The SAC hiking scale serves the evaluation of hiking trails. It is divided into six different degrees: T1 (easiest) to T6 (most difficult) wherein "T" stands for Trekking and SAC stands for Swiss Alpine Club.
My name is Thomas and I grew up in a mountain addicted family, even my father is a professional hiking guide and trail manager for the German alpine club (DAV). I joined HBM in 2016, always with the aim to create and find routes outside the well-known classic hikes. I am a strong supporter of the SAC scale, which is why I want you to become familiar with its details.
To make it more complicated, in Germany there are two sub-categories within the scale - "Wandern" and "Bergtour". Even some locals are confused about this. But what is the difference?
It's clear that not every excursion to the mountains can be classified into either of the two because sometimes the boundaries become blurred. If you are new to hiking, you should probably not join a hike >T2. If anybody invites you to an easy Bergtour, be carefully, it could be a T5 hike and you may develop fear and horror if you find yourself back in exposed high alpine terrain. Contrary to the often used terms easy, medium, hard, - the T-Scale never describes the length of the tour and the demands on your condition.
Even though it is not 100% clear - the biggest step between grades of the scale is from T3 (Mountain Hiking) to T4 (Alpine Hiking) where we leave the visible path and have to manage alpine terrain with all its challenges. In the next step you'll learn more about the difficulties, since there is no official English version by the SAC - I have choosen largely the translation from hikr.org.
T1 - Hiking
Path/Terrain: Paths are well cleared. In case they are marked according to SAW standards: marking is yellow. Flat or slightly sloped, no danger of falling.
Requirements: None, but we never recommend sneakers or flip flops. No problem to get oriented, even without a map.
Examples: Partnachklamm, Eibsee, Pendling via Kala Alm, Breitachklamm
T2 - Mountain hiking
Path/Terrain: Paths with continuous marked-out route. Sometimes steep, danger of falling possible.
Requirements: Sure footedness sometimes needed. Trekking shoes are recommended. Basic orientation skills.
T3 - Demanding mountain hiking
Path/Terrain: Paths are not always visible. Exposed sections can be safeguarded with ropes or chains. The hands might be needed for balance. Can have exposed sections with danger of falling, scree slopes, pathless craggy ground.
Requirements: sure footedness, good trekking shoes. Average orientation skills. Basic alpine experience required.
T4 - Alpine hiking
Path/Terrain: Path traces are not always present. Some sections require the use of hands. Grounds are relatively exposed, tricky grass slopes, craggy ground, simple firn fields and snow free glacier sections.
Requirements: Stable trekking shoes. Basic ability to judge grounds and good orientation skills. Alpine experience required. A sudden change in the weather can make a retreat/fallback difficult.
T5 - Demanding alpine hiking
Path/Terrain: Often without paths. Some easy climbing sections. Exposed, demanding grounds, steep craggy ground. Danger of slipping on glaciers and firn fields.
Requirements: Climbing boots. Experienced to judge grounds and very good orientation skills. Good alpine experience also in high alpine areas. Basic knowledge in the use of pick and rope.
T6 - Difficult alpine hiking
Path/Terrain: Mostly without path. Climbing sections up to II. Paths are not marked most of the time. Often very exposed. Tricky craggy ground. Glaciers with increased danger of slipping.
Requirements: Excellent orientation skills. Advanced alpine experience and well acquainted with the use of technical alpine appliances.
In addition to the grade according to the T-scale, in many tours you find the abbreviations I, II and III which describe the (highest) climbing difficulty of a tour. These roman numerals correspond to the first, second, and third grade of the UIAA scale (International Union of Alpine Associations).
Slight difficulties, most simple form of rock climbing (however, no simple walking terrain). The use of the hands is necessary to assist maintaining balance. Berginners may need to be secured by a rope. A head for heights is required.
Moderade difficulties. Climbing requires to keep three limbs in contact with the rock.
Medium difficulty. Trained and experienced climbers can climb such passages without a rope. Vertical sections require physical effort.
How to find the SAC scale of any route
To illustrate this I will give an example of a hike to Soiernspitze. Here in the elevation graph of the hike to Soiernspitze, you can check the SAC scales of every step in the route using the elevation graph. The colors represents the difficult of the route segments:
Light Blue - T1,
Dark Blue - T2,
Green - T3,
Yellow - T4,
Orange - T5,
Red - T6
White - Unknown/Pathless
As you can see the part near hut is T2, while the part near the peak is T3.
You can simply plan any route on the website under plan Plan Route, and see the elevation profile to check the SAC scale.