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Mile Equivalent

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Mile Equivalent

Postby Ranboze » Thu Jul 13, 2006 9:41 pm

I met a seasoned backpacker along the Bishop Pass trail and chatted a bit with him. He started talking about "mile equivalents", rattling off something like well, if the elevation gain is XXXX ft, then that's 1 mile equivalent. I can't remember the numbers but it's an interesting way of standardizing distance based on elevation gain/loss. Im very familiar with this concept, as it is used in medicine all the time. I've never heard of it applied to hiking and I can't remember the numbers he used for the conversion to "mile equivalent". Clearly we can all hike a lot further in a day if it is flat terrain vs a 3000-6000ft elevation gain. The mile equivalent would be helpful for me to plan how far I can go if the terrain involves a certain amount of elevation gain. Has anyone heard of mile equivalents and have the conversion factor?
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Postby markskor » Thu Jul 13, 2006 10:02 pm

I always use the "markskor" conversion factor...taught to me by my dad.
He would take the total miles hiked, and add another mile for each 1000 feet gained, and another for every 1500 feet lost. Thus the 7.4 miles up from Tuolumne to Vogelsang...add 2.5 miles for elevation = ~10 equivalent miles.

I have no idea if this is correct or not, but it works for me...feels about right.
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Postby giantbrookie » Fri Jul 14, 2006 9:03 am

I guess I've never really heard about "mile equivalents", but I've heard of time estimate adjustments for elevation gain and loss, which are essentially the same thing. I guess the rationale is something like, if you take a dead flat trail, you figure 3 mph for a good brisk clip. The "adjustments" then used depend on the person(s) (of course, so does the 3 mph). Many I've seen will tack on something like 1 hr per +1000' of gain or something like that. Of course, if we assign 3 mi per hour, then a time allotment of 1000'/hr actually would equate to an additional 3 miles, so this would give one abundant mileage "credits" for the elevation gain. In time equivalents elevation loss does pound the knees and quads, but, so long as it is on a trail, it doesn't result in reduced speed, so it isn't given a time allowance. I think it is fair to say that my own time allowance has stretched as the years have gone by. 10 mi/4000' is allotted far more time in planning than 15 years ago.
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Postby Shawn » Fri Jul 14, 2006 1:19 pm

In June I got caught up marching thru much more snow than expected in the Mineral King area. It occurred to me that there should be an index or
"mile equivalents" for that activity too. I have never been so happy to get back onto a snow-free trail. From that experience (walking across a relatively steep valley wall in snow) I would say that each mile covered is easily equal to three miles on the trail as far an calories burned.
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Re: Mile Equivalent

Postby DoyleWDonehoo » Fri Jul 14, 2006 2:34 pm

Ranboze wrote: He started talking about "mile equivalents", rattling off something like well, if the elevation gain is XXXX ft, then that's 1 mile equivalent.


I have always thought this was a common calculation. Set a base distance ur willing to travel. Calculate the distance to a goal. For every 1000 feet gained, add a mile. For every 1000 feet gained above 8500 feet, add a half or quarter mile. If it is the first day, for every 2000-foot gained, add a mile. If your pack is less than 35 pounds, take a mile off the whole day. If it is a full moon, take off a quarter mile. (OK, I made that up. ;^) Compare the results with your base distance.

Oh, and these are dry trail calculations. XC and snow, a whole other deal (harder).
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Postby quentinc » Fri Jul 14, 2006 9:43 pm

I think it's awfully subjective. I've heard the same formula that Giantbrookie mentions -- add an hour for each 1000 feet of gain. For me, at least, that vastly overstates the extra amount of time it take to gain elevation. But some people might find it spot on.

Declines in elevation are even harder to generalize about. If it's a relatively smooth trail, I can fly downhill, even with a heavy pack. But if it's one of those wretched trails with "steps" built in (god, how they make me wish I had a pack full of dynamite ;) ), it's sheer agony for my knees, and I go much slower.
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Postby langenbacher » Sun Jul 16, 2006 4:17 pm

I've been using 1 ft. up = 10 ft. forward, and it seems to work well. Add a couple of miles for 1000 ft. gain. No need to be precise, because you get there when you get there, and it all depends on the particulars.

When I'm hiking up a trail with about 1000 ft. of gain per mile, I use a real rough rule of thumb - 1000 ft. of elevation gain per hour is very good progress. For example, I climbed Shepherd pass in 8 hours - over 6000 feet of gain in about 8 miles.

I once compared the record time for a marathon to the record time to run up the Pike's peak toll road, and decided that the reduction of oxygen and elevation gain easily added over 10 feet of distance per foot of gain.

Downhill can be a plus or minus, if it's smooth or real steep.
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Postby dave54 » Sat Jul 29, 2006 7:26 pm

Use the numbers mentioned above to start, then adjust up or down to fit your personal experience.
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Postby SSSdave » Sun Jul 30, 2006 1:59 pm

This seem to be a discussion of the ratio of the time it takes an average hiker with an inconsequential load to hike across flat terrain of average terrain versus the time to do so when going up or down hill. Such could certainly be applied to high quality trails and reasonably correct hiking times for such travel. It would seem that if one is going to make use of such a weighting factor that one ought also have a list of other factors that will influence the standardardize factor. Maybe I'll take a crack at that.

Quality of the trail. Well there are certainly a lot of rougher trail features that can slow any of us down versus one of those wide well manicured for horse and wheel chair use trails. Rocky trails, worse across scree slopes,crumbling ball bearing debris surfaces, trails with lots of mucky spots to avoid, stream crossings and fords, steps, and those going through a shady forest versus a hot dark sun baked geology. We all know what hiking in sand is like. As Shawn noted hiking in soft snow, especially as it gets deeper, can be far worse. As a backcountry powder skier I know all too well how exhausting that can be. More often such an unpleasant surface isn't sand but rather the laborious mix of soft dirt and mashed horse road apples from weeks of packer traffic. All these and more can effect our time in hiking.

Weather. Always can hike faster and further over time while it is cool versus warm. Hiking with sun on one's back is always preferrable to hiking with a bright sun in one's face. Rained on trails can be slippery. One of the worst situations is hiking into a brutal head wind. Especially with a large surface area pack.

Our own physical condition. Certainly there is a huge range of speeds between individuals even with identical loads. Related to that is how much exertion we have already been doing since we last fully recovered by resting. Thus if one has already hiked 5 miles, a repeat of those same 5 miles again is likely to be much slower. Like the backcountry skier that keeps climbing up then skiing down the same modest 1000 foot slope. After a couple of those up and downs, things can get mighty slow with stops.

The weight one is carrying. Simply the more one carries the slower one goes. And that seems to have much more effect going uphill. Maybe a square function due to the forces. As someone that carries ugly pack weights, my own experience is once one exceeds a certain heavy weight, adding additional weight has much more a negative effect. Thus if one is used to carrying a 55 pound pack, adding 10 pounds might have a lot more effect than when one went from 45 to 55.

delayed my road trip this morning for a day due to a weather front...David
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Postby Shawn » Sun Jul 30, 2006 3:14 pm

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Last edited by Shawn on Sat Aug 05, 2006 10:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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For our Scout troop...

Postby Phil R » Sat Aug 05, 2006 9:05 pm

To plan our backpacking time for our Scout troop we used: 1 hour for each mile plus one hour for each 1000 feet of gain. The faster hikers would beat that, of course, but for the whole troop to get there this worked pretty good.
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Postby wingding » Sun Aug 06, 2006 6:52 pm

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