Anyone who has spent any time on specialist walking websites will already know one sure thing when it comes to how walking routes are graded – it varies enormously. It’s the same when it comes to how different countries grade their own official walking routes.
In order to try to improve our own way of doing it we researched how it was done elsewhere… and found it was a minefield. We wrote an article about these findings on our Buzz Trips website which specialises in hiking and dining around the world.
There’s a very good reason for the variations in how routes are graded – locations vary not only in topographical features but also in the quality of paths. For example, even in the Canary Islands walking on Fuerteventura is a quite different experience from walking on La Gomera in terms of the terrain you encounter and the ascents/descents involved.
In some countries official paths can be wide and well maintained. Many we’ve walked in Germany have been like this. In other places paths aren’t maintained at all. We’ve found this in parts of Greece and Portugal. The state of paths can impact on difficulty levels almost as much as distance and ascents/descents involved. Take the Masca Barranco on Tenerife. It’s not a long walk from the hamlet to the coast, but it is a challenging one thanks to the terrain. There’s a lot of scrabbling involved which requires a certain level of dexterity. We’ve been banging the drum about Masca being a challenging route for years whilst some others strongly disagreed.
Tellingly, Masca Barranco remains closed to the public because of the amount of accidents that have occurred on the route.
Up until now we’ve generally applied a more descriptive way of explaining the difficulty level of the routes in our walking sets. This involves a general outline of the differences between a level 1 route (more a long stroll than a hike) and a level 5 route (only recommended for experienced and fit hikers).
On each of the routes in our walking sets we go into more detail, taking into account the terrain as well as distance and often total ascent/descent. For each area of Tenerife we try to balance out routes in each package so there are ones which are accessible to most reasonably fit walkers and a route which offers more of a challenge. However, we’re not into hardcore hiking so none are like the routes you might encounter in places like Corsica which are used to train the French Foreign Legion. We view walking as a fun activity.
However, people have occasionally asked what the route grading means on the descriptions on our Buy Islands Walks page as they’re a bit on the vague side.
It’s a fair question, so here’s a more detailed explanation of how we grade our routes:
Level 1: Under 5km and with ascents/descents which are 100m or less.
Level 2: Under 10km with ascents/descents which are under 200m.
Level 3: Between 10 and 15km with ascents/descents up to 500m.
Level 4: Between 10 and 15km with ascents/descents up to 1000m.
Level 5: Ascents/descents of over 1000m.
Not everything in nature fits neatly into boxes, so there are a couple of variations depending on individual route characteristics. But generally speaking these should give anyone who’s interested a better idea of what is involved.