march 25 miles, in 8 hours, carrying a combat load (then go directly into a combat problem).

A combat load would include flak jacket, helmet, war belt, pack, rifle, gear list of typical field clothing and equipment in the pack, radio gear/batteries, rations, water, ammo etc, etc.

Typically this full loadout would come up to 80 lbs, give or take.

To make the miles in the prescribed time, we would generally hike at a speed of 4 mph. We would hike 50 minutes, rest 10 miutes (hydrate, check feet, etc). So our rate of march would work out to around 3.25 mph.

Our train up would be a couple months of weekly hikes (on top of regular PT), starting around 10 miles with less gear, and increasing the distance/load as we progressed.

Nowadays, in my 50s, with some old injuries, I'm not trying tp prove anything to myself or anyone else. It's all about enjoying the experience. I don't usually carry over 30 lbs or so, and take my sweet time.


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Re: Backcountry Time and Distance

Postby Camber » Sun Dec 11, 2016 7:00 am

Hey Kevin,

I appreciate that reminder. Lately, over the last few months, with seeing some of the numbers posted by others, I have been a bet obsessed with times. I am in fairly good shape, so part of me is frustrated that I can't even come close to the 3 mph level when hiking.
On the other hand, with a minimum two hour drive to any mountain trail over 5 miles and two older dogs that struggle with 10 hour days alone now, most hikes are a bit of a rush / timing game, and stopping to really enjoy things is hard. The cold and short days made this even more so an issue this time. And in this particular case, I had done all the parts of this hike a couple times before, so it really was a test to just see if I could put in a personal long distance in a personal good time.

Shane,
Thanks for adding that info. That's pretty damn impressive to me considering the loads carried, even if it is dirt roads. I've only ever carried 50lbs for a mile or two...can't imagine doing 80 for 25 for days in a row.
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Re: Backcountry Time and Distance

Postby ktimm » Sun Dec 11, 2016 8:55 am

Agreed on the Marine load ... dang !!! A fair point to remember , a lot is terrain specific . A respectable finish in the hardrock 100 is 40 hrs . That is carrying a small day pack , and aid stations every few miles and generally elite mountain runners with several 100 mile races under thier belt . Average speed 2.5 . Rick Trevino who has owned the record for fastest ascent of all Colorado 14ers a couple times ( no longer ) .. preaches incessant forward motion . Even the Imogene pass run which is only 17 mountain miles , and aid stations etc has less than half the runners average better than 4 mph ...


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Re: Backcountry Time and Distance

Postby Camber » Sun Dec 11, 2016 9:35 am

Wow, those races must be on absolutely killer terrain! It's hard for me to imagine something that challenging. Two of the hardest trails in my area (Mid Atlantic) that I know of are 1500 foot elevation in a mile and then 1250 in about .75 miles.

One of the things that did occur to me on Friday as we descended was how it was kind of a double edge sword...we made much better time descending, but it's also much harder on my knees and toes.
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Re: Backcountry Time and Distance

Postby MontanaMarine » Sun Dec 11, 2016 10:08 am

The Marine unit test of 25 miles/8 hrs/combat load, isn't a day after day type of test. Moving 5-10 miles in a training day is more typical. That gets to be tiring enough.

I was a 0861 Fire Support Man, that's in the artillery MOS field. As a Fire Support Man, we are essentially enlisted forward observers. We don't move with the artillery unit (trucks), but rather we are attached to the infantry we support, and maintain comm with the artillery unit supporting. So we tend to live/move with the infantry by whatever their means of transportation is, could be tracks, helicopters, trucks, or on foot.

I'm sure the tests for the units like Recon, are tougher. I was more a 'garden variety' Marine........smile


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