What is Considered A Hard Hike? (All You Need To Know)

What is Considered a Hard Hike

Whether as an experienced or beginner hiker, the above question is constant in the mind of hikers. However, there are many ways to determine a hard hike.

If you are planning on taking one of the most challenging terrains you have ever considered, try to gain the knowledge or complete sense of what the terrain involves.

If you exceed your limit in a hike, it can be disastrous, which is why you need to consider objective and subjective factors. 

There is a way to measure a hard hike and to succeed in identifying a hard hike, and you must consider two things: the distance and the elevation gain and loss (that is, the number of feet walking up and down the hill). A hard hike involves moving in elevations with thinner air, increasing fatigue, exacerbating dehydration, and even causing a headache.

So please give your undivided attention to this article as I will tell you what a hard and moderate hike is all about.

And you will also learn how to determine a difficult hike and the elevation suitable for a hard hike.

What has Usually Termed a Hard Hike?

What is Considered a Hard Hike

Most times, we refer to elevation gain and loss as “cumulative,” which is the sum of both the uphill and downhill.

And this means the cumulative slope of a hill that goes up by 1,000ft is 2,000ft.

Do not subscribe to the idea that going downhill is not as tiring as going uphill, especially on rugged, steep ones. On the contrary, it usually takes a tow on the leg muscles and joints.

For most hard hikes in the mountains, you usually go uphill before coming downhill. However, it is entirely the opposite in many canyons out there.

For instance, in the Grand Canyon, you usually go downhill first before going back uphill. It is because going down may be easy but take your time, considering you must climb back up.

A hard hike is one with a path having elevation gains and losses, a lot of steep hills, natural obstacles, and exposure to elements. 

There is even a high and low climate that influences a hard hike.

How Much Elevation is a Hard Hike?

A hard hike often falls with a distance of 8 to 12 miles. However, a hard hike should be any hike from 3,000 feet and above in terms of elevation gain and loss.

It is important to note that a hard hike is independent of the distance you cover or the elevation gain and loss. 

But instead, it also involves the nature of the terrain (whether steep or rocky) that you want to hike.

Some example terrains with elevation suitable enough for a hard hike are

  1. Dome Rock Peak Trail
  2. Dog Mountain Trail
  3. Hardesty Mountain Trail 

What is a Moderately Difficult Hike?

I usually look at a moderate hike from two different perspectives, which is why I believe in a moderate and a moderately difficult hike.

#1. Moderate Hike

I will call a hike moderate if it has a modest incline, is a bit steep, has a numeric rating falling between 50 and 100, and generally with 3 to 5 miles. Very suitable for rookies.

#2. Moderately Difficult Hike,

However, a moderately difficult hike poses many challenges for an unconditioned hiker. Its terrain is steady but steep, usually 5 to 8 miles, and a numerical rating just above 100.

How Do I Determine Hiking Difficulty?

Determining hiking difficulty is not easy, but it is possible. Below is a formula that aids you in accessing the difficulty level of a hike:

Elevation gain (feet) x 2 x distance (miles). And then, you will have to square the product to get the numeric rating.

For instance, let us take a 10-mile hike with an elevation of 2,300 feet:

2,300 x 2 x 10

4,600 x 10 = 46,000

The square root of 46,000 = 214.5

Going by the numerical rating of 214.5, you can say it is an extremely hard hike.

To determine the hiking difficulty scale, you must try to look at it from two perspectives. First, you must consider the difficulty regarding technical grade and fitness level.

You can group hiking difficulty into three categories for the technical grade. At the same time, you can categorize the fitness level difficulty into five different areas.

#1. Technical Grade

The technical grades have three levels or stages with varying characteristics. Below are the various levels of the technical grade:

Level 1

It is a level that entails walking with minimal injury, and you can hike with light hiking/ trekking shoes at this level.

Level 2

Here, you will mainly engage in mountain climbing using your hands, ropes, and sometimes chains to make your way through. 

Although you will most likely face a little danger using a high hiking boot should keep you safe.

Level 3

It will involve you trying to scramble your way through with a lot of exposure. You will make use of ladders, chains, and a variety of aids for route navigation. 

But, again, there is high exposure, and any fall will bring about severe injury and, at times, even death.

#2. Fitness Level

There is no particular way to measure distance with a specific amount of elevation gain and loss. But you can achieve this with one of the best and oldest-selling guidebooks. 

With the aid of the AMC White Mountain Guide, you can now access almost a thousand and a half trails within the country. 

In addition, it comes with a hiking formula of below 30 minutes for a mile of horizontal distance.

The five hiking difficulty areas concerning fitness level are:

Ratings Distance Elevation Gain and Loss (Cumulative)Numeric Rating 
Easy 5 miles and below500 feet and belowLess than 50
Moderate 5 to 8 miles1,500 feet and above50 to 100
Hard 8 to 12 miles3,000 feet and above100 to 150
Very hard 12 to 15 miles4,500 feet and above150 to 200
Extremely hard15 miles and above6,000 feet and above200 and above


#1. How Much Elevation is Considered High?

Just like elevation, we have altitude, which is the distance above sea level. Therefore, you can consider elevation high when you reach an altitude of about 8,000 ft in the atmosphere.

#2. Who Shouldn’t Hike High Altitudes?

Anyone with medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), heart failure, pulmonary sickness, sickle cell disease, or myocardial ischemia cannot. 

#3. Do You Age Faster on High Elevation?

Aging faster at high altitudes is possible because, at high altitudes, the amount of nitric oxide increases, and so is the production of ROS that accelerates aging.

Josh Matthews

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