Walking grades
Snow patches in the Dolomites

Walking grades for our holidays

Our grades

To give an idea of the difficulty of each of our holidays, we use Skill and Fitness as 2 separate gradings, which then sit together to form an overall grade:

Green - Blue - Red - Purple - Black
(Terrain and seriousness)
Black We keep this category for the hardest walking terrain. Experienced walkers will be challenged by particularly steep and loose slopes and by wild rocky landscapes. Good balance is essential; steep drops might be present to one or both sides, with serious consequences of a slip.
Purple A new grade for 2023, slotted in between Red and Black, to describe a more challenging terrain than a standard mountain path with more likelihood of long drops in the case of a slip (one or both sides) and with more rockiness.
Red Steep, rocky ground and some rough walking away from paths; the varied conditions of a mountain walk in the Alps or the Scottish Highlands. Generally the path is dusty or muddy, but there might be unavoidable sections with steep drops to one or both sides.
Blue Venturing into the hills, at this grade we meet sustained climbs, rougher ground, and rocky steps. There is possible minor exposure to one side.
Green This easiest skill grade sees flat or gently-angled paths, often wide, with fairly smooth surfaces. All of Alpine Exploratory's trips are higher than this Green grade and we include it to give context.

1 - 2 - 3 - 4
(Distance, ground underfoot, and ascent)
4 Strong fitness is needed at this highest grade, to tackle our longst distances such as those consistently over 25km or with continuous ascents of between 1,000m and 1,500m in height gain, in the course of a full day of 7 or 8 hours or longer. Exceptional days can involve even more distance, ascent and time than this.
3 Good fitness in the mountains is called for, to tackle comfortably an ascent of around 1,000m or up to around 25km, in a full day's walk; it's an all-round day out in the mountains.
2 The fitness to walk half- or full-days in the hills is needed, with typical daily ascents of 600m.
1 There is little or no ascent, and modest distance, at this easiest fitness grade, and daily distances are modest.

Update for Summer 2023
In November 2022 we revised our grading system in order to spread out our gradings for easier interpretation:

+ We have added a new Skill grade, Purple, to account for that terrain, typical of the Alta Via 1, which is more than normal Red mountain walking but presents mountain situations and slopes while short of our highest Black grade.
+ We have removed 'navigation and self-reliance' from our Skill grade, in order to focus on terrain and seriousness, meaning the need for careful footing and the possibility and implications of a slip. This has the effect of spreading out our grades and showing more clearly the differences. All of our stages, on all our trips, require navigation and self-reliance.
+ We have made our Fitness grade more about the distance than the ascent, because we realised that our Skill grade went up too much in line with the Fitness grade when a stage had a lot of ascent. This was less informative. If a stage is going up 1,000m then it will tend to venture into higher hills where also the terrain becomes more challenging.
+ On Routecards themselves, we have revised some Red grades to be Blue, so as further to spread out the Routecards and help emphasise differences.

As always, we recommend a close reading of our holiday pages where we describe each stage and give its grade for 2023. Please ask us if you'd like more information on any day. Thanks!

Examples of grades

Walker's Haute Route
Our toughest trek.
We grade this trip as:

Black for skill because of its:
Loose, slippery, rocky ground
Difficulty in wet, windy, cold weather
Path unclear in places

4 for fitness because of its:
Full-day stages
Long, all-morning climbs
Steep and long descents

Rocky combes towards the Prafleuri hut
Typical terrain: Rocky combes towards the Prafleuri hut

Black4 is thus the grade.

Walker's Haute Route
Tour du Mont Blanc
A challenging mountain trek.
We grade this trip as:

Red for skill because of its:
Routefinding that can be tricky
High passes with snow possible
Ladders, chains and rockiness

3 for fitness because of its:
Some long, hard days outside
Sustained climbs, long distances
Walks in and over the mountains

Mountain paths around Refuge les Grands on the Tour du Mont Blanc
Typical terrain: Mountain paths by Ref les Grands, Tour du Mont Blanc

Red3 is thus the grade.

Tour du Mont Blanc
Julian Alps Hut-to-Hut
Technical ground, modest days.
We grade this trip as:

Black for skill because of its:
Tricky navigation in cloud
Unseasonal snow on high cols
Steep and loose slopes

3 for fitness because of its:
Medium-length days on trek
Occasionally sustained ascents
Rough terrain

Looking back to a clouded-over Triglav from the climb to the Hribarice plateau
Typical terrain: Steep and rocky ground in the shadow of Triglav

Black3 is thus the grade.

Julian Alps Hut-to-Hut

The Alpine Exploratory grades in a table

Here we show which of our routes fall in which grades. Please also see the notes below.


No trips at this grade.


No trips at this grade.


No trips at this grade.


No trips at this grade.


Via Alpina


No trips at this grade.


No trips at this grade.


No trips at this grade.


No trips at this grade.

No trips at this grade.

No trips at this grade.

No trips at this grade.
About our span of grades

Most of our trips fall into the Red3 grade, being solid mountain walking. Our Red terrain assessment can include difficulty of rockiness or technicality underfoot, as well as difficulty of remoteness and lack of (as opposed to abundance of) features. We take into account situation, as in mountainousness and habitation, as well as the features under your boots.

Some trips involve harder terrain and more wild, rocky and remote situations and thus attract our Purple or Black grades.

Of course, if you decide to hike your route in a shorter time than normal, for example doing the Tour du Mont Blanc in 9 stages instead of the normal 11, then your Fitness grade might go up, while the Skill grade stays the same. In this case the Red3 grade would go up to Red4.

Because of the landscape and paths in mountainous parts of the Alps, Scandinavia, UK and Ireland, it's harder to find the exciting scenery at the Green grade. Indeed we include Green as a theoretical exercise, seeking context and completeness, much as a ski map might include green pistes on its key even if there are none in that resort. Our Green grade would be like walking in an urban park.

  Schedule - a list of our walking holidays

Factors that can make it harder than predicted

+ Our grade for the trip is an overall grade, following our main route, and governed by the grade of the hardest day. On many trips our Routecards give alternative routes, which in some cases have harder grades: a good example is the Alta Via 1 which is a trip in our Purple grade with some alternative paths in the Black grade.
+ Describing the challenges of our walks is one of our trickiest tasks. We try to be as descriptive as possible, realising that everyone has their own ideas about what's tough and what's easy. Within each of our grades, and within each of our trips, there is necessarily a wide range of difficulties.
+ High heat in Summer can make for slower going, especially when walking uphill.
+ You'll be walking for successive days; tiredness can build up and it's crucial to be prepared for sustained trekking.
+ You will be outside with limited or no shelter all day: self-sufficiency and navigational skill are needed, especially in bad weather, at all grades.

Factors that limit how hard it can be

+ Our holidays are about walking and trekking; none of our trips involve rock climbing or via ferrata.
+ There are no glaciers involved in our trips. Thus, no skills or equipment of glacier travel are needed.

Please email us

Please contact us any time. We'll give you as much detail as you want, about what to expect on the trail. Thank you.

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  About our walking holidays (FAQs) - all the details

Snohetta ascent in Norway
  Snohetta ascent    Walking in Norway

Alpine Exploratory
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