Our philosophy and Expedition Grading System

Secret Compass expeditions are designed to be challenging but achievable for any fit and active person. You’ll require endurance, determination and the fortitude to succeed for at times you’ll be cold, hot, wet, tired, sore and uncomfortable – and for this we make no apologies! We run adventurous, exploratory expeditions not guided tours, which is why we trust you are here: to achieve the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. If you don’t currently meet the fitness or skill prerequisites, we’re happy to offer advice and guidance to support you in your personal journey to join an expedition. Similarly, we have worked extensively with team members with health conditions or disabilities to suggest appropriate itineraries or bespoke departures.

Training advice

Secret Compass’s suggested 12-week Expedition Training Advice (available from MYSC when you sign up for expedition) focuses on building up stamina and carrying weight when preparing for trekking expeditions. This is generic advice that will need to be adapted depending on your current fitness levels and a given expedition’s specific requirements – these can be found in the relevant Expedition Detail tabs. For further advice, check out our Journal, or contact SCHQ with any questions.

Expedition grading

In grading an expedition according to the degree of effort it requires, many factors come into play. These include weight carried, hours of daily activity, distances and terrain covered and the climate. A given team might only walk 8km per day but this might take 10 hours through virgin jungles; teammates might only carry lightweight daypacks but at extreme altitude; or a team might cover short distances but carrying very heavy packs and with serious altitude fluctuation. Instead of generalising on distances covered or weight carried, Secret Compass has therefore developed its own Expedition Grading System. While still challenging, 180° expeditions are the easier of the three with 360° being the toughest. Factors taken into account are:

  • Distance travelled (km).
  • Weight carried (kg).
  • Daily activity (hours).
  • Terrain and daily altitude gain (type/ metres).
  • Climate and altitude (type/degrees/metres as relevant).

180° Expeditions

Though still challenging, 180° expeditions are Secret Compass’s least physically demanding. Distances will generally be shorter than the tougher two expedition categories, the weight carried will be less and the terrain won’t be as challenging as on other Secret Compass teams. These expeditions still require mental and physical preparation (and are sometimes the hardest thing that some people have done when compared to more comfortable ‘tours’ in the past). Prospective teammates should study an expedition’s requirements on its Fitness tab online, or check its Handbook’s Prepare section. A 180° example is North Korea.

270° Expeditions

Moving up a notch, 270° expeditions are more challenging than 180° expeditions. The distances covered and weights carried are likely to be longer and factors like climate, terrain and daily altitude gain make these expeditions more challenging when taken together. Each expedition’s requirements differ (as Secret Compass runs paddling, biking, horseriding and trekking expeditions) so study an expedition’s specific requirements on its Fitness tab. Anyone willing to train to meet or exceed the fitness requirements for a 270° expedition team in readiness for departure is welcome to join the team. These teams often contain a great mix of experienced travellers and those totally new to expeditionary travel and examples include our Panama and Sinai expeditions.

360° Expeditions

Secret Compass’s 360° expeditions are its toughest. The distances covered and weights carried are considerable, the terrain and climate very challenging, the duration often longer. Those without a current good base level of fitness are welcome to apply but should ensure they know what the expedition entails, committing to a training programme well in advance of departure if needed. Anyone willing to train to meet or exceed the fitness requirements for a 360° expedition in readiness for departure – including those totally new to this type of travel – is welcome to join the team and we strongly encourage a call with SCHQ prior to booking. Prospective teammates should study an expedition’s exact requirements on its Fitness tab. All teammates should arrive fit and prepared for the significant physical demands of their 360° expedition, examples of which include Afghanistan, Kamchatka and Burma.


Every expedition will require preparation focusing on cardiovascular fitness and endurance. At a basic level, you should be comfortable jogging for at least 45 minutes and be able to walk for eight hours per day in the British hills (or international equivalents) for at least three consecutive days – most of our expeditions will involve carrying weight (daypacks or full expedition packs) so loaded walking is essential training.

How fit do I need to be?

Questions about your expedition’s fitness requirements? Check the expedition’s Fitness tab online, or read the Handbook’s Prepare section which will provide fuller information. Contact us if your questions remain unanswered.

What if I’m not fit enough?

Secret Compass expeditions are just that: expeditions. They are goal-focused team efforts that require the very active input and participation of each valued teammate. It cannot be stressed enough that fitness levels are each individual’s responsibility. All teammates should address their training needs well in advance of departure and should ready to tackle the task at hand, whether that be a 270° adventure classic or an epic 360° world-first of an expedition to one of the world’s wildest places. Teammates who do not meet the required fitness levels could put themselves and the expedition’s goal at risk so it is imperative that all booked teammates train for their expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. That said, our team members are not superheroes and a positive approach and commitment to a training program has seen previously inexperienced teammates successfully completing some of our most challenging expeditions so don’t be put off by the stated requirements and do address any concerns to SCHQ who will be happy to offer advice and guidance to help you reach your goals.

If you are not sure about your suitability for a particular team, contact us with your concerns. Happy training!