Route Grading Systems



There are two grading systems in common usage in the UK. The French or Sport route grading system and the English or 'Trad' system.


French or Sport Grading

This System indicates the technical difficulty of the hardest move or moves on the climb.  The same grade will apply regardless of the number of times moves of that difficulty are encountered. The grade is normally prefaced with a capital F. This grading system applies to pre-bolted climbs and is commonly used in UK climbing walls.

F 4, F4+, F5, 5+,6A, 6A+, 6B, 6B+, 6C, 6C+, 7A, 7A+, 7B, 7B+, 7C, 7C+, 8A.....   

 English Grading System:
Developed for use on roped climbs where the leader is entirely responsible for putting in place his own protection system, commonly known as 'Trad' or traditional climbing. The system uses a technical and a descriptive grade, which, when combined,  convey a sense of both the skill and commitment required on that route. The Technical Grade is an indication of the climbing  level required for the most difficult move or moves on the route. The Descriptive Grade is intended to sum up the 'attitude' of a climb, i.e. how strenuous, committing or difficult to protect.

Descriptive Grade

Moderate (M), Very Difficult (VD) , Severe (S), Hard Severe (HS), Very Severe (VS), Hard Very Severe (HVS) and Extremely Severe. The Extremely Severe grade is subdivided into E1 to E10.

Technical Grade

3a 3b 3c 4a 4b 4c  up to  8a 8b 8c

Combined Grades

Descriptive grade

Technical grade











Hard Severe


Mild Very Severe

4a, 4b, 4c,

Very Severe VS

4a, 4b, 4c,

Hard Very Severe

4c, 5a, 5b

Extremely Severe

5a, 5b, 5c,


5a, 5b, 5c,


5b, 5c, 6a

E3  -  E8

6a  - 7a


 Look at the groups listed above and note the range of technical grades that relate to each descriptive grade. 

Example 1:          A VS 4c might have one or more  relatively well protected 4c problems, a HVS 4c might be a similar route but difficult to protect or have a stamina sapping series of 4c problems. Which applies will often be clarified by the route description in your guidebook.

Example 2:          A long slab climb that requires little more than a good sense of balance could be graded 4a,  but by its nature, there is nowhere to place any protection at all, could be graded VS or even HVS to take this lack of protection into consideration.


Bouldering Grade Systems:

Bouldering grades are very specialised and only begin to make sense by the experience of climbing regularly on properly graded wall. The normal bouldering grades are referred to as V0, V1, V2 etc

The Fontainebleau grades for bouldering have been developed to classify routes on the boulders found in the Fontainebleau forest just south of Paris

International Grading Systems.

There are a number of other grading systems in use which you will encounter should you climb abroad.


An  honest assessment of your own ability to lead climb at a specific grade level is fundamental to staying safe when climbing.   Only experience gained as a second on 'trad' lead climbs will give you a guide.

Do not be misled into thinking there is any meaningful relationship between sport grades indoors and UK 'trad' grades used outside.


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