If you’ve decided, after reading our guide about all types of climbing, that you want to give it a go, it is time to learn the rating and grading systems. Right here you’ll get the chance to learn all about each climbing rating system and bouldering rating, so you know what you’re looking at the next time you find yourself in front of the climb on foreign land.
Rock Climbing Grade Systems
There probably are many more than this, but these five climbing grade systems are most popular around the world, and if you know them, you’ll most likely be alright wherever you go:
- French – There are two grading systems populated by France. The first one, and the most popular one is by numbers and letters – for instance, 1a, 2c, 7b… This system is used all over the globe.
- Yosemite Decimal System
- Great Britain’s system has two sub-grades, adjective and technical. Adjective grades are Moderate (M), Very Difficult (VD), Hard Very Difficult HVD), Mild Severe (MS), Severe (S), Hard Severe (HS), Mild Very Severe (MVS), Very Severe (VS), Hard Very Severe (HVS) and Extremely Severe (1-10).
- Australian/Ewbank is as simple as it can be – numbers are used to describe how hard the climb is, and it is used in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
1. French Climbing Rating System
As mentioned above, the French numerical climbing rating system is spread all around the world, or it is used as a starting point in creating a local rating system, like in Brazil. This system is also mostly used in sport climbing competitions, except in the US, so if you decide to give it anywhere in Europe or South America, knowing this rating system should be enough to help you understand the difficulty of the climb.
2. UIAA Rating System
Formerly known as Welzenbach Scale, in 1967 International Union of Alpine Associations decided to use it as its official grading system. It uses a combination of Roman numbers and +/- signs. It is an open scale with climbs rated VIII and higher being considered extreme.
3. USA/Yosemite Decimal System
The Yosemite decimal system is the main grading system in the US. It has 5 classes, and the fifth class has 15 sub-ratings.
- Class 1 is an easy, flat trail
- Class 2 has a steep incline and sometimes you may have to use your hands.
- Class 3 means you may have to use a rope in some situations due to the possibility of falling.
- Class 4 is steeper, more exposed and the fall can be quite long and dangerous.
- Class 5 requires some technical knowledge, and you’ll have to use rope and climbing gear.
Class 5 Sub-Ratings
With 5.1 being the easiest and 5.15 the hardest one, here are the grades for every Yosemite sub-ratings:
1. 5.1 – 5.4
Climbs marked with 5.1 are great for beginners because you’ll be able to feel the rock and get used to it, and once you reach 5.4 and manage to climb it without a problem, you’ll be ready to take on more difficult climbs. The main characteristics of these trails are large handholds and footholds, so you may take a break after basically each step.
2. 5.5 – 5.8
After you’ve mastered basic techniques and moves, it is time to switch to smaller footholds and handholds. This is also where vertical terrain begins, so it is not suitable for beginners.
3. 5.9 – 5.10
These climbs are considered hard but with enough practice and a few skills and tricks, even if you don’t practice daily you still should be able to successfully finish them after some time.
4. 5.11 – 5.12
Considered difficult, these climbs require lots and lots of dedication, practice, planning, and will power. You’ll face overhands with small holds, so many different techniques are required.
5. 5.13 – 5.15
Routes for expert climbers only, the most difficult ones that may have many overhands with small holds.
After learning how difficult each climb is, the next thing on your list should be getting an approximate estimation of the time needed to complete it. That’s what climbing grades serve for:
- Grade I – can be done within a couple of hours, depending on your skill.
- Grade II – experienced climbers can finish it in 4 hours.
- Grade III – this climb can be finished between 4 and 6 hours, but it can go up to 12 hours.
- Grade IV – one whole day.
- Grade V – two days.
- Grade VI – More than two days.
Although similar, bouldering is a different sport than regular rock climbing, and it also uses different rating scales and grades. The main two scales are V-scale and Font scale.
V-scale got its name after John “Vermin” Sherman, and it stuck since then. V-scale is quite simple, as it starts with V0 for the easiest, and goes up to V17. V16 and V17 are considered to be unsolvable bouldering problems with only a handful of people being able to solve them. Sometimes, it may have a +/- sign.
You may also run into a VB rating, which is used to describe bouldering problems for absolute beginners, and these are easier than V0.
Font scale is a French bouldering scale that became the main scale in Europe, and it starts with the number 3 being the easiest, then following with 4, 5, 5+, 6A(+), 6B(+), 6C(+), 7A, 7A+, 7B(+), 7C(+), 8A(+), with 9A being the hardest.
Classification by experience and knowledge goes like this:
Beginners – V0-V2 or 3-5+
Intermediate – V3-V5 or 6A-6C+
Advanced – V6-V8 or 7A-7B
Expert – V9-V12 or 7B+ – 8A+
Elite – above V13 or 8B
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about bouldering ratings and climbing rating system:
Q: How hard are climbing grades?
It depends on their value but they are quite straight-forward, once you learn them. Routes from 5.0 to 5.7 are regarded as suitable for beginners, 5.8 to 5.10 are intermediate, 5.11 and 5.12 are hard, while all above 5.13 is considered to be difficult and for the most experienced and skilled climbers only.
Q: What is a good climbing grade?
The best answer to this question is – the one that makes you feel satisfied once you manage to finish the route. It’s all relative, and it is completely up to you and the way you see it. Some climbers don’t consider anything under 5.13 good, while others think that 5.10 is a respectable achievement.
Q: Why do climbing grades start at 5?
Climbing grades have 5 classes, and rock climbing is a part of class number 5. Class 5 climbing is climbing on vertical or near-vertical rocks that require both skill and rope for security. Falling down from these climbs may cause serious injuries or even death.
Q: What is a Grade 3 climb?
A grade 3 climb is the type of climb that can last from 4 hours to half of the day, depending on the experience and skill of the climber, but most climbers manage to finish it in 4-6 hours.
Q: Is bouldering harder than climbing?
Bouldering is mostly done faster than climbing, and it doesn’t go as high as climbing, but it does require a bit more strength and planning in order to successfully solve the bouldering problem. When compared, yes, the same level bouldering is harder than climbing, but not impossible, even for beginners. If you’re afraid of height, here is how to overcome that fear.
Q: Is Climbing a 5.10 Good?
A 5.10 climb is considered moderate in difficulty, but again, if you feel satisfied once you complete it successfully, then yes, climbing a 5.10 is not only good but excellent, and it should motivate you to improve even further.
Q: What is the hardest climbing grade?
Currently, the hardest climbing grade is 5.15c (9c), held by Silence, a Norwegian-based climb located in Hanshelleren Cave in Flatanger, followed by Vasil Vasil (9B+, Sloup, Czech Republic), Perfecto Mundo (9B+, Margalef, Spain), Disbelief (15B, Canmore, Canada), etc.
Q: What does the V stand for in rock climbing?
The guy behind the most popular bouldering scale is called John Sherman, and his nickname is Vermin. He’s one of the bouldering pioneers and among the scale creators, so to honor him, it was decided that the scale should start with the leather “V”.
Q: How can I improve my climbing grade?
There are many ways to improve your climbing grades, like constant workouts, listening to other climbers’ suggestions, watching other climbers and their technique, being creative, thinking ahead, taking your time to study your route… Don’t be scared, feel free to try it out and learn along the way.
Q: What is the highest bouldering grade?
The boulder problem with the highest grade, V17 (9A), is located in Lappnor, Finland, and it is called Burden of dreams. There are also many V16 problems, like Gero (Japan), Hypnotized Minds (Colorado, USA), Hypothèse assis (France)…
Globo Surf Overview
Once you manage to understand the rock climbing rating system and bouldering ratings, along with all the basic rock climbing terms and essential climbing safety instructions, it will become much easier to learn your abilities and take on any wanted climb or problem you run into.