V-What? How Bouldering Grades Work.

Climbing is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, and it is rapidly growing in accessibility. With new gyms popping up left and right, and a recent addition to the Olympics, there are thousands of new climbers worldwide. Bouldering is a form of climbing that takes place on a low wall, with no harness. Essentially a physical puzzle, climbers must solve routes/problems. The sport is an incredible form of exercise, and a total blast, but it can seem a bit daunting at first. We covered the rules of competitive bouldering earlier this month, but that only covers the elite level. If you’re picking it up as a hobby, or about to go try it once, here is a bit of info on how gyms make bouldering grades.

The Basics

It can be daunting to walk into a climbing gym for the first time. Confronted with waivers, loud music, and endless walls covered in a rainbow of “rocks”. These holds may seem like a cacophony of color, but there is rhyme and reason to it. Each “route” is a pathway of holds that share a color, leading to either the top of the wall or a “Finish” hold. These holds emulate natural rock formations and emulate scaling a natural cliff. Each route has a start where a climber’s hands must be placed, but how they get from start to finish is up to the climber. With every climber possessing a different skill level, there is a system in place to show which routes to attempt. This method can vary from gym to gym, but bouldering grades are always based on physical challenge.

The V Scale

One of the most popular scales for gyms to use is the V Scale. Named after its creator, John “Vermin” Sherman, this method ranks boulders starting at V 0. The scale is open, so there is no end, but the hardest-rated climb in the world as of now is a V 17. While there is a VB (for beginner) this scale increases in difficulty as the number gets higher. Most indoor gyms will make their hardest climbs up to around V 10, and if you are a beginner you should start at V 0 and move your way up. It is important to note that in all problems (remember – a problem in bouldering refers to the climbing route), the difficulty is subjective. Climbers of different strength, technical skill, flexibility, etc. will all face different challenges while climbing.

The Font Scale

The next most popular grading scale is the Font Scale. This scale is popular in Europe and Asia and uses a combination of numbers, letters, and the “+” sign to distinguish difficulty. The higher the number goes, the harder the route is. Around the 5-6 level, routes can be assigned a letter following the number, from A-C, in order to provide flexibility.

Climb to Your Level

Some gyms forego these metrics entirely and rank on their own scale. No matter how your gym makes bouldering grades, only you will be able to judge for yourself. If a route looks fun or challenging, go ahead and give it a shot. We hope that this clears the air about what to expect when you try climbing for the first time, and here at Pokatok we could not be more excited to watch the sport grow.

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