What Is Elevation Gain

If you click and purchase with one of our links, we earn a commission. Thanks.

Hiking is a fantastic way to get fit and enjoy nature at the same time. But you must pay attention to the elevation gain of a hike. 

Elevation gain is the amount of vertical distance climbed from sea level to the highest point reached during a hike.

There’s no denying that it takes a certain level of fitness to successfully complete a hike. If you’re new to hiking, here are some things you should consider before embarking on your first trail adventure.

One of the most important elements is to determine how strenuous a trail will be based on how much distance you must cover up and down which we refer to as elevation gain

Cumulative Elevation Gain

The cumulative elevation gain of a trail is the total distance between its start and endpoints. It’s often used to compare hikes of different lengths. For example, if you started at sea level and finished at 7,000 ft, then you’d have a cumulative elevation gain of 6,000 ft. If you started at 2,500 ft and ended at 5,000 ft, then your cumulative elevation gain would be 3,000 ft.

How To Determine Hiking Difficulty

There are many ways to measure hiking difficulty. One way is by using the “Elevation Gain Per Mile” metric.

This is simply the elevation gain per mile. So, if you hiked from 1,000 ft to 4,000 ft, then EGPM would equal 4,000/1,000 4.0. Another way to calculate it is to convert the elevation gain into feet and divide by 10. In this case, 4,000 divided by 10 equals 40. That means you gained 40 feet of elevation per mile.

Another way to determine the level of difficulty is to use this calculation:

Elevation Gain x 2 x distance (in miles). The product’s square root is the numerical rating. (nps.gov)

Categories Of Hikes

Per the National Park Service, based on the calculation of a hike you can determine the level of difficulty using this scale:

  • Easiest- less than 50
  • Moderate - 50-100
  • Moderately Strenuous - 100 - 150
  • Strenuous - 150-200
  • Very Strenuous - over 200 

How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be

You can use the Elevation Gain Per Hour metric to determine how hard a hike will be. The EGPH metric measures the amount of elevation gain that occurs in one hour. A good rule of thumb for determining hiking difficulty is to multiply the number of hours required to complete the hike by 0.6. For example, if a hike takes four hours to complete, then multiply by 0.6 to get an idea of how difficult it will be.

Look At A Topographic Map Or Application That Lets You Know The Changes In Elevation

Topo maps or apps like AllTrails and GAI will show you where the changes in elevation occur. They also give you information about trails such as their length, difficulty, and other useful details. 

These apps also work with your phone in airplane mode via the GPS chip in your phone. If you have a phone purchased within the past couple of years, the GPS is often as good as you get in a dedicated GPS device. 

Cumulative Gain

When you look at the topographic map or app, you’ll see a line showing the path you took. Look at the cumulative elevation gain along the route. If the line goes up and down but stays mostly flat, then you’re likely going uphill or downhill. If you go up and down a lot, then you’ve probably be traveling through some significant terrain change.

The more there is a change in elevation, the more difficult the hike. 

Elevation Losses

When hiking elevation losses are important to know because they can make or break your hike. These losses happen when you descend from higher elevations to lower ones. While you might think it’s easier to lose elevation, coming down a trail can be even harder on the body than going up as you are often putting more force on your knees and feet. 

Trekking poles are even more important for balance on a steep decline than going up. 

Appreciation For Elevation Gain

If you’re hiking to enjoy nature, then you should appreciate all the elevation gains you experience. It’s easy to take them for granted, especially if you’ve been hiking for a while. But, the fact remains that every step you take adds to the beauty of the landscape around you.

In addition, the more elevation you gain, the better shape you’ll be in. When you hike, you burn calories and build muscle.

Pay Attention To The Type Of Terrain

When evaluating a trail, I am researching notes from other hikers about whether this is a good trail or is it full of loose rocks (aka scree). 

In addition, I’m looking at the type of vegetation that grows on the trail. Is it primarily grass? Are there lots of trees? What kind of soil does the trail pass through? Do you need to watch out for poison ivy?

What About Water Sources?

Water sources are an essential part of any hike. Make sure you know what types of water sources exist before you start hiking. Some hikes require you to carry water, others don’t. 

I live in Texas, so many of the trails I hike on, don’t have access to water, thus I often must carry multiple liters of water for safety.

How High Is Too High When Hiking

You will decide how much elevation you want to gain (or lose) on a daily hike based on the terrain, skill, gear, and fitness level. 

You must know your limits and pay attention to the hiking difficulty of the trail. 

Make Sure You Have The Proper Gear For Your Trip

Whether you are planning a day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip make sure that you have the proper equipment. This includes appropriate footwear, clothing, food, shelter, and hydration. 

At the very least, make sure that you have the 10 essentials of hiking with you. 

Know How Much Time You Can Spend On A Trail

Some people like to spend hours hiking a single trail. Others prefer shorter trips where they can still cover a lot of ground. Know yourself and choose accordingly. 

Do Research Before You Go

Researching the area you plan to hike can help you prepare for your outdoor adventure. You want to know about any water crossing, elevation changes, level of difficulty, and of course, the must-see spots on the trail.

Know Where You're Going

It is important to know where you are going on your hiking trip. Examing your map, whether it’s digital or printed. 

And make sure to let someone who is not on trail with you where you are going and when you plan to be back. 

This way if something happens and you can’t call for help, someone knows to alert search and rescue for you. 

I remember reading about how a woman went on a day hike and she got lost because the trail markers had been destroyed after a storm. 

Because her husband had known when to expert her back, he was able to call the authorities. And since they knew her expected itinerary, they were able to find her quickly. 

Pros Of Going On A Hike With Lots Of Elevation Change

There are several pros of doing a hike with lots of elevation change: 

  1. It makes you stronger
  2. It improves your cardiovascular health 1 It helps you get into great physical condition
  3. It gives you a chance to see some beautiful scenery1
  4. It reduces stress levels
  5. It allows you to experience nature
  6. It forces you to learn new skills
  7. It teaches you patience
  8. It helps you develop confidence
  9. It helps you become more independent

Cons Of Doing A Hike With Lots of Elevation Gain

While there are several cons of doing a hike with a lot of elevation gain, here are just a few: 

  1. You may feel tired and sore after completing the hike
  2. You may need to bring extra clothes and supplies
  3. You may need to drink more water than normal
  4. You may need to carry an ice pack in case you start feeling sick
  5. You may need to take breaks during the hike

The more often you take hiking trips, the greater your chances of getting rid of those extra pounds. And, not only does hiking help burn up calories, but outdoors also improves your mood. People who hike tend to feel happier than those who don’t, and the fresh air keeps them healthy by clearing out toxins in the body. Hiking is also good for the soul. It gives you time to think about what’s important, and it allows you to reconnect with yourself. 

However, make sure that you are planning your trip properly and pay attention to that elevation change. If you are planning on taking a hike, make sure to do enough research before you go so you will have all the information you need to enjoy your trip safely.

You need to plan ahead. If you don’t, you may find yourself hiking up a mountain with no water, food or cell phone service. It’s also important to know what you’re getting into when you go camping. Make sure you bring all the necessary equipment and remember to pack extra clothes, toiletries and medications. Be prepared for everything from extreme weather conditions to unexpected wildlife encounters.

Now get out there and go hiking!