Grades and Commercial Boards

I am curious what folks think about grading on the commercial boards (Moon, Tension, Kilter etc.). I know that at the Machine Shop there is a grade range system (not super familiar). But when it comes to commercial boards my experience has been all over the place as far as accuracy/consensus.

For instance, Moon Board has the well known “Benchmark” lists that are (seemingly?) curated by a human and meant to be representative of the grades on the board. I find this pretty helpful. I recognize that grades ought to be take with a HUGE grain of salt no matter what we are doing but I think that some consistency can be very useful in planning training. Whether the grades are hard, soft, on a scale from 1-5 doesn’t really matter I don’t think.

I climb mostly on a Tension board (8x10 w/o kickboard) and am wondering if other people have had a hard time finding the right level of problem on the commercial boards? Basically I would love to make use of all of the problems that other folks are creating but its hard when there isn’t all that much consistency. Are the board companies the ones are are responsible for curating some sort of benchmark lists? Is there something we can do as a community to improve consistency?

Thanks for taking the time, looking forward to hear what you all think.

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I have found that treating each board as their own “universe” works for me. I find that the grades are consistent within their own “universe”, and I make no effort in figuring out a system that rules them all. That being said, for training purposes, I started developing pyramids for each board/climbing gym/climbing place in which I train/climb, and that helps me to plan my training/trip beforehand. This strategy requires you to get familiar with each “universe”, and I don’t believe that is such a bad thing.

I agree that it would be enjoyable to have a grading system that does not require any kind of transformation. For instance, my Moonboard pyramid starts two grades below my Climbing Gym pyramid, and one grade below Tension Board pyramid. The only reasonable way I found to normalize the grading was by separating it. I think it is more likely that the US adopts the International System of Units (SI), than climbers find a way to agree upon universal grading.

I hope you can find something useful of my rambling.


Totally agree with the “universe” approach that makes a lot of sense! Probably will start to keep track of my own “benchmarks” separate from the grades given in the Tension app that way I can return to them for perfect repeats etc

I also agree with the “universe” approach and for what its worth I also think they are consistent enough within their respective universes. There is still variability within each grade but that’s true for outdoor grades as well.

I do have two additional points

  • The lowest grade on the boards have the most variability in my experience. I think this could be people that don’t bother to grade their climbs and they just use the default. So that can be a really big problem if you new to the board and have to start from there.

  • I think the sandbagged nature of the boards is actually a cool feature for a training tool. I try to use my board grades as the minimum grade that I should expect to be able to do outdoors so long as the styles aren’t drastically different. For example, a MB benchmark grade that I consistently flash I would expect to flash at least that grade outside. My max project grade on the MB I would expect to be able to project at least that grade outside and so on. I find it less reliable to try to use that same system with commercial gym grades.

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Totally down for the separate universe theory. Grades just seem all over the place in every universe though.


Yeah this has definitely been my experience and struggle. Seems like without some sort of benchmark it’s tough to even grade your own problems

We don’t really try. We have a very loose 6 category system. The 6th being rarified air, so essentially 5 for most climbers. I honestly have no idea what the categories correlate to grade-wise, and neither does anyone else.
As a result, nobody avoids the challenging things because of a perceived sandbag. It’s just hard for you or it isn’t.

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According to my notes episode 91 “Do Climbing Gym Grades Matter?” lists

  • Easy
  • Tricky
  • Hard
  • Desperate
  • Savage
  • Hoss

And I like to describe problems by those words. I’ve also taken a liking to “Burly” and “Mean”

The Power Company Podcast: Ep. 91: Board Meetings | Do Climbing Gym Grades Matter? Ep. 91: Board Meetings | Do Climbing Gym Grades Matter? [00:11:55]

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A friend of mine suggested standardising grades by standardising the routes. Just remove the creativity from the sport, because if every climb is like a ladder, then the difficulty can be determined by the distance between the holds :stuck_out_tongue:

We call that speed climbing.

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We replaced Savage with Brutal, but yep.

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I like the universe theory.
I accept grades will vary from board type, gym, setters and even walls within a gym. I don’t hang my ego on whats on the ticket.

In my training journal, I’ll write down the grade but also my RPE… I’ll then compare notes over time to see if a particular problem is feeling easier.

I can use this as a benchmark to see if training protocols are working as things hopefully feel easier over time.

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It is as it is,and to be honest somehow i like to get shutdown by these lower grade „Sandbags“ and i tend to put in more work in these then at the topend grades before i move on just because i feel challenged. If it feels „hard for the grade“ usually i think i‘m either doing something wrong or found a weak spot wich both is pretty cool.

I agree it‘s not always a fair grade but who cares,it‘s a training tool in the first place .Maybe this could even be a valuable lesson to put your ego aside and just focus on giving it all.


Oooo! I like the update. I can imagine I know where/why it happened, but would you care to elaborate as to why the change? IIRC those were Todd’s grades you snagged, so it is not only interesting to see you update them (ever so slightly) but curious too.

Particularly being next door to the Wind River Reservation, I wasn’t comfortable using Savage anymore. Some people will say “it’s just a word”, but that’s also exactly the point. To me it’s just a word so I can just as easily change it and be fine with the change.


Love that response. Jives with what I presumed to be the reason for the change. Thanks for sharing. “it’s just a word so I can just as easily change it”

Yeah I think the benchmarking is a great idea for the commercial boards can really inspire climbers. The downfall is that the process of picking the benchmarks 1) is done by people who have their own styles, strengths and weaknesses, and 2) can sometimes be more based on what are the coolest/“best” climbs, rather than defining the grade. And those moderators climb so hard they have a harder time telling the difference between, say, a V4 and V5. I mean no disrespect - they do as well as anyone could probably, just super hard to tell and keep it all straight. Knowing that some BM V3s will feel as hard for me as some BM V6s, I get pretty psyched about just trying to knock out ALL of the lower grade BMs to feel well rounded on the board.

I think it’s more problematic when you add in the community grading of the MB - moderators don’t have the power to say “this is a V6 for all time”. If the community all keeps voting it down to V3, then it stays at V3. It looks to me like Tension isn’t doing community grading for their benchmarks, which I think is probably a good call.

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