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Thread: how far can you walk in a day?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    how far can you walk in a day?

    hey folks, new here.

    i'm writing my first novel, and in the vein of most epic fantasy, my characters are doing a lot of traveling by foot. i've found that i'm so interested in getting them to their next destination that they always manage to get there within a day! now i haven't done a whole lot of cross-country foot-traveling myself, so i guess i'd just like to get an idea of how believable it would be for people to travel a considerable number of miles each day by walking.

    i suppose i could throw in a hint that they traveled for days and not go into detail about it, but i'm just wondering if that's a copout...

    thanks in advance for all your wisdom!

  2. #2
    My eyes! It burns! Faolmor's Avatar
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    Welcome

    It would depend on what they're carrying, their health, the terrain, the size and ability of the group's weakest member, the weather...a number of different factors.

    An average walking speed on flat ground, unhindered, in clement weather, is 2-3 mph (4-5 kmph).

    That's the base I usually work from. The distance covered in one day by my characters will then always vary, depending upon the afore-mentioned variables. (My characters do have the luxury of horses, however...but still, the same variables apply to horses also.)

    ETA: Definitely not a cop-out to jump forward to relevant action. Even in epic fantasy, readers don't want to follow your characters' every step
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  3. #3
    Comic guy Bartholomew's Avatar
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    Might I suggest that you may very well be bogging yourself down on an unnecessary detail?
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  4. #4
    My eyes! It burns! Faolmor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bartholomew View Post
    Might I suggest that you may very well be bogging yourself down on an unnecessary detail?
    I agree. It would be unnecessary - and undesirable - to follow every step.

    But I think it's useful for a writer to keep in the back of their mind how long it should take their group to get from point A to point B. Nothing worse than reading a book where the characters have magically managed to walk 2000 miles in a day.

    ...unless they've managed it magically, of course.
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  5. #5
    Well begun is half done... Mumut's Avatar
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    One American President issued the fifty mile challenge to encourage young people to get fit (round about 1960) and many people did it but an unfit person couldn't do it day after day. The best I've done is run a few marathons - and again, you don't repeat that any time soon.

    But sometimes you find a race of travellers, was it the Incas who ran huge distances regularly (even at that altitude)? And was it the Mauritious postman who walked all over the island to deliver the mail? You could research actual examples to give you credibility to your walking people.

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW Troo's Avatar
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    Me personally? Depends on whether or not I'm doing anything interesting. I've had holidays where I've walked upwards of fifty miles a day, I've had jobs where I've had to walk twenty a day, but unless you motivate me the best I can manage is about half a mile a day (to the car and back a few times).

    The average day's march for the Roman Army was about 14 - 20 miles, depending on available daylight. The complete length of a Legion of soldiers could run up to about 0.7 of a mile in and of itself, when all the pack mules, supplies and artillery are included. Soldiers would generally set out with 17 day's rations each, weighing in at about 1.6lbs per day. So he'd set off with 16 kilos of rations, even if the march was only intended to take five days. And he's a fella who trains seven days a week to be a hard-arsed bastard

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  7. #7
    Wahoowa Tburger's Avatar
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    Sometimes estimating distance versus time is very necessary. In my novel, the MC has to cover 1200 kilometers on foot in the snow. If he made it three days, it would look silly. Six months and he'd be incompetent. I agree you don't have to get it exactly right and my suggestion would be to err on the longer side.

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    Who rules?! Hyrules! Liosse de Velishaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mumut View Post
    One American President issued the fifty mile challenge to encourage young people to get fit (round about 1960) and many people did it but an unfit person couldn't do it day after day. The best I've done is run a few marathons - and again, you don't repeat that any time soon.

    But sometimes you find a race of travellers, was it the Incas who ran huge distances regularly (even at that altitude)? And was it the Mauritious postman who walked all over the island to deliver the mail? You could research actual examples to give you credibility to your walking people.
    Actually, I think they had a trade-off system of way-stations, and a messanger didn't have to do it every day. But twenty miles, I believe, is the most quoted figure for a single messanger at a spell.


    I'd say that if they are in a hurry and fairly fit, ten to fifteen miles would be a reasonable max on foot. That's what? About eight hours walking, maybe four at a lope.
    Last edited by Liosse de Velishaf; 07-04-2008 at 08:05 PM.

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    Dorothy A. Winsor dawinsor's Avatar
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    Trivia: A league was originally the distance an average person could walk in an hour. It's usually set at about 3 miles, but it was an inexact measure, for obvious reasons.

  10. #10
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    Holy crow - I had no idea that that was the definition of a league.
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  11. #11
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    I can walk to the 7-11 and back no problem. That's half a block. If i'm feeling particularly fit and have a day to waste, I can walk to the Chapters (big honking bookstore two blocks away) but only because it has a Starbucks to replenish my strength before I start out on the journey back. So far, I have managed the 7-11 several times. I'm in training for the Chapters walk. It's such a commitment, you know. I just want to be sure I don't fail halfway through and have to rest at the MinutLube. It smells there.

    Sorry, stupid joke, but I think it's funny. Seriously, yes, nothing bothers me more than people who walk really long distances in very short period of times especially when they have never walked a lot before and they're carrying things. And when they get to where they're going, they're not tired and they're not sore the next day.

    According to Bernard Cornwell, in the Sharpe books, the Green Jackets, a rifle company during the napoleon wars, travelled fairly long distances by running six steps then walking six steps. I tend to trust everything that Cornwell puts in his Sharpe books, his research is impeccable. Somebody who is an experienced traveller might have come up on that method.

  12. #12
    In the land of frost, volcanoes, and well-armed women
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    I worked for the Finnish Geological Survey during most summers in the 80's, in Finnish Lapland. Most times I was with groups doing geological mapping, and most times that was done in areas with no roads (we were usually flown in). As I recall the longest walks I did in a day were about 20 km (no idea what that is in miles, and I'm too lazy to check now). That was the walk into the area I was working on, and back, after all the places close to the camp had been checked. Of course that was in two parts, 10 km there, then check all the outcroppings in a small area, walk back to the camp with samples. All of those long walks were towards the end of a summer, when I had already been walking daily for several weeks, and with pretty light load (only what I needed to eat on the way out, water is not a problem in that part of the world, lots of small streams and I never heard anybody catching anything from drinking straight from them). Sometimes birches (pretty much the only trees growing that far north), sometimes no trees, hills, lots of paths (reindeer, lots of reindeer). I think I could probably have done up to 30 km in a day without any great trouble, provided I wouldn't have needed to do it every day and had had some sort of beast of burden to carry all the gear necessary for survival. Somebody with no excess weight should have been able to do that while carrying their stuff themselves, I was between 15 and 20 kg overweight back then (it's a bit more now...). Oh, and of course lighting is not a problem that far north during the summer.

  13. #13
    It's green they say FennelGiraffe's Avatar
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    Another factor to keep in mind is whether you are talking about a group composed exclusively of relatively young adults, or whether it's a mixed group including children, the elderly, etc.
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  14. #14
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    I think the variables you'd want to consider are: terrain; weather; age and condition of the travelers; availability of pack animals for luggage; how many days they expected to journey.

    I was also given the 20 miles/day number, growing up; but I think that's for a man in reasonably good shape, who's accustomed to walking. Depending on what you need for the story, I think you could estimate about 10-20 miles/ day. Just don't make it uphill both ways.

  15. #15
    Lost in the Fog rugcat's Avatar
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    As an added stat that you might want to use someday, a strong runner can travel 100 miles over mountainous terrain in a single day.

    A friend of mine won this race the third or fourth year it was held.

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  16. #16
    In the land of frost, volcanoes, and well-armed women
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    Ok, I checked that kilometers to miles part - 20 km seems to be about 12,4 miles, that 30 km I figured I should have been able to do in a day if I hadn't spent part of it mapping is about 18,6 miles. So, that was something done by an overweight but otherwise healthy and fit 20 something woman who had been training for weeks, well, usually about two months by that time, on relatively easy terrain and with light load (if you don't count excess fat :-)), and not pushing it.

  17. #17
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    wow, thanks for all your input! i've got a pretty able group of travelers: a couple of forty-somethings and two teenagers. at the moment, they're in a desert, but they're well stocked with water. one of the teenagers has been living in a hole her entire life (literally), so she's probably not as fit as the rest... she tends to surprise me, though. i may end up leaving it kind of ambiguous how long they've been traveling for each leg of their journey... at least for now.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bartholomew View Post
    Might I suggest that you may very well be bogging yourself down on an unnecessary detail?
    i'm trying to avoid this as much as possible... i really just want to get this story down, it's been itching in my brain for so long! i'm kind of on a writer's honeymoon right now, since i have a lot of free time and it's magically coinciding with a flood of inspiration. we'll see how long that lasts...

  18. #18
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    I don't know about people, but I can say that an extremely fit horse can cover 100-120 miles in a day ... but it wouldn't be the kind of thing that horse could repeat the following day; it would take weeks for it to recover from such a day. So for a very long journey, long riders, who cross countries like the United States and Mongolia on horseback, recommend about 18 miles a day. Since horses and people come pretty close to one another endurance-wise (after about 25 miles), I'd imagine the number of miles a person could cover every day would be similar.
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  19. #19
    My eyes! It burns! Faolmor's Avatar
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    Just a note here - if they're in a desert...it would equally important for them to carry and eat SALT, as much as water. Sweating would cause potentially fatal electrolyte imbalances, particularly if it's really hot.

    Just for realism, anyway
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  20. #20
    As was said before, exact speed is variable on fitness, age, terrein, what they're carrying, etc. 3 miles per hour is probably a good estimate, but you might be able to push 4. You know how in school they made you do various fitness activities like run the mile? Due to excessive lazyness, half my friends only ever bothered to walk it. One managed it in about 16 minutes (so I'm rounding up to 4 miles per hour), and another looked exceedingly riddiculous by super elongating her steps and somehow made it in almost 11 minutes. From when I walk on the treadmill before actually getting myself running, my average pace seems to be about 20 minute mile, or 3 miles per hour, but if I walked at a busy fast pace it could be faster.

    I haven't personally experimented with it, but if you really want to test out different ways and speeds of walking, you could go to a gym and find a nice treadmill to play with. You can play with the speed and elevation that way. Playing with the elevation could help if you have a more mountainous terrein. Someone before mentioned that there might have been a group that ran six steps and walked six steps--why not try it out yourself, provided you have the time? With an eliptical trainer, you can also set different resistances. No, it won't be quite the same as transversing through a jungle, but if could give you some idea if you wanted to be accurate. Added bonus you can get if you go to a gym is you get to watch other people exersizing, and you can see their body types and general health (or make a fair guess).

    Health and fitness are important to consider, probably more so than age. Both of my parents went on a walking tour of France, and they were some of the older people there (I think they were in their 40s then, but there was a guy in his sixties who was doing excellently), and they finished the alloted walking distance first most often. I think it was five-7 mile distances they did every day with their packs, and they finished really early in the day. Stamina is probably more important than flat strength, but then, I wasn't the one in France.

    One last thing I will definetly mention is make sure your characters are wearing decent shoes. No high heels if you're having them walk through a squishy forest. The heel will sink into the ground and get stuck, even if they do walk fine. I can run in 3 and a half inch heels on flat ground, but it's still not a good idea, and my feet hurt much, much more than they would if I had been wearing nice comfortable shoes.

    You probably shouldn't go into too terribly much detail on the walking, but I definetly agree that it's nice to be realistic where you can.

  21. #21
    Somewhere in the hills.... Appalachian Writer's Avatar
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    I'm with the consensus of 10-20 miles a day. When I was a kid, I'd walk over the hills to visit my grandfather. He lived about 5 miles away, and it'd take me around 2 hours to get there. I was 10-12, in good shape, and not carrying a pack, but my stride was shorter then. If I were an adult in good shape and carrying provisions, I'd probably do about 10-20, depending on terrain and weather.
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    There is a school of Japanese Buddhism in which its advanced practitioners do almost nothing but walk from temple to temple. They can walk 80km (about 50mi) per day, consistently for 100 days. I'd suggest that this is close to the upper bound for what today's humans can do without drugs etc.. to assist them.

    From personal experience, 4-5 hours uninterrupted, strenuous urban walking will get me around 20-25km, or 12-15mi, and wind up feeling very sore the next day. It would be much less if the terrain were broken.

  23. #23
    Pasture-ized slcboston's Avatar
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    Are we walking or moseying? Cause I can mosey about town all day and not get much farther than the bookstore and the coffee shop.
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    Bored Fanatic Straka's Avatar
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    I've done 20 mile in five hours and I wasn't in prime shape.
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  25. #25
    Who rules?! Hyrules! Liosse de Velishaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Straka View Post
    I've done 20 mile in five hours and I wasn't in prime shape.

    Carrying what?


    From personal experience as a fit young person, I know I can travel ten miles a day with a forty-pound pack over rough hilly terrain. But I'm also a runner averaging eight miles/64 minutes a day for training.

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