How HiiKER Calculates Elevation

When it comes to hiking, understanding the elevation gain and loss along your trail is crucial for preparation and safety. It helps you gauge the trail’s difficulty and ensures you’re ready for the adventure ahead. In this post, we’ll dive into how our hiking app calculates elevation changes, compare it with other methods, and explain why our approach is both logical and user-friendly.

How Our App Calculates Elevation Changes

Our app calculates total elevation gain and loss using a method that is intuitive and closely mirrors the actual hiking experience. Here’s a simplified explanation:

  1. Elevation Data Collection: We start with a collection of elevation points along your trail, typically gathered from GPS data or digital elevation models (DEMs). Each point contains the elevation at that specific location.
  2. Calculating Elevation Gain: To calculate the total elevation gain, we look at each pair of consecutive points along the trail. If the elevation increases from one point to the next, we add this increase to the total elevation gain. This method effectively captures how, in real hiking, you experience an “elevation gain” whenever you ascend.
  3. Calculating Elevation Loss: Similarly, for elevation loss, we examine each pair of consecutive points. If the elevation decreases from one point to the next, we add this decrease to the total elevation loss. This reflects the real-world experience of descending on a hike.

Our method focuses on the actual changes you’ll encounter, providing a realistic estimate of the trail’s difficulty. We round the total gain and loss to the nearest whole number for simplicity and ease of understanding.

Other Methods of Calculating Elevation

Other apps and tools might approach elevation data differently:

  • Cumulative Elevation Change: Some tools calculate the cumulative elevation change, adding up every single minor up and down along the trail, regardless of whether it contributes significantly to the hike’s difficulty. This can sometimes result in a misleadingly high elevation figure.
  • Threshold-Based Calculation: Another approach involves setting a threshold for what counts as an elevation change. For example, only changes greater than a certain number of feet are considered. While this can help filter out minor variations, setting the threshold appropriately can be challenging and somewhat arbitrary.
  • Segmentation and Smoothing: Some methods involve dividing the trail into segments and applying smoothing algorithms to reduce the impact of minor fluctuations. This can provide a more manageable overview of elevation changes but might overlook smaller, yet challenging, sections of the trail.

Why we chose this method

Our approach to calculating elevation gain and loss is designed to reflect the actual hiking experience as closely as possible. By focusing on real increases and decreases in elevation, our app provides hikers with a practical and realistic understanding of what to expect on the trail. This method avoids the potential overestimation of difficulty seen in cumulative change calculations and the arbitrary decisions required in threshold-based methods. Moreover, it ensures that no significant changes are overlooked, as can happen with segmentation and smoothing techniques.

In conclusion, our elevation calculation method is rooted in the practical realities of hiking, offering a balance between precision and usability. By understanding the elevation gain and loss as you would experience it on the trail, our app helps you prepare effectively for your next hiking adventure, ensuring you can tackle the trail with confidence and safety.

While this is our current approach, we are continually learning about calculation of elevation data and realise that there can be differences between data seen on HiiKER versus other tools, such as Garmin.

If you have feedback on this method, please let us know.

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