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Given the following conditions:

  • There are no huge geological obstacles in the way. No mountains, oceans or cliffs. It's all rolling hills and trees (not forests).
  • A person could live off the land, so they wouldn't need a huge pack.
  • But, they also need to stop and eat and sleep.

How far can a fit, average height, adult human explorer travel on foot in a month?

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    $\begingroup$ When you say live off the land - how much time each day is spent hunting or gathering, cooking, etc.? $\endgroup$ – Tracy Cramer Oct 4 '18 at 23:34
  • $\begingroup$ For this let's assume no time for hunting and gathering, just rest breaks to eat a meal. Later, given an ideal travel rate, I can subtract how much time it'll take for various tasks along the way. $\endgroup$ – Andy P. Oct 4 '18 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ If travel is the critical factor, they might spend a half day hunting and gathering, then cover as much distance as they could for a few days before stopping again. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Oct 4 '18 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ I can't change my vote, but after reading through @pojo-guy's link and doing some quick reserach, I would. This is a practical duplicate of worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/96049/… $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 5 '18 at 0:03
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of How long would it take to travel approximately 170 miles by foot? $\endgroup$ – user535733 Oct 5 '18 at 12:35
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20 miles is reasonable for a fit adult on a good day, assuming good weather and no need for long stops. So in an ideal 31-day month, that'd be 620 miles. Extraordinary performances are possible, though... one guy hiked the 2190-mile Appalachian Trail in 45 days and that's going over mountains and ridges with at least somewhat of a pack!

To be realistic, you would start with that 620-mile figure and subtract a bit to account for things that would take your explorer away from hiking:

  • You say he's an explorer, so he's probably making a map, taking photos, blazing a trail, or all of the above
  • He'll need to eat. If this is unexplored territory, I guess there are no Circle K stores along the route, so he'll have to spend some time hunting, fishing, or foraging. Unless he's literally carrying a month's rations in his pack. Might be possible with a pack animal like a donkey.
  • There will be rainy days and other days when he just might not feel like breaking camp and doing it all over again. Maybe he takes Sundays off to let the donkey rest.
  • He might suffer minor injuries such as blisters that force him to take it easy for a while. Along that line, he might have to spend the first week or two working up to a 20-mile pace, especially if he's been getting flabby on board a sailing ship for a few months.
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  • $\begingroup$ 20 miles (or a bit more: I've done close to 30, but wasn't good for much the next day :-() is reasonable for a fit person, IF they are on a halfway decent trail. Going cross-country can be anywhere from a little slower to almost impossible, depending on terrain & vegetation. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 9 '18 at 5:26
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I agree. The roughness of the terrain makes a difference. $\endgroup$ – workerjoe Oct 9 '18 at 15:50
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Explorer is the operative word in your query. I concur with Joe (from experience) that 20 miles per day is a nice easy distance for a hiker (Boy Scouts, e.g.) with clear goals and a not terribly difficult trail to follow. A 20 mile hike is actually a requirement for earning the Hiking merit badge. I've read that during the US Civil War, 10 to 15 miles per day was a typical, good weather & good road march. Less when slogging through mud; more when hoofing it under dire circumstances.

But let's look at one of the great over land explorations of all time, that of Lewis & Clark. Their trek was something like 7700 miles, there and back again between May 14, 1804 and September 23, 1806. Their trek time was 863 days making an average of 8.92 miles per day.

Of course, some days were spent travelling by boat while other days were spent holed up in bad weather. There were undoubtedly a number of days where they were actually "exploring" and not just hoofing it through the countryside. Like L&C, your explorer will undoubtedly experience daily distances ranging between 0 and 25 to 50 miles (if she's going at all by boat!) But I'd think 8 to 10 miles in an average day seems fair, so about 240 to 250 miles in a month. Except February.

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Other answers have looked at longer-term implications such as days off, and food. I'm going to look at the impact of terrain. Your question states "rolling hills and trees" which describes a huge variety of terrains.

A recent hike went along a many terrains and trail conditions. Numbers are guestimates based on how fast I think we were travelling rather than actual measurements, but it should give you an idea how much it can change even over "rolling hills and trees":

  • Well maintained trail was about 5 or 6 km/hr. It was gravelled, and not much different to a normal pavement...
  • River flats without any trails (tussock, grasses, smallish stones) were crossed at about the same as a good trail, so about 5km/hr.
  • Forest with 4-year-unmaintained trail was reasonably fast, probably 4km/hr due to occasional use of a machette.
  • Forest with a marked but unmaintained trail (10+ years) was slower, probably 2km/hr. In places the trail had washed out, requiring significant amounts of bush-bashing. In some places the trail markers led to us taking more time because the ground or plants had changed.
  • Mature forest without trails we crossed at about 1km/hr due to bogs, fallen trees and thickets. Lots of back-tracking was necessary.
  • Young forest without trail (scrub about 1.5-2m high) we moved at maybe 0.25km/hr because there's only so fast you can swing a machete and in small scrub there's no elbow room to get a good swing.
  • Bogs are impassable if they are more than a few meters across. They tend to stretch along shallow valleys and can require significant time to navigate around.

On this particular hike of about 7km, it took us 5 hours to go one way, and 3 to go back because we had already "broken" the trail. The whole hike was "flat" in that the end-to-end elevation was only 200m or so. However, we probably covered a kilometer or more in vertical elevation changes as we dropped down into little gullies, skirted around slips and so on.

Emperically, on this "flat" hike through forest, we were averaging about 2km/hr (1.2mph) across a variety of track conditions and terrain types. If you assume 7-8 hours walking, this about lines up with @elemtilas's answer looking at Lewis & Clark's expedition where they covered about 9 miles per day.

This was through New Zealand beech forest, which looks like this: NZ bush

(Image from https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-plants/beech-forest/ )

Some final notes:

  • When bush-bashing through a mature forest, the slow part isn't cutting your way through the forest, it's all the back-tracking you have to do to dodge bogs, the detours to avoid fallen trees that are to big to climb, the washouts and sinkholes you have to walk around. The only exception is when going through young scrub, where it all about how fast you can cut, and cutting is extremely slow.
  • The numbers given above are based on a single journey, and none of us are experienced off-track walkers, although we were all fit and had done a significant amount of on-track hiking across similar terrain. A person with more off-track experience could probably go faster because they could predict the location of bogs and washouts without having to see them.
  • This was all in good weather. Recent rain would have made everything slippery and muddy and slowed the pace even more.
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  • $\begingroup$ +1 good example of variables. Weather can also mess things up - a solid dump of snow can divide a person's speed by three over the same ground even if they are equipped for it (as I know from experience). Cold weather will also mean a person needs more energy (= food quantity = time gathering food each day). $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Oct 9 '18 at 1:01
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Based on time people needed for walking pilgrimages we know that they travelled:

  • Luboń to Lourdes (1800 km) 44 days
  • Kraków to Vatican City (1500 km) between 38-41 days (here you have 2700 metres mountains to walk through)

    Average speed 40km per day (27 miles). But you need to take into consideration that they were walking on paved roads and are usually people seasoned in walking long distances (being fit and being able to walk long distances are two different things).

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you add a source to the duration of pilgrimages in the bullet points? $\endgroup$ – Hankrecords Oct 10 '18 at 9:42
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If people are trying to get somewhere, they can average about 4 miles per hour for extended periods of time. The world record is 5 days and 15 hours without sleep; 544 miles, held by Cliff Young a 61-year old, in the Sydney to Melbourne ultra-marathon.

For normal walking, if you have done it all your life, the speed is about 3 miles per hour, sustainable over long days. So in a normal day, 3*16 hours = 48 miles.

World class marathon runners average over 12 mph for a 26.2 mile run; that is about 2 and a quarter hours. See Here for some people that have run a marathon distance every day for hundreds of days; the record is apparently held by Ricardo Abad Martínez, from Spain, who ran 500 in a row.

I think if an athletic fictional character is intent on moving fast, you could plausibly have them move over 50 miles a day indefinitely, and about 100 miles a day without sleep in an emergency (as Cliff Young did).

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