What Makes A Hike Difficult? | Hikers University

Hiking is a fun activity enjoyed by many, but there are many factors that can make a regular hike very difficult. So, what makes a hike difficult?

Most people love hiking and enjoy the challenges it presents. However, at times the excursion can be painful and frustrating. It is important to know what factors make hiking difficult in order to be better prepared for future hiking experiences.

Any hiking route has a number of variables that must be taken into account when determining your level of fitness for the trek. And that is exactly what makes a hike difficult. The amount of fitness required and the technical complexity of a hike are the two main factors that determine the difficulty level of a hike.

You can feel secure and prepared on the trail by being aware of the system used to rate the difficulty of hiking trails. When you check the trail description for your upcoming hike, you'll probably see that in addition to information like the distance traveled and the amount of elevation gained, the hike has also been given a difficulty rating, such as class 1 or 2, which may have left you perplexed and unsure of what to expect.

After conducting extensive research and speaking with various professional hikers, we have put together this guide to help you understand what makes a hike difficult.

Table of contents


What Makes a Hike Difficult - Technical Levels

Both treks and climbs are rated using the Yosemite Decimal System's five "classes," with Class 1 being the simplest and Class 5 being the most challenging. For our purposes, we'll solely focus on the first four classes because they encompass hiking paths. You can use these to determine the trail's degree of difficulty and to learn what kind of clothing and equipment are necessary for a safe and successful trip.

Level 1

Low-risk walking; acceptable footwear for this level is light trekking or approach shoes. These excursions will provide simple, uncomplicated hiking, typically on a trail that has been maintained and is clearly signposted. You won't need any special equipment to gain elevation, though. These are accessible to hikers of all experience levels and skill levels, but you'll undoubtedly want a pair of the best hiking shoes.

Level 2

There is not much actual or prospective threat involved at this level. However, we strongly advise proper hiking boots that reach your ankles for this level. There won't be as much signage on these hikes. They might lead you off the track and will be a little more difficult. You could occasionally need to use your hands for balance, and you might run into snow or talus. Exposure, slick rock, and steep scree are possible hazards on Class 2 hikes. You should bring trekking poles, a decent pair of hiking boots or shoes, and a map in case you get off the track.

Level 3

You should only attempt level 3 hikes with an experienced hiker. To ensure safe navigation, the route may be equipped with chains, ladders, and other aids. There is a high level of risk exposure, and falls could cause severe harm or even death. ​ On these paths, expect to occasionally use your hands and feet to make your way through snowy, rocky, or steep terrain. You'll need self-assurance, navigational expertise, and you might even carry a rope with you for safety.

Level 4

The most challenging hiking paths will have dangerously steep terrain and call for climbing up and down with your hands and feet. Falls can be dangerous in this area, thus you should always carry a rope. You'll likely need ropes, a harness, and a helmet in this situation. Climbing is an activity that is more challenging than these trails.

Level 5

Level 5 is technical climbing and should be left up to the pros. Rope and belaying is used during the ascent. At level 5, hikers completely switch to rock climbing from hiking. The entire rock climbing set-up, including climbing shoes, a belay device, a harness, a rope, and other additional equipment, such as quickdraws, is needed to complete a Class 5 route, which is categorized as technical free climbing. On these hikes, you definitely don't want to fall without a rope, so gather your belay partners before even looking at the route.

What Makes a Hike Difficult - Fitness Levels

  • A: Simplest - Suitable for healthy individuals of all ages. Less than 10 kilometers overall with an elevation rise of no more than 500 meters.
  • B: Easy - Suitable for individuals of various ages with a foundational level of fitness. Less than 12 kilometers overall with an elevation gain of little more than 800 meters.
  • C: Moderate – Although this level is doable for reasonably fit hikers who go outside at least once a month, it is for experienced hikers only. Experienced hikers would actually consider it to be simple. 800–1,500 meters of elevation increase and a daily maximum travel distance of 15 kilometers.
  • D: Challenging - Participation in hikes at this level requires regular hiking expertise. More than 1,000 meters of elevation gain and possibly more than 15 kilometers of travel is required in one day. For many, this level is difficult because of the considerable elevation increase and the lengthy distance.
  • E: Very Difficult - This level is made up of long distances and significant height rises. High degree of fitness is necessary because finishing quickly will be crucial.

What Makes a Hike Difficult?

It may be time to determine why hiking is so difficult and whether anything can be done about it when you are invited for a trek and all you can think about is trying to make an excuse not to go.

Why is hiking so challenging? Well, probably because you aren't prepared for it. Even so, hiking is challenging. You cannot just jump in without any preparation and expect a physical activity that may place so many demands on you to go smoothly. There are several things to consider before you take on hiking. You can start by finding the right clothes and shoes!

Here are a few other factors that make hiking difficult:

You Didn’t Do Your Homework  

Not knowing where to go on a hike or when to go there can be challenging. Your hike will be challenging if you decide to embark on a brand-new excursion on Saturday at 3 p.m. but don't research your destination until that day at 2:45 p.m. You can find yourself stranded on the route after dark if you undertake an unknown hike late in the day. That can result in getting hurt or lost.

You Didn’t Wear the Right Shoes

The beating your feet receive is one of the main factors that makes a hike rather difficult. But trust us, that only happens if you invest in the wrong pair of footwear for a hike. Veteran athletes are aware of the damage this sport will do to your feet. Aches. Blisters are uncomfortable and can occasionally bleed, which can quickly make you give up trekking. Therefore, it’s always best to do some research and familiarize yourself with the type of shoes required.

You Don't Stay Fit

Hiking can be extra challenging for anyone who is out of shape. You can’t expect to go on a 10 km hike and NOT get tired or run out of breath after 15 minutes of walking. You need to build your stamina and strength before going on any form of hiking excursion. How can you expect to do well when you want to get up and move around if you spend 90% of your time sitting down?

You Overexert Yourself

If only hiking didn't make you feel so fatigued, it would be amazing. You finished the six-hour trip in barely five hours, and all you have to show for it are a sore body, heavy eyelids, and a grumpy attitude. Who would ever want to hike? It doesn’t have to be that way. Hiking should be enjoyed and one shouldn’t be hasty about finishing off first in as little time as possible (unless you’re in a race!).

You Are Not Properly Dressed

Hiking (especially in the scorching heat) will obviously make you sweat. On top of that, you will have to deal with the occasional bugs and flies along with sunburn if you’re not prepared. The beauty and adventure of being outside are enhanced by the changing weather. This is especially true in hiking. Even though you'll be outside and the weather might be erratic, if you dress appropriately, you can pull off a comfortable hike.

You Don't Drink Enough Water

You'll have a difficult time hiking if you don't drink enough water. Dehydration is no laughing matter. It can at the very least make you irritable and thirsty. It can happen suddenly and lead to fatigue, foggy thinking, and unconsciousness.

You Selected the Wrong Trail

Hiking can be super frustrating if you pick the wrong trail. The trail can be too long or too steep and far more difficult than you anticipated. You will begin to wonder if it’s even worth the effort and before you know it, you’ll be walking back home.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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