How To Convert Distance Measurements

Due to the differences in conventions around the world, it has become really confusing to compare distances when it's expressed in different units. Some people are used to putting distances in metric terms, like meters and kilometers. Some are more familiar with the English measurements, like the yard and the mile.

Here are the steps in converting distance measurements:

The Metric System. The metric system is quite simple, really. It involves dividing measurements by a factor of 10.

  • A millimeter is equal to one tenth of a centimeter. Therefore, 10 millimeters equals one centimeter.
  • A centimeter is equal to one tenth of a decimeter.
  • One decimeter has ten centimeters.
  • One decimeter is one tenth of a decameter.
  • Ten decimeters is equal to one meter.
  • A decameter equals ten meters.
  • Ten decameters are equivalent to one hectometer
  • Ten hectometers are equivalent to one kilometer.
  • Or, in simpler terms, one kilometer is equal to one thousand meters.

To put everything into perspective:

1 kilometer = 10 hectometers = 100 decameters = 1000 meters = 1000 decimeter = 10,000 centimeters

The English system

  • Twelve inches is equivalent to one foot.
  • Three feet are equivalent to one yard.
  • Five and one half yards are equivalent to one rod.
  • There are forty rods in one furlong.
  • Eight furlongs make up one mile.

To simplify:

1 mile = 8 furlongs = 320 rods = 1,760 yards = 5,280 feet = 63,360 inches

English to Metric

The conversion between the values of these two systems is a little bit more complicated. Sometimes you may not be able to memorize all these terms, so it's good to have a short guide or mnemonic. Keep a calculator close at hand if you plan to do conversions often!

  • An inch is equal to 2.54 centimeters. This makes a centimeter equivalent to 0.39 inches.
  • One foot is equal to 0.30 meters. This makes one meter equivalent to 3.3 feet.
  • A yard is equivalent to 0.91 m. One meter is equivalent to 1.1 yards.
  • A mile is equivalent to 1.6 kilometers. One kilometer is roughly 0.62 miles.

Practical applications

You might find these conversions useful when travelling abroad. For instance, when you travel from the US to Canada, which uses both metric and English systems, you might sometimes be confused with road signs or when asking for directions. If a guide says there is a public restroom 30 meters down the road, but you are familiar with the English system, you might more easily be able to estimate the distance by thinking of about 33 yards. Also, speed limits might be different from country to country. Say, your car's speedometer only shows miles per hour, and the country's speed limit is 100 km/h, you can compute this as being roughly 62 miles per hour.

There are also plenty of conversion programs that you may run online or even download if you don't want to compute for the conversions yourself. Popular sites such as Yahoo ( carry this service. If you are using a smartphone or PDA, you can use applications that do the conversion for you. Most mobile phones would actually have built-in applications for currency and distance conversion.


Share this article!

Follow us!

Find more helpful articles: