The following proposal has been updated 13 August, with changes to navigation and waterways.


New Zealand Tramper currently uses a simple 5-point grading scale for track difficulty, with the option to add notes on the conditions. Grades are:

  • Easy
  • Easy-medium
  • Medium
  • Medium-hard
  • Hard

There are several goals of a new grading system:

  1. To add a new grade for accessible walks.
  2. To move away from subjective terms such as “easy” which are open to misinterpretation
  3. To split up different elements of the grading so that users may better understand and filter (search) tracks.
  4. To surface more information about hazards and adverse conditions.


The proposed new grade has the following elements:

  • Technical grade ranging from 1 to 6. This is accompanied by a short description. For example: “Lightly marked, very rough route over steep terrain”
  • Fitness grade ranging from A to F. This is accompanied by the indicators: low, medium, or high.
  • List of specific hazards and/or skills required.
  • Winter conditions notes. This is simply a free-form text block.

Technical grade

The technical grade is composed of a number of sub-grades. The highest sub-grade forms the overall technical grade. The sub-grades are visible to end users and exposed for searching and filtering. The sub-grades are:

  • Navigation
  • Surface
  • Gradient

Various hazards or skills the track requires may also inform the technical grade, and are discussed under “Hazards”.

Most users will likely understand there to be 6 grades of tracks each with certain characteristics, and will have no need to explore the sub-grades.


Note that unmarked tracks range from grades 4 through 6, depending on the easy of route finding. There are no grades 2 or 3.

  • Well marked, with the next marker visible from the previous marker, or with a well-formed track that is clear in all conditions.
    • Grade 1 Marked
  • Poorly, lightly, or vaguely marked, with experience and judgement required to keep to the route. 
    • Grade 4 Lightly marked
  • Unmarked route along obvious features (ridges, rivers)
    • Grade 4 Unmarked
  • Unmarked route over open landscape (mountains)
    • Grade 5 Unmarked
  • Unmarked route with confusing topography, few landmarks, minimal visibility (thick lowland forest or scrub)
    • Grade 6 Unmarked


  • Easy-access path suitable for wheelchairs or strollers. If this track is not suitable for both, then this should be noted.
    • Grade 1 Easy-access path
  • Smooth, wide benched track, including 4WD roads and steps. Suitable for walking shoes. Some “Great walks”.
    • Grade 2 Walking track
  • Narrow foot track on a natural surface with some straightforward obstacles (e.g. rocks). Suitable for lightweight tramping boots.
    • Grade 3 Tramping track
  • Unformed route over open ground (e.g. tussock grassland or alpine herbfields)
    • Grade 3 Route
  • Degraded lowland route: roots, rocks, thick mud. Unformed route through thigh-deep montane scrub. Brief sections of strenuous travel.
    • Grade 4 Rough route
  • Rugged tops or riverbed travel: boulders, gorges, waterfalls, screes, scrambles. Brief sections of strenuous travel.
    • Grade 5 Very rough route
  • Extended strenuous travel through dense forest, scrub, or boulders: crawling, scrambling, sidling around waterfalls, bluffs, or very difficult tops.
    • Grade 6 Strenuous route


  • Flat, negligible slopes
    • Grade 1 Flat
  • Gradients under 25% (1 in 4 or 14 degrees) or steps. On topomaps this is 2 or fewer major contour lines in a 1km square.
    • Grade 2 Gentle gradients
  • Gradients up to 50% (1 in 2 or 27 degrees). On topomaps this is 3-4 major contour lines in a 1km square.
    • Grade 3 Moderate gradients
  • Hand-over-hand gradients over 50% (1 in 2 or 27 degrees). On topomaps this is 5 major contour lines in a 1km square.
    • Grade 4 Steep
  • Steep and exposed,with some significant exposure to falls. Protection of route using rope not necessary.
    • Grade 5 Very steep
  • Very steep and highly exposed travel with immediate and severe consequences. Basic rock climbing with some rope protection recommended.
    • Grade 6 Very steep and exposed

Fitness grade

The fitness grade is composed of two sub-grades. The highest sub-grade forms the overall fitness grade. The sub-grades are visible to end users and exposed for searching and filtering. The sub-grades are:

  • Ascent
  • Time

The overall length of the track in days is not considered. Ideally, both ascent and time are the maxima for any one day, not the total trip.

The fitness grade is adjusted based on technical grades as follows:

  • Technical grade 5: Add 1
  • Technical grade 6: Add 2


  • Up to 300m: Grade A Low
  • Up to 600m: Grade B Low
  • Up to 1200m: Grade C Moderate
  • Up to 2400m: Grade D Moderate
  • Over 2400m: Grade E High


  • Up to 2 hours: Grade A Low
  • Up to 4 hours: Grade B Low
  • Up to 8 hours: Grade C Moderate
  • More than 8 hours: Grade D Moderate


Hazards are specific environmental challenges that may require special skills and gear. Hazards are listed in the hazards section, and may also influence the technical grade. Hazards are as follows:

  • Montane (montane hazards are evaluated in summer conditions)
    • Montane weather
    • Avalanche risk
    • Snow and ice. Ice axe, crampons and snow skills required: Grade 5.
    • Glacier travel. Glacier skills and equipment required: Grade 6.
  • Geothermal
    • Geothermal area
    • Active volcanic area
  • Waterways
    • All waterways bridged with solid bridges / boardwalks, or no waterways crossed: Grade 1.
    • Grade 2: All minor and major waterways bridged with solid or suspension bridges. 
    • Minor streams. May become uncrossable in wet conditions: Grade 3.
    • Major river crossings (rivers that drain substantial catchments). Mutual support techniques likely required: Grade 4
    • Riverbed travel that may require mutual support techniques: Grade 4
    • Open water: Grade 4. For example, crossing lakes or sounds to the starts of tracks.
    • Difficult river travel (long, hazardous gorges with limited escape routes): Grade 5.
    • Canyoning where descent requires specialist equipment, with no escape routes.

Free-text additions for hazards could include: Shared use track (mountain bikes), Cableways, 3-wire bridges.


The following tracks have been updated with a panel for the proposed grades:

Points to consider

  • Navigation grades 4 through 6 consider travel on unmarked routes. Are these grades adequately described and differentiated?
  • Surface grades 4 through 6 consider travel on rough ground conditions. Are these grades adequately described and differentiated?
  • Gradient grades 4 through 6 consider travel  on hand-over-hand gradients and beyond. Are these grades adequately described and differentiated?
  • Is the balance across the three technical grades about right?
  • The fitness grades give an indication of energy expenditure and muscle fatigue. Time grades could be replaced with distance grades, but time seems to better reflect the energy required.
  • Is the balance across the two fitness grades about right?
  • Some hazards have associated grades. Are these grades right?
  • River crossings only have two grades: 3 and 4. Is this OK?

Where next?

Please provide feedback in the forums, here: