When you first start climbing, you might not have a clue about grades. You’ll quickly learn about the bouldering grades that are used within your country. But did you know that there are many different grade types? The most popular grade types are the V-grade/scale and the Font-grade/scale. Generally they consist of numbers and letters. With higher values for harder bouldering problems.
Countries have different grades for their climbing routes and problems. Their numbering is often not the same. Also they base their values on different parts of the route. For instance, some take the whole route into account, while others only count the hardest move. Grades are based on though grips, endurance and/or the most difficult and strong moves.
Note that bouldering grades can sometimes feel trivial. Completing one problem with a high grade is very fulfilling. But it does not guarantee you can finish all routes with the same grade. Problems are often graded by experienced route-setters. But sometimes it may be hard to give a grade for something that is fair for everyone. For instance, longer people or more flexible people may feel like it’s less of a challenge.
Even for more experienced climbers this can sometimes be frustrating. Problems have different challenges, and people have different strenghts. It’s something you’ll have to keep in mind 😄.
The V-scale, short for Vermin scale has been used by many people. In both North and South America, Australia and parts of Asia it’s widely used. And considered to be one of the most used bouldering grades worldwide. Sometimes it is also refered to as the “Hueco scale”. John ‘Vermin’ Sherman introduced the grade at the bouldering park in Hueco Tanks, Texas.
V-grades go from V0 for the easiest climbing, all the way to V17 for the most experienced climbers in the world. Some bouldering halls also have a VB route. It’s targeted to absolute beginners. Instructors use them to explain the basics of climbing, like foot placement.
Only a few people have ever completed V16 problems. Because they are considered on of the hardest routes around. Even harder are the V17 problems. The first V17 route was completed by Nalle Hukkataival on October 23 2016 in his home country of Finland.
V17 routes are not the final highest grade. As the sport of bouldering progresses, higher grade values may be introduced.
In Europe, most bouldering problems are using Fontainebleau bouldering grades. It was introduced in the Fontainebleau area in France. With about 28.500 bouldering problems, it is one of the most popular bouldering spots in Europe.
If you’re planning on going there for the first time, I’d recommend bringing this book:
As with the V-scale, the Font-scale has no definitive final highest grade.
The grades range from 1A to 9A, with 9A being the hardest problems known right now. Bouldering halls generally don’t have 1A’s and often start with at least 3A.
Font grades are generally written with uppercase letters. That is done to prevent confusing it with the French rope climbing grade system. The overlapping numbers are more challanging when using the bouldering grade.
Font grades sometimes includes a plus sign + or minus sign – to indicate slight difficulty differences with their base grade. For instance, a 5A+ grade is harder than a 5A problem. Both of those are harder than a 5A- and a 4C+.
Yosemite Decimal System
While not used exclusively for bouldering, the Yosemite Decimal System can be a great way of grading a route as its understood by many climbers overall. It’s used not only for bouldering (class 5), but also for simple rope climbing (class 4) and even hiking (class 1).
Boulders generally range from class 5, along with a decimal value. Here 5.9 are considered to be the easiest routes. The decimals go up as the routes get more challenging, and extra letters are added to further differentiate the grades. A V3 (V-scale) or 6A (font-scale) can be compared to a 5.11A in the Yosemite Decimal System.
Gill “B” system
John Gill felt the need for introducing a grade in the 1950s. He was one of the first professional boulderers when it became an actual sport. His B system consisted of only three levels, B1, B2 and B3. The ‘easiest’ routes in this grade were marked with B1. But these routes weren’t easy at all, as this grade was similar to the highest grade used for rope climbing. B3 was given to routes that were only completed once. As it was completed a second time, the problem got a B1 or B2 rating. The B2 grade was given to routes that could be considered harder than the rope climbing routes. They were considered to be at ‘bouldering level’.
The B system is currently not used anymore for new routes. But it can still be found at routes in North America for instance, which generally also have received a V grade.
The Japanese use the Dankyu system, which is also called the ‘Soroban’ system. They used the martial arts system as a base for this way of grading routes. These are split between Kyu and Dan, where Kyu is used for the easier routes. The hardest Kyu is 1-Kyu, equivalenting to about V6 or 7A on the V-scale or Font-scale. Higher Kyu routes are easier routes. Routes graded 10-Kyu are about the easiest routes you can find.
Higher routes than 1-Kyu get graded by 1-Dan, or Shodan. Higher Dan’s stand for harder routes, similar to the other bouldering grades. A V15 or 8C route called “The Wheel of Life” was graded 6-Dan.
United Kingdom technical grades
In the UK people have also been using grades ranging from 4a to 7b. These are very hard to compare to other climbing grades. They’re based on only the hardest move in a route. Many bouldering routes with a UK grade also get a font grade. They have the UK technical grade only to describe one specific move.
Bouldering grades compared
I’ve added the comparison of V-scale to Font-scale below for easy reference, as they are the most common grades.
The last column (roughly) shows their Yosemite Decimal System (Y.D.S.) equivalents.
Beginners often start with routes up to V2 or 5+. I recommended starting off at a low grade so you can get familiar with the grips. Along with your balance and the climbing shoes.
Intermediate climbers tend to climb up to V5 or 6C+. As climbers start to get comfortable to the beginner routes, they look for a bigger challenge. And start working on actual techniques and bouldering moves.
Advanced climbers go up to V8 or 7B+. Advanced climbers have been climbing for at least a few years. They are very experienced with most types of routes and challenges.
Experts are often dedicating a lot of time to bouldering. They are considered to be the best climbers at your bouldering hall. They can complete routes up to V11 or 8A. People that can call themselves experts often work out many times a week. Excersises like campusboarding to increase fingerstrenght are done regularly.
Very few make it up to expert level, and even less can do routes graded from V12 or 8A+ or higher.
Now that you know everything about the grades, you might be interested in more tips for boulderers!
I hope this information has been of help to you. If you have any suggestions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment below 👍.