Trail Grading

All Active Escapes trail products are graded by:

  • A) Physical Fitness/ Perceived Level of Exertion
  • B) Technicality of the trail. Both gradings are given out a rating scale of 5, with a grading description provided below.

A) Physical Fitness / Perceived Level of Exertion

The degree of physical fitness (or perceived level of exertion) required to undertake this hike or activity, is assessed assuming a prior level of experience of the activity at hand. A typical example: you may be able to do 30 burpees in the gym without breaking a sweat, but have never actually physically climbed a mountain with a 15% incline and a backpack.

It is an estimate for how much energy you are likely to exert on a daily basis for this particular trail. Our scale starting at Level 1, assumes a level of activity. Obviously, the scale is subjective based on one’s current level of fitness, so it also assumes that you are coming on to the trail as a person with a moderate to good level of ‘general’ fitness.

Here is a description for our Physical Fitness grading:

Level Difficulty Description
1 Very light exertion Your breathing remains unchanged. Heart rate generally between 45-50% of your maximal heart rate.
2 Light activity You will notice a change in your breathing, but you are still quite capable of carrying on with a normal conversation and could continue with this level of exertion indefinitely. Heart rate, in the ‘Health Improvement Zone’ creeps up to around 55% of your maximal heart rate.
3 Moderate activity You will be breathing more heavily, but able to maintain short conversations. Depending on your previous experience, conditions of the day, and your mindset – you should still be comfortable but challenged. Heart rate, in the ‘Fitness Zone’ can climb up to 67% of maximal heart rate.
4 Hard Activity Vigorous exertion with panting and sweating. You will be short of breath and not wish to speak. Heart rate runs up to 75-85% of maximal heart rate and you are mostly in your ‘Performance Zone’.
5 Extremely Hard Activity Very heavy exertion with heart rate at over 90% of maximum threshold. You will only be able to keep up this level of intensity for short bursts and will need to rest very soon. You won’t be able to speak. No hiking product can be at this level continuously, but you could reach this level on some sections of high berg ascents

B) Technicality

The technicality rating of the trip is an interplay of terrain difficulty / surfaces (i.e. rocky, sandy, loose scree etc.), route severity / steepness and the general climate / conditions.

On each trail product, when rated, we try to provide an explanation or further details as to what contributes to its score. The score is also given, assuming a prior level of experience with the activity at hand.

We have described the 5 levels below in terms of hiking and mountain-biking terrain - our two main activity offerings.

Level Hiking MTB
1 very easy walking, mostly all flat – gradient less than 5%, for the whole hike. Generally less than 7km in daily distance. Trail surface is invariably hard and stable. No exposure to heights. a gravel country road or fire road with a gentle gradient, smooth, firm surface and free of obstacles. Trail gradient never more than 10%
2 mostly easy walking over flattish gradient with some short rolling hills and descents. Generally 7-12km in daily distance. Little exposure to heights. Gradient can vary between 5-10%. likely to be a combination of forestry roads, easy-rolling farm tracks and maybe some sections of wider smooth single track. The surface is generally smooth, firm and free of unavoidable obstacles. Trail gradient is never more than 15%.
3 moderate walking with regular terrain undulations (ascents and descents) and steeper inclines - greater than 10%. Trails may entail walk or wade-through river crossings, have sections that are near to the edge, or vertigo-inducing parts. Generally, 10-15km in daily distance. A cleared path is available for most of the trail, but there can be sections that are slippery, overgrown, loose or rough. likely to be a good balance between forestry roads, farm track and single tracks. Single tracks should be smooth and flowing for the most part, but will have sections which are rockier, looser or have obstacles in the path, which may or may not be avoided. A single track trail can be made and ridden as a Level 3 for the most part, but under wet conditions – become a level 4. Trail gradient is a maximum of 20%.
4 moderate to hard walking. Gradient is frequently very steep – exceeding 15 -20%. The trail itself is mostly rough going with many natural obstacles – fallen rocks, debris, forest canopy or tides. Some scrambling (use of hands) will be required in parts. The path is often on steep ground, or near the edge of cliffs. Those with a fear of heights should not attempt this hike. Daily distances range from 15-25km, though distance is generally not the primary determinant of this grade. Moderate trail conditions with a full-size backpack weight (>15kgs) generally pushes the trail to this rating. likely to be challenging terrain – either 4x4 track with lots of obstacles and or technical surfaces – such as lose rocks (‘baby heads’) or soft sand. The route may have a high percentage of single-track with variable surfaces, steep gradients, drop-offs, sketchy hairpins, slippery substratum, and large obstacles in the trail that need to be ridden over rather than avoided.
5 Very few of our slackpacking trails are graded level 5, in fact only the high-berg multi-day trails. However, a level 4 trail can become a level 5 under bad weather conditions (storms, high winds, extreme heat or cold). Distance – can be up to 30km/day, but usually the overall ascent (or descent) is a more determinate feature. Level 5 trails have a sustained gradient of 20% or more, over rough or sketchy terrain. Extremely difficult trails – which will incorporate very steep gradients, highly variable sketchy surfaces and unavoidable committing obstacles. One can expect prolonged steep descents or climbs. Average trail grade will be 20% or more, even going up to 40-50% in sections. There could be serious exposure either side of the trail. Generally classified as an Enduro or technical XC trail. It will NOT be a downhill course though, unless you are expecting it, and have the appropriate bike and skills to do this.