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Climbing Grade Comparison​ – Bouldering vs Sport Climbing Equivalent

In this article, we will be making a climbing grade comparison between bouldering and sport climbing. Sport climbing includes top rope and lead climbing for indoor and outdoor since they both use the North America YDS (Yosemite Decimal System).

If you are not quite sure and curious to know more about bouldering, sport climbing, or any of the terminologies above, please visit my following articles for more detailed information:

What is Rock Climbing? the seal routeRock Climbing Rating System Zephyr boulderingUnderstand Bouldering Grades

Why Compare?

When I first started climbing, I learned to climb top rope. I tried a little bouldering but it seemed a lot scarier and harder. I often complained to my son and husband that bouldering was totally different from top-roping. Therefore, it was so much harder for me to grasp. My son would agree and added innocently, “Yeah, bouldering and top-roping are totally different. The only thing that they are similar is the climbing part.” That was an embarrassing statement.

The biggest factor that blocked me from bouldering was my fear of falling. There is nothing to catch my fall other than landing on the big mattes below. Lots of images of me spraining an ankle or falling on my head popped up in my mind. I would not make a bold move in bouldering as I would in top-roping.

As I climbed more often, my confidence increased. I was willing to give bouldering another attempt. Bouldering got a little easier over time. However, I am stuck at a certain grade in bouldering as I am stuck at a certain grade in top-roping. Even though, both disciplines have different climbing grades, as a climber you may be curious to see how they both compare in difficulty. I am always curious hence this article to share with you my findings.

How Are They Compared?

Climbing grades can be pretty subjective. Each person has their own opinion about a route depending on a lot of factors. Some factors are the weather, is it indoor or outdoor, and the attributes of a climber such as the height or the length of the reach.

For bouldering, the routes are much shorter because the maximum height is 20 feet or 6 meters tall while sport climbing can be up to 60 feet or 18 meters tall. So it does get harder much quicker for bouldering than it would be for sport climbing. Bouldering requires upper body strength and feet techniques while sport climbing requires overall body strength, tactics, and endurance for the long route.

I found an excellent article from bergfreunde.eu that compares bouldering and sport climbing disciplines. The article used the comparison of the two disciplines to a sprinter and a marathon runner. They both are different due to the different requirements of the disciplines.

The best way to compare them is to estimate the boulder grades by the crux difficulty of a sport route and the sport grades can be estimated with the longer boulder problems. I hope that makes sense. If you are familiar with climbing, it should make some sense.

prAna New Early Fall 480x60

Grades Comparison

Below is a chart from bergfreunde.eu website. I extracted all the other international grades and left only the USA and the V grade to compare them side by side for easy visibility.

The grades I am stuck at in bouldering is V4. I can do most V3 and sometimes some V4. For the sport routes, I can do most 5.11s and most of the time struggled with 5.12. Looking at this chart, the two disciplines do match the equivalent of each other for my experiences at 5.11 / 5.12 and V3 / V4.

My upper body strength and feet technique definitely has room for improvement. In order to break my barrier, I may want to train more on the upper body. =(

Now that I have a little more climbing experience, V0 and V1 comparison with 5.10 seems off.  In my opinion, V0 and V1 are much easier than 5.10.

YDS vs V bouldering grades

My Final Thoughts

Reading about grading and rating can be dry and boring but I find it fascinating how people come up with the grade in the first place. Grading on rock climbing is mostly subjective varies on many factors and conditions. If more than one person agrees on the same grade, then it must be the right grade. Just like politics. Win by the majority vote.

prAna New Early Fall 300x250

In conclusion, it is not necessary to know the grade or rating when you climb indoors. An indoor facility provides a safe environment. Do it for fun. If you can climb a route, great. If not try another one or practice until you make it. Sometimes, when you know ahead of time, the grade of difficulty can hinder your mental performance. In your mind, you may think it is too hard so you may not do your best.

However, being aware of the grade is important for outdoor climbing. There are too many unknown factors with risks involved when climbing outdoor. For safety reasons, you may seek to climb something you know that you can conquer to build confidence then work your way up to more challenging routes.

Love to hear your thoughts about the difference between sport climbing and bouldering. Please leave your comments below.

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