Sooner or later, usually sooner, anyone planning a bikepacking trip needs to answer this critical question: how many miles per day should I expect to ride? The answer unlocks many key decisions like how many days the route will take, where you might camp each night, and how much food to carry between resupply stops.
Unfortunately, this important question can be hard to answer. The challenge is that bikepacking pace can vary really widely, perhaps by as much as 10x (think 2mph versus 20mph) depending on topography and terrain. Compared to hiking, where your pace might range between 1 to 3mph at most, this is a massive difference and getting it wrong can put you very far off your planned itinerary.
So let’s avoid that! In this post I break down a few different ways to estimate your daily mileage while bikepacking. These methods can help you calculate a big-picture average or plan a detailed daily itinerary, depending on your needs.
This post is very much based on my personal experience, because I’ve tried nearly every style of bikepacking in my 20,000 loaded miles: short, long, slow, fast, heavy, light, beginner, experienced, gravel, singletrack… You name it, I’ve tried it, and probably misestimated my daily mileage the first time. Read on to learn from my mistakes!
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If you already ride bikes but are new to bikepacking, you may need to adjust your expectations for how far you can ride in a day. These two groups in particular are often surprised by their bikepacking pace:
Newer cyclists: If your longest ride to date has been only a few hours, you may be shocked (in a good way) about how far you can ride in a full day of bikepacking. The key: you have all day and nothing else to do! Just keep pedaling. It’s not unusual to log a new personal best for daily mileage during a bikepacking trip.
Competitive cyclists: If you love tracking pace and power during your training rides, you may be surprised and perhaps frustrated by the slower moving pace of bikepacking with a loaded bike. There’s a mindset shift involved too, from performance to experience. Many cyclists, even very fit ones, find that a less intense pace helps them take it all in and stay strong over multiple long days on the bike.
Regardless of your approach and experience, the goal is to find a comfortable all-day pace and then stick to it, all day. This pace depends on the rider, route, bike, and gear load, among other things, as you’ll see in upcoming sections.
Short Trips vs. Long Trips
It’s always helpful to estimate your daily mileage while bikepacking, but most people approach short trips a bit differently from long trips.
On a short trip, say less than a week, you may be working with a rigid schedule. You have to be home at a certain time and need to make your miles each day. You might even be aiming for a specific camp location each night. In this case you’ll want to look at each section’s elevation profile and surface and make a tentative plan, and perhaps a backup plan, for each day.
On a long trip, like a couple months on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, it’s impossible to plan every day before starting. A better approach is to estimate an average daily mileage for the whole thing so you can guess how long you’ll be on the road (be sure to consider a range between best and worst case scenarios). Then, once you’re approaching each resupply stop, look ahead at the next few days in more detail to plan food and water.
On any length trip it’s wise to have a backup plan if things go slower than expected. Would you push your finish day later, bail early, or take a shortcut? Are all group members, if applicable, in agreement?
Summary Table: Miles Per Day
I often see new bikepackers ask something like “What’s a normal bikepacking speed?” Most experienced bikepackers answer this question by asking questions in return: What route? What bike? How much gear? What are your goals?
The table below breaks down expected miles per day based on the two biggest factors: the ruggedness of the route and the approach of the rider. If you’re looking for a very general idea of reasonable daily mileage, this is a good place to start. These numbers aren’t exact, but they’re based on my personal experience and that of many fellow bikepackers on all kinds of routes.
These numbers are in units of miles per day, not including rest days:
|Terrain and Surface||Beginner||Relaxed||Moderate||Ambitious|
|Pavement and smooth gravel||20-35||35-50||50-70||70+|
|Gravel and light singletrack||15-30||30-40||40-55||55+|
|Rough gravel, 4×4 tracks, moderate singletrack||12-20||20-30||30-40||40+|
|Rough 4×4 tracks, technical singletrack||8-12||12-20||20-30||30+|
Terrain and Surface
Smooth or bumpy? Well-maintained or rugged? Terrain and surface are by far the biggest factors to consider when planning daily distance on a bikepacking trip. The term “bikepacking,” which typically refers to primarily off-pavement riding, can mean anything from cruising gravel roads to picking your way along technical singletrack (or both in the same day). This is why it’s so important to research your route and understand its particular mix of terrain.
To help you pinpoint your particular route on the spectrum of ruggedness, here’s a breakdown of each terrain category in the Miles Per Day table above.
Pavement and Smooth Gravel
This is smooth-rolling terrain. You can pedal up most climbs (assuming low enough gearing and light enough load) unless they’re super steep. Descents are easy and fast, basically “free miles.” Long flat sections may be tedious and tough on the saddle area, but not too fatiguing to trained legs.
Gravel and Dirt Roads, Easy Singletrack
You’re still moving well, but a bit slower. You may need to choose a line to avoid ruts or washboard, and occasionally get off to push if a section is steep or rough. Downhills are still fairly low-effort but take a bit of concentration.
4×4 Tracks, Moderate Singletrack
This is the realm of rugged unpaved “roads,” chunky doubletrack, and lightly technical singletrack. You don’t necessarily need high-level MTB skills for this riding, but you do need some focus and physical strength. You may be hiking some rougher parts both up and down, and you won’t gain as much time back on the descents as you might expect.
Rugged 4×4 Tracks, Technical Singletrack
This is full-body bikepacking! It’s physical, slow, and demands focus and bike handling skills. There are very few “free miles” even while descending. Hike-a-bikes can be intense, your bike needs to be capable, and I really hope you packed light.
In reality most bikepacking routes include a mix of these terrain types, sometimes all in the same day! This makes it hard to plan a detailed itinerary unless you know exactly what to expect from each section, so you’ll need to either research your route in advance or plan to be very flexible.
For a long mixed route you can estimate overall distance per day by estimating the proportion of each terrain type (for example 50% gravel, 25% singletrack, 25% pavement), guessing your expected pace and time needed for each chunk, and adding them all together.
Rider and Approach
In the Miles Per Day table above, the rider categories (beginner, relaxed, moderate, ambitious) represent a messy blend of many factors. The names aren’t perfect but they’re the best I could come up with. They’re meant to describe a spectrum of how fast you can ride and how many hours per day you want to spend on the bike.
- Your fitness: how fast you can pedal
- Your endurance: how many hours you can ride for
- Loaded bike weight: ultralight, average, super-prepared, etc.
- Your bike handling skills, if the route is technical
- How well-suited your bike is to the terrain
- How much time you want for breaks, side trips, and relaxing at camp
- The mood you’re seeking: relaxed, efficient, challenging, fun…
- Group size: “herding cats” versus efficient solo riding
- Experience with your gear and cargo setup
The same rider might be in a different category for different trips. For example, you might place yourself in the “moderate” category on an ambitious solo trip but decide to plan based on the “relaxed” category for a chill trip with friends.
Here’s a quick sketch of each category.
Beginner: Just getting started with bikepacking and relatively new to bikes in general. Not used to riding more than an hour or two at a time. Out to have fun and/or try a new adventure.
Relaxed: Some experience with bikepacking, or at least some good general fitness, and no desire to rush. Focus is on enjoying the experience and spending some quality time off the bike. Could also be an otherwise “moderate” rider with a heavy load or non-ideal bike choice (gravel bike on a technical route, for example), in which case the ride won’t necessarily feel relaxed but will still be slower.
Moderate: A typical bikepacker with “trail legs” (either well-trained or on a long trip) who wants to cover ground efficiently but without requiring an ultralight setup, athletic talent, or both. Capable of riding some long days but doesn’t necessarily always want to. This is often the category I fall into!
Ambitious: Very good fitness and at least some bikepacking experience, a dialed lightweight gear setup, and a desire to cover some serious ground. Comfort is secondary to going places and the emphasis is on riding, not camping. At the extreme end of this spectrum you’ll find bikepack racers, though this is arguably its own entire category.
The overview table above helps with the big picture, but what about when you need to plan a detailed daily itinerary? You’ll need to dive into the elevation profile to estimate your moving pace over shorter sections.
It’s especially important factor in elevation change on mountainous routes with big climbs and descents. You might spend an entire day cranking up a 4000-foot 30-mile climb, then descend the other side in a couple hours the following morning! It’s not unusual to cover double the miles on days with lots of descent compared to days with more climbing.
The steepness of a climb is also important, specifically whether you can ride it or will need to hike-a-bike. If you’re new to bikepacking, expect to spend more time walking than you usually do on day rides! Hike-a-bike pace is around 1 to 3 mph, so steep climbs of a few miles can take longer than you expect.
With practice you can learn to look at an elevation profile and guess which sections will slow you down the most. Here’s an example showing how a snippet of elevation profile from Smoke ‘n Fire 400 translated into reality:
Type of terrain also matters, especially for descents. A big descent on smooth pavement might be a quick 30mph cruise, while the same elevation loss on rough trail could take hours of slow riding and hike-a-bike. It’s a bummer to expect the former and find the latter, especially late in the day when you’re far from your preferred camp spot.
This table gives some rough bikepacking pace ranges for uphill and downhill on each type of terrain. Remember, this is for moving time only and doesn’t include breaks.
|Pavement and smooth gravel||Gravel and dirt roads, easy singletrack||4×4 tracks, moderate singletrack||Rugged 4×4 tracks, technical singletrack|
|Steep uphill||5-6 mph||3-5 mph (maybe hike-a-bike)||2-4 mph (likely hike-a-bike)||1-3 mph (hike-a-bike)|
|Gentle uphill||7-9 mph||6-8 mph||3-4 mph||2-4 mph (maybe hike-a-bike)|
|Flat||10-12 mph||9-10 mph||4-5 mph||4-6 mph|
|Gentle downhill||15-20 mph||12-16 mph||6-8 mph||3-6 mph|
|Steep downhill||20-30 mph||16-20 mph||8-12 mph||2-4 mph (maybe hike-a-bike unless you’re a skilled mountain biker)|
Don’t forget to look up sunrise and sunset times for your location and time of year. The further you are from the equator, the bigger the difference between summer and winter daylight hours. Here in the United States the difference is enough to factor into your pace planning, especially from late fall through early spring.
Example: If you’re bikepacking in Montana during June (perhaps on the GDMBR), you have roughly 16 hours of daylight. That’s plenty for most people! Your legs may tire long before the sun sets.
But in Arizona during November (perhaps on the AZT) you have around 11 hours of daylight, which is enough to limit progress if you don’t get an early start.
Personally I like to eat meals and do camp chores in the light unless I’m on an ambitious itinerary. About 1.5 hours is enough for me to make or break camp and cook and eat a meal. With 11 hours of daylight this means I get 8 hours to ride, including breaks, so only about six hours of actual pedaling time. At this point daylight hours would be one of my biggest limiting factors.
Another practical consideration: riding early and late is a lot easier in warmer conditions. During shoulder season rides in places where morning temps can hover around freezing, I rarely manage to drag myself from my shelter until the glorious sunshine hits my campsite. Even if you have a good bike light for night riding, cold conditions make it a lot less comfortable and practical.
Daily Limits: Time and Climb
Many “moderate” bikepackers (referencing the tables above) fall into a rhythm of waking with the sun, riding most of the day, and making camp an hour or two before sunset. But when daylight hours are plentiful many folks hit a physical limit before they run out of daylight. Factors like saddle sores, neck and shoulder fatigue, and of course tired legs can have us looking around for a campsite even if we still have hours of daylight left.
The two limiting factors for endurance are usually time in saddle and elevation gain. The table below shows roughly when you might expect to hit the point of “ready to be done for today” based on your fitness and training. These are just estimates, and of course some people will fall outside these ranges based on their gear load, fitness, mental approach, etc. Terrain also matters a lot; a foot of elevation gain takes less energy on smooth roads than on rugged trails.
|Fitness / Training Level||Daily Riding Time||Daily Elevation Gain|
|Beginner / untrained||3 – 4 hours||1000 – 2000 feet|
|Weekend warrior||4 – 6 hours||2000 – 3000 feet|
|Long-distance or fit bikepacker||6 – 8 hours||3000 – 5000 feet|
|Very well-trained and motivated||8 – 12 hours||5000+ feet|
That table is a “whichever comes first” situation. On a hilly route your legs might balk at more climbing even though you’ve only ridden for a few hours. On flatter ground it might be your saddle area or shoulders that start complaining first after too many hours in the saddle. Terrain is also, once again, a big factor. You’ll be tired sooner when climbing a lot on rugged trails versus smooth pavement.
Expect (And Plan Time For) The Unexpected
I’ve learned this the hard way, and when I plan a bikepacking itinerary I now build in extra time for the “unexpected.” I don’t know exactly which unexpected thing is going to happen, but I definitely expect something.
Weather is a common cause of blown itineraries. In the high Rocky Mountains you might find your daily riding hours limited by afternoon thunderstorms. On a rainy trip in coastal Oregon you might long to stop early and get out of the cold drizzle. When temps soar into the 90’s some bikepackers prefer to ride early in the morning and take an afternoon break. Headwinds can slow you down bigtime (and if you’re ever lucky enough to get a screaming tailwind, ride it as long as you can!).
Road conditions often deteriorate due to weather, sometimes catastrophically. In some areas rain can turn an otherwise fast-rolling dirt road into a pit of sticky death mud — you’ll literally have to camp until it dries out! Snow and sand can both slow your riding pace to a tedious walk.
Camp locations aren’t always where we want them to be. In bikepacking paradise we’d spend all our time on public land filled with infinite gorgeous free campsites. But when overnight stops are awkwardly spaced, your average daily distance will depend on how often you’re willing to choose too-long days over too-short days when the just-right distance isn’t an option.
Resupply stops must be enjoyed. If your bikepacking trip includes town stops to restock on supplies, allow plenty of time to luxuriate in them! My bare minimum is at least an hour to shop for supplies and another hour to enjoy a long leisurely meal before hitting the road again.
Serendipitous surprises are one of the great bikepacking joys. A friendly motorist hands you a cold soda and stops for a chat. A kind stranger offers an amazing place to camp even though it’s only mid-afternoon. The most perfect campsite beckons you to spend a lazy morning at the lake. It feels great to have time to indulge in these pleasures.
The treasured town day (also called a zero day or rest day) is an essential ingredient of any longer bikepacking trip. Many bikepackers prefer to take one full day off the bike for roughly every 5 to 8 days of riding in order to rest up, clean up, and restock. Rest days are also great for exploring local sights, taking a hike, catching up with friends and loved ones, eating a hearty town meal, and giving your bike some TLC.
Rest days can be planned in advance if you know which places appeal, but my favorite method is to take them as circumstances suggest. It’s hard to predict which town offers the perfect trifecta of cheap motel room, convenient laundromat, and well-stocked grocery store right across the street. There are times when my tired body or bad weather dictate a rest day I didn’t intend to take.
When a full rest day isn’t in the cards, a half rest day can still be surprisingly rejuvenating. Ask for late checkout from your motel room, spend the morning lounging by the lake at camp, or call it quits after lunch and spend the night in town.
Let’s get practical with a couple real-world examples. Both of these are famous ultra racing routes, but for purposes of this post I’ll stick to typical “touring pace” rides. This is back-of-the-envelope math with some rounding involved.
Great Divide Mountain Bike Route: This famous long-haul route covers over 3000 miles between Mexico and Canada, mainly on gravel with a few rougher sections. There’s plenty of elevation gain, plenty of daylight (it’s a summer route), and usually plenty of camping options. A typical touring-pace ride takes around 2 to 2.5 months, which is an average of 40 to 50 miles a day. Assuming most people take about one rest day per week, that comes out to 46 – 58 miles on average per riding day.
Arizona Trail: Another famous bikepacking route of a different flavor, the AZT is a challenging 740 mile ride mostly undertaken by experienced bikepackers and skilled mountain bikers. About two thirds of the route is singletrack, often rocky and technical, and there’s even a bike portage across the Grand Canyon. It’s a spring or fall route, which means daylight hours can limit progress unless you ride in the dark. A typical non-racing pace would be around 25 to 35 days, which comes out to 21 – 30 miles per day, or about 25 – 35 miles per day excluding rest days.
As you can see, AZT riders typically cover far fewer miles per day than GDMBR riders due to the harder terrain and shorter daylight hours. This is why it’s so important to know your route and your own capabilities when estimating your daily bikepacking miles.
Other Pace Planning Tips
Expect day-to-day variation. It’s not unusual to cover twice as many miles one day versus another, especially if your route has varied terrain or long climbs and descents. When the terrain and conditions are fast, roll with it!
Have a backup plan. Despite our best efforts, we still sometimes mess up our estimates or our itinerary gets clobbered by unexpected issues. As you’re planning, keep an eye out for opportunities to make up time. This might mean diverting to a smoother road, bypassing a big climb, or even catching a ride. Carry a map that includes nearby roads and towns (Google Maps and Maps.me both have offline features in their apps) so you know what your options are.
Ramp up mileage over time. On long routes lasting multiple weeks you can expect to get stronger as you go, especially if you don’t start out too aggressively. Once your “trail legs” arrive and you ease into a daily routine you can expect to cover more miles or kilometers per day. Plan to take the first few days or week easier, ramp up gradually, and hit your stride around 3-4 weeks in.
How to Bikepack More Efficiently
What if you have an ambitious bikepacking mileage goal and you’re having trouble hitting your targets? Obviously it helps to get fitter, carry less weight, and practice bike handling skills for rough terrain. But for the average rider on not-too-technical routes, I think a surprising amount of time gets lost while off the bike.
There’s nothing wrong with spending time off the bike of course, as long as you’re happy with your pace. But if you’re trying to cover more miles per day, here are some tips:
- Be efficient with breaks. Stop less often and do several things at once (snack, remove jacket, put on sunscreen, and take a bathroom break) rather than stopping every time something comes up.
- Pack thoughtfully and get to know your gear setup so you’re not always digging things out from the innermost corner of your seat bag.
- Streamline camp chores. This often just takes practice.
- Consider not cooking and eating ready-made meals instead (here are some bikepacking food ideas).
- In groups, have structure for how breaks will work. Let people know it’s ok to break off and catch up when needed, instead of stopping the whole group every time anyone needs a break.
Trip Planner Workbook
Estimating your bikepacking pace can be tough, which is one of many reasons why it’s helpful to be flexible out there. You might need to take a shortcut, pack some extra food (or stretch your supply a bit longer) or adapt to unexpected conditions. That’s why we call it an adventure!
Do some research if you can, make a plan if you want to, and always be prepared to scrap the plan and roll with whatever the route throws your way.
If you’d like more help planning your bikepacking trip, check out the Bikepacking Trip Planner Workbook. It’s an interactive Google Doc with templates designed to walk you through the planning process for your first or biggest trip. It covers itinerary planning, meals and snacks, gear checklists, bike prep, emergency preparedness, and more. Learn more here!
More Bikepacking Resources
If you’re getting into bikepacking, you might find these helpful too:
- How to Pack for Bikepacking
- Creative Gear Ideas for Bikepacking on a Budget
- 4 Epic (Mostly) Non-Technical Bikepacking Routes in the Western US
Or visit the bikepacking section for lots more!
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