What do Climbing Grades Actually Mean?

September 5, 2008

A rock climbing grade accurately describes the degree of difficulty and danger for each chosen route.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the difficulty of a climb including the technical difficulty of the moves, the strength and stamina required, the level of commitment, and the difficulty of protecting the climber.

Different aspects of climbing each have their own grading system, and, just to confuse the issue,  many different nationalities have developed their own distinctive grading system, for example in the United States, climbs are rated from 5.1 to 5.14d (and now 5.15a) with 5.1 being the easiest. In fact, 5.1 to 5.4 are all pretty simple generally meaning that you probably don’t need a rope, whilst 5.5 to 5.9 is an intermediate level – you will definitely need a rope. It gets exponentially more difficult as you go up the ranking – 5.10 to 5.15a.

My thanks to Wikipedia for supplying this chart which gives a selection of grading systems from around the world.

Rock Climbing Rating Systems
French Vermin
Eastern Germany
Ewbank (Australia, New Zealand & South Africa)
5.2 1 I I
5.3 2 II II 11
5.4 3 III III 12
5.5 4a VD 4 IV IV 12
5.6 S 5a V− V 13
5.7 4b HS 5b V VI 14
4c V+ 15
5.8 VS 5c VI− VIIa 16
5.9 5a HVS 6a VI VIIb 17
5.10a E1 6a+ V0 VI+ VIIc 18
5.10b 5b 19
5.10c E2 6b V1 VII− VIIIa 20
5.10d 5c 6b+ VII VIIIb 21
5.11a E3 6c V2 VII+ VIIIc 22
5.11b 6c+ 23
5.11c 6a E4 7a V3 VIII− IXa 24
5.11d 7a+ VIII IXb
5.12a E5 7b V4 VIII+ IXc 25
5.12b 6b 7b+ 26
5.12c E6 7c V5 IX− Xa 27
5.12d 6c 7c+ V6 IX Xb 28
5.13a E7 V7 IX+ Xc 29
5.13b 8a V8
5.13c 7a 8a+ V9 X− 30
5.13d E8 8b V10 X 31
5.14a 8b+ V11 X+ 32
5.14b 7b 8c V12 33
5.14c E9 8c+ V13 XI− 34
5.14d 7c 9a V14 XI 35
5.15a 9a+ V15

Please be aware that different grading systems consider these factors in different ways, so no two grading systems have an exact one-to-one correspondence.

Confusing? if you’re a novice – you betcha. But if you’re more experienced you will probably have already sorted out all these anomalies for yourself.

However, if you are still confused please go to http://www.wikipedia grade (climbing).com and you will be able to read more on this subject.


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