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?

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ When you say live off the land - how much time each day is spent hunting or gathering, cooking, etc.? $\endgroup$ Oct 4, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2018 at 23:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ 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, 2018 at 0:03
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of How long would it take to travel approximately 170 miles by foot? $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Oct 5, 2018 at 12:35

6 Answers 6


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.
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ 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, 2018 at 5:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, I agree. The roughness of the terrain makes a difference. $\endgroup$
    – workerjoe
    Oct 9, 2018 at 15:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Back in the Marines we once marched 38 miles in a night under an 80 pound load. That said, we were so wore out that we could hardly walk the next day. 20 miles was rough, but if you were conditioned properly you could do it easily. The trick to long distance marching is to have rest breaks. Every 5 miles you stop for 20 minutes. Hydrate, eat something, fix or adjust gear, take your boots off to air your feet. If you do this and eat properly you can do 20 miles a day nearly indefiniteley as long as you are eating right. $\endgroup$
    – TCAT117
    Jan 2, 2021 at 4:09

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.


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.
  • $\begingroup$ +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). $\endgroup$ Oct 9, 2018 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ A lone traveler might avoid fallen trees he could climb because he didn't know whether they were rotten. A fall caused by rotten wood could break his leg and kill him. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jan 2, 2021 at 3:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary: Yup, dead trees sure influence the speed at which terrain is covered and the risk involved. I recently did a whole bunch of off track work and there were areas of manuka forest (lots of fallen strong long branches) and standing/fallen dead (poisoned) wilding pines. Because we were in a team and the job required it, we'd carefully climb over piles of fallen branches or over rotten logs. But one thing we avoided was ... dead trees still standing. A rotten log crumbling as you climb may break your leg, but a falling tree will kill you. Yep, the more dead wood = the slower you go. $\endgroup$
    – sdfgeoff
    Jan 2, 2021 at 11:58

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).

  • $\begingroup$ Could you add a source to the duration of pilgrimages in the bullet points? $\endgroup$ Oct 10, 2018 at 9:42

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).


Usually I ride my bike 12 miles to and from work, for a total of 24 miles, taking a little under 2 1/2 hours each trip. My bike breaks down a lot, though, so I often walk, taking 4 1/2 hours each way, for a total of 9 hours. This is walking by the side of a country road. Not exactly a flat surface, but not really a hinderance, either.

If they shared my general level of experience and fitness and needed to take the effort and number of hours I work in order to find food and water, I think they could easily do the same 24 miles, even without a day off. So about 720 miles in 30 days.

If they were in better shape and didn't need to work hard to find food, they could do a lot more in a day, but I can tell you from experience it will take a huge psychological toll to do nothing but walk, even if they had someone to talk to. Actually it might be worse if there's other people, because they would slow each other down and get at each other's throats as the monotony settles in.

Also bear in mind you have to work up to walking all the time, even if you're a beefcake. I was already in good shape before starting my whole routine, but walking utilizes just certain muscles. All. The. Time. Even if you're able to put out a lot of power with every muscle of your body, it feels like torture to do the same thing again and again knowing you can't stop for hours. It's totally different from trying to finish a weight lifting routine over a few minutes. You will also feel like someone is hitting your feet with a baseball bat every step you take.

Edit: I also only carry a backpack that weighs ~15 pounds for my walks. If they're carrying a lot more gear it's going to be very difficult for someone who isn't acclimated.


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