Rock Climbing Grades Explained

There are a variety of different systems used around the world to grade rock climbs. On this page we will describe the five most popular which include:

Finally at the end of this page you will find a table that compares the different climbing grades across the five systems and some links to other good articles on climbing grades available on the internet:

The UK Grading System

The UK system is made of two sub-grades, an adjective grade and a technical grade. The adjective grade describes the overall difficulty of the climb taking into consideration how strenuous the route is, the amount of exposure and the availability of protection. The adjective grades are as follows:

Moderate (M), Very Difficult (VD), Hard Very Difficult HVD), Mild Severe (MS), Severe (S), Hard Severe (HS), Mild Very Severe (MVS), Very Severe (VS), Hard Very Severe (HVS) and Extremely Severe. The Extremely Severe grade is also broken down into 10 further sub grades
from E1 to E10.

The numerical technical grading describes the hardest(crux) move on the climb. If it is a multi pitch route then more than one technical grade will be given, one for each pitch. The technical grades are as follows:

4a, 4b, 4c, 5a, 5b, 5c, 6a, 6b, 6c, 7a, 7b, 7c ..... and onwards

These are combined to give the overall grade for the climb, the table below outlines the usual range of technical grades that you would expect to find combined with the different adjective grades:

Adjective GradeTechnical GradeAdjective GradeTechnical Grade
MN/AE15a - 5c
D N/AE25b - 6a
VDN/AE35c - 6a
HVDN/AE46a - 6b
MSN/AE56a - 6c
S4a - 4bE66b - 6c
HS4a - 4cE76c - 7a
MVS4a -4cE86c - 7a
VS4a - 4cE97a - 7b
HVS4c - 5bE107a - 7b

That said, you will find climbs with grades that fall outside the ranges outlined above. If for instance the crux move on a climb is rated as 5a but the whole climb is not very strenuous and has good protection it could be rated VS 5a. Where as another route with the crux rated as 5a may be very strenuous, with limited protection and long run outs and may warrant a grade of E2 5a.

As such, if you are trying to push your adjective grade then it is generally recommended to look for a climb with a high technical grade as the protection is generally better - generally but not always!

Finally it should also be noted that the grades given to climbs using the UK system are subjective and can vary from area to area and between different rock types. For instance a VS climb in the Lakes can feel completely different to VS in the Peak District.

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The French System

The French system is an internationally recognised system for grading sport climbs and is therefore used on bolted routes within the UK. Unlike the UK system, this uses a single figure to describe the how hard the route is as a whole. This can cause problems where for example a route with a series of easy moves followed by some harder ones can be graded the same as a route full of moderate moves.

Please note that generally you will see French grades prefixed with the letter F e.g. F4

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The UIAA System

The Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA) System is mostly used in Germany and Austria and was a failed attempt to introduce standardisation in climbing grades. As with the French system, it uses a single number to describe how hard the route is as a whole, starting from 1 (easy) through to 10 (hard).
Over the years as the range and difficulty of routes has increased the use of a + or a - has become more common to differentiate between climbs. Routes of 11+ and 12- are now also being climbed.

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The American System

The American system is used across both North and South America. The grading system runs from 1 to 5 with only 5 considered to be rock climbs. Grades 1 to 4 are used to describe walks with increasing difficulty, with 5.0 being a difficult scramble.

As with both the UIAA & French systems, the USA system only uses a single figure to describe the whole climb.

When reading guidebooks you will generally see the 5 dropped from the grade. For example a 5.10a route would be 10a.

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The Australian System

This system is used by both Australia and New Zealand and to many people is probably the most logical of all. It uses a single number and as the routes get harder the number gets higher. Unlike the French and American systems which don’t take into consideration the availability of protection, the Australian system will increase the grade if the protection is poor.

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Grade Comparisons

The following table compares the 5 major rock grading systems used throughout the world and will hopefully prove useful when planning climbing trips abroad.

It should be noted that all grading systems are open to interpretation and that what may seem like a HVS route to one person could be another’s E2. Always use caution and when climbing in a new area it is recommended to start with a few of routes below your usual top grade. This will allow you to get a feel for the grading in the area without scaring yourself whitless!

UKUIAAFrench (SPORT)USAAustralian
Adjective GradeTechnical Grade
MN/AI to II15.1 - 5.24 - 5
DN/AII to III+1 to 2+5.2 - 5.35 - 7
VDN/AIII to III+2 to 3-5.2 - 5.46 - 8
HVDN/AIII+ to IV+2+ to 3-5.4 - 5.68 - 10
MSN/AIV to IV+3- to 3+5.5 - 5.610 - 11
S4a - 4bIV to V-3 to 45.5 - 5.710 - 12
HS4a - 4cIV+ to V3 to 4+5.6 - 5.712 - 13
MVS4a -4cIV+ to V3+ to 4+5.6 - 5.712 - 14
VS4a - 4cV- to V+4 to 55.7 - 5.813 - 15
HVS4c - 5bV+ to VI4+ to 6a5.8 - 5.915 - 18
E15a - 5cVI to VI+5+ to 6a+5.9 - 5.10a18 - 20
E25b - 6aVI+ to VII6a+ to 6b+5.10b - 5.10c19 - 21
E35c - 6aVII to VII+6b to 6c5.10d - 5.11b20 - 22
E46a - 6bVII+ to VIII6c to 7a5.11b - 5.11d22 - 23
E56a - 6cVIII to IX-7a to 7b5.11d - 5.12b23 - 25
E66b - 6cIX- to IX+7b to 7c+5.12b - 5.13a25 - 28
E76c - 7aIX+ to X7c+ to 8a+5.13a - 5.13c28 - 30
E86c - 7aX to X+8a+ to 8b+5.13c - 5.14a30 - 32
E97a - 7bX+ to XI8b+ to 8c+5.14a - 5.14c32 - 34
E107a - 7bXI to XI+8c+ to 9a+5.14c - 5.15a34- 36

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Further Information

If you’d like more information about the different rock grading systems then I would recommend taking a look at the following sites:

Article written by Giles Thurston on January 14, 2008


Posted by todd bolu on August 19, 2008

it made no sense

Posted by Giles Thurston on August 25, 2008

That’s a shame Todd, never had that comment before.  In what way did you feel it didn’t make sense?

Posted by robert Sperry-Lamb on September 26, 2008

How does V0-V8 compare to a UK tech grade? I’m just beginning to start climbing outdoors and climb at around 5a indoors but noticed alot of outdoor routes that im researching in the lake district use a grading of V0-V8 so I’m not sure how these compare.

they don’t seem to be covered on the table? or it may be my own ignorance!

Posted by Giles Thurston on September 27, 2008

Hi Robert,

The V grades you are talking about related to bouldering grades rather than trad or sports climbing routes.  You may find what you are after reading our Bouldering Grades Explained article here


Posted by Andy on October 26, 2008

This is just the info I was after.  I grew up with the UK grades but haven’t climbed for ages.  I went to an indoor wall in Auckland, NZ today and was able to more or less cruise the 16s, and just managed a 17.  I reckoned I was doing about HVS, and it appears I was.  I may well be hooked again - time to buy some gear.

Posted by :) on October 28, 2008


Posted by Carl Manning on January 04, 2009

I don’t see how the guide is of no use? Due to injuries and illness I have been away from rockfaces for some time. I had planned many years ago to take a group to climb in the Tetons. I have just been looking into climbing Grand Teton, it is graded 5.4 for the ‘normal’ ascent so using the table equates to HVD. I know from past experience that HVDs in Snowdonia,Lakes,Peak and Scotland are different animals! What the guide did do was give me a clear indication of where need to get back to before spending the money!

A great guide clearly explaining any potential pitfuls-thanks and a Happy New Year

Posted by Laurie on January 22, 2009

I live in Auckland, New Zealand and I think we use the Aussie system. But I’m not too sure if this table links up correctly? I am 15 and I have only been climbing for a couple of months and I usually climb grades 20-22. Thats the equivalent of extremely severe grade 3? I dont get it.

Posted by Natalie on June 08, 2010

Really useful route grade comparion grid - thank you!!

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