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Contents: Rating Systems- Sierra Club, AMC | Conditioning

- Sierra Club Backpack Difficulty Ratings:
Light (L) = Up to 35 miles, including layover days

Moderate (M) = Up to 55 miles, often with cross-country travel

Strenuous (S) = Up to 70 miles, with extensive elevation changes

Day Hike Ratings:
Easy 3-5 mi 500-1,000 ft elevation change. Below 8,000 ft.
Moderate 6-11 mi. 1,000-2,000 ft elevation change.
Difficult 12+ mi. 2000+ ft. elevation change or hikes beginning above 10,000 ft..
Hike Difficulty Calculator | nwhiker.com
Ventana Chapter Carmel, CA
Harvey Broome Group - Tenn

Time and mileage depends on terrain, conditioning of participants and pack weight.
I generally use 1.5 MPH with backpacks over moderately hilly terrain.
With day packs I use 3 MPH on rolling hills and 2 MPH on more mountainous terrain.
This includes time for breaks.

In "Backpacker's Field Manual" Curtis uses the following:
plus 1 hr. for each 1,000 ft. of elevation gained.
plus 5 min. rest for each hour. The more people you have the more rest stops, bathroom breaks, equipment adjustments, ... are required.
So 10 mi. with 1,000 elevation gain would be 6.5 hrs. Av. = 1.5 MPH
The average backpacker does from 8 - 12 miles per day.
Your pace should be slow enough that you can converse without being out of breath.

Rest breaks:
Breaks are important to prevent lactic-acid buildup in your leg muscles.
Fletcher (The Complete Walker) recommends 10 min. every hour, with time to take your pack off.
I lead hikes for the Sierra Club with beginners at 7-8,000 ft. in the Sierra Nevada in the summer where dehydration is an issue because of the thin dry air, so I try to stop for 5 minutes every 40 minutes (plus or minus depending on photo ops or availability of shade). I like to have one 10 minute break in the morning and one in the afternoon where you have time to take your packs off.

Hiking a Steep Grade: In the Grand Canyon where you can gain 1,000' in 1 1/2 mi. they recommend allowing twice as much time to go uphill as down. Experienced hikers can usually go uphill 1.2-1.5 times as fast.

Naismith's Rule is a rule of thumb that helps in the planning a walking or hiking trip.

  • For every 5km (3 mi) of easy going, allow 1 hour
  • For every 3km (2 mi) of easy scrambling, allow 1 hour
  • For every 1km (0.6 mi) of rough land, deep sand, soft snow or thick bush, allow 1 hour
  • Add an extra hour for every 500m (1,600 ft) up (cumulative)
  • On a gentle decline (about 5-12°), subtract 10 minutes per 1000 feet of descent.
  • On a steep decline (over 12°), add 10 minutes per 1000 feet of descent.
  • Add an extra hour for every five hours, to allow for fatigue.
The rule was devised by William W. Naismith, a Scottish mountaineer, in 1892. In practice it turns out that Mr Naismith was quite a strong walker, and most people find themselves needing to add 25 to 50% to this rule to reach an accurate figure.
See Tranter's correction to Naismith's Rule below for adjustments according to your conditioning.
In The Backpackers handbook, Chris Townsend, says Naismith's rule works for him
The only conditioning measure I could find was known as Tranter's See Naismith's Rule at Wikipedia
Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Skill Level Rating Codes - (angeleschapter.org/outings/ )
C Concessionaire: For events conducted by a non-Sierra Club entity (i.e. Concessionaire)
O Ordinary: Applies to a variety of uncomplicated outings (i.e., city walks, bike rides, trail hikes, backpacking.) May involve simple off trail hiking not requiring navigation skills. Climbing level: "Class 1" terrain.
I Intermediate: Includes outings that involve cross-country travel where navigation is necessary. Rougher ground than "O" outings may be traversed, and the use of hands for balance may be necessary. Includes outings that have snow travel or skiing on easy terrain. Climbing level: "Class 2" terrain.
M Moderate: Includes Moderate level climbing: "Class 3" terrain. On rock, the hands are used for climbing. Some participants may want a safety belay. On snow, safety dictates the use of ice axes and the ability to self-arrest.
E Extreme: More exposed than an M outing. Climbing on "Class 4" terrain. Rock climbs will use a rope for all in the party. On snow, steeper terrain than M outings is permissible, and safety dictates the use of crampons.
T Technical outings requiring specialized skills as identified in the sponsoring groups safety policy.

Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) -
Trip Rating System (www.outdoors.org/recreation/difficulty-ratings.cfm):
New York - North Jersey Version (amc-ny.org/hike_codes)

  1 - Leisurely (nature walk, window shopping pace)
  2 - Moderate (steady, comfortable pace)
  3 - Vigorous (brisk, firm pace)
  4 - Fast
  5 - Very Fast

  A - Solid pavement/sidewalk
  B - Soft ground/sand/carriage trails
  C - Hiking trails/gentle rolling hills
  D - Steep hills, scrambles possible
  E - Rough terrain/exposure and/or thick brush possible
  F - Extremely difficult terrain/possible sustained exposure
Note: Hikes in the Hudson Highlands (Breakneck), Ice Caves Mountain, White Mountains, Adirondacks, and parts of the Catskills are much steeper and more demanding than hikes in our other hiking range. Choose your hike accordingly.

  # - Estimated mileage, plus or minus 1 mile.

Conditioning - Workout - Aerobic Exercise Programs -:
The only conditioning measure I could find was known as Tranter's correction to Naismith's Rule. Time yourself with 300 m (1,000 ft) in 800 m (1/2 mi). Walking at your normal pace (racing up gives useless results). How to read the table below: if Naismith's Rule estimates a journey time of 9 hours and your fitness level is 25, you should allow 11.5 hours.
Individual fitness in minutes Time taken in hours estimated using Naismith's Rule
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24
15 (very fit) 1 1.5 2 2.75 3.5 4.5 5.5 6.75 7.75 10 12.5 14.5 17 19.5 22 24
20 1.25 2.25 3.25 4.5 5.5 6.5 7.75 8.75 10 12.5 15 17.5 20 23
25 1.5 3 4.25 5.5 7 8.5 10 11.5 13.25 15 17.5
30 2 3.5 5 6.75 8.5 10.5 12.5 14.5
40 2.75 4.25 5.75 7.5 9.5 11.5 Too much to be attempted
50 (unfit) 3.25 4.75 6.5 8.5
If you are carrying a heavy pack, the weather is awful or you know you're going to be crossing difficult ground, drop one fitness level for each factor counting against you.
See:Chris Bragshaw's "The Ultimate Hiking Skills Manual"
I don't think stairmasters are accurate. When I was preparing for a trip in the Himalayas at the age of 60 I could do 200 stories (about 2,000 ft) in 30 min.; I was in better than average condition but not "very fit" compared to mountaineers in another group going up to the north cull on Mt. Everest. I also found a wide variation among stairmasters.

My personal experience of jogging with a heart monitor indicated that walking or running up and down hills (even moderate inclines) puts a much greater load on your cardio-vascular system that running or walking on the flat.
Put your treadmill on an incline or use a stair-master in the gym to simulate this.

Hiking fitness is different than running fitness as different muscles will need to be developed. A good deal of your training time will be spent by simply going on walks, hikes and trails in addition to regular gym work where you can simulate hiking conditions. This has proven to be the most successful type of preparation.

Sierra Club's Backpacking Trip Ratings
Basic Wilderness Travel Conditioning (Source: Basic Wilderness Travel Seminar offered through the Seattle Mountaineers)
Training for a Thru-Hike at Gorp.away.com
Carrying A Load: Training For Your Next Hiking Trip
Hiking Training & Fitness
Make Hiking More Fun!
How to succeed on Kilimanjaro

Other Rating Links:
Rating system adapted from Travels Along the Edge: 40 Ultimate Adventures for the Modern Nomad, by David Noland, at fodors.iexplore.com/.
Includes Physical, Mental and Technical ratings from 1-5. 5 is for altitudes above 20,000 feet and an oxygen-enhanced final summit.

Rock Climbing Class (1-5)
Rock Climbing Grade (I - VII)

last updated 24 Feb 2007