It turns out that walking 90 miles (give or take) in 5 days (not the 4 I’d hoped) with about 30lbs of stuff strapped to your back will not kill you. However, if you’re not used to it, it won’t feel good. Yet at the same time it’ll still be amazingly satisfying, even as you duct taping your feet for the 5th day in a row.
If you’ve never been on it, the Appalachian Trail is a well marked, well maintained wilderness trail. It’s extremely difficult to get lost, and it’s designed with many wonderful overlooks and rest areas. The week I spent on the trail had wonderful weather, far more reminiscent of early September than of late July. Still summery, but not too hot or humid. It never rained while I was on the trail, and only briefly at night.
In spite of these nearly ideal conditions, I averaged only around 2.25mph on the trail over the course of the 5 days. Some places were faster, some slower. At no point did I ever feel like I was making a brisk pace, except maybe the first mile or two. My normal hiking (without a pack) speed is much closer to 3.25mph.
Wilderness Travel is SLOW, even on a good trail.
Thru-Hikers who’ve been on the trail for weeks and months don’t make much better time than I did. 30 miles in a day is doable, at a forced march pace and full day duration. I did 26.32 miles my first day, and it took me over 12 hours. Terrible speed for a marathon, but not bad with a heavy and unwieldy pack. It also did a number on my feet, and on my shoes.
Day 2 I did about 15 miles to Harpers Ferry, and then another 4+ miles around town (2 miles up to and back from the AT Conservancy HQ). And then another 4 miles back onto the the trail to get to a campsite. Oh, and right at the end there? A 1,000 foot climb up a cliff. That’s 23 miles on day 2 for those keeping track.
The next 3 days were spent at a much shorter pace, around 13 or so miles a day. This was only somewhat voluntary, as my feet were pretty badly blistered by Wednesday (day 3). No, I’m not going to share pics of my blisters. I didn’t take any! I did count them, and at the worst, I had a total of 9. A week later, I’m finally all healed up.
So how does that compare to wilderness movement speeds in D&D? Well, in RC D&D, with my 30lb pack (300cn), I would be considered not encumbered, and able to move 36 miles a day.
Not so much. 30lbs strapped to your back is at LEAST lightly encumbered, and I’ll tell you that it felt more like heavily encumbered the longer I had it strapped to me. We’ll be more generous than my shoulders and hips felt, and say I was lightly encumbered. At that weight, on a trail, I can move up to 24 miles a day. That’s actually a pretty reasonable speed for someone in shape and used to hoofing it with a heavier pack. Maybe with more training (and thicker calluses) 30lbs wouldn’t feel encumbering? I doubt it. And even unencumbered, the Maryland Challenge (41 miles in 1 day) usually forces those who do it to at least take a rest day after. I can’t imagine that doing 36 feels much better. That’s still 12 hours of walking at 3mph, without breaks. That’s a long day, no matter how you look at it.