How do you estimate distance?

If someone says that something is 12 metres high - how do you visualise that?

And if you were to estimate the distance between power poles, how would you go about doing that?

Is there a rule of thumb you use to estimate distances big or small?

Ridiculously, I use the length of the kitchen/dining room (30 ft) in my parent’s old house as a benchmark for a lot of things. For example, a blue whale is 3 and a bit kitchens.

I don’t really use any benchmarks, I just guesstimate from the top of my head. :stuck_out_tongue:

My house is 50-feet from roof tip to roof tip. I use that.

We were taught in the military to visualize a football field, it works pretty good.

QUOTE=BACI;12264289]If someone says that something is 12 metres high - how do you visualise that?


For visualizing height, I usually take the the height of a large person (about 2 meters), so 12 meters = 6 stacked people.

(Of course that only works for the proper scale)

I do that sometimes, and sometimes I visualize 10 yards, back from the days when I played football. In 5th grade. 37 years ago.

I’m horrible at estimating distance.

Too late to edit: I just wanted to point out that I meant to say tall, not* large*…

I have no clue except on the highway but that even is just a guesstimate. I found a cool video that shows a way I never knew of with a dreaded map!

I have no concept of estimating time either so I hope this helps.

Estimating Distance

Various old Boy Scout tricks. Things like these, too.

That was the first thing that came to my mind. A meter is half a person in height, so 12 meters is six people.

For taller things, I use the rough estimate that every ten feet is one building story. So if something is 50 feet tall it’s the same height as a 5 story building. Really a building story could be anywhere from about 8 to maybe 12 feet depending on the ceiling height, but this is just a very rough estimate.

For distances on the ground, I visualize a football field, as others have already mentioned.

I consider that normal buildings are 3 meters (or 10’) per storey. So something 12 meters high is the height of a four storey building. I like the idea of visualizing a football field and I will use that in the future. Ten yards is about 9 meters. Incidentally, that illustrates how hard it is for humans (well one human at least) to transfer horizontal estimates to vertical. Imagine that the distance between the 20 and 30 yard line on a football field (US or Canadian) is the height of a 3 storey building. (And why does this editor maintain that “storey” is a misspelling?)

My father-in-law (artist and shop teacher) was amazing at estimating distances. He once walked into his sister-in-law’s living room. The SIL was bragging about her 26’ living room. He glanced at it and remarked, “This is not 26’; more like 24 or a bit more.” By actual measurement, it was 24’3".

A bit off-topic perhaps, but a site I found while looking for the thumb-degree relationship was A Brief History of R.O.T.

I’m still looking for a definitive statement that the thumbwidth at an extended arm’s length is approximately two degrees.

On the way to that link I found Anthropic units which is a tantalizing subject in itself.

The best I’ve done so far is this PDF page on Angular Size

Really great link, Zeldar.



OK, well I use myself (I’m 6’3") as rough estimates, but I usually suck colossally at that too.

It is neat, isn’t it?

I know the OP is about distances, and I did locate a few Boy Scout methods that I used at one time or another, but perhaps this one is my own “rule of thumb” in a nutshell.

Another measuring tool with outstretched arm and fingers/fist/handwidths/etc. is that a fingerwidth is roughly 15 minutes of sun travel at sunset. If you want to know how much daylight is left, extend your arm and hold out as many fingers as it takes (horizontally) to see the sun above the horizon. If you have to “stack hands” do so without involving the thumb so that four fingers is roughly an hour. It ought to take six or seven handwidths to go from horizon to overhead which accounts for roughly six hours from noon to sunset.

It’s pretty accurate and easy to remember.

Mainly I draw from my experience in marching band. I relate what I’m trying to estimate to the yard lines.

Outdoors, for length, I use the size of a car. For example, a 2007-2010 Camry is 15 3/4 feet long. Based on that, I also estimate that a parking space in a mall or supermarket must be around 20 feet long.

For example, three cars can be parked end-to-end at the curb in front of my sister’s house, provided all three car owners are good drivers and can manage to park close enough together. Based on that, and knowing how long an average car is, and that there needs to spacing between the cars, I can quickly guess that the length of the curb is approximately 55 feet.

Also, as others have said, 10 feet per story is a good estimate of the height of an average house, figuring on the typical 8 foot ceiling, plus extra for the thickness of the floors and ceilings.

For smaller items you encounter in live that you care to measure, my father taught me several useful things:

–You should spread all your fingers wide, and measure the distance between your thumb and pinky finger. In my case, it’s 9 inches. I can spread my fingers and go hand-over-hand along the edge of a table, and get a good rough measure.

–You should spread your arms far apart, and measure the distance from fingertip to fingertip. It will probably equal approximately your height.

–It’s good to know the measurements of everyday items you’re likely to carry in your pocket. Dollar bill, credit card, maybe a pack of cigarettes if you’re a smoker…all these things can be used as rudimentary measuring tools.

–It’s also good to be observant of other measuring devices in your immediate vicinity, such as 8 1/2 x 11" paper, 12" floor tiles in the kitchen, and so forth.

I usually base distances off of what golf club I would use for that distance. If it looks like a 9 iron would get it to whatever I’m looking at, I know its about 100 yards…
Unfortunately this means I don’t have much feel for metric units.