Bouldering Grades: Gym Versus Outside

By Liz Haas ,

With the recent gym explosion, many new climbers can spend years inside before taking their skills onto real rock. This transition can be a difficult one, especially when it comes to bouldering. It's nearly impossible to find a V0 outside with perfectly sculpted jugs neatly spaced every six inches up the problem. This can lead to frustration; most gyms don’t grade their problems to replicate outdoor climbs. They couldn’t and still be beginner-friendly. And who likes to climb in a sandbagged, ego-crushing pit of plastic? You’d never buy a membership.

If you’re wondering how that green V5 at your local gym might compare to the V5 crimp-fest you’ve been researching on Mountain Project, consult the chart below.

Gym to Outdoor Bouldering Grade Conversion Chart

Illustation: Claire Eckstrom

Notes

  • Indoor V0s, the kind with more jugs that one can reasonably utilize, rarely exist outside. They are found only in the juggiest of unrated downclimbs or problems rated “VB” for V-beginner, a grade below V0.
  • Your favorite outdoor V0 warm-up will likely feel similar in difficulty to a straightforward gym V2. Other outdoor V0s might feel closer to a V4 technical slab problem inside, and a rare few will become embarrassing lifetime projects.
  • As one moves up the V-scale, the indoor grades become a better representation of difficulty encountered outside. For example, some outdoor V6s with excellent friction might feel equal in difficulty to a few of your indoor V6 projects. This is where the route’s style—crimps, slopers, pinches, compression, etc.—comes into play. If you're a crimping fiend, a line of V6 crimps outside may feel easier than the overhung pinch-fest V6 that’s shut you down in the boulder cave for the past month. And there will occasionally be the outdoor V8 that you send in half the time that you struggled on a gym V7 in your anti-style.
  • It is rare for gyms to set problems harder than V10 or 11, as most of their clientele can't climb the grade, though outdoor grades currently extend up to V17. If you aren’t currently flashing every problem in your local gym, your time is better spent training than worrying about the day you outclimb the facility.
  • Don’t let challenging outdoor problems take the fun out of climbing. It takes several sessions to adapt to the texture, holds, and movement of real rock, so go into your first few outdoor bouldering sessions with an open mind. Set a goal of having fun and enjoying nature instead of trying to send your hardest V-grade yet. Soon you might be climbing harder outside than in the gym, and it’s important to remember that there is much more to climbing than pulling plastic in a chalk-covered, pay-per-month facility.
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