Inversion from the Devil's Point

Hillwalking grades

How I graded the hiking and rock-scrambling events I used to organise

When I organised hillwalking events they ranged from afternoon strolls on rolling hills in the Pentlands to multi-day backpacking in remote wildernesses and to rock-scrambling on the toughest mountains in Scotland. They were graded to help clients find days that suit their ability and fitness.

Hikes were categorised from level 1 to 5, with 1 being easy and 5 being suitable for very fit people capable of long hill-days.

The scrambling events were graded from 1 to 3 as defined by the SMC. More information on scrambling grades can be found on the Rock Scrambles definitions page.


Hill walking days




Level 1
Short, easy hillwalks


Type Easy approach on tracks or fine paths, pathed ascents and descents
Experience Some country walking
Fitness Moderate level of fitness
Typical event Ascent: < 1,000m, distance: < 10km, time taken: < 5 hours
eg Pentland walks, west Glenshee Munros


Level 2
Easy hillwalking days


Type Approach on tracks or fine paths, pathed or grassy ascents and descents
Experience Some country walking
Fitness Decent level of fitness with moderate level of stamina
Typical event Ascent: 1,300m, distance: 13km, time taken: 6 to 8 hours
eg Ben Lomond, Ben Lawers and Beinn Ghlas, Glen Doll hills


Level 3
Moderate hill days


Type Obvious approach, but not necessarily on paths. Some steep ascents or descents, may include occasional boulderfield or scree and some ridge-walking
Experience Some hillwalking experience and exposure to 'Scottish weather'
Fitness Good level of fitness and stamina
Typical event Ascent: 1,400m, distance: 15km, time taken: 7-9 hours
eg Glen Lyon Munros, Cairngorm and Ben Macdui, Strathfarrar and Maoile Lundaidh


Level 4
Demanding hill days


Type Longish approach which may not be obvious. Several steep ascents or descents, some rough terrain (boulderfield, scree or deep heather). Perhaps occasional easy ungraded rock-scrambling.
Experience Regular hillwalking to level 3 or more and exposure to 'Scottish weather'
Fitness Good level of fitness and stamina. Must be able to cope with a long day on hills.
Typical event Ascent: 1,600m, distance: 20km, time taken: 8-10 hours
eg Grey Corries, Deepest Affric, Lawers Raid


Level 5
Demanding hillwalking, long distance


Type Long approach which may not be obvious. Many steep ascents or descents, lots of rough terrain (boulderfield, scree or deep heather). Ridge walking above exposed drops. Perhaps occasional easy rock-scrambling (almost to Grade 1).
Experience Regular hillwalking to level 3 or more and exposure to 'Scottish weather'
Fitness High level of fitness and stamina. Must be able to cope with long days on hills.
Typical event Ascent: 2,000m, distance: 25km, time taken: 9-12 hours
eg Mullardoch Munros, Rough Bounds of Knoydart, Cairngorm 4000ers



Graded rock-scrambles




Grade 1
Easy rock-scrambles


Type Use of hands occasionally for progress, holds will be large and the exposure not too daunting.
Experience Several hill walking days and comfortable walking on ridges
Fitness Good level of fitness
Typical event Beinn Alligin, Carn Mor Dearg arête or Ledge Route on Ben Nevis, Ring o'Steall in the Mamores


Grade 2
Moderate rock-scrambles


Type Significant exposure and use of hands required more often.
Experience At least 3 Grade 1 rock-scrambles and are comfortable moving along such terrain. Ideally you'll have been out with us before.
Fitness Good level of fitness
Typical event Aonach Eagach, Stac Pollaidh, Liathach (incl Am Fasarinen)


Grade 3
Advanced rock-scrambles


Type Some very exposed situations, with moves on steep rock where protection may be required. We treated Grade 3 scrambles as 'Moderate climbs' using ropes and relevant climbing gear.
Experience Some Grade 2 rock-scrambles and be comfortable progressing on such terrain. Ideally, client would have been out with us before.
Fitness Good level of fitness and stamina
Typical event Sections on the Skye Munros events, Curved Ridge on Buachaillie Etive Mor, Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis

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