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Are Rock Climbing Grades Subjective?

Updated: Apr 28

What does the subjectivity of climbing grades mean? Something that may feel like a specific grade to you may feel like another grade to somebody else! Many factors go into the decision to grade a climb, but they need to consider how your body measures up to a route or boulder problem. Follow along to help your understanding of the subjectivity of climbing grades.



Factors When Considers the Subjectivity of Climbing Grades



climbing grades

Climbing grades can be all over the place. That is why sites like Mountain Project are great! Mountain Project allows climbers worldwide who climb the same rocks to give insight into the climbing grade. What may feel like a V5 to somebody may feel like a V4 to another. On Mountain Project, you can voice your opinion about a climbing grade, and if enough people agree, the grade of the climb may be changed.

When considering the subjectivity of climbing grades, these factors contribute to how a climb feels to you:


  1. Your Height—Compare a five-foot climber to a six-foot climber. That's a lot of difference! The taller of the two will be able to reach further, sometimes even past the crux moves of a climb, making a climb feel easier to them.


Further, a shorter climber may feel more comfortable on sit-starts since they can fit themselves into a smaller box, whereas a taller climber might have an issue getting off the ground.


  1. Ape Index – Your ape index is the length of your arms from fingertips to fingertips in relation to your height. If you're a 5'6" climber and your wingspan is 5'8", then you have a positive ape index of 2". If your wingspan is 5'4", then you have a negative ape index of 2".


If you guessed having a positive ape index is more beneficial for climbing, then you guessed right. That will allow you to reach further without using as much strength.


  1. Style of Climb - Have you ever sent a climb at your limit on a slab only to be immediately shut down on the same grade as an overhung climb? This is because you climbed something that suits your style and is the best at it.


When you climb something that is your anti-style, it may feel more challenging because you're not as strong in that area.


  1. Location - Yes, the location of where you're climbing can also influence the grade. This is becoming less of an issue because of sites like Mountain Project, where you can express your thoughts on a grade, but it is still prevalent. You learn what different climbing grades feel like based on the community you climb with.


Take Ten Sleep Canyon in Wyoming. This area has a reputation for being soft and has allowed climbers to send their hardest routes outdoors, only to be shut down on the same style and grades in another climbing area.


Soft: When a climb is easier than the claimed grade.



What Grade is it Really?



Have you ever climbed a boulder problem, say a V4, and somebody comments, "Pfft, that's a V2 in my gym." That happens for one of two reasons.


  1. That person is rude.

  2. Climbing grades are subjective!


Or you're powerful on climbing crimpy routes and go after climbs that suit this style. That's great! There is no problem with climbing, only your strengths. Except when you try something that's not your style, say on slopers, and realize you can't climb the same grade, it's likely you can't climb it not because it's sandbagged but because you don't have the contact strength needed to climb slopers.


Sticking to climbs that suit your strengths is not a good indicator for judging grades that require your weaknesses. To be an actual climber of a particular grade, you should work on climbing all the different styles of that grade.


Sandbagged: When a climb is harder than the claimed grade.


Choosing something that suits your style is easier when going after your projects! As mentioned, if you're climbing something that is your anti-style and complain about it being sandbagged, you don't likely have the necessary skills to climb that style. Rather than complain, work on your weaknesses and improve your climbing skills!


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