Trail Numbers: What’s with All the Math?

I recall that my primary education math teacher always said how there’s so much math in nature. Patterns, physics, angles, distance, and Fibonacci. I suppose I just didn’t realize how much math was involved in thru-hiking.  I use basic math every… single… day.  Planning not only for this week,  but possibly part of the next in order to arrange a resupply package and how much food I might need in it.  Pay close attention, ladies and gents, we’re taking this back to middle school.

Pack Weight

OK, so this is a popular topic.  There is so much focus on ultralight gear because you carry everything on your back. Unnecessary items or items with excessive weight will weigh down your pack and affect the pounding on your feet, as well as the mileage you can complete each day. Every ounce counts. And how you pack those items in order to balance the weight appropriately definitely has a science to it.

My pack? Well, I didn’t actually weigh it until I was a well into the trail. In fact, I wasn’t going to weigh it at all in protest to the excessive focus on “how light can you get.”  I have a mixture of ultralight gear and shit-I-had-lying-around gear. I know how 16 ounces make a pound and how that pounds on my feet day by day, but I’m not going to let that control my hike and my bank account.  I use what’s in my pack and if I find I’m not,  I’ll send it home or leave for another hiker. I like my stuff and if I need to replace something on the trail,  I’ll check a hiker box first before I shell out the dough.

Calorie Density

Speaking of dough… is anybody hungry?  I am.  Always.  Thinking about food.  It gets me to my next break. And to the lunch spot or rock.  And to the shelter.

So,  I’ve heard that to make carrying food worth it, your food weight should average 100 calories per ounce. There are definitely times that I disregard this for a better nutrition option,  but for the most part I follow the trend.

Not only does each ounce and item have to be worth the weight,  but you also have to make sure you have enough calories per day to get your body through those miles and climbs.  There are many calculations on how many calories per day to consume but each person is different.  I generally listen to my body.  If I’m hungry I eat.  Most people don’t eat enough. Candy gets me motivated for the days,  protein rebuilds my muscles during the nights.

Get Me to the Next Resupply

The hardest calculation for me is figuring out how many days of food I need until I can resupply.  That means I first have to calculate how many miles per day I plan to hike and where I plan to camp. After that I have to decide which town makes the most sense to stop in.  What are the options?  Is it expensive?  Will I be getting a hotel?  How far from the trail are the stores? Can I walk or do I need to hitchhike?

There are so many factors.

I do have some boxes back home ready to be sent… and that means I have to plan even further ahead.  Which towns have post offices? Are there hostels or other options to have boxes sent ahead?  What the heck do I even want?


Wanna know what you don’t wanna do?  Eat a yummy lunch of string cheese,  mayo, and crushed up chips in a tortilla or two. Pound a bunch of water. Put on your pack.  Then realize you have to climb all of your elevation for the day in the next mile.

Dang it! Should’ve had an energy cookie, electrolytes, and candy to get to the top and enjoy lunch there. Now my belly is full, all the blood is digesting my food, and I have no motivation.

The elevation can also determine how many miles I can actually hike that day.

Miles Per Hour

I’m generally faster than my hiking partner. Together,  we are both more motivated earlier in the day.  I pay attention to how long it takes to hike the first two miles (since that’s when we stop to stretch for the second time in the day). On average,  2.5 miles per hour in the morning and a decline down to like one mile per hour right before getting to the shelter and I’m hungry and cranky and making up songs about how everybody else gets brownie trail magic but me. True story. I missed it by like 20 minutes max.

Hiking speed can determine what time I make camp, how long of a lunch break I can take, and if I can soak my feet in that stream or not.

Dang, Shorty

Rant of the day: Sigh, oh you hike a bajillion miles a day? You’re like six feet, two inches and have long lean legs.  You’re stride is like four feet per step.  I’m five feet, three inches and have to leap with all my gusto not to get stuck in that puddle back there.  Being short on the trail sucks.

Favorite gear of the moment: Black Diamond Distance Z trekking poles.

They help pole vault me over the obstacles and give extra support when I’m climbing big rocks.

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Comments 4

  • Michele Herzog : May 3rd

    Love your posts Alexia!!

  • Tom Ashford : May 3rd

    Walk behind taller people first thing in the morning, we tend to find all of the spider webs.

  • Zach : May 5th

    Really enjoying your posts, Alexia. Love your perspective.

  • Beth adelizzi : May 12th

    Love your blog! What is your average number of steps per day?


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