A lot of hiking trails in the Western Cape and South Africa make use of their own difficulty grading systems. However, there has been some attempts from organizations such as ‘The Trails Club of South Africa’ as well as ‘Green Flag Trails’ to achieve a standardized hiking grading system in South Africa to measure and report difficulty of a hike in terms of energy exerted, technical difficulty, exposure etc.

The grading of a hiking trail is difficult not just because it is subjective but because there are many intangible variables – your fitness level, health, age and mental toughness and externals such as the weather, environment, surface and trail conditions. The load you are carrying is significant and even the layout of a trail can influence your perception of tiredness.

Even though a lot of hiking trails make use of their own grading scales, they are often slight deviations of the systems created by the above organizations. The following charts & codes are frequently used to grade the difficulty rating of a hiking trail in South Africa and the Western Cape:

Technical difficulty

The technical difficulty of a trail in terms of rock scrambling, exposure to dangerous ledges & heights is another important factor in determining the difficulty of a hiking trail.

Incline (Steepness)

Technical difficulty in terms of steepness of a hike is usually measured from 1 to 4 as follows:

Hiking difficulty grading incline


Level Difficulty Description
1 Walk A walk, with no use of hands. There might be steep sections
2 Scramble Easy rock scrambling requiring use of hands: a person with little experience will be able to cope.
3 Climb Difficult rock scrambling requiring extensive use of hands. Possibility of other obstacles such as deep rivers; narrow ledges; high ladders which are potentially dangerous, especially under adverse climatic conditions.
4 Rock Climb A technical climb – Only for experienced rock climbers


This attribute classifies the hiking trail with respect to the degree of exposure that the hiker will encounter on the hike:

Hiking difficulty grading exposure

Level Scale Description
A None No exposure to heights.
B Mild The path is on steep ground, or near the edge of small cliffs. Those with a fear of heights will feel uncomfortable.
C High The path is on very steep ground, or near the edge of high cliffs. Those with a fear of heights should not attempt these hikes

Energy Exerted

The Green Flag system developed a scientifically calculated, ten-point effort scale divided into four bands – Easy (1 to <4), Moderate (4 to <7), Difficult (7 to 10) and Extreme (10+). The difficulty rating methodology uses a calorie approach based on the energy expended by users on a trail. The most accurate way of grading a trail is to calculate the effort (i.e. energy expenditure) required. This is the basis of the difficulty grading system for the national system of audited, well-maintained trails known as Green Flag trails.


Hiking difficulty grading energy

Note: The South African Army figures show that you exert nearly twice as much energy walking in loose sand (x1.9) as on a hard surface path!