Travel times in fantasy/pre-industrial society - by foot, horse, boat, etc
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  1. #1
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    Travel times in fantasy/pre-industrial society - by foot, horse, boat, etc

    I think I asked this question many years ago on this site or another, but can't find the thread (OK, I didn't really look - but thought it would be an interesting thread to start again).

    Basically I'm wanting to know realistic figures for travel times, both by different means (foot, horse, wagon, boat, galleon) and under different conditions and terrain (flat road, hills, mountains/rough terrain). Let's assume a healthy and hearty "adventurer-type" individual.

    Does anyone have an educated sense of the matter?

    From what I can gather, a realistic number for walking is about 25 miles on flat terrain - that's about 3 miles per hour, for 9-10 hours including rests. I would imagine that if one took a "dawn until dusk" approach and walked very fast and/or jogged part of the way, they could bring that figure close to 50 miles, but that would be exhausting for all but the hardiest individual (think Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli chasing the orcs in The Two Towers).

    There are of course the legendary Incan runners who supposedly ran 100 miles over 24-hours, but that couldn't have been sustainable for more than one long run every couple weeks. I'm mainly looking for the quest-style travel over many weeks.

    What about horse? My guess is that, without exhausting the animal--occasionally walking it, varying speeds from walk to trot to canter--40 -50 miles in a day is reasonable, but I don't know. I don't know, but I'd imagine that if one were willing to kill a horse they could travel 150 miles or so in a day.

    Boats? Galleons? Etc.

  2. #2
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    3 miles is one league. It is the distance someone could travel in one hour.

    I don't know that there is a huge difference between average travel on foot, and average travel on horseback. I mean, sure over short distances. But animals can't be pushed but so far.

    The Tevis Cup is a horse endurance race. The goal is to cover 100 miles in 24 hours. The winning record is 10 hours, 46 minutes (average speed of 9.29 mph)

    For my own campaign, I say a full day's travel is 24 miles. I figure that is 10 hours start to finish, with some rests in between for 8 hours of actual travel time at 1 league per hour. Unless they are in a hurry, it is the same on foot or on horseback up to a light wagon. Heavy wagons slow that down from 50 to 75 percent.

    This is for flat terrain, sound ground. Virtually a paved road. Going through forests, over hilly terrain, through mud, bogs, etc... all slow things down. Effects are cumulative.

    A forced ride/march can double that distance. Most adventurers and trained animals should be able to do that. A farm animal could not.

    Going beyond that would require endurance rolls, and only the best trained horses could accomplish it. Failed endurance roll for the horse would mean you basically killed your animal. I'd say super heroic Aragorn could do 100 miles in a day on foot. Maybe 75 miles a day for up to four consecutive days before he wore flat out.

    The world record for running 100 miles is 11 hours, 46 minutes (about 8 miles per hour)

    The world record for distance run in 24 hours is 180 miles

  3. #3
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    From the Wikipedia article on the Pony Express:

    In 1860 there were about 157 Pony Express stations that were about 10 miles (16 km) apart along the Pony Express route. [8] This was roughly the distance a horse could travel at a gallop before tiring

    Riders, who could not weigh over 125 pounds, changed about every 75–100 miles (120–160 km), and rode day and night. In emergencies, a given rider might ride two stages back to back, over 20 hours on a quickly moving horse.

    The approximately 1,900 mile route[11] roughly followed the Oregon Trail, and California Trail to Fort Bridger in Wyoming and then the Mormon Trail (known as the Hastings Cutoff) to Salt Lake City, Utah. From there it roughly followed the Central Nevada Route to Carson City, Nevada before passing over the Sierras into Sacramento, California.

    The route started at St. Joseph, Missouri on the Missouri River... It crossed the Great Basin, the Utah-Nevada Desert, and the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe before arriving in Sacramento. Mail was then sent via steamer down the Sacramento River to San Francisco. On a few instances when the steamer was missed, riders took the mail via horseback to Oakland, California...

    The first Westbound Pony Express trip left St. Joseph on April 3, 1860 and arrived ten days later in San Francisco, California on April 14
    -------------------------------------

    So... 1900 miles covered in 10 days... 190 miles per day. But that is changing horses every 10 miles, and riders every 75 to 100 miles. Two riders per day, 20 horses.

    So... while the best horses and riders in the land could probably do 100 miles per day, they couldn't keep it up. One day max I'd say. If you had to travel say 300 miles, you could do it on three different horses in three days.

    For standard 1 horse, 1 man, forced travel, I'd say 50 miles/day, which the average well trained horse could do.

  4. #4
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    Your numbers are pretty good. You have to remember most adventurers travel with a healthy dose of gear as well. In the real world, special forces can travel with a weapon, ammo, and fifty or so pounds of gear around thirty miles a day in pretty calm environs and around twenty miles in rough terrain. Very experienced mountain guides can travel up to ten miles up a frozen mountain path per day.

    I use this guideline for daily travel just as it's easy to remember:
    -easy: 30 miles
    -moderate: 20 miles
    -rough: 10 miles
    -very rough (think swamps): 5 miles

    The above is assuming a strong, uninjured adventurer not engaging in or exhausted from combat.

    Horses can reliably cover fifty miles in a day, twenty five if walked or over rough terrain. Certain environments actually are harder with horses than on foot, like especially dense forests or mountains.

    Wagons can use similar rules as horses, maybe a bit faster if they are pulled by a team unhindered. Wagons also must travel on roads or at the least very flat terrain.

    Ships over history have a huge range of speeds, depending on the weather, type of ship, size and number and type of propulsion, and the water itself. Viking long boats could move nearly a hundred miles down river, sometimes more if used in conjunction with a fortunate wind.

    Massive war ships in open seas would move around fifteen or twenty knots, which would be roughly twenty miles per hour. If such a ship had consistent wind, it could travel roughly four hundred miles in a 24 hour period. The typical top speed of a ship is 1.34 its water length, so a fifty foot ship could theoretically move about 65 knots, or roughly 70 mph. Although this is only with nearly no drag and consistent strong wind. Typically one is lucky to move half of that.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mercurius View Post
    I think I asked this question many years ago on this site or another, but can't find the thread (OK, I didn't really look - but thought it would be an interesting thread to start again).
    This thread may be of some use [TMP] "How far is "a day's ride?"" Topic

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Niccodaemus View Post
    I don't know that there is a huge difference between average travel on foot, and average travel on horseback. I mean, sure over short distances. But animals can't be pushed but so far.
    Not much of a difference for a Walking horse (avg. of 4 mph vs. 3 mph for avg. on foot). That makes a league in 45 minutes rather than an hour (can add up though over a full day of travel).

    A trotting horse can do about 8-10 miles per hour, or a league in about 20-25 minutes. However, a trot is more tiring for the horse and very uncomfortable for the rider over the long term. (There are other Trotting gaits that are faster but are typically used for carriage racing, etc. The 8 mph Trot is one that a horse can sustain for longer periods, but will need rest breaks throughout the travelling day.)

    A type of horse though that was envied for it's gait was the Palfrey. It had an Ambling gait that was much smoother than the Trot, and could be sustained for longer distances (though was about the same speed as the Trot). So also a pace of about 8-10 mph, but very comfortable for horse and rider. Palfrey's were quite expensive, and only eclipsed in price by the most prized Warhorses.


  7. #7
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    For lightly to moderately encumbered healthy humans on flat hard terrain, around 25-30 miles or 40-45km/day is a pretty consistent figure throughout history. It is, for example, the sustained march rate capability of the WW2 Wehrmacht estimated by their general staff. You see similar figures for the Roman legions and other disciplined armies; undisciplined tend to be much slower.

    Horses are different. Humans have massive endurance compared to most animals. Horses can go much much faster over short distances, and 50-60 miles in a day is reasonable for a day's ride on one horse (pony express with multiple changes of horse can double that!), but the sustained march rate of cavalry over many days is very close to that of infantry.

  8. #8
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    As to traveling by boat, rowed vessels (such as longships being rowed, galleys, Knarrs [a wide merchent longship]), could make about 3 knts (about 3.5 mph).

    Sailing vessels (longships under sail, Cogs) could make upwards of 10 knts. (about 11.5 mph).

    Of course, sailing times also depended a lot on weather, and whether or not the vessel was traversing open water (ocean, sea, lake) or a river.

    For real world examples: crossing from France to England could be accomplished in a day, England to Spain in a month or more (depending on weather), England to the Holy Land in 4-10 months.


  9. #9
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    Just stumbled across this while looking for other related crunchy bits.

    http://www.ultimatehorsesite.com/info/farandfast.html

  10. #10
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    A couple of things I like to point out:
    • Roads - Do you have them, we are talking dirt, plank, cobble, paved, etc. If you don't travel is going to be less than 20 miles in 10 hours.
    • Weather - hour to hour, day to day, season to season and it will reduce the amount the time you can travel and reduce the conditions you are travelling in.
    • Navigation - people get lost, even with roads you need good maps, signs post and knowledge.
    • Wear and Tear - if you travel out in the wilds, you will spend a good bit of time performing upkeep on items.
    • Night - it gets dark, I mean dark in the wilds. You will have to set up camp and that takes time.

    I normally just use 10 miles a day and tell my players the time it will take them to get some place. If it was a 100 miles, "normal" travel time is 10 days. They can make it faster based on their drive.

    Horse and river travel is twice as fast, normally taking half the time in days, IF travel was straight...winding rivers could make the travel just as long.
    Last edited by Hand of Evil; Friday, 24th February, 2012 at 03:23 AM.

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