Hiking Difficulty – There’s A Category for That

Hiking Elevation

It’s my intention to offer as much information about these hikes as I can so that readers may use it to evaluate and plan their hikes. Originally, I planned only to include total elevation gain and percent grade as the two primary indicators of difficulty but it occurred to me that many other outdoor sports like cycling, rock climbing, kayaking each have their respective difficulty rating systems. So the first thing I did was to research the difficulty rating used in professional cycling.  I found that although there is much subjectivity when it comes to rating climbs for the Tour de France, most rating systems rely on three main parameters; total distance, percent grade and total elevation gain.  This makes sense because a 6% grade over 12 miles could be just as difficult as a 20% grade over 3 miles.

Some rating systems attempt to consider the relative athletic ability of the hiker.  It might also make sense to consider parameters such as weather conditions, trail conditions temperature and humidity and countless others.  But the problem with all these is there are variables that the typical hiker should take into consideration.  So then an objective rating system based on measurable physical characteristics is the proper choice.

With that decided, I set out to try to figure out an algorithm that properly takes these three parameters into consideration and reducing the output to 5 classifications.  Five minutes later, I looked to see if anyone else had already tried.  I found nwkier.com.  It is a web based calculator that simply asks for distance and elevation gain.  You get a number from 1 to 28 which to me is useless.  BUT!  They then categorized these numbers into 6 basic classifications. This works for me.  Perhaps I will try to develop an algorithm at a later date but we will try the nwhiker.com model for now.


nwhiker.com lists the following categories.  For the blog, I will use these but I will assign classifications as follows:

  • Class 1 – Easy
  • Class 2 – Moderate
  • Class 3 – Challenging
  • Class 4 – Difficult
  • Class 5 – Very Difficult
  • HC – Extremely Difficult (I do love the Tour de France)

Additionally, if I believe trail conditions are not accurately reflected in the difficulty rating, I will add a “+” to the rating.

Happy Hiking!

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