Hiking difficulty levels are somewhat subjective and there can be levels within levels. Beginner, Moderate and Difficult/Advanced/Strenuous are broad categories, so one moderate hike will vary from another in the speed of the walkers, the roughness of the terrain and the amount of altitude climbed. Moderate hikes are not easy hikes for beginners unless they are already in good physical condition with lots of stamina.
One Nashville group describes a moderate hike as a "trail hike of at least 3 miles, at least 300 feet elevation gain climbing."
Hiking Mt. Rainier defines moderate hikes as those where the hiker is walking for most of the day at an elevation gain of up to 2, 500 feet.
LA Hiking Group applies two levels to moderate hikes:
Level 4: Moderate – Good inclines with some stress on further distance.
No Beginners, No Kids, Most Teens, Dogs, Footwear Recommended, Water Required
Level 5: Moderate – Inclines start to get more intense. Gain and distance goes up.
No Beginners, No Kids, Some Teens, Dogs, Hiking Footwear Recommended, Water Required
Hike New England breaks moderate hiking into three levels while LA Trail Hikers provides four different levels of moderate hiking definitions. Hiking in the Smokies rates their trails on a rating of 1 - 22.39 and considers the trails marked 5 - 10 to be moderate.
Whatever the definition, a moderate hike can take from a couple of hours to most of the day, goes at a brisk pace, usually involves quite a bit of steady climbing or rough terrain, and is too strenuous for children, the elderly and those who are out of shape.
Related: Hiking 101: What is a beginner hike?
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