Introduction to grading in climbing
Getting to grips with climbing grades can often be harder than the climb itself. This article shows you how it all fits together and answers some of the commonly asked questions: Who grades it? How is it graded? Why is there so much variation? International grading How climbing styles effect grades

Introduction to grading in climbing

Whenever you're climbing outside, the chances are that each route (a climb) or boulder problem (short un-roped climb less than 15 feet high) will have been climbed previously. The first person that ascended the route or problem has the privilege of giving it a name and also a grade. These are then recorded at the local climbing shop, or submitted to a climbing magazine or website so that they can be recorded in the next guidebook. There are numerous guidebooks covering climbing areas all over the world. Some are more informative than others but they aim to tell you where the climbing areas are, how to get there, route descriptions, names and grades.

The first person that ascended the route or problem has the privilege of giving it a name and also a grade

How is it graded?

Grading at first sight often looks confusing, but when diluted is actually quite simple. The British system is focused on 'traditional' climbing routes and has two parts.

The adjectival grade e.g. HVS (hard very severe). This is the overall route grade given for a climber leading the climb on sight (with no previous knowledge of the moves or protection). This takes into account how serious it is, its length, amount of protecton, how solid the rock is, how strenuous it is and even an exposure and fear factor. They currently range from D (difficult) to E10 (Extreme 10)
The numerical grade e.g. 5b. This is the grade of the hardest move and ranges from 4a - 7b.

Why is there so much variation?

Where a route has no protection and a fall could be fatal, the overall grade will reflect this seriousness and so the grade will be be much higher than it would if the same route had good protection every metre or so. For example, 'Death Trap' at Gogarth in North Wales has no good protection, it is also very sustained, very strenuous and the rock is very poor and loose - hence the name! This is probably one of the most dangerous routes in Britain and is graded E5 5b. If you pick a route, which is well protected, has one hard move, and the rest is very easy and it's on good rock, it may only be HVS 5b.
The height and size of individuals can make a fair bit of difference to how hard you find the climbing. This can be very specific to each route, so don't feel disheartened if you simply can't do your chosen route. Try another it may suit you more.
Climbing © Jaume Clua
climbingInternational grading

Climbing is an international sport but grading systems are often different for each country. You will see in the Sport climbing section that we use French grades - because sport climbing originated in Europe and the French have the most definitive grading system, so we inherited this along with the sport.

Climbing styles

The style of climbing also dictates how a route is graded. For example bouldering (Boulder), sport climbing (Sport), traditional climbing (Trad), and deep water soloing (DWS) all have their own grading system. These are looked into in more detail in the corresponding sections.


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