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Events > Difficulty Ratings

Most AOC events are assigned a difficulty rating, or D-rating. The higher the number, the more difficult the event. Difficulty ratings are designed to provide guidance to members about their suitability for an event and to try to ensure, to the best of our ability, that everyone enjoys the event.

Difficulty ratings are assigned by each event's trip leader, in accordance with guidelines for each activity type. A trip leader may, at his/her discretion, adjust the difficulty rating to account for special circumstances, such as extreme weather conditions, technical/challenging trails, and other factors specific to that event.

We encourage newer members to start with lower numbered D-ratings and work their way up as they feel comfortable. Trip leaders may set specific criteria for events, such as registrants’ past AOC event history, and they may remove registrants who don’t meet that criteria or who they believe may not be physically capable of completing events.

Below are difficulty rating guidelines for various activity types. Should you have any questions, please email the AOC Director of Events.


Hike Canoe Outdoor Climb Backpack River Raft
Caving Road Bike Inline Skate Urban Hike Mountain Bike


Hike

Hikes are rated taking the following factors into account, in order of general significance: Elevation Gain, Pace, Terrain, Distance, and Extreme Weather/Special Considerations. Exceeding only one of the criterion may, or may not, be sufficient to change the difficulty level, and ALL of the criteria should be evaluated in order of their significance. A substantial change in one of these factors can dramatically bump the D-rating up or down. It should be noted that there can be a considerable difference in difficulty "within" each category; therefore, it is always important to read the event listing closely for a more detailed explanation of these factors for a specific event.

Difficulty Name Specs
1 Easy Gentle elevation gain of less than 400 feet, leisurely pace; generally 4 miles or less.
2 Easy to Moderate Gentle to Moderate elevation gain 400 to 1,000 feet, moderate pace; generally 4 to 6 miles.
3 Moderate Elevation gain 1,000 to 1,500 feet, and/or faster pace; generally 6 to 8 miles.
4 Moderate to Difficult More challenging elevation gain 1,500 to 2,500 feet, and/or faster pace; generally 8 to 10 miles.
5 Difficult Challenging elevation gain of 2,500 to 4,000 feet, and/or faster pace, and/or special considerations; generally 10 to 15 miles.
6 Difficult to Advanced Very Challenging elevation gain of 4,000 feet or more, and/or faster pace, and/or special considerations; generally 15+ miles.
7 Advanced 25+ miles AND challenging elevation gain of 6,500 feet or more.

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Backpack

Backpack trips are rated according to distance covered per day as well as elevation gain. Backpack trips which involve packing in and out with lighter-pack day hikes on the in-between days are rated according to the hike rating system, but one notch higher. Trips that involve packing every single day will be bumped yet another notch to account for the additional weight required to carry each day.

Difficulty Name Specs
3 Moderate Pack In and Out Only: Less than 5 miles distance and negligible elevation gain per day.
4 Moderate to Difficult Pack In and Out Only: Approximately 5 to 10 miles with gentle elevation gain per day.
Pack every day: Less than 5mi distance and negligible elevation gain per day.
5 Difficult Pack In and Out Only: Greater distance (over 10 miles), more challenging elevation gain per day.
Pack every day: Approximately 5-10mi with gentle elevation gain per day.
6 Advanced Pack Every Day: Greater distance (over 10 miles), more challenging elevation gain per day, challenging terrain.

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Caving (horizontal)

This is for horizontal caves only. This is where no or very little rope work is needed. Caving trips are rated according to many factors, including the length of travel in the cave, how much crawling, climbing, squeezing, and/or swimming.

Difficulty Name Specs
1 Easy Commercial cave. Lighted. Walk in, walk out.
No equipment needed.
2 Easy to Moderate Very easy to get around. Little to no crawling or climbing. May get feet wet.
Standard equipment needed.
3 Moderate Moderately easy to get around. May have some crawling, climbing, and/or squeezing. May get a little wet.
Standard equipment needed.
4 Moderate to Difficult Movement in the cave becomes more difficult. Will have some crawling, climbing, and/or squeezing. Climbing may require use of a handline. May get wet, including swimming. May be a long and/or time consuming cave.
Standard equipment needed.
5 Difficult Movement in the cave is difficult. Will have a lot of crawling, climbing and/or squeezing. May get wet, including swimming. May require more advanced rope work. Will be a long and/or time consuming cave.
Standard equipment needed.
6 Advanced Real tough to get around. May have everything already listed, just harder.
Standard equipment needed.

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Outdoor Climb

Outdoor climbing difficulty levels are set by the trip leader to ensure a participant’s ability to climb routes at the YDS rating to which their event will focus. Example: Even if lower difficulty routes exist at a particular climbing location, if the trip leader’s intention is to only focus on climbing routes at a YDS rating of 5.10 or above, then the event should be classified as a D5 such that all participants are required to have the ability to climb routes at or above a 5.10 rating.

Difficulty Name Specs
2 Easy to Moderate Beginner level - typically 5.7 or lower.
3 Moderate Climbers must be able to climb routes rated 5.8 or above.
4 Moderate to Difficult Climbers must be able to climb routes rated 5.9 or above.
5 Difficult Climbers must be able to climb routes rated 5.10+ or above.
6 Advanced Climbers must be able to climb routes rated 5.11+ or above.

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Urban Hike

Urban hikes (walks) are rated easier than mountain hikes because of the extra considerations introduced by any activity in the mountains.

Difficulty Name Specs
1 Easy Less than 5 miles distance and negligible elevation gain.
2 Easy to Moderate Approximately 5 to 10 miles with gentle elevation gain.
3 Moderate Approximately 10 to 15 miles with gentle elevation gain.
4 Moderately Difficult Approximately 15 to 20 miles with gentle elevation gain.
5 Difficult Approximately 20+ miles with gentle elevation gain.

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Canoe

Canoe trips are rated according to distance, hazards and technical difficulty. Our ratings for canoe trips and difficulty descriptions are based on the International Scale of River Difficulty.

Difficulty Name Specs
2 Easy to Moderate Short/easy trips on stationary or slow-moving water.
3 Moderate Rivers with at most Class I rapids: Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.
4 Moderate to Difficult Rivers with at most Class II rapids: Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed.

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River Raft

River rafting trips are rated according to distance, hazards and technical difficulty. Generally, a river rafting trip is rated one level easier than the canoeing rating. Trips rated higher than Moderate must be organized by a certified river rafting company.

Difficulty Name Specs
2 Easy to Moderate Rivers with at most Class I rapids: Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.
3 Moderate Rivers with at most Class II rapids: Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed.
4 Moderate to Difficult Rivers with at most Class III rapids: Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims.
5 Difficult Rivers with at most Class IV rapids: Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require "must" moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills.
6 Very Difficult Rivers with Class V rapids: Exceedingly difficult, long and violent rapids, following each other almost without interruption; riverbed extremely obstructed; big drops; violent currents; very steep gradient.

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Road Bike

Road biking is rated according to distance, pace, hills, and hazards (i.e., traffic).

Difficulty Name Specs
2 Easy to Moderate An urban bike ride on city trails. Less than 18 miles.
3 Moderate Urban or highway ride. 18 to 30 miles.
4 Moderate to Difficult Highway ride, often in the mountains. 30 to 50 miles.
5 Difficult Highway ride, often in the mountains. 60+ miles.

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Mountain Bike

Mountain biking is rated according to pace, terrain, and technical difficulty.

Difficulty Name Specs
3 Moderate Easy terrain. Slow pace, easy hills, hard packed trail, beginners are often welcome.
4 Moderate to Difficult Moderate pace. Some steep hills, tree roots, muddy sections, loose surface, narrow trail.
5 Difficult Technically challenging, moderate/fast pace. Steep hills, mud, roots, rocks/scree, loose surface, narrow trail.
6 Advanced Very technically challenging, moderate/fast pace. Steep hills, mud, roots, rocks/scree, loose surface, narrow trail.

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Inline Skate

Inline Skating is rated according to trail conditions, hills, traffic exposure, intended distance covered, and intended pace.

Difficulty Name Specs
1 Easy Intended for beginners. Small distance, smooth flat trail with little/no hills/traffic.
2 Easy to Moderate Not intended for beginners. Greater distance, some experience required for dodging debris, children, traffic. Some hills.
3 Moderate Experienced skaters only. Greater distance, faster pace. Debris, children, traffic, and some hills.
4 Moderate to Difficult Experienced skaters only. Greater distance, fast pace. Debris, children, traffic, and significant hills.

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