What is the Summits Index?

The Summits Index is a mountain trail rating system that is designed to inform the amateur mountaineers looking to climb summits accessible without advanced skills or technical tools.

July 30, 2019

Quick Answers: What is the Summits Index?

Summits.com has developed a unique way to communicate climbing difficulty of a summit to help amateur climbers, trekkers, and hikers up the unique mountains in Southeast Asia. We’re calling it the Summits Index.

Compared to other climbing difficulty indexes is a amateur-friendly, broad, crowd-sourced, and customisable, and encompasses the physical and technical challenges of the mountain, as well as accessibility and support facilities. 

Why has Summits.com developed the Summits Index?

Summits.com wants to get everyone climbing mountains. Unless we’re talking about people who live amidst mountains, the average ‘everyone’ is new to hiking. They’ve maybe climbed a hill or two in their time, but they’re squarely in the ‘amateur’ category.

Our research shows that one of the reasons people choose not to hike a mountain is that they’re unsure about whether they can. They might think it’s too physically demanding, that it requires technical climbing skills or equipment they don’t have, or that it takes more time to plan and execute than what they have available.

So how might the average ‘everyone’ decide whether they’re up for the task? Or, how can they choose a mountain that is suited to their fitness, skills, and time available?

Well, there are plenty of existing different climbing difficulty rating systems out there: The Yosemite Decimal System, Gill “B” System, Hueco Scale, British Adjectival System, the US National Climbing Classification System. Then there’s the or the WI and M numerical scales, or the UIAA, Scandinavian, French Adjectival, Russian, Alaskan, or Fontainbleu grading systems. 

Combined, these systems encompass everything from long flat trail hikes to the most outrageous bouldering or ice-climbing ordeal. But most of that spectrum isn’t relevant to the average amateur mountaineer looking to climb a mountain in Southeast Asia where all summits involve a challenging uphill hike but none would require intense bouldering or ice climbing.

What makes The Summits Index different from other mountaineering difficulty systems?

The Summits Index covers trails with a summit or a peak that can be feasibly be attempted by amateurs, across geographies, weathers, and times of year, irrespective of the nature of the climbing activity/activities required to reach the summit. 

The Summits Index is:

  1. Beginner-friendly: More suitable for amateur climbers, not just experts
  2. More all-inclusive: It includes accessibility and support facilities, not just difficulty
  3. Crowd-sourced: It’s derived from assessments by a mix of climbers, not just experts
  4. Customisable: It helps climbers compare summits on what is important to them

It does not cover nature trails known for their distance, such as the Appalachian trail, or vertical rock formations known more for their technical climbing difficulty, such as Yosemite’s famous El Capitan. 

How is The Summits Index calculated?

The Summits Index is a composite numerical score derived from of 10 equally weighted scores that relate to 4 sub-categories: Height & Distance, Hiking Difficulty, Support Facilities, and Accessibility. 

Height and distance

  • Summit elevation: The height of the summit or peak above sea level.
  • Climbing Height: The vertical elevation of the climb (summit elevation minus trailhead elevation)
  • Trek time: The total number of days to get to the summit and back

Hiking difficulty

  • Terrain: The difficulty of the terrain
  • Weather: How agreeable the weather would be on the average climbing day
  • Equipment: The amount and technical level of climbing gear needed

Support facilities

  • Rest stops and pre-summit camp: The level provision of shelter, from hotel-like to nothing.
  • Guides and porters: The availability and ease of sourcing a guide or porter.
  • Food and water: The availability of food and water, with emphasis on water.


  • Accessibility: The proximity to a transport node, and amount of planning required.

Each of these factors is given a rating from 0 to 5 based on a predetermined scale that is particular to each factor. These are added up to give a score in each subcategory, and an overall score as well.

accessibility advanced amateur beginner climb endurance facilities grading system hike hiking guide mountaineering physical challenge rating system score skills summit summits summits index technical challenge trail trek