HOW TO: Determine Indoor Bouldering Grades
Updated: Jun 13, 2019
When you go into an indoor climbing gym most times you will see that each climb has a grade(difficulty) associated with it. This grade is to help you keep you from getting on a climb that you can't handle and to help you track your progress.
One downside to grades is they are pretty subjective, there is no perfect science behind what makes a climb a certain grade. As a route setter myself I have to answer "Is this a V3 or V4?" a lot, so I thought I'd go over a few factors that go into deciding the grade of an indoor climb.
Before I start I want you to know that these are just of the factors my local gym and I use to decide what makes a climb a certain grade. There is no one set of factors that everyone uses to decide what grade a climb is.
The first and main factor when determining the grade is how hard is the hardest move. A grade is defined by the hardest move in a certain climb. So if a boulder problem is five jugs in a line then two tiny crimps then back to jugs it would be graded based on how hard doing the move with the two crimps was.
The length of a climb is another factor when determining how hard it is. Not only length of the entire climb but the length or amount of hard moves that are in the climb. So a climb like I talked about above with the jugs and tiny crimps wouldn't be a long climb because there are only one or two crux(hard) moves. So the more hard moves in a climb the harder the grade.
The steepness of terrain is another critical factor when choosing a grade for a certain climb. With a climb on slab there could be hard moves but then a chance to lean into the wall, to rest and collect yourself before continuing, but on more overhanging terrain you won't have the same opportunity to rest. Also, routes on overhanging terrain tend to force more body tension over a longer period of time which can be hard for the lower grades.
Some climbs are hard because they are hard to figure out the body positions needed to complete certain moves. The sequence is definitely a key factor when determining the difficulty of a climb. More sequence focused climbs tend to be on less steep or roof terrain with technical body positions. Also, it is a big factor for competition routes because the climbers won't have much time to figure out the beta for each climb.
How the Climb will Feel for Intended Climber
Something most non-route setters don't realize is that most climbs are set with a certain group of climbers in mind. Such as youth climbers, beginner climbers, powerful climbers, technical climbers, etc. So when you deciding what grade a climb should be, we tend to think about how it will feel for the group we set it for as well as the general public.
Every grade ends up coming down to a gut feeling and most times a consensus. Grades aren't a perfect science but that's ok, we need to just keep that in mind when climbing to be careful not to put too much focus on what climbs are graded. One setters opinion will sometimes be totally different from others so don't expect to agree with every grade in a gym, because everyone has different skills and styles they prefer.
In conclusion, climbing grades are pretty subjective but there a bunch of factors that setters are looking at when determining the grade for each climb. Don't put too much focus on grades, they are just there to help get an idea of how hard each climb is. Make sure to give the setters good feedback on the routes, whether the colors are hard to see or a move seems sketchy at a certain height.
But more importantly make sure to thank your setters for the hard work they do making the routes! Remember, rock gyms are a business and the setters do want to know how to serve their customers best. If your gym doesn’t already have it set up, suggest a route feedback form that they can fill out and talk about the set and what they thought about routes.
Like I always say if you want to climb harder you gotta climb smarter. If you have ANY questions; go down to the bottom of the page and comment below, go to my Instagram and shoot me a DM, or send me an email. I'd love to answer your questions and or just say hi.
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