How Does An Average Hiker Know How Far He’s Hiked?

Trail guides give specific miles between spots…how does the average hiker know when he has gone .75 miles, 1.2 miles, etc.?


Trail Marker
Look for forks in the trail... that will help determine where you are on the map.

ANSWER: Thanks for your question, Hank.

There are 3 ways to measure distances:

  • Outdoor GPS units
  • Map and compass
  • Pedometers

If you don’t have an outdoor GPS unit, the best way to know how far you’ve gone along a trail is to get a good map. The United States Geologic Society (USGS) has free maps that are available for download, or you can purchase printed maps. Another option is to get a fancier, easy to read map produced by National Geographic, Tom Harrison, or some of the other leading map makers. Check out Hiking 101: How to Not Get Lost, for more info on that subject.

Once you have a map, you can identify where you are by looking at features. If you know how to use a compass, you can generally find out exactly where you are on a map. If you see a big turn in the trail, and you can find that spot on the map, take a look at the scale and estimate how far you’ve gone. It won’t be completely accurate, since trails are never straight lines and hard to measure on a map, but you’ll get a very good estimate.

A very inexpensive alternative to a GPS? Pedometers!

Pedometers are an inexpensive way to measure how far you've hiked!

For a mere fraction of the cost of a GPS, pedometers are nice devices to measure distance traveled. For about $20 there are pedometers that measure steps taken, distance traveled, and calories burned.

If you are purely interested in how far you’ve walked or hiked, pedometers can give you a rough estimate. Pedometers need to be calibrated before their first use. Just make sure the pedometer is one like this that can count steps, calories, and mileage.

Happy trails!
Hiking Lady

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  1. Hiking Lady says:

    Hi Linda, that’s really interesting that the pedometer records higher mileage. In hilly terrain they tend to be less accurate than GPS’, but the cost savings may be worth it for some hikers.

  2. Linda says:

    When DH and I finish a hike we compare mileage notes: w/the GPS and the pedometer. ( I use an Omron Tri-Axis Pedometer for daily trail workouts and take it along when hiking, too). The only problem we’ve found in tallying up our respective mileage is that the pedometer usually records a higher mileage than the GPS.

    The pedometer is calibrated to my daily workout trail walking step. Step distances while hiking, especially on varied terrain like rocks, steep ascents, descents, etc. can vary, I may be taking occasional shorter steps. But each step is registered, nonetheless, as distance traveled thus wrongfully inflating my total mileage.

    Inasmuch as I’d like to believe I’ve hiked more than I have, I have to bow to the more accurate GPS. Oh, well. One less slice of hike-ending pizza. It could be worse. I might have to give up the ice cream as well. 🙂

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