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How Long Does It Take to Walk 20 Miles?

How Long Does It Take to Walk 20 Miles?

How Long Does It Take to Walk 20 Miles?

Walking 20 miles in one go can seem like a daunting task. As you set out on your journey, questions naturally arise: How long will this take me? What is a reasonable pace to maintain? How often should I stop to rest? This article answers all those questions and more, providing everything you need to know about walking 20 miles.

Calculating Time Based on Pace

The most important factor in determining how long it will take you to walk 20 miles is your walking pace. Here are some pace guidelines and the associated time it would take to complete the 20-mile distance:

As you can see, at a brisk 5 mph pace, it is possible to walk 20 miles in 4 hours. But for most people new to long-distance walking, that pace will be difficult to maintain. Let’s look more closely at what constitutes a reasonable pace for the average walker.

Determining a Reasonable Pace

For most reasonably fit walkers, a pace range of 3 to 4 mph is sustainable for long distances. A pace in that range translates to the following times to complete 20 miles:

The average American walks at a pace of about 3 to 4 mph. So if you consider yourself an average walker, plan on the longer end of that timeframe.

It is possible to walk faster than that pace for short bursts, but very difficult to sustain over 20 miles consistently. Walking faster leads to quicker fatigue and raises your risk of injury. For optimal safety and enjoyment, target the lower end of your comfortable pace range.

Factoring In Rest Breaks

Very few people will walk 20 miles straight through without any breaks. Periodic rest stops serve several important purposes for the long-distance walker:

Most experts recommend taking a 10-15 minute rest at least once every 1-2 hours during a longer walk. If you pace yourself appropriately, limited stops like that should not significantly affect your overall time.

However, you may desire or need longer breaks along the way. If so, make sure to factor additional time into your 20-mile walking estimate for each substantial rest stop. Calculate that time based on your planned pace.

For example, if your target pace is 3 mph (or 20 minutes per mile) and you take a 30 minute lunch break halfway through, add an extra 1.5 miles worth of time (30 minutes) to your total estimated time to finish.

A Realistic Timeline

Putting all those variables together, here is a realistic 20-mile walking timeline for the average walker:

Pace: 3 to 3.5 mph

Breaks: Two 15-minute short breaks, one 30-minute lunch break

Total Time: Around 7-8 hours

Follow that framework and you allow ample margin for safety, food intake, photos, bathroom stops and any unexpected needs along the way. Cutting time too close adds unnecessary stress and inhibits your ability to fully enjoy the journey.

Bringing along a watch to actively monitor your current pace and distance covered is highly recommended. For motivation along the way, create milestone check points every 5 miles. Celebrating those mini-goals helps the miles pass more smoothly. An overall average pace right around 3 mph facilitates meeting reasonable timeline expectations.

Preparing Physically and Logistically

Successfully walking 20 miles goes beyond mental toughness and positive thinking. It requires an intentional effort to prepare yourself physically and logistically:

Physical preparation:

Logistical preparation:

Skiping on preparation inevitably backfires. It is possible to walk 20 miles without thorough training and planning – but extremely miserable. Investing sufficient time upfront sets you up for the most rewarding experience possible.

Weather Considerations

Mother nature’s whims must also factor into your plans when walking long distances outdoors. Be prepared to adjust both your pace and timeline based on weather conditions by:

Remaining flexible plays a vital role when confronting uncertain weather over many miles. Have backup plans outlined for various scenarios, including options to shorten your route or split it over multiple days if needed.

No technology yet allows controlling the weather (despite the claims of rain dance enthusiasts!). The wisely prepared walker acknowledges nature’s power and prepares accordingly.

Handling Challenging Terrain

In addition to weather uncertainties, the actual terrain you cross on a 20-mile walk introduces it’s own set of challenges. Here some common ones to prepare for:

Elevation Changes

Uphill and downhill sections require modified pace management. You will naturally walk slower ascending steep grades. Avoid overexertion early that leaves you gasping later. Take advantage of gravity’s pull on downward slopes by limiting braking. Stride smoothly and let momentum propel you forward when prudent.

Concentrate on proper form in descent – don’t lean too far forward. Target small, quick steps driving from your core vs. long strides using momentum. Practice terrain-specific techniques during training walks. Know what walking poles, gripping shoes or other gear aids stability in slope changes.

Soft Surfaces

Sand along beaches or grassy fields prove more physically taxing than smooth sidewalks. Each footstep sinks and slides before finding traction to propel upwards again. Patience pays off by slowing your pace, shortening stride length and lifting feet higher with each step rather than dragging toes. Maintain balance using wider arm swings and minimizing abrupt direction changes.

Cross these softer surfaces fresh whenever possible. If forced to cross later in your journey when muscles ache, mentally prepare beforehand. Take more frequent short breaks to shake out limbs and catch your wind.

Rough Terrain

Rocky trails dotted with roots, holes, branches and other obstacles require heightened focus with each step. Scan constantly for potential footing traps. Allow additional time for each mile crossed to select placement cautiously. Choose stability over speed in choosing each foothold, while still maintaining reasonable pacing.

Step over/around impediments rather than directly on them whenever safe. Make wide detours around potentially slick surfaces like mud or deep puddles. Stay alert to changes in terrain masked by vegetation far ahead on the path. Walking poles provide extra stability for catching imbalances quickly. Sturdy hiking boots or shoes assist traction in rough conditions.

Traffic Safety

Unfortunately not every mile covered will wander peaceful wooded trails. Some portions likely lead along road shoulders or through busy urban settings. Safety takes priority whenever forced to share space with vehicular traffic. Minimize distractions from headphone music or phones. Make use of sidewalks even if winding indirect. Assume drivers do NOT see walkers well.

Cross cautiously at designated intersections. Seek eye contact with motorists for acknowledgement before proceeding, even at light-controlled crossings. Step purposefully avoiding sudden lunges into the path of an oncoming vehicle. If no sidewalks exist, face oncoming traffic and remain far from road edges. Making yourself visible via bright clothing, reflecting tape/belt/vest and flashing lights helps significantly.

Staying vigilant for 20+ miles is extremely taxing both physically and mentally. But maintaining good judgement could save your life around risky traffic areas. Never compromise common safety practices for convenience or exhaustion’s sake.

Motivations for Walking 20 Miles

Why attempt walking such an extremely long distance in the first place? Reasons vary greatly by the individual, but often include:

Physical Fitness Goals

Walking 20+ miles in one shot represents an epic feat of endurance and strength sure to kick any body into shape. Preparing for the challenge builds cardio health, lower body power, core stability and overall resilience.

Mental Toughness Goals

Pushing beyond preconceived personal limits proves to oneself the possibilities exist far beyond comfort zones. Developing grit to put one foot in front of the other mile after mile builds emotional fortitude transferrable to all of life’s arenas.

Adventure Seeking

Trekking 20 miles take most people through landscape variety that stimulates wonder and awe. The extended timeframe allows deeper connection to surround natural beauty with all sensory inputs on high alert. Curiosity compels discovering what lies over the next ridge or valley.

Fundraising for Causes

Non-profit charity organizations connect walking 20+ miles to raising money for research or community support programs. Supplying participants gear, planning celebratory finish lines and gathering sponsorships incentivizes joining these meaningfully impactful team endurance challenges.

Health Conditions Demand It

Some attempt the 20-mile feat at the strong urging of medical professionals. Improved cardiovascular health markers like blood pressure, resting heartrate and body composition often hinge upon adding more rigorous exercise for those managing illness like obesity or diabetes. Their very quality of life depends upon building endurance.

Preparing for a Thru-hike

Aspiring thru-hikers tackling lengthy trails like the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail recognize needing to prep body and mind to handle walking 15-25 miles day after day shouldering a 40 lb pack. Starting off with a solo 1-day 20 miler provides realism.

Pure Enjoyment

For avid outdoor enthusiasts already accustomed logging daily miles on feet, the notion of just wandering a full day through nature’s splendor sparks joy and contentment. The longer the route, the more immersive the temporary escape from urban responsibilities and anxieties. Moving slow enough to inhale fresh air and commune with self proves restorative.

The “why” behind walking 20 miles varies widely based on each person’s interests, needs and passions. Common to all rationales rests acknowledging both the physical and mental challenge inherent to the ambitious distance. Tapping determination and courage often features centrally in chasing the goal down mile by mile.

History of Ultra-Walking Feats

While walking 20 miles in a single shot seems epic by most modern standards, the roots of pushing the limits of human endurance on foot stretch back centuries and across cultures worldwide. Some seminal moments in extreme walking’s evolution include:

Bets and Stunts

As early as the 1800’s, gentleman’s betting on outlandish stunts came into vogue across Europe. Newspapers documented individuals winning wages by walking hundreds of miles in just a few days or circling the same small loop thousands of times over many days. The quest racing against the clock while battling sleep deprivation fascinated onlookers.


Various religious rites of passage involve prolonged journeys by foot to reach holy shrines and sites. For centuries Hindus have walked hundreds of miles barefoot to temples in Sri Lanka. Muslims hike for days across deserts to reach Mecca during their once-in-a-lifetime Hajj. Roman Catholic pilgrims along El Camino in Spain log over 100 miles during months-long sojourns.

Early Pedestrianism

In 1861, Edward Payson Weston walked from Boston to Washington DC (over 450 miles!) in under 11 days spread, launching an international pedestrianism craze. Huge spectator crowds turned out for similar regional matches in following decades, spawning the profession of “pedestrians” showcasing walking talents for betting audiences.

Health Movement

As formalized sports took shape in the early 20th century, health advocates also began promoting walking’s physical and emotional benefits. News stories celebrated individuals hiking cross-country or circling entire cities on foot over multiple days. Walking clubs and multi-day endurance challenge events formalized to tap into mainstream interest.

Thanks to these daring pioneers proving extraordinary human abilities, the modern extreme walking community continues pushing limits ever further through competitions, thru-hiking adventures and grassroots groups celebrating movement outdoors. Those accumulating their own 20-mile single trek join a long lineage of intrepid sojourners.

Final Motivation to Keep Walking

When staring down many more miles left to cover on an uber-long walk, discouragement and discomfort invariably creep in. No amount of preparation fully inoculates against inner voices whispering to throw in the towel when exhaustion sets in.

Arm yourself preemptively against this inevitable inner angst by identifying motivating mantras, songs or imagery sure to lift flagging spirits at the right moment. Write these emergency inspiration primers on a small card kept accessible while hiking.

Final Tips for Walking 20 Miles

Final Thoughts

With thorough planning and preparation, successfully walking 20 miles lies within most moderately active adults’ capabilities. Allow reasonable time estimates, prepare properly both physically and logistically and remain flexible to navigate inevitable challenges that emerge. Embrace the journey mindfully, follow wise protocols and celebrate each step that advances you closer to your goal!

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