Finding the best hiking trails to explore in unfamiliar territory can be a fun part of planning your alpine adventure. Italy offers an enormous wealth of choices in hiking trails, though finding information in English is not always easy. For those researching Italian hiking trails, read on for an explanation of Italy’s hiking trail rating systems.
If you don’t know the trail you are on (and know it well!), navigating Italy’s hiking trails can prove challenging, since Italian trail systems vary greatly in how clearly they are marked. Added to that challenge, the trail descriptions themselves range from detailed and helpful, to let’s just say, the more casual and open-ended interpretations. Even those rated “T” (Turistico- easier) do not always offer enough signs to guide you in the desired direction. Keep in mind that those trails rated “E” (intermediate level), can include exposure and sections of cable, chains, metal rungs and there may be a need to do some scrambling.
Italy offers many scenic and enjoyable options for all levels of hikers. From high alpine environments to walks between villages or by lakes, rivers and seas, the trails in Italy provide spectacular views and experiences. Trails used for recreation, often have (and continue to have) working purposes. From uses by shepherds to bring animals up to pastures, to strategic army movements and even illegal activities, Italian trails have a history that extends beyond view seekers.
Hiking jaunts can be planned for an hour or two or for multi-day journeys. And the tradition of Italian rifugi allows hikers to recharge themselves with hearty Italian mountain food. Some rifugi also offer places to spend the night.
In addition to CAI’s ratings, many Italian trail descriptions offer an estimated time to reach certain destinations. Some trail descriptions provide a range of times based on the type of hiker, for example:
- atleta (athlete): The fast track. This time estimate is for those who must enjoy running (not walking) up mountains and do not linger for selfies.
- trekker: Still not a lot of lingering time (save the long breaks for post-hike beers), hiker times are for those in good condition who move at a good pace.
- Famiglia/non allenato (family/non trained) There are no doubt families who move quickly, but it can take time to herd groups with smaller humans uphill. This category also include the slowpokes and those who take the time to smell the roses or whatever flowers may be in bloom.
The translation of CAI’s (Club Alpino Italiano) national rating system is below. CAI developed this hiking trail rating system used throughout Italy. As indicated, these ratings are relative and should take into consideration your experience and fitness level.
If you are looking for winter options, read here to learn more about Italy’s ski tour rating system.
CAI HIKING TRAIL RATINGS
Determining the degree of difficulty of a route, in accordance with objective criteria, is impossible, due to the fact that we perceive difficulties based on our own experiences, limits, feelings and psychological reactions. With these variables in mind, Club Alpino Italiano developed a trail rating system to indicate the relative difficulty of hiking routes. This scale takes into account three fundamental objective parameters: vertical drop, planimetric distance and trail markings.
T = Turistico (Tourist – easier)
T routes are found on roads, mule paths or easy trails. These paths are generally fairly short in distance and well marked. The elevation gain is less than 500m (approx. 1600 ft). These routes do not require hiking experience or physical training.
E = Escursionistico (Hiker – intermediate)
E routes are almost always comprised of footpaths or unpaved trails and may include sections of varied terrain (pastures, dirt, rocks, scree) and are usually indicated with trail markers. To safely enjoy E rated trails, you should have a good sense of orientation, as well as some hiking experience and knowledge of mountainous territory. E rated trails require appropriate footwear, clothing and equipment. The elevation gain generally ranges from 500m to 1000m (approx. 1600 to 3300 ft).
EE = Escursionisti Esperti (Expert hikers)
EE routes are not always marked and require a strong ability to move about in various types of mountain terrain. These routes can be trails or more subtle paths that cross over difficult and steep terrain. Slippery scree and small sections of snow and ice, which can be crossed with the use of mountaineering equipment, may be encountered. EE trails are for experienced hikers with sure footing, in strong physical condition and with a good sense of direction. Venturing out on an EE trail requires proper footwear, clothing and equipment. The elevation gain is usually more than 1000m ( approx. 3300 ft).
EEA = Escursionisti Esperti con Attrezzatura alpinistica (Expert hikers with climbing equipment)
These routes require the use of climbing equipment (ropes, harness, helmet, etc.). EEA routes can include traditional climbing routes, vie ferrate or trails with cables and ladders. Hikers exploring EEA routes need to have alpine terrain experience. They must also understand how to use technical climbing equipment safely and be comfortable with exposure.
EEAG = Escursionisti Esperti Attrezzati Ghiaccio (Expert Hikers with glacier climbing equipment)
The EEAG rating is similar to EEA, but includes the ability to use glacier equipment safely (crampons, ice axe, ropes, etc.).