A small guide to better understand the classification of paths, via ferrata, ascents …. in the mountains. According to the activity carried out, the difficulties are divided into:






Download the PDF with the symbols and signals adopted by the CAI


The abbreviations CAI are used to distinguish the commitment required by the itineraries and to define the limit between hiking and mountaineering difficulties::

T = Tourist – Itinerary on narrow streets, mule tracks or wide paths. The paths are generally not long, do not present any orientation problems and do not require specific training if not the typical one of the walk.

E = Hikers – Routes on paths or evident traces in various types of terrain (pastures, debris, stony ground …). They are generally marked with paint or cairns (pyramid-shaped stacked stones that allow you to identify the route even from a distance). They can also take place in snowy but only slightly inclined environments. They require the equipment described in the part dedicated to hiking and sufficient orientation skills, walking training for a few hours.

EE = Expert hikers – they are generally signposted itineraries but with some difficulties: the terrain can be made up of slippery slopes of grass, mixed rocks and grass, stony ground, slight snowy slopes or even single rocky passages of easy climbing (use of the hands in some points). Although they are routes that do not require particular equipment, equipped sections can be presented even if they are not demanding. They require a good knowledge of the alpine environment, a safe step and the absence of vertigo. Physical preparation must be adequate for a fairly continuous day of walking.

EEA = Expert hikers with equipment – The equipped routes (or via ferrata) are indicated, they require the use of self-insurance devices.


The evaluations refer to optimal mountain conditions and weather. Physical and psychological skills and preparation must be adequate.

Difficulty on rock. There are numerous difficulty scales that indicate a path on rock: for simplicity, the evaluation of the passages according to the UIAA scale (expressed in Roman numerals) is described, while below it is compared with the French scale and the US scale.

I = First degree – It is the simplest form of climbing: your hands must be used frequently to maintain balance and requires a preliminary assessment of the quality of the rock before placing your foot on it.

II = Second degree – The actual climbing begins: it is necessary to move one limb at a time with a correct setting of the movements. Handholds (for the hands) and supports (for the feet) are abundant.

III = Third grade – The rocky structure is more vertical, holds and supports are sparser but with a certain possibility of choice in the passages and movements.

IV = Fourth degree – Supports and handholds begin to be small: a certain technique is required in overcoming passages with particular rocky structures (chimneys, cracks, edges …).

V = Fifth Degree – Climbing becomes delicate and technical (plates etc.) and also requires physical strength (opposition of forces with the different limbs). The passage must be examined beforehand.

VI = Sixth Degree – It requires special and continuous training to develop more strength in the arms and hands: climbing can be very delicate with a combination of well-studied movements, or strength due to the presence of overhangs.

VII = Seventh Degree – Supports and handholds are widely spaced: balance and adherence techniques are fundamental together with a specific preparation that develops a lot of strength even in the fingers. From here the difficulties increase up to (now) exceeding the X Degree. Starting from the fifth, each degree of difficulty has a further lower (-) or higher (+) subdivision.


In addition to the difficulties described above, in climbing, difficulties assessed in artificial climbing can be found, that is, overcome by the use of artificial means that are exploited for progression (from simple reference to stirrups)..

A0 = Simpler form of artificial climbing which involves progression mainly in free climbing but nails, cords or nuts are used as a hold or support (the phrase “pull a quickdraw” in practice indicates a passage in A0). Also being pulled on the rope or pendulums with the rope, fall into this classification. Brackets are not required.

A1 = Nails and other artificial means are positioned with relative ease; the passage requires little force and a bracket is sufficient.

A2 = Compact or friable rock or other conformations do not allow easy installation of artificial means. The passage is tiring (often on smooth plates or slight overhangs). 2 brackets and a good technique are needed for their use.

A3 = To the greater difficulties already described, there is the presence of very pronounced overhangs or roofs. At least 2 brackets and a good technique are needed for their recovery.

With increasing precariousness of artificial means (positioning and recovery), uncomfortable positions to take and physical effort, and consequently with increasing difficulties (A4, A5 … ecc.) other types of equipment are used (like cliffs, – already useful in A3).

When both difficulties are indicated in a passage (for example A0 and VI +), it means that progression can take place both in artificial and in free.


Route characteristics.

In the guides they are generally provided together with the degree of difficulty: they are clarifications regarding the length of the route (difference in altitude), development (when the route does not present a linear course), continuity of difficulties, rock quality or variability of the ground conditions in the case of “mixed” (rock and snow), state of the nailing, exposure, possibility of retreat and so on.

Overall assessment.
It is an overall assessment of the itinerary that takes into account technical, physical and psychological difficulties. In the overall assessment, the risk and danger factors are not specifically included as in a purely technical assessment.The assessment is expressed with abbreviations, and is complete with an indication of the most difficult steps:
F = easy
PD = Not very difficult
AD = Quite difficult
D = Difficult
TD = Very difficult
ED = Extremely difficult
EX = Exceptionally difficult


On average good (not excellent) conditions are considered, of the mountain and its snow with indication of the maximum slope of the route expressed in degrees.
Also for this type of ascension the difficulty is expressed with the initials of the overall evaluation (F, PD, AD etc.).
In the case of a mix (sections of rock that alternate with snowy and / or icy paths), the difficulties of the rocky passages are generally indicated.

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