How Far Can a Healthy Person Walk?

senior woman walking on mountain trail with hiking backpack


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How far a healthy and fit person could walk continuously in eight hours or the distance you could achieve in a day is a question that can come up when planning an adventure trek. Another situation that could require it is walking unexpectedly due to transportation breakdowns in a natural disaster or personal emergency.

Estimate Your Walking Distance

While your body is made for walking, the distance you can achieve at an average walking pace of 3.1 miles per hour depends on whether you have trained for it or not. A trained walker can walk a 26.2-mile marathon in eight hours or less, or walk 20 to 30 miles in a day. Steadily building your mileage with training allows you to walk long distances with less risk of injury.

Beginning Walkers

Untrained walkers can enjoy a two-hour, 6-mile walk at an easy pace, usually with no ill effects. The evidence for this comes from charity walks and American Volkssport Association 10-kilometer volksmarch walks.

People who have not done any dedicated walking usually complete these walks with no problems, although many discover they need better walking shoes.

Trained Walkers

But how far could a fit, trained person walk in eight hours? Many trained walkers finish a 26.2-mile walker-friendly marathon in about seven hours, with no breaks. If a walker is well-trained and is taking breaks and a meal stop, then 20 miles a day is reasonable.

If you take no breaks and are going fast, you may be able to cover 30 miles if you have steadily built your mileage over the course of three to six months.

Walkers on the month-long Camino de Santiago trek typically walk 12 to 20 miles per day on terrain that includes many hills.

Advanced Walkers

Are you planning an advanced walk for eight hours day after day, such as on a walk across the continent or walking the Camino de Santiago? The Western pioneers usually covered 20 miles a day with the wagon trains, most of them walking rather than riding.

If you are planning on a big trek, you need to train or you will get to endure blisters, chafing, muscle aches and even stress fractures. Unfortunately, you will see advice on forums for Camino walkers that it is fine to start the trek untrained, with the theory that "the Camino will train you." This is poor advice—the new trekker will be in misery and may even have to stop due to injury.

Train to Build Mileage

You should build up your mileage steadily rather than leaping from no walking to walking for four hours straight. In training for a 13.1-mile half-marathon or 26-mile marathon, you walk a long day every week and increase that mileage by 1 mile a week or 2 miles every two weeks.

There is an amazing training effect that happens. Twelve miles may have seemed very difficult the first time you reached that distance. But six weeks later when you are walking 18-mile days, the first 12 miles are easy and no strain at all.

Tips for Long Walks

Whether you are taking a planned walk or an unplanned walk there are steps you can take to make the effort more comfortable.

Manage Blisters and Chafing

Blisters on the toes, heels, and ball of the foot show where your shoes and socks rub you the wrong way. You may also develop chafing at the armpits, under the breast, and in the crotch as sweat forms gritty salt crystals. Using a lubricant can help protect the skin, while you can toughen the skin of your feet by steadily building up your walking time.

Also, select your most comfortable pair of sneakers, or in foul weather, your best trail shoes or comfortable boots. Don't try anything new for your first long walk. Use cornstarch in your socks to help keep your feet dry. A little petroleum jelly on your toes and heels can also help prevent blisters. Select synthetic or wool socks rather than cotton socks—they will help wick away sweat and help prevent blisters.

Layer Your Clothing

Prepare for a long walk by layering your clothing. Choose a sweat-wicking inner layer of polyester, not cotton. Select an insulating layer such as a wool shirt, polyester fleece vest or shirt, or a down vest if temperatures are cool. Bring a windproof outer layer.

These three layers can see you through most conditions, either on a mountain or in the urban jungle. You will want to be able to add or remove a layer as you heat up or cool down. Also think of the other essentials including a hat, a good pack, a water bottle, sunscreen, and lip protection.

Carry Your Stuff

A purse or briefcase will upset your posture if you carry it for more than a few minutes. For any distance walking, look for a backpack that will allow you to carry your stuff securely while maintaining good walking posture. A backpack with a waist belt distributes the load at your center of gravity, where nature intended it to be.

Lighten up as much as possible. If you only have a few items to carry, put them in a fanny pack or in the pockets of your jacket or pants.

Plan for Food and Hydration

Have a big glass of water 90 minutes before you walk. That will give your body good starting hydration and time to eliminate any extra. As you walk, have a cup of water every half hour. When you finish your walk, have another tall glass of water.

Before your walk, have a small balanced meal of protein and carbs. If you are sensitive to lactose, avoid milk products before a walk. You don't want to start on empty, but you don't want too much food jostling around in your stomach as you walk. Have a small snack after two hours if you must go on a very long walk.

Make Safety a Priority

Take extra precautions if you will be walking in the dark. Your walking trip may extend from dusk till dawn. You will want to wear reflective clothing and preferably wear light-colored clothing. Take precautions as vehicles are less likely to see you. Carry a small flashlight.

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  1. American Academy of Dermatology. How to Prevent and Treat Blisters.