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The "Neville Grading System" for
Hiking Trails in Southern Africa

The Grading Formula | Graded Trails


The grading of hiking trails, especially if that grading is for comparison purposes, is extremely difficult and should take into account many diverse factors. Some of the factors will be aesthetic by nature and therefore subjective whilst others will be physical and therefore more objective.

Depending on ones personal views, experience and fitness these various factors will make one hike more interesting and pleasant than another. These variable characteristics of a hiking trail are innumerable but some of the major ones are:
availability of water, closeness to urban areas, difficulty of ascents and descents, distance from home, facilities at the overnight stops, indigenous forests or plantations, marking of the trail, mean height above sea level, number of days, open grassland or bush, season, total climb or descent, total hiking distance, type of path (sand, rock, scree, boulders), weather.

You will notice that I have placed this list in alphabetical order so as to give no intimation of prioritising them. Many of these factors are inter-dependent on one another, the right combination will make a hike great, whilst the same hike with a different combination turns the same hike into a very unpleasant experience.


In my attempt to grade the hikes, I have concentrated on the objective, namely physical expenditure. Please note this has been done in pure lay terms. I'm sure that the medical and fitness specialists would shoot down a great deal, if not all, of my suppositions. However, as I have now started this attempt, I shall continue.

With my grading system I have limited my attributes to:
total hike distance, total ascent, number of days, type of trail (hutted, tented, wilderness).

I would have also liked to include two other factors in the evaluation, but unfortunately either through lack of information and/ or time I have not be able to do so. These would have been:
mean height above sea level, and the type of path i.e. sand, boulders, scree, gravel road etc.


Please bear in mind that the accuracy of the grading is very much reliant on the accuracy and scale of the maps produced by hiking trail owners/operators. Even then the standard contour interval on a 1 : 50 000 map is 20m which when you say it doesn't sound that high, but if you think of it as climbing up a 6 or 7 storey building it seems a lot bigger.

The other factor is how far apart do you take the reference points. For practical purposes I've used 250m intervals (it doesn't sound as far as a quarter of a kilometre) but it would have been preferable to use no more than 100m.

If there is anybody out there that would like to donate an accurate handheld GPS to assist me in increasing the accuracy of my plotting, I would greatly appreciate it!
Finally before I explain the grading formula, it must be borne in mind that the grading can really only be used to compare the overall difficulty of one hiking trail with another and cannot be used as a comparison of the lasting impression. The pains in the legs and chest disappear far quicker than the memories of the views etched into the brain.

I hope, that if nothing else, this exercise has raised some interest regarding this subject, and whilst I know it could raise a great deal of controversy it could lead to greater minds than mine perfecting the idea.

Should you have any useful suggestions please feel free to contact me either by mail at PO Box 32177, GLENSTANTIA, 0010, at telephone number +27 (0)12 993-3531 or by e-mail on

It would be appreciated that should anybody, hiking group or trail owner, that uses this formula acknowledge the creator (myself) of the grading system.

Good hiking,

John Neville
(Revised May 1997)

The Grading Formula | Graded Trails

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Date of entry: 1 July 1996
Updated: 2 January 2004