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Build Your Capacity by Finding Your Zone


The energy you have to use to complete a path, trail, or route. Read more.


The worry you might experience navigating specific sections of a trail, or route. Read more.


Feeling relaxed and really enjoying a trail makes you more likely to try it trail again. More coming soon!

Carrie and Margot.png

Trails involving a bit more effort or stress can build your capacity without being uncomfortable. More coming soon!


The energy you have to use to complete a trail, path, or route. 


Unlike stress, effort varies relatively less across users, and so it is easier to rate the effort needed to complete a trail, path, or route.  For example, both fit and unfit hikers will find that a longer trail or one with steep grades will require more effort relative to a shorter trail or one with more gentle grades. 

Effort is determined primarily by a combination of length, total elevation gain, and grade. Total effort is summarized for each trail, path, or route with reference to the overall grade rating and the flat equivalent length

Key concepts

Total elevation gain commonly refers to the sum of elevation gain across an entire trip (see Wikipedia).  For example, you might descend 20 feet, then go 20 feet up a hill, descend 20 feet, and finally go 20 feet up another hill. This represents a total elevation gain of 40 feet, even though your altitude is unchanged. More serious cyclists and hikers often use elevation gain to capture the total effort expended going uphill. In place of using total elevation gain to capture overall effort, we calculate the flat equivalent length (see below).


Grade is the elevation change over a given length. Thus a 10% grade means a 1' elevation change over 10'. Sections with more difficult grades require greater effort to complete. Grades are shown on the maps for every 10 foot increment on the path, trail, or route, and are described with words corresponding to specific grade changes as follows: 

  • Very Difficult: Greater than 30%

  • More Difficult: Between 20 and 30%

  • Difficult: Between 12.5 and 20%

  • Moderate: Between 10 and 12.5%

  • Easy to Moderate: Between 8.33 and 10%

  • Easy: Between 5 and 8.33%

  • Flat: Less than 5%.

These thresholds are selected to map onto some of the standards for Universal Access paths.  

Overall Grade Rating

Overall Grade Rating We calculate an overall grade rating using the same combination of factors laid out in federal law related to Universal Access Walking (Pedestrian Only) Trails and Shared Use Paths summarized by Knutson and his colleagues in their 2021 guide

These take into account whether the path exceeds a given grade for: more than 30% of its length, any 200 foot section, any 30'section, and any 10' section. This is expressed as effort relative to length as seen in the table to the left.  For each path and trail, we also list the longest continuous uphill and downhill grades, as another way to capture the effort required of users.

Effort relative to Length %.jpg


Flat equivalent length: Walking, hiking, and biking uphill takes more effort, making it difficult to compare two paths, trails, or routes with different total elevation gains.  To help make such comparisons, we estimate the flat equivalent length, or the distance one might cover completing this path, trail, or route if it were flat  - using Scarf’s equivalence, which is itself based on Naismith’s rule.  In sum, every foot of elevation change is equivalent to walking about 8 feet.


Because walkers who are less fit experience greater effort on more difficult grades, we increase Scarf's equivalence by the following factors as grade increases:

  • Moderate uphill: Scarf's equivalence X 1.5

  • Difficult uphill: Scarf's equivalence X 2

  • Very difficult uphill: Scarf's equivalence X 2.5

  • Extremely difficult uphill: Scarf's equivalence X 3


Example 1: A 1 mile long trail ​that includes 300' of easy grades is equivalent to a 1.45 mile flat trail.  If a user walks a mile in 20 minutes, it will take them 29 minutes to walk this section.

  • Flat length = 5280'

  • Scarf's equivalence = 2 400' (8*300')

  • Total length = 7 680' or 1.45 mile

Auburn Valley Trail.png

This part of the Auburn Valley Trail captures Moderate & Difficult Uphill sections 

Flat Equivalent Length


The worry or fear you experience while navigating specific features or sections of a trail, path, or route.

Stress varies from person to person:  Unlike effort, the sources of stress can vary tremendously from one person to another, as a function of their abilities, interests, and experiences. And the features that make a route stressful are different from those that make a trail stressful. Consider the following:

  • A wheelchair user might become worried they will lose control as they approach a longer section of path with a gently graded slope

  • A more experienced wheelchair user might become worried about getting over a 3" high root on a trail, especially on a section of trail that slopes downwards

  • Someone with poor balance might become worried they might fall as they try to step over or around and uneven section of trail with wet, 2' high stones.

  • Some people might find any unfamiliar trail to be stressful, while others might be excited by an adventure


Sources of stress also vary somewhat between paths, trails, and routes.  We discuss these sources in more detail for each of these.  While shared use paths are designed to be stress-free for cyclists and walkers, trails present many sources of stress, depending on the user. The rocks jutting 2-3 inches out of the ground on the trail to the left in Chenango Valley State Park are not just a challenge for an inexperienced wheelchair user, they challenge Margot because of her poor vision and balance. This increases the stress Margot experiences on this trail, so we compensate by not expecting her to walk for as long.

Effort can also influence stress, depending on the person

  • Some people might find exertion to be exhilarating

  • Other people might worry because the feeling that they are exerting themselves reminds them of a previous trip they really struggled to complete. 


Accommodations and supports can help to decrease stress

  • The simple accommodation of slowing down or giving yourself more time to complete  trail can help to decrease stress in  specific section, or across an entire trail

  • A walking stick or cane or an occasional arm to lean on can help manage a hiker unsure of their balance

  • Walking, hiking, or cycling with someone who is more experienced and more comfortable can really help someone to manage their stress.


Comfort to Joy


Coming soon!






Comfort Zone
Which trails, paths, and routes will get you outside in Kennett every day?  The ones you feel comfortable on - your comfort zone

Which new trails, paths, and routes are you likely to enjoy? Those that are comparable in stress and effort to those in your comfort zone

Which trails, paths, and routes can help you gradually build your strength and fitness, and which might just be too hard right now??  The ones that require a bit more effort or create a bit more stress than those in your comfort zone. 
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