The time period is ~medieval. Imagine two characters who are physically fit. One comes from a city, the other has lived his life in the forest. The total distance they'll cover is ~170 miles. The terrain being covered is a forest. The season is late Spring to early Summer so snow is not a factor. The only major obstacle is one river. One of the characters knows the forest well so getting lost is not an issue. Food supplies will need to be hunted/gathered for the most part. (One character has a hunting animal to help with this.) As there are hostiles in the region, inconspicuous camps are important. Right now I've assumed 6-8 miles per day average for a journey length of 18-28 walking days. Adding in rest days once in five and that would put in 3-6 more days for a total of 21-34 days. Is that accurate at all?

Edit: I forgot to explicitly state they're walking.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 2:42

14 Answers 14


It would depend about how well the 'ranger' knows the forest.

the other has lived his life in the forest

In the forest, or in This specific Forest ? Because it will change things a lot. You later state that the ranger knows this forest well, so my assumption is that he lived in this forest.
The river will not be a problem, the ranger knows where fords are (And more globally, there will be no backtracking).
If people lived 'in it', it's not a primordial forest.
While it's not a managed forest with actual road, it's safe to assume there are at least hunting tracks.

From my point of view you can go with the fast propositions. Around 10-15 days, 25 if you add 'events' will seems correct. Less than this will pass if your characters are clearly above average. But for more than a month, you will need to 'help' your reader to understand why it was so long.


TL;DR -- 11 days

There are many factors involved, which makes this a difficult question to answer with a single number. But let's try.

The standard accepted answer for Roman legionaries is 20 miles/day (nice discussion here: http://www.romanarmytalk.com/thread-5631.html ), which would give you 180/20 = 9 days, with an 5-hr marching day a speed of 4 mph. This is fully loaded with gear, and having to build a fort in the evening. This is a standard, not a forced march. But those cats didn't have to forage, and, well ... hostiles would be smart to dodge them. How does that affect things, hmm...

According to the accepted answer here ( How long per day does it take to forage/hunt for food? ) in relatively bountiful terrain you can get away with 3 hrs/day for hunting/foraging.

We also need to set aside some time for dodging enemies. This is wildly variable, depending on amount of cover, how sparse the enemies are, and so on. I'll suggest that just to get some numbers on the table we assume two hours of cowering under a bush every day.

So that gives us 10 busy hours per day, leaving plenty of time for making camp, having character-establishing scenes, and getting some rest.

So, if you accept this teetering stack of assumptions, you still can make 20 miles/day and make it in 9 days. Throw in an extra day for crossing the river, and another for some emergency.

I'm going to say 11 days, including a little bit of buffer.

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    $\begingroup$ 20 miles a day is good if there are footpaths in the forest and the terrain is mostly flat. If not, or if they are so terrified of hostiles that they frequently hide at the first weird sound they hear I think10 miles is the best they're going to get (+1). Less, it would be rare. No matter how dangerous the route is, you generally want it to make it fast. If needed you'd rather not hunt and eat one day than spending too much time in hostile territory. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ +1, this roughly matches my experience with a group not accustomed to long-distance walking, where we did about 12-15 miles a day by road on hilly terrain. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft: For someone in good shape and used to hiking, 20+ miles a day is doable on mountain trails. But that's assuming you're carrying food, and don't have threats from hostiles. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf the hostiles are the huge variable. We don't know enough about them to say how big a factor they'll be, or how far out of the way (trading distance/time for safety) the travelers are willing to go to avoid them. Since this is worldbuilding for a story, I expect something like (1) travel scene, (2) character building scene, (3) fight scene; repeat as needed. ;D $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ The tendency of Roman Legionaries to travel in groups and build forts helped them get a good night's sleep in a limited time. They only needed a small fraction to keep watch at any given time, and the rest could relax. Each individual could spend most of the night sleeping, with at most one short sentry-duty. If two people are going to maintain an overnight watch they either don't get much sleep or have to stop for a longer time. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 14:43

Let's look at a very real worst-case situation. The Mormon Pioneers travelled from Nauvoo, IL to Council Bluffs, IA between February 2 and June 14, 1846. Nauvoo, IL is on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, so we can ignore it, that means only one substantial river. the Des Moines. It's plains (nor forest), but it's also 300 miles, and the weather stank. Rain, mud, etc. People were walking, pulling handcarts, and driving teams. There were Indians, so hostiles are equivalent. They carried their food and hunted irregularly, so that's an advantage. It took them 131 days.

Your guys are a small group, walking, in a forest. Easier as two guys, harder in a forest, hunting slows them down. You don't mention inclement weather (mud's actually harder to walk in than hardpack snow), but it will happen over that distance and time.

Worst case: 74 days.

Now let's look at an equally real best-case example some U.S. Civil War armchair experts suggest that 10 miles a day was liesurely and 20 miles a day was common, "but pushing it." These guys have regular rest breaks, but they also have all the food in carts behind them. No hunting at all, nothing to do but walk. They were using roads, not enclosed forest (uneven ground), and we're assuming no Confederates upset the march during the day. Let's use the average of 15 miles a day.

Best case: 11 days.

I'm a huge believer in Murphy's Law, which stated the way I think is appropriate right now says, "If anything makes your story appear to easy or convenient, it probably is." Therefore, let's use the universal law of averages to suggest:

Expected transit time without remarkably good luck: 40 days or 4.25 miles a day.

  • Your audience would likely suspend their disbelief if you called it a month and they "got lucky" with no major bad weather.

  • Two weeks is unbelievable, not with the need to hunt, avoid hostiles, and no roads. They'd be running when not hunting and hiding.

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    $\begingroup$ Your upper estimates are from cases where people were uprooting and relocating, meaning they were carrying pretty much everything they had. I'm quite sure a less-encumbered person could do more than 2-3 miles per day with very little trouble - that's walking for only two hours a day at an extremely leisurely pace. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang, That's walking on pavement in good weather with no other burden in the day and no interruption for 2-3 miles a day carrying nothing on your person but possibly a water bottle. That's why it was listed, not as an estimate, but as a factual worst-case. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ JBH, your numbers are extremely low ball. As a moderately encumbered hiker who is fit, but not, you know, anything special, I've been able to do 8 - 12 miles a day easily in mountain terrain in all manner of conditions. Thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail -- carrying a good deal of gear -- regularly do 10 - 15 miles a day in all manner of weather. The current record for the AT was an ultra-runner who did 45+ miles a day for 46 days straight. Also, ChrisW, I'm not sure how Indiana came into the discussion, but it's not considered part of the great plains. It's heavily forested. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ @mark Sure, but if I hadn't been carrying food with me, I likely could have gone even a little faster (lighter load). Also, in forested -- as opposed to mountainous terrain -- my pace would have been much faster. There's a six mile loop trail through 60 year growth forest near my home. I can typically do it 2 hours with out pushing hard. Assume a 12 hour day, that same pace, that's 18 miles a day (with 6 hours walking, 6 hours foraging). Granted that's a trail, but even having to navigate brush 10 miles a day is not crazy. Pushing it, one could go even faster. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for providing a range of estimates. We can quibble all day about how fast the fastest reasonable pace would be, and how slow the slowest, but IMO the important take-home message here is that the travel time can vary by nearly a factor of 10 depending on things like terrain, weather, food supply, health and fitness, availability of roads or trails, presence of hostiles, etc. Just saying "forest with one river" isn't enough to narrow that range down significantly. One the other hand, that's kind of convenient for the writer, since you can basically make it take as long you want it to take. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 15:47

Doing 20 to 30 miles with out to much weight is very doable, even for the untrained but fit. The next day is painful, but doable. It's the progression of long walks that wear you down. May I suggest you do a bit of walking yourself to try this out? Find a nice 25 mile stretch to walk, and go do it, you should be able to so in about 7 to 10 hours. Take a companion, that makes is better & easier. (don't forget water, food and a toilet roll if you go into the big(ger) outdoors)

You have some excellent answers for non-optimal conditions. Let me enlighten & entertain with some more extreme options. All these answers are best case scenario's.

Loaded Marches

You just keep on walking, and you can keep on going quite well. With 20 to 35 miles a day doable on very good ground, you could do the trip in 4 to 7 days. Not much time for foraging, but you will very likely outpace any pursuers.

Kennedy Style Marches

They found that you can do 50 miles in one day (20 hours). You will be extremely tired after that. If you are trained for this and have enough food, you can make the trip in a bit under 4 days. If you walk one day, rest one day, you will be arriving on the 7th day. This will make you hard to intercept, as you will move longer distances then expected.

Ultra Marathon

Somehow, both of your heroes are capable of an ultra marathon. They also aren't carrying any gear. These lads (and ladies) do 10 mph. For up to 24 hours at a stretch. If all goes well, it only takes up to 17 hours this way.

But all these options are for the trained and (very) capable. Happy camping (and walking)!

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    $\begingroup$ I am glad you included the Ultra Marathon category. In my case for fantasy background to show how fast it is possible to move if you don't have to carry, or gather, food, water, or shelter $\endgroup$
    – P Chapman
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ Also add that ultra marathoners aren't carrying much. $\endgroup$
    – Pliny
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 5:06

It depends on the forest.

Assuming a virgin forest, the river might be the only highway through it (not an obstacle).

You might be surprised at how impenetrable a real forest (not a man-made, managed forest) can be. Nicky's answer reminds me of forest in Western Canada: where the "rotting wood" might be fallen trees 3 metres in diameter (difficult to climb over, walk around, or navigate in).

I can't easily find photos to illustrate, perhaps because people can't go there (physically unable and legally forbidden), and it's not very photogenic, but here for example (next to a boardwalk):

nursery log


Typical characteristics of old-growth forest include presence of older trees, minimal signs of human disturbance, mixed-age stands, presence of canopy openings due to tree falls, pit-and-mound topography, down wood in various stages of decay, standing snags (dead trees), multilayered canopies, intact soils, a healthy fungal ecosystem, and presence of indicator species.

See also Pit-and-mound topography -- the soil is uneven, your feet sink into it some, there's rot and fungus and you can't see far etc.

Your estimate of 6-8 miles per day implies maybe 1 mile per hour, which is only 3 or 4 times slower than a walk in open country. I guess it could be 10 times slower than that, e.g. an hour to go a couple of hundred yards.

In my (very limited) experience it can be more like trying to climb through it than walk through it.

  • $\begingroup$ Yup, we once decided to dodge two river crossings by bush-bashing, and spent an hour doing only 100m or so. At that rate you'd be months doing 170 miles as you're doing under a mile per day. So pick a time from 2 weeks to 3 months - whatever fits the story. $\endgroup$
    – sdfgeoff
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ There are a lot of deer paths in every forest. You don't usually bushwack through the growth. Old growth forests tend to have many such paths - and the locals know them - so if you're being hunted you would need to keep that in mind as well. $\endgroup$
    – Mayo
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ Not all forests are the same. I've been in mature forests where it was essentially open beneath the canopy and easy going because the trees prevented the growth of underbrush and aside from hitting the odd wet spot it's like strolling through a city park. I've been in a second growth forest (immediately adjacent to the first one) where trying to fight through underbrush is a bloody nightmare and getting a few kilometers a day would be a miracle. The nature of your forest and terrain (Is it well drained? Swampy? Muskeg?) will be the biggest factor. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ +1 I've been in trekking in really really crappy terrain in the rockies or Scandinavia and on parts we averaged less than 1 mile per hour (that was with some 20-30kg packs). $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 14:38

These people are not lazy unfit modern people. Their primary transport is walking in an age when you walked or stayed home. This means that their baseline of physical fitness is higher than ours.

Their required gear is considerably more basic than ours. We'd carry changes of clothes, cooker and fuel, tent, sleeping bag etc. etc. that these people wouldn't even think of. Sleep under a tree with maybe a bedroll, (folding) hide pot for cooking, firelighting equipment, bow for hunting.

Terrain is against them, no modern or Roman roads to speak of, uneven ground, forests can be surprisingly open at ground level, or totally impenetrable due to undergrowth. Occasional forest fires and browsing animals will keep this clear, depends on your environment. If it's clear then an open forest can be very easy soft ground to walk for miles at a time.

Modern experience (personal), we used to do 50miles in 4 days in wild country carrying full kit (1/3 body weight) while being experienced but not especially fit city teenagers. We did this in the knowledge that we could have covered that distance much faster without load, easily two days even on that terrain.

Hostiles are possibly irrelevant. You're talking about an age with a much lower population density, once you're a day's walk from a town you're unlikely to see anyone unless you're on a direct route to the next town and even then merchants and highwaymen only. People didn't travel much, soldiers would be on the roads not in the back country, highwaymen would be on the roads to find targets, no point being in the back country. The adventures will come at the river, the rest is just a lot of walking.


If they want to make a route march of it and get lucky hunting: 9 days or fewer.
Steady walking with a little time to gather food: 12-15 days.

The river

This is actually the biggest problem, it could add several days to find a crossing. They probably can't swim, there probably isn't a ford, there won't be a boat unless they find a town which I get the feeling they're avoiding. They'll have to follow the river a considerable distance to find a suitable place to cross, the first crossing inland from the sea will almost certainly have a town or village. Depending on avoidance of others/country/terrain/river width/speed/etc. add 1-6 days just to cross the river.

As an example, Harwich and Felixstowe* are port towns on the English East coast. They're a few hundred meters apart. To travel from one to the other without a boat is over 30miles, even using the new Orwell bridge. Without a crossing a river is an impassible barrier.

n.b. For a modern hiker on a known trail: The Pennine Way, 268 miles, can be done in around 3 weeks with no particular hurry, carrying full kit.

*Arbitrarily selected because I know the towns not for any other particular reason, I'm sure there are equivalents requiring far longer detours.

  • $\begingroup$ "Their primary transport is walking in an age when you walked or stayed home." Well, they did have horses, but, yeah, they definitely walked more than your average person today in a developed economy. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ i really wouldn't call those rivers betweeen harwich and felixstowe, those are more coastal inlets. their width and depth is heavily influenced by being right on the sea. an inland, forested river will have many, many possible fords within a short distance. especially if you're on foot and willing to fight your way through choppy water. $\endgroup$
    – worc
    Commented Oct 27, 2017 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ @worc That's a stream not a river! Basically if it's not a barrier it's not worth mentioning in a story. The Orwell is a classic of the form, it's a tidal navigable river of the type that almost every major European city is built on. In this case it has Ipswich at the first reasonable crossing point. Upstream of the city you can wade it easily. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix your example is an inlet, not a river! maybe this is my cascadian pride, but no englishman is going to tell me about large, dangerous and impassable bodies of water. we have the sound, the strait, and the graveyard of the pacific. and c'mon, british isles geography is odd. most continental rivers most of the time are small, shallow and fast. aka, fordable, if dangerous. $\endgroup$
    – worc
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ @worc, your trouble is you have too much inland waterway and not enough coast ;) The outer end of almost all rivers is tidal, and tidal is impassible without a boat. Follow the river inland and you'll see a town straddling the river at the first crossing. Whether Ipswich, Bordeaux, Bremen or Hamburg, or something like the Danube which is so impassible it acts as international borders for much of its length. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 13:05

Much depends on the nature of the forest! In New Zealand's sub-alpine rainforest (say on the West Coast) in the absence of tracks, one or two miles A DAY can be the limit of your ability. This is without hacking undergrowth with machetes, just dealing with the terrain, deep in moss and rotting wood. Carrying food, no shortage of water (solid drizzle for a week), nothing to hide from.


Me and my friends did a few distance day hikes. We covered 32 miles with a 3000' drop then climb (Havasupai Trail to Colorado and back) and 28 miles with a 6000' drop then climb (North Rim of GC on North Kaibab). The first hike was completed in 16 hours and the second one took only 12. So in these cases the elevation was much more strenuous, but we weren't foraging either.

I would cut down the hiking time to 8 hours for the forest and assume that we were averaging 30 miles every 12 hours and you get a leisurely average of 20 miles a day. So 8-9 days. Actually, you could pack enough bread, dried meat, and pulse to make up for most of your food for that period.


I used to take teenagers on backpacking trips in Willmore Wilderness in Alberta. We traveled in fall, so our day was more constrained by daylight. We had little problem covering 15 to 25 km/10 (10 to 15 miles)

  • As people harden to the trail, the distance you can go each day increases. Part of this is increasing strength, much of it is learning how to move so that it takes less energy.

  • We did about 1/3 of our distance off trail. Below tree line this doubled the time it took per crow mile. We were both slower, and had to detour more, and there were stops of the 'How the f* do get around THAT' Above tree line it made very little difference.

  • I've also traveled in woods on the west coast. Whole different ballgame. Harder to keep a straight line. Harder to get direction from the sun.

  • The fur trade in Canada was all water based. It was MUCH faster to travel by canoe than by anything else until the railway came into play. An express canoe routinely did 60 miles a day. I've done 67 miles in a day. (Crossed Cree Lake in N. Saskatchewan) But I couldn't do that on a daily basis without a lot more experience and training. We typically did 40 miles a day of flat water travel.

  • Lagemodiere took the news of the clash between rival fur trading companies from near what is now Selkirk, manitoba to Montreal, a distance of 1800 miles in 5 months in winter, foraging. On some days he covered better than 50 miles on snowshoes.

So: Minimum time for fit people, who can carry a few days food (and so not have to forage) 4 days. This assumes open forest -- not much brush to tangle with, good weather.

I would budget 2 weeks. This would be 17 miles a day (10 days) + slop for avoiding hostiles, hunting down a deer, and turning it into jerky and moccasins.

Bad weather, bad terrain, make it as long as you want.

On the trips I ran, I budgeted 10% for weather too bad to travel. Mostly snow or wind driven ice water rains in the mountains and wind on canoe trips.


At a moderately swift pace on even (city) terrain, I have been able to cover about 5 km (about 3.1 miles) in an hour or so. I wouldn't have called myself fit-fit - I doubt that I would have been able to cover 6 miles in 2 hours, or 9 miles in 3 hours, for example.

So if you slow that down for factors like hunting on-the-go, terrain and increasing fatigue, and because I like nice, round numbers, they might make 2 to 2.5 miles per hour (thanks @Rekesoft!).

Potentially your forest dweller could range ahead, as (s)he would be more mobile in an area that they are familiar with and find a suitable camp ahead of time. On the other hand, since secure and concealed camps are important, they may have to stop a little earlier some days when camp sites are sooner, with none being found later.

Considering the time of year, a travelling day might then have twelve hours (latitude might affect this. I know it gets dark later closer to the equator than it does towards the poles).

So. With all of the above factors added together and also adding in rest breaks, I would give average time traveled per day to eight hours (so, you know, a normal working day).

Averaging 2.25 miles per hour and pushing themselves, your team could travel approximately 18 miles a day. Allowing themselves rest days would depend on in how much of a hurry they are - they might opt to keep moving in a period where they were excessively delayed, for example. Even so, let's put in one rest day after every 5 days (so every 6th day).

By my calculations they would be able to make the journey (sans rest day) in about 9.5 days, so including a day of rest in the middle of that, 10.5 days. That river would also slow them down - they would have to hunt around for a ford of some sort, or swim it, so I would add another day for that. So 11.5 days.

Mind you, I'm no hiker, so someone with experience with that might give a completely different number.

EDIT: I asked a friend who does hiking how far one can travel in a day, and his reply was between 8 and 22 km (so between 5 and 13.5 miles), depending on terrain. The average of that is 9.25 miles, which would extend travel time to roughly 18 days. Add in rest 3 rest days and your travel time would be 21 days.

  • $\begingroup$ In your second paragraph, I think you mean "2 to 2.5 miles per hour", not per day. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ "I know it gets dark later closer to the equator than it does towards the poles)" – actually, in late spring/early summer (e.e. around the summer solstice) it is the other way around – you have much more light time around the poles (24 hours) than around the equator (where you always have 12 hours). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ In extreme northern latitudes you might ask when it gets dark and be told "next month". I suppose technically that is later ... $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 23:43

Been there, done that, though I was alone, and the "hostiles" were known as "rangers" and "child protective services".

First, having to forage slows you down. A lot. You'll see people saying they can go 20, 30, even 50 miles in a day. But this is based on having a reliable supply of food, and usually on having a reliable source of light to let you set up camp after dark. Looking for food takes time, getting your camp chores done before dark takes time, and if you're traveling for more than a few days, maintenance such as repairing damaged gear takes time. Figure that at least half your daylight hours will be spent doing something other than covering ground.

Second, your speed for those few hours you are traveling is determined by the terrain: pushing through a hilly, brush-filled ravine is much slower than walking along a pre-existing trail. My best day, there was a recently-used logging road going my way, and I covered nearly 25 miles. My worst, I had to pick my way through swampy, heavily-overgrown ground, making slightly over a mile in five hours of travel.

Hostiles who are just casually looking for you don't slow you down much. Forests are big, people are small, and the main concern is that you need to keep your cookfire from being seen. You need to look for exceptionally dry wood to avoid smoke, and you need to extinguish it before dusk, which keeps you from hiking all day no matter how much food you have.

If you're avoiding trails, either to keep from being seen or because they don't go where you want, a rough estimate is that you'll average two miles an hour in open forests, or one mile an hour if there's significant undergrowth. If you've got a trail you can follow, three miles an hour, four if the terrain is exceptionally flat. Figure you can spend half of each day's usable light traveling.

In late spring/early summer in temperate latitudes, this works out to a low speed of eight miles a day (constantly pushing through underbrush) to a high speed of 30 (a road goes where you want). Throw in a couple of bad days, and you'll cover that 170 miles between one and four weeks. Personally, I'd estimate three.


Average person can walk 18-25 km daily in 3-5 hrs at pace of 12 minutes per km. But condition is quiet difficult in forest but still he can travel 13 km or 8 miles per day with sufficient food supply. So any forest raised person can achieve this if he knows forest very well in 18 days most. Other city person can do that in 21 days most. But i still think this can be done in 11 days at 25km per day.


For hill-walking on trails, a rule-of-thumb is 10 minutes per 1km, plus 10 minutes for every 100 metres of ascent; there is no reduction for decent; indeed for steep descents some allowance should be given for this. In imperial system, this is approx. 15 minutes per mile, plus 15 minutes for a 500 foot ascent. I can't remember how many km this can be kept up for.

You might get a more accurate answer on the GreatOutdoors.SE [ https://outdoors.stackexchange.com/ ]


There are several super long endurance races (longer than a marathon) around the world.

The Jungle Marathon lets you sign up for a couple of options, including a 254km (~158 mile) run.


According to CNN, it goes for 6 days.


There are other ultramarathons that can be found. I just found another one that states he went 350 miles in 7 days, pulling a sled in Alaska.


So, if your guys are really fit and desperate to get where they are going, they can get there Real quick.


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