The Hike Grading System in Australia
In March 2011 the Council of Bushwalking Australia endorsed the Australian Walking Track Grading System (AWTGS), a voluntary walking track standard. The Australian Walking Track Grading System is a nationally consistent system to grade the level of difficulty of the track walking experience and then to clearly communicate that information to walkers.
Under the system, walking trails are graded on a difficulty scale from grades one to five.
- Grade One is suitable for people with a disability with assistance
- Grade Two is suitable for families with young children
- Grade Three is recommended for people with some bushwalking experience
- Grade Four is recommended for experienced bushwalkers, and
- Grade Five is recommended for very experienced bushwalkers
Through many years of hiking in the Australian bush, I believe the AWTGS does not adequately prepare hikers and may often mislead people into undertaking a hike they are not prepared for. In some cases the public description misrepresents the experience and expertise required. For example, the AWTGS description indicates that ‘bushwalking experience is recommended’ for a ‘Grade Four Walk’. I would argue that bushwalking experience is essential for a hike of this grade. There is no mention of the navigation or technical skills required in this description, even though the system mentions ‘directional signage may be limited’. This is confusing and ambiguous as the technical information for land managers, when grading the hike, is a lot more specific in terms of the hikes requirements and the skill level of the intended hiker. To understate the challenges and expertise to the public, potentially puts people in danger as it allows many to believe they can undertake hikes they may not be ready for.
It is my view that the grading system is somewhat speculative as it can be based on a number of conditions and factors such as terrain, topography, altitude. There are no hard and fast rules as to why a trail receives any given grade and some conditions may vary. For example, a hike that is 25km in length and quite easy to complete might be personally rated by walkers as Grade Three. The AWTGS however would classify this as Grade Four trail, primarily due to the hike length. I have heard stories of many adventure seekers taking on Grade 4 trails in easy environments then thinking they now had the necessary skills to take on a Grade 4 alpine adventure. You will find the grading, like the suggested time to complete a hike, will also vary based on your personal fitness and experience. It is important to note that in some regions, such as the Alps, season and climate can also have an impact on the trail grade. What may be a Grade Four hike in Spring will easily be a Grade Five hike in winter when the trails are covered with snow and conditions and navigation are a lot more challenging.
So take the number for what is is worth, and weight up all the contributing factors before heading out onto the trail. Use the number as a starting point, then seek advice from others, online resources and books to allow yourself to make an informed decision.
The Trail Hiking Australia Grading System
I have applied the AWTGS to all hikes on this site after assessing each hike using my own logic and experience so that I can better inform you about the features and challenges of hiking trails, allowing you to gauge your suitability for a particular hike. If you are just starting out, start with grade 1-2 hikes and slowly build up from there.
Note: The hike grading icons and colours below have been created by me. Feel free to use the icons and descriptions for personal use. They are NOT to be reproduced for commercial purposes without visible acknowledgement and written permission from the copyright owner. Some unethical people have stolen these and are using them in printed publications and on their websites.
Suitable for people with a disability or wheelchair with assistance. No hiking experience required as trails have a flat even surface with no steps or steep sections. Hikes generally less than 5km.
Suitable for families with young children. No hiking experience required as trails have a harder compacted surface. Expect gentle hills and occasional steps. Hikes generally less than 10km.
Suitable for most ages and fitness levels. Hiking experience is recommended as trails may have short steep hill sections, rough surfaces and natural steps. Hikes generally less than 20km.
Suitable for experienced hikers as navigation and technical skills will be required. Trails will be long, rough and very steep with limited signage or navigation aids. Rock scrambling and river crossings may be required. Hikes generally less than 25km.
Suitable for highly experienced self-reliant hikers with specialised skills, including map and compass navigation and emergency first aid. Trails will be unmarked, long, very rough and very steep. Rock scrambling and river crossings may be required. Hikes generally greater than 25km.
Disclaimer: All hikes on this site have been graded using a set of technical questions before applying the Trail Hiking Australia Grading System and not necessarily the official grade applied by land managers. As such I have used my own skills and experience in order to determine the most suitable grading. As with all hikes, read the description, assess your own ability and research the most suitable trail for you and your party. It is important to note that in some regions, such as the Alps, weather can have an impact on the trail grade. What may be a Grade Four hike in Spring will easily be a Grade Five hike in winter when the trails are covered with snow.
If you disagree with a grade, please get in touch to discuss this rather than rant on socials that ‘this isn’t a grade 4 I can do it easily so much be a grade 2. Please take the time to apply some form of logic before reaching out to dispute what is only a guideline.
How to Grade Walking Tracks using the Australian Walking Track Grading System
The grading system operates at two distinct tiers.
- A technical grading of the walk where the land manager determines the walk’s grade of difficulty using a set of technical questions based on the Australian Standard 2156.1-2001 Walking Tracks – Classification and Signage; and
- A ‘plain English language’ description to describe the walk to the public.
For more information about the Australian Walking Track Grading System, including user guide on how to grade a walking track using the new standard visit the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries web site.