Route Grading Systems and How They Compare (US, France, & Australian)
If you have ever traveled out of your general area to explore a new climbing gym or outdoor-climbing hot spot you may have run into a new issue. You have never seen this grading system and don't know how it compares to your own.
This post will be broken down into three of the most common subcategories, explaining them thoroughly, and comparing them to one another.
In the United States, the most common form of grading you will see at your local gym is what you call the 5 point scale or YBS. Top-rope notation always starts with a 5. (where its nickname derived from) followed by a number generally 1-15 and sometimes followed by a + or - Symbol. The beginning 5. represents the type of wall, 5. meaning that it is a top rope wall. The second number of 1-15 is the general difficulty of the wall based on test climbers and route setter's choice. On average, the majority of climbers climb between a 5.7-5.11 route. Finally, the + or - symbol represents a more specific grading so a 5.10- is generally easier than a 5.10 and a 5.8+ is generally harder than a 5.8. Overall it lends itself to being a very straight forward system once it is understood.
In the US bouldering has a separate grading system from the top rope, the V scale. The V scale notation will always start out with a V "obviously" followed by a number B-10. But what is B? B is the lowest level standing for, Beginner, and ramps up all the way to V10. sometimes these grades are also followed by a + or - working in a similar way to the 5. scale.
Overall most people would agree that the French system is by far the most precise and for good reason. It is collectively used around the world in many places. Commonly used in Germany and in much of the European area. The French system is the internationally recognized system for grading sport climbs.
The French system always starts out with a number 1-9 either followed by a letter (a,b, or c), a sign (+ or -), or both numbers 1-5 may only have a sign working similarly to the US system whereas 6-9 will always be followed by a letter and a sign. Like I said 1-5 works similarly to the US system, ex. 4- is easier than a 4 and a 4 is easier than a 4+. 6-9 has 3 grades of specificity. First, the number is a general difficulty increasing as you go up. a, b, & c are a secondary level a being the easiest and c being the hardest. sometimes followed by a sign + or - being the most specific. Some combinations you might see for example: 6a+ or just 6a, 6a+ being slightly more challenging.
The Australian system is without a doubt the most simple system of them all, but that also causes issues when it comes to specificity. while it may be the most simple it is not the most accurate.
The Australian system basically just has a number as its grade ranging anywhere from 6-35 with each number increasing in difficulty as you continue, 17 is easier than 30 and 28 is harder than 21, etc.
Now, this is quite possibly the most important information you may receive throughout your read, how do these systems compare?
Use this chart below to decode and compare each route grade