When Lisa bought me a Fitbit for my birthday a couple of years ago, she knew it would go one of two ways: either I would never wear it (as I am not usually one to wear watches), or I would become completely obsessed with it.
As you can tell from the state of the thing in the picture left, the outcome was the latter. (And that’s not even the original gift – it’s a replacement I was sent in March 2017 after the old one broke.)
For those who don’t know, a Fitbit is a digital wristwatch that – in addition to telling the time – measures all kinds of aspects of physical exertion. Steps walked, distance covered, floors climbed, calories burned, hours slept, minutes active – Fitbit tracks it all.
In the first half of our travels we have done a lot of walking, be it multi-day hiking trails, day treks or city walks. As quite the statistic fetishist, I’ve found it fascinating to pore over the data my Fitbit has captured on all these ventures, and to splice, dice and compare.
If this is the kind of thing that interests you too, please read on for a breakdown of some of our hiking exploits on the road. If not – I expect that’s most of you – I won’t hate you for clicking away now.
A note before I continue: as it would be quite difficult to cut the Fitbit data to the precise periods spent walking on the trails, the statistics I have compared below are based on full days. This means there will be some variance in accuracy and additional factors at play; for example, the distance covered might include pottering around the campsite in the morning, walking to dinner in the evening, taking an unplanned detour, and all other surplus activity that might occur during the day. As such, it’s better to treat this as an interesting case study rather than an exact science for planning hikes.
Multi-day hiking: Inca Trail vs W Trek
Two of the multi-day hiking trails we have undertaken on our travels are world classics: the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, and the W Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile. These are interesting to compare directly, as they stand out as the most challenging routes we’ve done, and both took us four days to complete.
As mentioned above, Fitbit tracks many different factors, but for the sake of comparing hiking exertion I have focused on the number of steps walked, the distance covered in kilometres, and the number of floors climbed. For reference, the American Heart Association recommends 10,000 steps per day as a guideline for improving health and combating heart disease.
Here’s how the Inca Trail and W Trek shaped up:
|Inca Trail: day 1||27,726||20.38||264|
|Inca Trail: day 2||25,669||18.87||371|
|Inca Trail: day 3||29,203||21.46||193|
|Inca Trail: day 4||37,227||27.36||184|
|Inca Trail: total||119,825||88.07||1,012|
|W Trek: day 1||35,965||26.43||398|
|W Trek: day 2||36,883||27.11||239|
|W Trek: day 3||46,767||34.37||289|
|W Trek: day 4||48,715||35.81||353|
|W Trek: total||168,330||123.72||1,279|
Something to mention here is that on the final day of the Inca Trail, we had to walk an extra ten kilometres to a bus pick-up point after the trains were cancelled amid national strike action.
However, looking at the stats on paper you would still think the W Trek was a more strenuous undertaking than the Inca Trail in every way possible. We walked nearly 50% further despite that add-on! But there is an important little factor that the stats don’t tell you about: altitude.
At its highest point, the Inca Trail reaches just over 4,200m elevation, and for the most part it’s above 3,000m. At this altitude, every step is more difficult, and a typically easy walk leaves you gasping for breath.
Another feature of the Inca Trail that set it aside from other trails we’ve done was the exhausting ascent and descent of steps. This requires a different physical effort to walking up and down sloped inclines, and on the Inca Trail it feels relentless, particularly the long descent on day 3 known by the locals as the ‘gringo killer’.
Even so, ultimately we still found the W Trek to be the most difficult and the biggest achievement of our walking exploits. In Patagonia (check out our complete guide here) you are more likely to encounter tough weather conditions, in particular rasping winds, heavy rain and freezing cold nights. And that final day of the trail, with over 48,000 steps and nearly 36 kilometres under the belt, was the most ground I have ever covered in 24 hours.
All said and done, both of these trails were demanding for novice trekkers like us, but worth every second of the physical endurance for the stunning visual rewards.
Comparing day hikes
While the multi-day hikes have been our stand-out trekking experiences, we’ve also taken on a bucketful of one- and two-day hikes over shorter distances. Here is a selection of them, listed in order of distance covered:
|Walk||Steps||Distance (km)||Floors climbed|
|Mount Fitzroy ascent and walk to Lago Torre, El Chaltén, Argentina||42,147||30.98||307|
|Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand||38,656||28.41||381|
|Tierra del Fuego National Park day hike, Argentina||34,097||25.06||199|
|Colca Canyon ascent (second day of trail), Peru||30,240||22.23||417|
|Glaciar Martial day hike, Ushuaia, Argentina||26,460||19.45||180|
|Lopes Mendes hike, Ilha Grande, Brazil||25,954||19.08||166|
|Walk up Cerro San Cristobal, Santiago, Chile||25,410||18.68||117|
|Key Summit, Routeburn Track, New Zealand||25,020||18.39||191|
|Walk up Cerro San Bernardo, Salta, Argentina||22,275||16.37||90|
Something you might immediately notice is the 417 floors climbed on the second day of our Colca Canyon trek in Peru. This is the biggest ascent we have made in any single day, and it was an absolute beast, with almost all of the climbing between 4am and 7am – non-stop uphill, with jaw-dropping cliff edges to our sides and backs all the way up.
Our ascent of Mount Fitzroy in Argentina required another early rise and quick climb, with a 5am set-off to make it up to Laguna de Los Tres in time for sunrise. Half of our day’s walking was done by 8am.
The hike to Lopes Mendes on the island of Ilha Grande involved very different circumstances due to the 30+ degree Brazilian sunshine in jungle terrain, and also that we took a wrong turn and walked for an hour more than we needed to. We were drenched in sweat and ready for a cocktail when we finally arrived on the white sandy beach.
Yet all of this was still dwarfed by that epic final day on the W Trek.
The second half of our journey – mostly in south-east Asia – will probably not involve as much walking, but if my Fitbit survives, I will be keeping track of every step we take.