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(Alta Via 1) Snow patches in the Dolomites

Walking grades for our holidays

Our grades

To give an idea how hard each of our holidays is, we use two scales:

(Terrain, and need for navigation and self-reliance)
(Distance and ascent)
Black We keep this category for the hardest terrain on Alpine or UK walks; experienced walkers will be challenged by particularly steep and loose ascents and by wild rocky landscapes. Good balance on the feet is essential; steep drops might be present to one or both sides, with serious consequences of a slip. 4 Strong fitness is needed at this highest grade, to tackle 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 ascent and time than this.
Red Steep, rocky ground and some rough walking away from paths; the varied conditions of a mountain walk in the Scottish Highlands or a high trek in the Alps. There might be unavoidable sections with steep drops to one or both sides. 3 Good fitness in the mountains is called for, to tackle comfortably an ascent of around 1,000m in a full day's walk; it's an all-round day out in the mountains.
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. 2 The fitness to walk half- or full-days in the hills is needed, with typical daily ascents of 600m.
Green This easiest skill grade sees flat or gently-angled paths, often wide, with fairly smooth surfaces. 1 There is little or no ascent at this easiest fitness grade, and daily distances are modest.

These two scales combine into an overall grade. We hope that using two separate scales allows finer accuracy than the combined rating that we used before 2012. Our colour-coding of the skill grade will also be familiar from skiing or mountain biking.

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

Grades in a table













Most of our trips fall into the Red3 grade, being solid mountain walking. Some trips involve harder terrain and more wild, rocky and remote situations and thus attract our Black grade. Because of the landscape and paths in the Alps, Norway and mountainous UK it's harder to find the exciting scenery at the Blue and Green grades.

  Schedule - a list of our walking holidays

Features common to all grades

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 at the top of the Red grade with some alternative paths in the Black grade.

+ 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
+ High heat in the 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 in bad weather


Describing the challenges on 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.

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

  Holidays - all our walking trips
  About our walking holidays (FAQs) - all the details

Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.
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