Vertical gain and loss, distance, and hiking time

In the Alps, a day’s hike is most often described in terms of the vertical gain and loss, and rarely in terms of distance, given the range’s steep and rugged mountain terrain. The elevation difference between the valley floors and the mountain tops often exceeds 2000 meters, so distance as a metric often makes little sense.

The technical nature of a trail affects pace, especially when hiking downhill. Consider altitude as another factor that slows down forward progress when hiking uphill above 2500m to 3000m elevation.

Most signs at trailheads or junctions indicate the time it will take to reach your intermediate or final destination. These times represent estimates base on the average hiker capable of maintaining an uphill pace of 300 vertical meters per hour, a pace of 500 meters per hour when hiking downhill, and 4 kilometers per hour on flat terrain (rare). The times indicated are usually consistent within a given area or sub range. Once you have the chance to compare your time on one hike or section of trail, you should be able to reasonably calculate the time you think it will take to reach a specific location or your destination for the rest of your trip.

Consider the hiking times we provide as “guidelines.” You may very well take more or less time based on a variety of factors. The first day or two will allow you to calibrate your pace relative to our “guideline” times to better estimate if you will hike faster or slower during the upcoming days of your trek.

Please note that in the European Alps, when indicating distances, elevations, and vertical gain/loss, we use the metric system (meters and kilometers). To avoid having to calculate the conversion into feet or miles in your head, Goolge is a great tool. Otherwise, just in case, here are the conversion ratios: 1 meter = 3.28 feet; 1 kilometer = 0.621 miles.