Climbing Grades Explained

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Written By Margaret Satchell

I love helping people get in shape by playing sports instead of just boring gym routines. Live life to the fullest.





If you’ve ever been curious about the world of rock climbing, then look no further. In this article, “Climbing Grades Explained,” you’ll find a wealth of information that will give you a thorough understanding of the different grades associated with this exhilarating sport. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned climber, this expertly-written piece will not only provide valuable insights into the fitness benefits of rock climbing, but also emphasize the importance of safety, whether you’re climbing indoors or exploring the great outdoors. Get ready to embark on a journey that will not only push your physical limits, but also inspire you to experience the wonders of nature in a whole new way. So strap on your climbing shoes and prepare to discover a world of thrilling adventure!

Climbing Grades Explained

Introduction to Climbing Grades

If you’re new to the world of rock climbing, you may have heard people talking about climbing grades. But what exactly do these grades mean? In this article, we’ll delve into the different types of climbing grades and explain what they signify. Whether you’re a boulderer, sport climber, or traditional climber, understanding climbing grades is essential for measuring your progression and challenging yourself on the wall. So let’s dive in and unravel the mystery of climbing grades!

Types of Climbing Grades

Before we jump into the specifics of climbing grades, let’s first take a look at the three main types of climbing: bouldering, sport climbing, and traditional climbing. Each type has its own grading system, which allows climbers to compare the difficulty of different routes within their chosen discipline.

Bouldering Grades

Bouldering is a type of climbing that focuses on short, powerful routes known as boulder problems. These problems are usually scaled by difficulty using the V-scale or the Fontainebleau system. The V-scale is most commonly used in North America, while the Fontainebleau system originated in France.

Sport Climbing Grades

Sport climbing involves climbing with the aid of pre-placed bolts or anchors for protection. The difficulty of sport climbing routes is typically graded using the French scale or the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). The French scale is widely used in Europe and parts of Asia, while the YDS is primarily used in North America.

Traditional Climbing Grades

Traditional climbing, also known as trad climbing, is a style of climbing where the climber places their own gear for protection. Trad climbing routes are graded using the British Adjectival System or the North American Trad System (NATS). The British Adjectival System is prevalent in the United Kingdom, while the NATS is used in North America.

Bouldering Grades Explained

Let’s start with bouldering grades since it’s the first type we mentioned. The V-scale and the Fontainebleau system are the two grading systems commonly used in bouldering.


The V-scale, also known as the Vermin scale, is the most widely used grading system for bouldering in North America. It was developed by John “Vermin” Sherman and uses a numerical scale ranging from V0 (easiest) to V17 (hardest). The V-scale takes into account factors such as the complexity of the moves, the length of the climb, and the type of holds encountered.

Fontainebleau System

The Fontainebleau system, or the Font system for short, originated in the Fontainebleau forest near Paris and is widely used in France and other European countries. It uses a more descriptive grading system, with each climb assigned a grade ranging from 1 to 9, followed by an “a” or “b” to further refine the difficulty. For example, a climb graded as 6a is easier than a climb graded as 7b.

Hueco System

In addition to the V-scale and the Fontainebleau system, the Hueco system is used predominantly in the United States, especially for bouldering in the bouldering mecca of Hueco Tanks, Texas. The Hueco system combines numbers and letters, with a “V” followed by a number from 0 to 16 representing the difficulty level. For example, a climb graded as V3 is easier than a climb graded as V7.

Climbing Grades Explained

Sport Climbing Grades Explained

If sport climbing is more your style, you’ll encounter a different set of grading systems. Let’s take a closer look at the two most commonly used grading systems in sport climbing: the French scale and the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS).

French Scale

The French scale, also known as the UIAA scale, is widely used in Europe and parts of Asia. It consists of a numerical grade followed by a letter grade to indicate the difficulty of the climb. The numerical grade ranges from 1 to 9, with 1 being the easiest and 9 representing the most challenging climbs. The letter grade further refines the difficulty, with “a” being easier than “b” and so on. For example, a climb graded as 7a is easier than a climb graded as 7b+.

Yosemite Decimal System

The Yosemite Decimal System, or the YDS, is primarily used in North America for grading both sport climbing and traditional climbing routes. The YDS uses a numerical scale ranging from 5.0 to 5.15, with 5.0 being the easiest and 5.15 representing the most difficult climbs ever achieved. The decimal point and subsequent numbers and letters refine the difficulty further. For example, a climb graded as 5.10a is easier than a climb graded as 5.10d.


Understanding climbing grades is essential for any climber looking to gauge their progress and take on new challenges. Whether you’re bouldering, sport climbing, or traditional climbing, knowing the grading systems specific to your chosen discipline will help you set goals, track your achievements, and communicate with other climbers. So whether you’re tackling a V10 boulder problem, a 7a sport climbing route, or a 5.12 trad climb, embrace the challenge, push your limits, and enjoy the exhilaration of climbing!

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