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What Is Speed Hiking? (How To Hike Faster)

For some people, the idea of completing a trail in as short a time as possible is appealing. Sometimes, you may not have enough time to complete all the trails you would like on a weekend adventure, or daylight’s running out and you still want to get a hike in. This is what speed hiking is for.

Speed hiking is an attempt to hike a trail as quickly as possible. It’s similar to trail running, but the idea is primarily to continue hiking, rather than to run. Movement speed is still important, but not as much as in trail running. It requires better stamina and planning than a regular hike.

If speed hiking sounds appealing to appealing to you, then you need to understand the basics. In the article below, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about speed hiking, the gear you will need, and how speed hiking differs from other types of trail activities like fastpacking.

What Is Speed Hiking?

Speed hiking, also known as rapid hiking, involves hikers trying to complete a trail in the shortest time possible. The aim is to move fast and to move light, so you want to carry as little equipment as you can while still having the necessities for comfort, hydration, and emergencies.

Even though you are trying to hike trails faster than you normally would, there’s still a strong sense of wanting to absorb your surroundings and to enjoy it. Yes, you are seeking to challenge yourself by hiking at pace, but you don’t want it all to be a blur and to not even be aware of the scenery. For some people, this concept bridges the gap between backpacking and trail running.

Pros And Cons Of Speed Hiking

The Pros Of Speed Hiking

You Cover Greater Distances And See More

There is a clear argument that speed hiking allows you to cover greater distances in a shorter period, so you can then see more as a result. Those trails that would have otherwise been out of your reach, due to the time it takes to complete them at a normal pace, are suddenly attainable on a speed hike.

It Improves Your Cardio Fitness

As you are walking faster, it means you will be working on your cardio fitness, and that’s never a bad thing. Also, the fact you can go at your own pace, no matter how fast or slow that is, means you are in complete control. At the same time, you can work on building your cardio fitness by indulging in speed hiking at certain times. Do it in small bursts and see how your cardio improves.

You Can Easily Adjust Your Goals

Speed hiking is amazing in that you can easily change your goals and targets depending on whatever you want to achieve. Different lengths of hikes, different levels of difficulty, sections of trails, inclines, descents, the list goes on and on. Effectively any trail can be speed hiked.

It’s Easy To Get Started

Anyone can try speed hiking. We all walk at different speeds already, so if you have someone who usually hikes at around 2 mph suddenly hiking at a speed of 3 mph, then they are speed hiking. That is just the same as someone who usually hikes at 3 mph now going at 4 mph.

It’s not the absolute speed that matters on a speed hike. It’s the simple fact you are moving faster than you usually would, and that is why anybody can try speed hiking. You can push yourself as little or as hard as you want and if you’re moving more quickly than your normal pace, you’re speed hiking.

The Cons Of Speed Hiking

You Increase The Risk Of Injuries

Since you will be moving over rough and rocky terrain at pace during a speed hike, you increase the risk of different injuries. This is something to consider, and an injury or accident can occur even when you take as many safety precautions as possible.

This is a case of trying to balance speed and safety. Therefore, you need to prepare and plan before heading out on a speed hike. But remember, while preparation and planning reduce the chance of something happening, such practices don’t remove it entirely.

It’s Not For A Novice Hiker

Since it takes planning and a knowledge of how to get around a trail without putting yourself in any danger, a novice hiker may run into problems. The reaction speed of a novice is slower than an experienced hiker. Also, only an experienced hiker has the sort of understanding when it comes to the equipment that is required to complete a speed hike safely.

You Can Become Too Focused On The Speed

It’s very easy to become too focused on the speed aspect of speed hiking, which takes your concentration away from your surroundings. This reduces the enjoyment you should be getting from being out there in nature and increases your chance of injury. It’s important to strike a balance between speed and your surroundings.

What Gear Do You Need For Speed Hiking?

You want to carry as little gear as possible on a speed hike, but still carry the things you will need for your excursion. Extra weight is a concern for speed hikers since every pound will slow them down, so they only carry what they need to complete the hike and to deal with any emergencies.

Footwear

Unless you’re a barefoot runner, wearing the proper speed hiking footwear is essential. The importance of foot comfort on a hike cannot be overstated, so you want to make sure the footwear you choose fit properly and provides enough cushion and ankle support. Also choose a shoe or boot that is specifically designed for hiking.

Look for footwear that feels more like you are wearing a sneaker but can still incorporate some of the safety features associated with hiking boots. Remember, making things lighter from a weight perspective should not then put your safety at risk. Ensure any changes you make do not make the hike more dangerous.

Backpack

The backpack you choose for speed hiking is important as well, as it will hold your supplies. It should be smaller than a regular hiking backpack and should weigh as little possible when it’s empty because every ounce counts. You also find a pack that has a built-in water reservoir, so you won’t have to carry bottles.

Once you are going at speed, comfort is a huge thing. A pack that uses cross straps holds the pack closer to the body, as do chest or waist straps. These stops the pack from moving around much, so it won’t negatively affect your balance or cause blisters and chaffing by rubbing.

We recommend spending a significant amount of time choosing a backpack. It’s an essential part of your kit and will play a key role in being able to complete trails in as short a period as possible while remaining safe, supplied, and comfortable on your adventure.

Layers

You also need to think about the layers you wear. Lightweight fabrics are the way to go. Speed hiking is going to get you warmer faster, so you need to think carefully about what the layers will be doing when it comes to your body temperature. But remember, your focus must also be on weight, so don’t wear heavy, bulky layers.

The problem is you must think about base layers, outer layers, and waterproof layers. You must take into consideration how you will be able to either wear these things without them slowing you down or pack them to carry with you without them adding too much weight. Consider fleece for your base layers, while your waterproofs should be substantial but thin, like a rain jacket.

Accessories

The accessories you choose to bring on a speed hike should be no different to what you usually bring for a hike. Gloves, hats, and glasses are typical hiking accessories, as are sunscreen and insect repellent to help with your comfort and to stop you from burning and being bitten. A quick glance at a weather report should give you insight into what accessories to bring.

Nutrition And Hydration

You are going to need to carry fuel for your body during a speed hike. The most important thing is water, so look for those backpacks that make it easier to carry water and to drink straight from your pack. Failing to stay hydrated on a hike can end in disaster.

But you do need food as well. How much will depend on the trail itself, and how much energy you will tend to use up on it. Focus on snacks that deliver energy and calories but are also fast to digest. The last thing you want is to eat something that sits in your stomach and causes digestive discomfort.

Also, you will want to bring food you can eat on the move. Sure, you are still taking in the scenery around you, but there’s still that part of completing things as quickly as possible. You don’t really want to have extensive breaks for eating a lot of food at one time.

Safety Equipment

Even though you are speed hiking, staying safe should remain high on your list. That means you should look at carrying the basics when it comes to a first-aid kit, as you never know what can go wrong.

A small torch and emergency blanket can also prove to be useful. The good thing about emergency blankets is they are designed to be easy to pack away and to be lightweight. They are a good addition to your pack as they will not take up too much room.

As you can see, the amount of equipment you need when speed hiking can be extensive, but it’s more about choosing the correct items to scale back on what you need. Also, focus on trying to take weight off what you need to carry. However, if you are planning on speed hiking a popular route, and one that’s not too long, then you may not require all this.

Speed Hiking vs Trail Running

Trail Running Is Faster

Even though we are comparing speed hiking with trail running, it’s important to note the speed you travel at with trail running is completely different to speed hiking. It’s much faster, and the emphasis is almost entirely on speed rather than taking in what is around you.

This speed difference applies across an entire route, as there will be times where a trail runner is moving at the same speed as even your average hiker. However, they make up for lost time on other sections where they move at pace.

A Speed Hike Is Easier To Sustain

Trail running uses up a lot more energy than speed hiking, so there’s the idea speed hiking is easier to sustain. It’s easier to save energy when hiking rather than running. Also, you have less problems in carrying food and water when speed hiking. In addition, think about how difficult it would be to run an entire day as opposed to hiking a full day.

The Intent

The biggest difference between speed hiking and trail running is the intent. By this, we mean the reasons as to why you are participating in either activity. With trail running, there is one solitary focus: To get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. That’s the only thing you are looking to do, as if you have blinders on to narrow your vision and only look at your desired end goal.

Speed hiking is not as narrow-minded when it comes to intent. Of course, you still intend to move faster through the trail and scenery than normal hiking, but you still have an awareness of what is around you. Speed hiking is about challenging yourself to move faster along a trail, but to still be able to enjoy what you see.

What Is Fast Packing?

Fast packing is almost the exact same thing as speed hiking, but just using a different term. Both types of hiking involve you setting a quicker pace for the purpose of reaching the end of the trail sooner. However, fast packing usually involves staying at least one night on the trail.

Fast packing refers to individuals who take a pack with them to then stay out overnight. They will still want to complete trails at speed, and at the same speed as a speed hiker, but they will look at covering longer distances with an overnight camp included as well. A fast packer will still travel with as little gear as possible, but they need to think about how they will sleep.

More Advanced

Fast packing is more advanced than speed hiking and will require more stamina and more planning. Your navigational skills must also be advanced, as you are covering longer trails and need to know how to get to those different locations. These are two things that can be difficult for novice hikers.

The hardest part of fast packing is preparing to spend a night out camping. Take time to find out the lightest sleeping bag and shelter that you can possibly get. Also, make sure everything folds up as small as possible.

The speed of fast packing will be faster and tougher. You need to remember you will be carrying a bit more weight than normal speed hiking, thanks to that overnight equipment, and any extra weight equates to more energy expended on your part. Higher fitness levels will be essential. Also, previous experience of camping during a hike will make life easier.

Different Hiking Paces Compared

We all tend to hike at different speeds and that changes how long it takes us to complete a certain trail. On average, it’s assumed an individual will walk at a speed of 3 mph. That means it takes around 20 minutes to complete a mile. However, some individuals walk slower than this, at something closer to 2 mph. At that rate, it will take close to 30 minutes for a mile to be completed.

With speed hiking, you are looking at something very different when it comes to the pace. Speed hikers may travel at a speed in the region of 5 or 6 mph. This is still lower than the average running speed, which sits at around 8.5 mph for men and 6.5 mph for women, but it’s still significantly faster than normal walking pace.

That means a speed hiker should cover a mile in around 10 to 12 minutes, which is a lot faster than the average individual taking 20 minutes to cover the same distance. But keep in mind anybody hiking faster than normal is speed hiking. Even pushing your average speed up by 0.5 mph qualifies, although it’s usually accepted that speed hiking involves moving significantly faster than normal.

How To Hike Faster

If you want to get into speed hiking, then you need to train and prepare yourself. After all, if you went out for a walk, would you suddenly decide you wanted to run a marathon without doing anything in between? It’s the same concept when it comes to speed hiking.

Build Your Stamina

The first tip is to work on your stamina since that will be the one thing that provides you with more than enough energy to complete your hike at speed. This is something you need to build on, and it’s not going to happen overnight.

You want to build stamina in a logical manner. Start off by just trying to slowly increase your speed over a hike you know well. You should know the rough time it takes you to complete the hike, so you can then adjust your speed to reduce the time by a certain level.

Reduce The Weight You Are Carrying

You need to become very good at reducing the gear you carry and the clothing you wear, because the less weight you have on you, the faster you can go. Exactly what you carry depends on the trail. However, keep in mind that part of the challenge of speed hiking is to complete technical trails in a short period of time.

For this reason, you need to think carefully about your packing. Learn what the absolute basics are for completing the hike safely, but make sure to streamline everything to ensure you do not use up too much energy carrying your gear.

Employ Careful Planning

You want to complete the trail in as little time as possible, so planning your route is important. It’s essential for you to know as much as you can about the trail, from inclines to tough sections to closed areas to simply the direction you need to go in.

You can easily waste a lot of time when you keep stopping to see which direction the route goes in, so be aware of all of this before you begin. You will be amazed at how much time you can save as a result. You will also feel less stressed out about getting lost and losing more time.

Start With Easy Trails

Finally, you must get used to moving at a faster pace, and that’s why it’s best to start off with easy trails that remain relatively flat on a semi-decent surface. This will build confidence in your movements, and you can then start to move onto other trails that are more technical.

Final Thoughts

Speed hiking is the completion of a particular trail faster than it normally takes you. It’s like trail running, but with less emphasis on sheer speed. You will carry everything you need in a pack, so make sure to pack only the essentials. Speed hiking requires stamina and planning.