In this answer about mountaineering on a glacier, @StrongBad mentioned 4th and 5th class belays. I have never heard of belays being classified into such classes. In what context are these classes used and how are the different classes defined?

  • I thought in between all these long and controversial questions we could have a really short and simple one :) Beside I really have no clue what this classification is about and am genuinely curious, maybe the answer is not as simple as the question (all the better).
    – imsodin
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 15:34
  • 4th class belay you're standing on your feet. 5th class you're sitting in your harness.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 6:35

2 Answers 2


The belay class in the linked answer is in reference to the typical methods one would use in grade 4 (or 5) Yosemite Decimal System.

Typically, in a rock climbing context you typically see grades like 5.6, 5.10a. The 5 indicates that the route is what we commonly call "rock climbing", but grades 1-4 also exist. These are for hiking (class 1), scrambling (2 and 3) and easy climbing, but way easier than the UIAA grade IV.

If you decide that you need to do a class 4 climb protected by a rope, you commonly would rope up as a party and simul-climb while the first person places intermediate protection (such as nuts, friends, or, in the context of the linked question, ice screws). In contrast, the typical method to do class 5 climbs is to have a belayer that belays a leader (i.e. typical rock climbing).

Of course, this explanation only takes typical cases into account. You might need to belay children or handicapped people on class 4 terrain, or you might decide to simul-climb a YDS 5.5 (UIAA IV) climb under certain circumstances (if you know what you are doing!).

Note: As the comments point out, the terms might not be commonly used. For a 4th class running belay, the commonly used term is running belay, not 4th class belay.

  • Is there a reputable reference (UIAA would be good) to the use of the term "Class" wrt Belay.
    – user5330
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 19:13
  • @mattnz nope, apparently I just make terminology up. I have no recollection of how I came to use those terms. As an American used to YDS, I am not sure it was that big of a jump.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 19:24
  • 1
    @StrongBad Then I interpreted your terminology correctly :-) My thoughr was like "4th class running belay? 4th class is probably the grade in YDS, and using a running belay sounds completely reasonable for that.". And the answer is basically that thought with a better explanation ;-) (Note that I'm European, but read climbing.com a lot, so I basically had to get used to the YDS...)
    – anderas
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 20:45
  • Maybe the fact that this is "made up" (i.e. potentially not widely used, or is it?) should be mentioned in the answer?
    – imsodin
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 0:01
  • 1
    Never thought I'd get to see any decimal system getting taught by Americans to Europeans.
    – Monster
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 6:03

A better description for 4th class belay would be simul-climbing or running belays. That is when you are roped together with intermediate protection. I described such a scenario here. Its typically done on easier climbs when the risk of falling is much lower.

5th class is actual rock climbing with belaying from anchors or the ground. One would belay from the anchor while the other lead climbs up and set a anchor to belay the belayer up to. This can also be called pitching it out.

  • Oh no, this means the answer is trivial: The class does not directly refer to the belays but the difficulty of the climb and thus infers a style of belay indirectly? This would fit with UIAA difficulty (4th is often done on running, 5th less so and it might also work for the Yosemite system, not sure about that). Don't get this wrong, your answer is fine, I just hoped to learn something new, not just get an "aha-moment".
    – imsodin
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 15:39
  • 1
    @imsodin Yes, its in reference to the climb Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 15:48
  • Yup, running belay (or simul-climbing) would have been clearer. Might be worth mentioning fixed lines as another alternative.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 19:16
  • I just went to edit my answer and I had already said a 4th class running belay so I don't feel as bad :).
    – StrongBad
    Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 19:38

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