View Full Version : How far a horse travels in one day

08-15-2012, 09:44 AM
Strangely I was doing a little research on how far a horse can realistically travel in one day and after much google-fu it seems to depend very much on the type of horse, conditioning (i.e. is it used for long distance travel all the time, rather than been standing in a field for months, or only used for racing, etc..) and condition (i.e. is it well fed and watered), as well as how heavy a load and the terrain involved.

..anyway this is the list of distances (in miles per day) I've come up with from a variety of sources that I shall be using personally:

On Roads / trails
Level or rolling terrain: 40
Hilly terrain: 30
Mountainous terrain: 20

Off-Road (or unkempt trails etc)
Level/rolling grasslands: 30
Hilly grasslands: 25
Level/rolling forest/thick scrub: 20
Very hilly forest/thick scrub: 15

Un-blazed Mountain passes: 10
Marshland: 10

An average quality horse, of a breed suitable for riding, conditioned for overland travel and in good condition.
Roads and trails are in good condition and up kept by whatever local authority deals with them.
Weather is good to fair, and travelers are riding for around ten hours a day.

Halve these distances for a horse pulling a cart or for a very heavily laden horse (e.g. a fully armoured knight who insists on wearing his armour all day rather than having it stowed on a second baggage horse as would be normal!).

Add half again for specially trained horses and riders who are prepared to push hard (rangers, scouts and messangers, etc...) though do bear in mind that horses cannot be pushed like this for more than a few days at a time. You can add a bit more again to this distance if the breed of horse is exceptionally suitable for this sort of thing, but I’d say 2 to 2.5 times the base is the absolute maximum without some sort of magical assistance!

Poor weather such as heavy rain or wind should reduce distances by about one quarter, and very poor conditions like heavy snow or gale force winds, etc.. should reduce distances by at least half if not more.

Finding a place to ford a small river or swimming your horse across a larger river should knock a couple of miles off the day’s journey, other unique obstacles might have a similar reduction. (as a guide remember a horse walks at around 4 miles per hour (compared to a human average of around 2.5 - 3mph) so if the obstacle takes half an hour to deal with thats a couple of miles lost.

Out of interest
The Tevis cup is a 100-mile-in-one-day competition which goes over some quite rugged and mountainous trail terrain in the western states of USA... but they do it on very special arab horses, with little or no baggage and even the winning times are usually around 17 hours! link (http://www.teviscup.org/)

08-15-2012, 10:38 AM
The post above was originally from this thread (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?19704-Distance-questions&p=193879#post193879) which I have reposted to it's own thread for posterity.

To add to the subject, having more than one horse available to ride significantly increases the distance covered. Check this out from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_military_tactics_and_organization).

Each Mongol soldier typically maintained 3 or 4 horses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolian_horse).[6] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongol_military_tactics_and_organization#cite_note-All_the_Khan.27s_Horses-5) Changing horses often allowed them to travel at high speed for days without stopping or wearing out the animals. Their ability to live off the land, and in extreme situations off their animals (mare's milk especially), made their armies far less dependent on the traditional logistical apparatus of agrarian armies. In some cases, as during the invasion of Hungary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungary) in early 1241, they covered up to 100 miles (160 km) per day, which was unheard of by other armies of the time.

08-15-2012, 11:31 AM
This is good info. How does it compare to people on feet. How far can the average person walk in one day.

08-15-2012, 01:30 PM
Also useful information: The Pony Express (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pony_Express)

08-15-2012, 07:19 PM
This is good info. How does it compare to people on feet. How far can the average person walk in one day.

Ok, well to weigh in in similar style to my earlier post..

Again from my reading around on the matter overland travel by foot again depends on a number of human factors such as the condition and experience of the walker as well as environmental and terrain considerations.
Equipment and preparedness would also have a bearing... Modern hiking boots, ultra-light camping equipment and freeze dried trail rations as compared to hob-nailed roman sandals and hard tack, or even pre-historic fur wrapped feet and foraging as you go would all have a dramatic effect on distances covered!

But working on an earliest Roman through to a latest pre 19thC sort of period, and with some other rather broad assumptions again (such as average human walking speed of 3mph) this is the list of distances (in miles per day) that I would tentatively suggest:

On Roads / trails
Level or rolling terrain: 20
Hilly terrain: 14
Mountainous terrain: 9

Off-Road (or unkempt trails etc)
Level/rolling grasslands: 15
Hilly grasslands: 12
Level/rolling forest/thick scrub: 8
Very hilly forest/thick scrub: 6

Un-blazed Mountain passes: 6
Marshland: 5

A young to middle aged man of average height and build, in good physical condition and used to walking for long distances, Equipped with good walking footwear and other hiking equipment appropriate to the era.
Roads and trails are in good condition and up kept by whatever local authority deals with them.
Weather is good to fair, and travellers are walking for around 7-8 hours a day.

Reduce these distances by around a quarter for a heavily laden man.
Add a quarter to half again for very experienced hikers.
As with mounted travel, exceptionally experienced and/or physically capable men might be able to do significantly more as a one off forced march, but twice the base is probably a reasonable maximum and I would expect them to take be walking for up to 20 hours and be utterly exhausted at the end of it!

Out of interest
Naismith's rule (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naismith%27s_Rule) is a ‘rule of thumb’ for planning a hiking expedition by calculating how long it will take to walk the route, including ascents. The basic rule is:
“Allow 1 hour for every 3 miles forward, plus 1 hour for every 2000 feet of ascent”.

I’ve read anything from 15 to 25 miles per day quoted in many places for a fully laden Roman Legionary, but 15 miles seems more common though with time to break camp and rebuild it after the days march factored in most sources reckon they were only marching for a round 5 hours a day anyway. (There are some sources that suggestion 50 mile forced marches were possible for the Legions but many dismiss this as an exaggeration)

And just to show how subjective and ‘as a guide only’ this sort of table is:

The world record for the marathon distance of just over 26 miles is a mere 2 hours and 8 minutes!
Ulysse Grant thought a forced march of 20 miles in a day (http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/ot2www-pubeng?specfile=/texts/english/modeng/publicsearch/modengpub.o2w&act=surround&offset=327093481&tag=Grant,+Ulysses+S.+%28Ulysses+Simpson%29,+1822-1885.:+Personal+memoirs+of+U.S.+Grant,+Volume+I,+1 885&query=forced+march&id=GraPers%20.) was generally not a good idea if troops were expected to fight at the end of it
The British SAS selection ‘Test week’ concludes with ‘Endurance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_Special_Forces_Selection)’, a 40 mile march across the Brecon Beacons (very hilly / mountainous terrain, famed for its bad weather) - completed in less than 20 hours whilst loaded in excess of fifty five pounds of equipment, plus water, food and rifle..

08-16-2012, 02:42 AM
Over long distances, there are very few animals that the human (in proper condition) cannot outpace. Horses, however, are no slouches themselves at long distances. I would say you probably get about the same rates on foot or by horse, assuming conditions do not hinder the horse unduly (you'll never get a horse up Everest and a man can fit through more closely grown trees). The great advantage of mounted travel is that somebody else is doing the work. You also generally use a beast of burden, which can handle more weight than a man.

Dean Karnazes "Ran 3,000 miles (4,800 km) across the United States from Disneyland to New York City in 75 days, running 40 to 50 miles per day, 2011" per Wikipedia. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_Karnazes)

Armies will travel much slower, due to the amount of equipment required, including considerations of food for such large groups. Armies generally include wagons, which will always be slower than simply and horse and rider. Smaller bands of travelers who are less burdened will go faster. Maximum rates require that one be essentially unburdened; running over 100 miles in a day is simply not done with a backpack.

I'd say 20-40 miles per day on a good road and no hampering conditions is about what you can expect with a normal group either on foot or mounted. Conditions will often make travel slower. Don't forget that weather will have an effect; travel can be slowed considerably if the skies are unfriendly. The need to obtain food is more of a problem with horses, if there is no ready grazing. How elaborate the encampment preparations are will also have an affect on travel rate, as will daylight hours, as both influence hours spent in travel. An army that fortifies its encampment will be more secure, but travel slower, than one that simply throws down its bedrolls, sets a watch, and sleeps.

And as fifty's post points out, there is a difference between how far you will travel in a day if you simply need to get where you are going and how fast you go if you need to reserve enough strength to do battle or otherwise exert yourself when done with the journey. Peaceful pilgrims in a peaceful land will outpace an army or a group of "adventurers" exploring wilderness. There are many factors, which is why historical numbers vary so much.

08-21-2012, 01:41 PM
I don't recall where I read it, but I remember learning that the effective control radius for a Medieval castle is about 20 miles: the distance that a mounted force can travel in a single day and still be able to fight when they arrive.

Somewhere around here is a very nice analysis of settlement density in an English county, originally posted by Gidde I believe, that included some numbers of travel distance and time. If I recall correctly, the average distance between settlements was roughly half a day's walk, such that a person could go to the next town, make some trades, and be back home before dark.

08-22-2012, 01:30 PM
Thanks for the follow up, that is good info for designing Inns and waypoints and smaller towns.

08-27-2012, 01:57 AM
this thread gave me lots to think about... thanks guys!

08-28-2012, 03:20 PM
to add to this data, it is generally recorded that apaches were able to travel 70 miles on foot in a day (perhaps better termed as a 24 hour period..)

08-29-2012, 11:07 PM
that would be tough, you would have to maintain just under 3 miles an hour all day with no breaks...

01-08-2013, 09:37 AM
Very interesting. All this seems to fit with my own research, focusing on New World travel during the 17th-19th Centuries, mainly horse and foot travel.

Something else to bear in mind is weather. Rain-swollen streams, mud and muck, fallen trees due to wind and rain, snow, sleet, etc. Don't assume every day will be fair, sunny, and warm. People tend to travel through regions when the season is most cooperative, and water, food, and shelter most plentiful. In hot climes, the cooler seasons. In wet climes, the dry season. And in cold places, the summer. Prior to the late 19th Century, when you must travel "out of season," you were taking chances with your schedule, and your cargo, if not your life.

01-25-2015, 07:44 PM
hi, are we using US-miles here?

So this should be a good table for converting, no?

US miles km
1 mil 1,6 km
70 mil 112,7 km Apaches foot warrior
20 mil 32,2 km Castle dispatch team max (with horses)
45 mil 72,4 km Karnazes Run (on foot/day, no sleep)
20 mil 32,2 km Adventure Group - low estimate
40 mil 64,4 km Adventure Group - high estimate

8 hour estimate

On footkmWith horseskmtype
20 mil 32,2 km40 mil 64,4 km trails - Rolling
14 mil 22,5 km30 mil 48,3 km trails - Hilly
9 mil 14,5 km20 mil 32,2 km trails - Mountain

15 mil 24,1 km30 mil 48,3 km Rolling grasslands
12 mil 19,3 km25 mil 40,2 km Hilly grasslands
8 mil 12,9 km20 mil 32,2 km Forest/thick scrub
6 mil 9,7 km15 mil 24,1 km Hilly forest
5 mil 8,0 km10 mil 16,1 km Un-blazed Mountain passes
5 mil 8,0 km10 mil16,1 km Marshland

Naismith's rule
3 mil 4,8 km One hour
Add an hour for 2000 feet / 610 m ascent

Roman legions
15 mil 24,1 km Legion (5 hours march a day)
25 mil 40,2 km Compramised Legion (more time)
50 mil 80,5 km Death marches (more time)

My local sources would indicate the following

"žingmannaleiš" (max 37,5 km [or 23.3 us miles]) is the distance a civil servant (the parlementarian representative) will travel in one day on horse, and the way he will travel. The distance is four weeks (9,4 km [or 5.59 us miles]) or five german miles (7,42 km [or 4.349 us miles]). (http://lexis.hi.is/cgi-bin/ritmal/leitord.cgi?adg=daemi&n=594644&s=684607&l=%FEingmannalei%F0)

"Ein vika/vķkja sjįvar" one week of rowing , it is the disance that a rower would rown on one site of the boat. afther that distance he would go to the other side of the boat, (it is about one hour). But the distance varies (7.4 km [or 4.35 us miles]), (8.3 km [or 5.15 us miles]) or (9,4 km [or 5.59 us miles]). The word "week" is here refearing to the act of making way for the other rower.

When planing a daytrip with a horse, you can plan to travel 30-50 km per day [or 18.64 - 31 us miles], the "Žingmannaleiš" is well within that limit (37,5 km [or 23.3 us miles]). Traveling on horses for long distance will ask for 3-4 horses per traveler, and use the younger horses early in the day. (http://www.ismennt.is/not/hbrynj/hestar/ferdalog.htm).

01-26-2015, 03:40 PM
Good info; thanks! And welcome aboard!

01-27-2015, 07:00 AM
Wow, an apache foot warrior could travel 70 miles in one day? That's amazing.