Whether you’re a first-time boulderer or an experienced climber, the topic of boulder grades can be daunting.
Table of Contents
Eliminate your confusion regarding bouldering grades and boulder problems by learning what the “V” next to a number stands for, how boulder problems are graded, and most importantly, understanding the meaning of those complicated grading font scales.
What are Boulder Grades?
A core component of bouldering is the methods used to indicate a boulder’s difficulty. These ratings vary depending on whether you are bouldering indoors or bouldering outdoors, with V Scale and Font Scale being the two common bouldering grading scales ones for outdoor climbing.
Conversely, indoor settings may employ either grading scale–or perhaps even craft their own grading system!
Take a gym, for example; they may evaluate problems on a scale of 0-4. The simplest problem (rated 0) is created to help novices learn the ropes while 4 embodies the most complex puzzles intended only for experienced climbers.
Let’s take a look at V-Grade and Font Scale:
The V scale is an ever-evolving grading climbs system tailored to the sport of bouldering; beginning at V0 and currently reaching as far up as a difficulty level of V17. As climbers continue pushing their limits, this open-ended grade will only increase over time!
In addition, there is a grade called VB (or “beginner”) which is easier than level V0. Outdoor bouldering routes can sometimes be marked “V-Fun” or “V-Weird” since they necessitate some atypical climbing methods and do not follow usual grading standards.
It’s a cinch to understand the most popular grading system V-scale: as the number increases, so does the difficulty of the problem.
Presently, the toughest boulder problems in the world are graded at V16 and V17; only a select few have conquered this level of difficulty. In most climbing gyms, however, you can expect to see routes with difficulties up to a maximum rating of just V10, since for the need for such high boulders is generally not necessary for your everyday rock climbing gym enjoyer.
You may have encountered a V grade postfixed with either “+” or “-“, which is utilized to clarify the difficulty level of certain problems. This system is used intuitively:
- V3+ is harder than a V3
- V3 is harder than a V3-
- V4- is harder than a V3+
This way of ranking is frequently used at beginner levels. After you reach V9 or V10, there are usually no pluses and minuses involved anymore.
Each grade itself may also contain a range of difficulties.
Take the V7’s, for instance; there are “hard” and “soft” ones. The main reason is that even if a certain V7 might be tougher than other routes of its kind, it still may not require an upgrade in rating to a level 8 (V8).
There is much debate surrounding the grades of some of the most difficult bouldering problems; particularly whether or not numerous issues should be rated as V16s rather than strenuous V15s.
The History Behind V-Scale (V-Grade)
“Vermin” or “Verm,” the moniker of renowned boulderer John Sherman, provided his namesake to the V Scale. Birthed in Hueco Tanks, Texas during the late 1980s by Sherman and his climbing crew, this iconic grading system has since been adopted worldwide.
Sherman’s Hueco Tanks bouldering guide submission contained hundreds of problems that were all ungraded, making it difficult for publisher George Meyers of Chockstone Press to accept the manuscript. But Sherman was determined and spent a season creating his V Scale system in order to grade each problem so that he could eventually get the guide published.
Since Sherman’s bouldering guide was released, the V Scale has gained tremendous traction and is now globally regarded as North America, South America, Southeast Asia, and Oceania’s standard for grading boulder routes.
The Font Scale is an open-ended scale that commences at 1 and proceeds upwards. Nevertheless, difficulties with grades lower than 3 are rarely encountered.
As opposed to the V Scale, when the Font Scale surpasses 6 things start to become a bit peculiar. Instead of just increasing its number as difficulty amplifies, special suffixes are appended onto it in order to connote variations in the level of challenge.
Ascending the rock walls is an intricate challenge, and to signify difficulty levels each bouldering route has a suffix of A, B, or C. The farther down the alphabet that letter goes – ‘A’ first then ‘B’ next; culminating in ‘C’ as the most difficult – signifying how hard it will be for you to make your way up.
Taking this into account, 6C is tougher than 6B which itself is harder than a simple 6A.
Furthermore, a “+” can be appended to the letter grade as an indicator of a slight increase in difficulty than changing the entire letter grade.
To denote a more difficult problem, the plus sign is added to it. A 6A+ is tougher than its non-plus counterpart of 6A, whereas a 6B stands as an even greater challenge compared to the already daunting 6A+.
Quick History Of The Font Scale
The Font Scale has been the standard grading system in Europe and certain parts of Asia for centuries. While there is no exact date available, it was established decades before the V Scale came into being in America.
The original birthplace of “Font” was in the enchanting bouldering forest of Fontainebleau, France – thus its name is an abbreviation for “Fontainebleau.”
So, What About B-Scale?
Unlike the V and Font Scales, the B Scale had no upper limit. When it was created, a B1 already held movements as challenging as what is experienced in roped-up climbs. A B2 grade was incredibly vague; defined simply as “considerably more difficult” than a B1 climb.
And amazingly enough, only one single successful ascent of a difficulty graded at level B3 ever took place!
John Gill, the father of modern bouldering in America and inventor of the B Scale, devised a system where ever problem that was climbed twice would be downgraded from B3 to B2.
He envisioned for grades to increase in difficulty as the sport advanced through this approach; however, his scale never gained traction since it required problems needing regular re-grading which made comparisons complex.
V-Grade Vs. Font Scale + Conversion Chart For Scale And The Font
Although both V-Scale and Font Scale are the source of ranking boulder problems, they differ quite significantly, as I’ve previously discussed.
In the early grades, a lone V grade generally means wider than one score from the Font Scale.
As the grades become more advanced, you can directly equate them from a V Scale to Font Scale. For instance, an 8C+ on the Font Scale is precisely equal to a V16 on the V Scale.
In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the different grades that can be climbed, they can generally be divided into these categories:
- Beginner Climber (V0-V2 / 4-5+): Are you just beginning your bouldering adventure or have you been at it for a few months? If so, V0-V2 / 4-5+ is the perfect level of climbing to get comfortable with the basics and accelerate your progress.
- Intermediate (V3-V5 / 6A-6C+): After months of bouldering, your strength has improved significantly! You now have the power to complete problems that were previously out of reach. V3-V5 / 6A-6C+ is within your realm and you can send them with relative ease!
- Advanced (V6-V8 / 7A-7B): Have you been bouldering for a while now? If so, your steady progress has likely started to slow down – V6-V8 / 7A-7B. Nonetheless, this is nothing out of the ordinary; it’s simply part of the natural process when honing any skill.
- Expert (V9-V12 / 7B+-8A+): You’ve put in the hard work and dedication to bouldering, making you one of the strongest climbers at your local gym. You can even compete in regional competitions with confidence! On weekends, it’s off to do outdoor climbs where you’re often much stronger than most intermediates—something that might make them a bit jealous but which brings you joy. Your skills have progressed enough for V9-V12 / 7B+-8A+ problems: no small feat!
- Elite (≥V13 / ≥8B): ≥V13 / ≥8B – Bouldering is your topmost priority and you have a sponsorship to prove it! On top of that, the hours in the gym paid off as your body shape has become incredibly fit. To showcase this, people film you while bouldering challenging routes – proving hard work really does pay off!
If you’re looking for a more visual representation of V-Grade Vs. Font Scale and how they compare, check out the bouldering grade conversion chart below:
Why Are Bouldering Problems Graded In The First Place?
Bouldering problems are graded in order to provide a universal language between climbers. It serves as an objective way of measuring the difficulty of a problem and serves as a benchmark for one’s own climbing ability.
It can also motivate climbers to keep progressing by providing something to strive for and challenge themselves with.
In addition, grading gives climbers a way to compare different problems and suggest modifications or alternative solutions. It also allows boulderers from different regions to communicate about the difficulty of a problem without having seen it in person.
Why is it called a “Bouldering Problem”?
A bouldering problem is simply a rock-climbing route that can be completed without using rope protection and less than 20 feet from the ground. It’s called a “problem” because it has a unique set of moves or sequences, that must be solved in order to complete the climb.
Bouldering problems usually involve precise body positions and dynamic movements, so they can be more physically and mentally challenging than roped routes. In addition, because of their shorter lengths, bouldering problems can be attempted multiple times in one session without having to wait for the route to reset.
This encourages climbers to push themselves beyond their limits!
How Are Boulder Problems Graded?
The grades assigned to bouldering problems are done so by professional climbers and route setters. They typically take into account the difficulty of the moves, their technicality, as well as strength or endurance required to complete the problem.
Ultimately, it is largely subjective and opinion-based, which is why grades can often differ between one bouldering gym and another or even one climber to the next.
However, this is also what makes it so fun – there’s always something to work on and lots of room for improvement.
Are Indoor and Outdoor Climbs Graded Differently?
At first glance, it may appear that indoor climbs and outdoor boulders are rated differently. However, the same Font and V Scale apply to both types of bouldering.
The difference lies in how they are evaluated. Outdoor boulders may be more difficult due to their location and potential conditions (natural or man-made).
Conversely, indoor boulder problems are less affected by these external factors. Thus, an outdoor boulder problem graded at Font 8B+ could be easier than an indoor one graded the same.
Overall, remember that this system is all about perspective and personal interpretation. Grades can also depend on your individual experience and skill level as a climber.
As you grow in strength and knowledge, you’ll be able to better judge the difficulty of problems and find joy in setting goals and accomplishing them. Happy bouldering!
Boulder Grades vs Climbing Grading System
Bouldering grades focus on the difficulty of a single move or sequence, rather than a full route. This means that although two problems may be graded at the same level, one may be much more difficult due to its complexity or intensity.
The rock climbing grading system (YDS grade system) on the other hand, rate an entire climb based on its length and the overall difficulty of the route. This makes them better suited to rope climbing, which requires a greater amount of endurance and skill than bouldering.
Bottom line: While both systems are useful in their own right, they should not be directly compared or confused as climbing and bouldering, in a way, feel like completely different sports.
Bouldering Grades vs. Sport Climbing Grades
Although comparing bouldering and sport climbing grades can be tricky, it’s only natural to wonder: if I can complete a V6 level of bouldering, then which climbing routes should I attempt? With the proper knowledge of both disciplines’ separate grading scales in mind, one is able to accurately answer this inquiry.
Generally, a V0 boulder problem is equal to a 5.10d on the Yosemite Decimal System; however, this isn’t always applicable within climbing gyms. In my experience for indoor bouldering problems, it’s much closer to a 5.8 difficulty level than what “the rule of thumb” indicates. Nevertheless, outdoors that old adage might remain true — but only if you’re lucky!
FAQ’s Boulder Grading Systems
Is Climbing V4 Good?
It depends on your skill level. V4 is an intermediate difficulty grade and most people who have experience with bouldering will find it challenging but doable. However, if you’re a beginner, it may be too difficult for you to complete just yet; if so, start with easier problems and work your way up!
Are There Any V17 Boulders?
There are a few V17s in the world (making them the hardest bouldering grade), but they remain sparsely documented. Most of these problems lie outdoors rather than in climbing gyms and are only attempted by elite-level climbers with exceptional strength and skill.
How Hard is V5 Bouldering?
V5 is considered an advanced-level grade, so it’s quite difficult. It will require you to have a good understanding of technique and body positioning, as well as strength and endurance.
What Are The Levels of Bouldering?
The levels of bouldering range from V0 to V17, with each level being progressively more difficult. As a general rule of thumb, V0-V2 are for beginners, V3-V6 for intermediates and V7+ for advanced climbers. However, this depends on your individual skillset and experience.
Always start at an appropriate level for you, and then gradually work your way up!
Why is outdoor bouldering so hard?
Outdoor bouldering can be more difficult than indoor because of its reliance on other factors such as weather and terrain conditions (natural or man-made). Outdoor boulder problems are more likely to be affected by these elements, making them harder than their indoor counterparts.
What is the highest bouldering grade?
The highest grade is V17, though these extreme problems remain sparsely documented and are only attempted by elite-level climbers. Most of these problems lie outdoors rather than in climbing gyms.
What is a good bouldering grade?
The “good” bouldering grade is subjective and depends on your individual skill level. Generally, V0-V2 is for beginners, V3-V6 for intermediates and V7+ for advanced climbers.
What does the “V” stand for in bouldering grades?
The “V” stands for the German word “verschieden,” which roughly translates to “various.” This emphasizes the fact that each boulder problem is unique and must be approached differently.
Is Bouldering Harder Than Climbing?
In some ways, yes. Bouldering requires a different set of skills than climbing (on top rope and lead) and often requires greater levels of strength, coordination and problem-solving ability. Additionally, it also demands a much highe degree of physical exertion as it is completed in shorter bursts.