September 16, 2021

The Complete Guide to Understanding Bouldering Grades

by Kevin

Bouldering grades can be a combination of a number and a letter to communicate the difficulty of boulder wall climbing.

It is also known as bouldering ratings in certain parts of the world.

Most people think that only beginners need to learn about these grades.

Some seasoned climbers also find it confusing to identify the bouldering grades when climbing a boulder wall.

While it’s not the oldest type of climbing, bouldering is among the most modern forms of climbing.

It doesn’t necessarily need ambiguous knots and tall walls, and it’s an excellent way to learn and train or pass the time. 

Even so, this sport needs some expertise to get the most from it.

Nevertheless, today we take a look at bouldering grades.

From beginners to professional boulderers, bouldering grades can be a bit complicated. 

To help you out, we’ve written this comprehensive guide on bouldering grades.

Therefore, if you’re new to bouldering or simply don’t understand bouldering ratings, this is what you need to know.

We will give some in-depth explanations of bouldering ratings to help you understand the difference.


Table of Contents
Bouldering Grades - The Complete Guide
Bouldering Grades

What Are Bouldering Grades?

Also known as bouldering ratings, bouldering grades are a combination of numbers and letters utilized to determine the intricacy of boulder issues.

These ratings are given to problems for both outdoor and indoor bouldering. 

When it comes to outdoor bouldering, the two major rating scales used are the Font and V scales.

On the other hand, indoor bouldering and climbing gyms utilize the Front and V scales or develop their grading mechanism. 

For instance, a bouldering gym could rate difficulty from 0 to 4.

The former is the most effortless stage, perfect for novices, and the latter is the most challenging for professional climbers. 

Why Are Bouldering Difficulties Rated?

Bouldering ratings were engineered as a means to specify the difficulty of each bouldering level to an individual who’s never tried it. 

Practically, ratings come in handy in aiding boulderers to better understand the difficulty of each stage before trying it out.

They also help you identify which stages you can easily maneuver and those too challenging for you. 

For example, if V5 issues are challenging but achievable for you, obviously a V3 will be simple, a V6 might put your skills to the test, and a V9 will most probably be too difficult for you.

Furthermore, rating boulder problems make it easy to compare boulderers and bouldering sites. 

How Are Boulder Difficulties Rated?

Boulder problems are rated exclusively on how physically hard the problem is.

These grades don’t consider any other variables like mental obstructions, or the chances of injury, among others. 

There’s no ideal formula for deciding the correct grade for the difficulty levels.

While some people have suggested relying more on a particular formula, it’s still extremely subjective. 

For this reason, boulderers have argued and, most of the time, disagreed, and they still disagree about these grades till today.

So, if you find these grades a bit confusing, you’re not the only one. 

Outdoors 

Outdoor bouldering difficulties have the advantage of being consistent.

Therefore, in theory, most people can tackle a bouldering problem and determine its grade. 

On the other hand, it’s not very common for boulderer’s opinions to be considered when rating an outdoor problem. 

Honestly, the first person to try out the problem is the one who gives it a rating.

Nevertheless, after several more attempts, the rating might be modified marginally. 

Ultimately, a grade is determined by the people who’ve climbed the difficulty or the local climbers.

An individual adds the difficulty to Mountain Project, or people find out about it being a certain grade.

After this, the grade is practically set. 

This is then followed by publishing a guidebook or updating the existing guidebook on this grade.

But the author can consult the best climbers to see what they think about this rating and then publish it. 

Indoors

The person who sets up the problem usually climbs it once or twice before assigning a grade.

It’s that simple.

When they are uncertain about the grade, or if they are not sure how someone with a different body type (e.g. taller, shorter) will climb it, they will ask another route setter or a few gym members to climb it.

As soon as they agree on a grade, they slap it on the wall.

There’s no doubt that it’s a very subjective process. 

Bouldering Grading Scale by Country

Most countries adopt the V scale or the Front scale to describe the climbing difficulty.

The front scale is popular in British territories.

You will find it frequently in the climbing gyms of Asia.

The case is different in the American region.

You will find V scale grading in most of America and the southeast region.

The front scale starts with the digit only.

It starts with the number 4.

V0 is the same difficulty grading in the V scale.

V grading is easier to remember as it starts with V0 and goes to V17.

You have to remember each grading in the front scale.

9a is the most difficult grading on the front scale.

Bouldering Grades vs. Sport Climbing Grades

There are different grading systems for climbing and bouldering sports.

You cannot compare these grades easily as these are different sports.

You may find many climbers in the gym asking if they can climb the bouldering wall of 6a, which climbing sports grade is suitable for them.

It is hard to compare these scales because bouldering requires intense force in a short time.

Wall climbing sports require endurance.

V0 has a similar difficulty level to the 5.10d on the Yosemite climbing scale.

You have to consider the indoor and outdoor settings also.

Indoor bouldering is easier than outdoor bouldering walls.

The bouldering difficulty V0 on the indoor settings is similar to the 5.8 on the Yosemite scale.

There is less need for intense force in the wall climbing sports as there are some climbing gears involved.

Bouldering does not require more endurance as this sport requires speed.

Font Scale and V scale 

These are the two most common bouldering ratings used currently.

While there are many bouldering rate scales, the most common ones are the Font and V scales. 

Here’s What You Need to Know about Each Bouldering Grade

V scale 

This is a flexible rating scale. Alternatively, the highest level of difficulty will increase as sport advances.

It begins at V0 and presently ends at V17. Do you know who has climbed a V17?

Daniel Woods has climber V17.

Additionally, there is a level known as VB.

This is the level that is most suitable for beginners.

The B stands for beginner or basic, and this problem is more effortless than the V0. 

Oftentimes, the outdoor problems are graded “V-weird” or “V-Fun.”

Typically, these are levels that resist the usual rating standards and require some odd climbing techniques. 

The V Scale has a simple perception; the higher the figure, the more challenging the level.

Today, the most difficult bouldering problems are graded at V16 & V17.

Only a few people on earth can climb them.

On the other hand, in gyms, you normally see the highest problem is at V10. 

Furthermore, some charts include V, with a “+” or “- “to differentiate the complexity of the problem.

For instance, V2+ is more difficult than V2 while V2 is more challenging than V2.

These postfixes are usually more common on the lower end of the scale, so it is rare to see them on the V10 or V11 levels. 

Every rating is by itself a level of sophistication.

For instance, there are challenging V7s and “soft” V7s. How does this happen? 

This mostly occurs because the V7 might be more difficult than the V7s, though it might not be equally challenging as the V8 rate. 

Most of the recent debates around bouldering rates of the most difficult boulder levels concentrate on whether plenty of problems are V16s or challenging V15s. 

The History of the V Scale

V stands for “Vermin,” which is the Alias of John Sherman, a renowned boulderer who also invented the V scale.

This scale was launched in Texas, in the late 1980s, by John and his bouldering friends. 

He gave a manuscript for his bouldering guide with multiple problems which were not rated.

Since the problems were not rated, this manuscript was not published. 

After he graded the problems, the V scale guide was used in North and South America, Oceania, and SE Asia. 

Font scale 

Also known as Fontainebleau Scale, the Font scale is open-ended like the V scale. It begins at one and advances from there.

Nonetheless, problems with ratings easier than three are seldom heard of. 

Besides, like the V scale, the higher the figure in the Font scale, the more challenging the bouldering level.

However, contrary to the V scale, when the font scale reaches 6, the scale incorporates specific suffixes to the figure to show changes in complexity. 

Typically, they integrate the A, B, and C suffixes.

This means that the further the letter in the alphabet, the harder the climb.

For example, 5C is more difficult than 5B, which is more challenging than 5A. 

Moreover, the scale includes a “+,” which is integrated after the letter, specifying another adjustment, which is not significant enough to change the whole letter or rating. 

The plus simply indicates that the level is slightly more difficult than the letter-number combination minus the plus sign. 

The History of the Font Scale

This scale is more common in Asia and Europe, and it was launched sometime before the V scale.

It was instigated in France in Fontainebleau Forest, thus the name. 

On the lower ratings, one V rating typically means wider than one rating on the font scale.

On the other hand, at higher ratings, these scales are almost the same.

For instance, a V16 problem is the same as an 8C+ problem. 

Bouldering Grades Conversion Chart: V Scale to Font Scale

This chart shows the bouldering rating conversion between the V Scale and Font Scale.

Beginner: V0-V2/4-5+

This level is for beginners, whether completely new or with a bit of experience.

Here, you’re still mastering the basics and advancing swiftly. 

Intermediate: V3-V5/6A-6C+

These grades are most suitable for a boulderer who’s been doing it for a while and is stronger now.

This means that you can tackle problems that you couldn’t in the beginning. 

Advanced: V6-V8/7A-7B

These levels are for people who’ve been bouldering for several years.

However, your initial fast advancing rate has decelerated marginally. 

Expert: V9-V12/7B+ – 8A+

This level is for you who have been bouldering hard for numerous years.

You can maneuver intermediate and advanced levels problems effortlessly. 

Elite: Over V13/8B 

You cannot go a long time without bouldering as it is part of your life.

Perhaps, you’re even sponsored and in good shape. 

B Scale: A Brief Bouldering History Lesson

Contrary to the Font and V scales, the B scale is fixed.

When the scale was being designed, a B1 had the same moves as the hardest roped climbs.

On the other hand, B2 was vague since it was only described as a bit more challenging than B1. 

B3 was a level that had only ever been tackled once.

Every time someone tackled a problem more than once, it was immediately downrated to B2. 

After this mechanism, John Gill designed the ratings to increase with complexity as the sport advanced. 

Nevertheless, the B scale is not that popular since it needs problems to be re-rated continuously, therefore, making comparison hard. 

The B scale was the original bouldering scale in the USA.

It was invented by John Gill in 1958, and it only features three ratings. 

Bouldering Grades FAQ

Most beginner climbers ask questions about bouldering grades because they want to know if they are improving.

Knowing which bouldering grade you can climb will help you with skills judgment.

You can monitor your improvement by checking if you can climb boulder walls with more difficulty.

We have compiled answers to some frequently asked questions to help you with the bouldering grade identification.

Why is outdoor bouldering so hard?

You will find it hard to climb the outdoor walls with similar boulders as the climbing gyms.

One reason is the lack of systems in the gym to grade the walls according to the outdoor settings.

Some gyms keep the difficulty lower to encourage beginners.

They can make the V0 harder to match the outdoor wall difficulty level.

Beginners cannot climb these walls.

They will leave the gym thinking this sport is not for them.

Climbing gyms want to encourage people rather than demotivate them at the start.

What is a good bouldering grade?

It is hard to climb the V7 difficulty grade for most experts in indoor settings.

Climbers bouldering on the walls outdoors consider V5 have the same difficulty as the V7 indoors.

If one can climb climbing walls with these grades, it is a good bouldering grade.

Most experts do not want to answer this question because a good bouldering grade is different for everyone.

You can answer it if you have known someone for a long time and climbed with them many times.

If an expert climber asks this question, your answer will be different.

It depends on the grading a person is already bouldering.

The good bouldering grade for a person climbing a V6 bouldering wall is V7.

The beginner climbers who can barely climb the v3 bouldering wall should set a goal for the V4 bouldering grade.

Is bouldering harder than sport climbing?

Yes, bouldering is harder than sport climbing in most cases.

You can judge it by allowing beginners to climb the V0 grade of the bouldering wall and 3c on the climbing sports.

Most beginners will make it to the top of the climbing wall of 3c difficulty grade.

Only a few with higher physical strength will climb the bouldering wall of V0.

We can consider that it is easier to climb the climbing wall as this climbing depends on endurance.

Bouldering requires more physical strength and technical skills.

Every boulder is a problem that requires a different technique to climb.

You may come across a person with more physical strength and low endurance.

These people will find sports climbing harder.

They may boulder with ease. It depends on the personal training.

What does the “V” stand for in bouldering grades?

V comes from the word Vermin.

It was the nickname of John Sherman.

People know him due to his legendary efforts in establishing bouldering sports.

People had difficulty in identification of the difficulty grading boulders.

He made a system that defined different problems of the bouldering wall.

This system is known as the V system these days.

Some people search for the V meaning on the internet to find it means Verm.

It is not different than John’s nickname.

People shortened his nickname to Verm to make it easier to write.

He was a Hueco Tank climber.

It is an area in the low mountain region in the United States.

You can view it in El Paso County.

What is the highest bouldering grade?

The highest bouldering grade on the V scale is V17.

If you convert it to the British difficulty grading system, you will get 9A.

These are the rating given to the hardest bouldering walls in the world.

Only a few climbers have climbed the V17 grade wall till now.

The Burden of Dreams in the Lappnor is the bouldering wall with a rating of V17 on the American bouldering grading system.

Nalle Hukkatavial climbed the V17 grade wall for the first time in 2016.

Final Thoughts on Bouldering Grades

So, there it is, bouldering grades and everything you need to know about them.

Nonetheless, don’t focus too much on the numbers. 

Go to the gym or outdoors, have fun and continue progressing in terms of skills.

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About the author 

Kevin

Kevin loves bouldering. Mainly because he can practice it alone without considering other people. Although he rediscovered this hobby in the last three years, the boulders turned out to be his most visited landmarks.

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