Questions on travel distances


Oct 8, 2007
In my story, the hero and his comrades do alot of traveling both on foot and horseback. They live in a massive forest divided into two parts,in the darker northern part of the forest is where the sub-species of their race resides. The first part of their journey takes them across swamps to hills riddled with ancient caves. This part of the journey they are on horseback. I need to know how long it would take them to travel across the swamps to the hills, then how long for those they rescue from the cave-dwelling creatures to travel on foot back to their village in the forest. The hero must go on to the dark forest to seek answers concerning his quest then head north across the plains and finally to the mountains where his journey ends. At the same time, I have other members of his group in different places so I need to keep track of distance and time to make sure my chapters are paced exactly do you do this and am I taking on too much for a beginner writer?
I don't think you're taking on too much, no. But these things are hard to synchronise. Tolkien (yes, the Master himself) struggled with it during the writing of LoTR. I do it by reference to a calendar. Your world probably has its own calendar. If you keep a sort of 'diary' of what happens on each day (and at what time on each day), and note down all the events from the different threads in the same place, you'll get an overview of all the things that are happening in the story at any one point in time.

For travel distances....well I'm sure this discussion will give you plenty of methods. I know what I do, but it isn't a simple formula, since every journey is different. Someone else will have a much clearer suggestion for you there.
Thanks, well I do know they wouldn't be running full gallop on their horses through the swamp, I imagine they would have to find the shallow, marshy areas and try avoiding the large preditory creatures that live there.
Yes, things like swamps will really slow people down. And even travelling in a forest, without very good paths I think you'd be pushing it to do fifteen miles a day, even on horseback. This size of the party, and what they are carrying, is also of critical importance.
The terrain makes a big difference, as does the condition of the roads, if any. At certain times in the past, people could take months to travel a couple of hundred miles.

It also depends on whether you are able to change horses and get fresh mounts at suitable intervals, or if everyone has a second horse along, so that they can change off. Horses, I have been told by people in the know, even though they are magnificent and powerful and strong creatures, are also rather ... delicate. There are all sorts of ways you can kill them unintentionally, and over-riding them is one, as is not taking the time to look after them properly when you stop for the night.

Also, they are, of course, bad at scaling cliffs and the like. So if you are riding horses, sometimes you have to go the long way around.

On foot, it's quite easy, when travelling through certain kinds of terrain, to become disoriented and lose your way. Even plains and prairies, that look perfectly flat and easy, are full of unexpected gullies and dips and rises, and you can lose sight of your landmarks. Sure you can set your course by the sun or the stars ... if you can see them. But it may be overcast.

Through rough country or forested country, you need an experienced guide who can take you the straightest and safest way through. Without one ... between getting lost ... taking a long time to find a way to get across a river or a ravine ... accidents ... and and all the other things that can come up, it can take a long, long time to get where you are going by guess and by luck. If you happen on the right guide, however, it can shorten the journey by quite a bit.

The only way you (or the reader) can easily estimate the length of the journey is if there are good, straight roads, and there are no mishaps along the way. Which is actually very convenient for you, because you can often stretch or compress a single journey to whatever length serves you best.
7 league boots...

Um, IIRC, the original notion was a pair of boots that were as good as new after 7 x 3 = 21 miles, fit to travel next day without a cobbler's attentions.

Like-wise, the wearer was not incapacitated...

Against that, roman legions marched day after day in hob-nail sandals...
20 miles per day, on foot, by road. Average walking speed is about 2.5 miles per hour (women slightly faster than men). So 20 miles = 8hrs. If rough or hilly subtract an hour or two for extra breaks and/or reduce speed to 2mph. I don't know about horses, but it seems that usually at least one person is walking. (note: 1km = 0.6mi, I believe a league is 3 miles, you will have to look up a furlong)
I believe that I have heard that standard distance is 20-30 miles. On another thread I read that a horse walks at 4mph which is 32 miles in 8hrs. I believe men average 2.3 or 2.4 mph, women 2.9 mph. Remember breaks and total wear and tear; they might have 16hrs to walk, but to actually spend more than 8 walking day in and day out would be a feat of amazing endurance, particularly for nonatheletes.
There is nothing particularly superhuman about walking 8 hours a day. Lots of ordinary people do it all the time. Postal carriers, for instance. Door to door canvassers. Mothers of young children, in many cases.

And yeah, I would say that your rule of thumb is 20 miles a day for average people walking over average terrain.
After talking to my friends, it has been pointed out to me that my neighborhood is hilly. It was also mentioned that if I have to walk over a fair distance I tend to double time it. I did the math, 3.5 to 4.5 mph. Since I apparently am darn near jogging up and down hills, perhaps that is why 8hrs of it seems like such a big deal to me. Standing up and walking arround all day on a construction site doesn't bother me.

Still 8hrs is a fair figure with an average of 12hrs of daylight. The other 4hrs being taken up by setting up and taking down camp, eating, and breaks.

However, fit characters in a hurry could go a few more hours and there more miles if necessary.

What my experience does show is that you have to account for terrain, condition of the characters, and condition of the characters shoes.
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Traveling through swamps and forests you would not be riding a horse, you have to lead it.
While you may actually walk 10 miles, the reality is you will only manage 2 or 3 in the direction you want to go.

There is also need to consider the amount of impetus on the travelers to get where they are going, especially as the journey wears on. Walking 20 miles the first day on good paths and roads is easy, but by the 5th you need something to make the journey necessary and by the second week you are down to a crawl. There are good reasons why inns in England appear every league (7 miles) or so on the old county roads, the stage changed horses, it is far as a drove went in a day, and other travelers managed perhaps 2 inns per day.

How many are in the group will have an effect as well, for instance the record for an army is held by General Crauford's Light Division of 42 miles in 26 hours in 1809, otherwise everybody else did well to mange a French League (3 miles).

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