By: Blonde Two

Before I start writing this I’m going to tell you that, if you’re asking how long it takes to walk up a hill, you’re only asking half the question.

What do you mean?

It’s simple really. Contrary to popular belief, walking back down a hill can take longer than walking up it. If you get that wrong you can end up short on rations, water, energy, daylight and safety.

But isn’t walking uphill harder work?

Be it Marilyn, Munro or mountain, there’s no doubt that walking up a hill is hard work, and will generally take you longer than walking the same distance on flat ground. William Naismith, of Naismith’s Rule fame, understood that. He suggested that, although you should allow one hour for a walk of three miles, you should add an additional hour for every 2,000 feet of height gain.

Do you have that in decimal?

The good news is that all Naismith’s rules are easier to juggle once you switch to kilometre squares on your map. These days the mathematically challenged navigator works on four kilometres an hour on flat ground with one additional minute for each 10 metres of height gain.

If you’re a whizz at maths you’re probably about to tell me that four kilometres an hour isn’t equivalent to three miles an hour. You’re right but 4km/h works well for most people.

That’s still a lot of maths!

Indeed! But with an Ordnance Survey map in your hand the maths is reduced to counting. One blue grid square (1:25,000 and 1:50,000 scale) denotes one kilometre, which means that (obstacles notwithstanding) you should be able to walk across it in 15 minutes.

One brown contour line represents either five or ten metres height gain (check your map to find out), which means you need to allow an extra minute for every one or two contour lines crossed.

Add all the grid square time and all the height gain time together, and you will have a good estimation of your total walk time.

But how long does walking downhill take?

That’s the important question. Forgetting to add in your downhill time can really impact your enjoyment and ultimately safety on a hill walk. To help with that we can ask Eric.

Eric who?

Eric Langmuir, who wrote my absolute favourite (and most useful) outdoor book Mountaincraft and Leadership, was a wise man. He recognised that walking downhill could also be slower than walking on the flat. Many people have come up with ‘corrections’ to Naismith’s rule but Langmuir’s is the most usable.

Gentle downhill slopes – subtract 10 minutes for every 300 metres of descent

Steeper downhill slopes – add 10 minutes for every 300 metres of descent

Isn’t that a bit complicated?

Really complicated but we have a solution for that. We recommend allowing at least as much time to get back down a mountain as you needed to walk up it. This isn’t just based on experience (although that exists). There are some good reasons walking back down a hill might take you as long as (or longer than) walking up it.

  • You’re going to be more tired on your way back down
  • Steep downhill slopes can be trickier to negotiate
  • You’re more likely to stop thinking and get lost on the return journey
  • Blisters rarely form at the very start of a walk
  • You may have run out of food and water, both of which will slow you down

So how long does it take to walk up a hill?

For that you need the Blonde rule. It hasn’t been officially recognised yet but is very useful. (Hint: writing a route card is an even better way to work out how long your walk will take).

Up Time = Down Time

Mountain Time = Up Time + Down Time + Coffee Time + Photo Time + Map Time

That’s a lot of time!

It is but all mountain time is time well spent. It’s worth remembering that, at the moment, you need to add 45 minutes ‘queuing at the top time’ on Yr Wydda (Snowdon). What’s really important though, especially with autumn approaching, is to make sure you set off early enough to get back down before it gets dark.

I don’t like getting up early.

That one’s easy to solve too. Risk being benighted or choose a smaller hill! The other thing you can do is plot your route on a mapping app such as OS Maps. We don’t recommend following the route on your device because you need to keep it for emergencies but it can be really helpful for pre-planning.

Any other hill-walking advice?

For slightly more relaxing walking days, you might be interested in our even more Blonde Cream Tea Rule!

Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa)