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 Everything You Need to Know About Rock Climbing Grades and Ratings

The thrill of rock climbing has continued to grow in popularity. In 2015, climbing was the 17th ranked activity in America, with 4.6 million people participating in sports climbing, bouldering, or indoor climbing. Traditional and mountain climbing was 95th with 2.5 million people.

In other words, climbing is trending upwards.

When you’re starting out, youneed to know your stuff, especially rock climbing grades. You must understand the difficulty of the adventure you’re about to take on.

For planning and safety purposes, even a prankster like Moritz wants to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into and made this cheat sheet for you to learn the system quickly.

The Main Climbing Scale: The Yosemite Decimal System

Climbing should be an enjoyable experience, but that doesn’t mean you go at it willy-nilly. Here’s the entire Yosemite Decimal System, an all-encompassing rating system.


A climb’s class tells you how the terrain is:

Class 1 = Flat ground, walkable
Class 2 = This is hiking territory; steep in places, minimal use of hands to scrabble over terrain
Class 3 = Moderately rough terrain, often use of hands; if you lose control, you’ll slide a little bit, rope not necessary
Class 4 = Severely rough terrain, use of rope is highly recommended; a mistake could result in catastrophic death
Class 5 = Technical climbing; hands and feet take you up a vertical (or inverted) rock; belay system required

Class 5 is climbing and can range from 5.1 to 5.12. Anything 5.13 and above is for professionals, but most beginner climbers in decent shape can perform a 5.8 or 5.9 without too much difficulty. Letters can also be attached to describe further how hard the climb is: a, b, c, and d rankings are combined with 5.10s and above.

When you see a climb’s class, it’s determined by the first person to ascend the climb and confirmed by consequent climbers. It’s based on the hardest move of the climb; a 5.12b could have one area that’s 5.12b, and the rest of it’s a 5.9.

Protection Ratings

These are letters added to the end of a class that determines the overall protection on the climb. It works as a movie rating:

G = good protection and you feel safe throughout; usually not added
PG = decent protection, but there are one or two dangerous areas
PG-13 = this is where if you fall, it’s far but generally safe
R = usually a “runout,” which means you go above your highest piece of protection; a fall will most likely cause severe injury
X = incredibly dangerous, all falls are fatal; do NOT attempt to climb

This is fairly straightforward. Stick to PG-13 and below.


The grade of a climb is actually the duration or how long it takes to climb. This is reserved for the longclimbs that have checkpoints, so you aren’t suspended when the sun goes down. Here are the grades:

Grade I = A few hours long (never actually graded)
Grade II = Less than half a day (also omitted)
Grade III = Half day
Grade IV = Full day
Grade V = Two days
Grade VI = Numerous days
Grade VII = Longer than a week

Take the grade into account, so you’re prepared with the appropriate gear.

Learn Your Rock Climbing Grades!

You must have solid knowledge of rock climbing grades to begin where you should and progress up the climbing scale.

Once you’re comfortable with the Yosemite Decimal System, you can get a climbing plan in place to challenge yourself every time you go on an adventure.

Rock Climbing Grades!