This is possibly a little of a generalisation but, why are indoor grades easier than outdoor grades?

Having climbed at many many indoor walls (all over the uk) and done multiple outdoor climbs (bouldering and trad) pretty much universally I can climb much higher grades indoors than out.

For example at my local gym I I boulder at about V4-5. Outdoors I've completed one V1. In fontainebleu I was struggling at V0.

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    I generally agree with Brian Eagen. I will also add that it varies by gym. I climbed at a gym in NorCal that was notorious for having MUCH harder ratings than Yosemite. Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 21:32
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    Liam - are you talking exclusively about bouldering? (because where I live, roped climbing grades are very similar indoors and outdoors)
    – anatolyg
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 18:35
  • Yes and no @anatolyg . I think lead climbing suffers from the same issue but it's no where near as pronounced as in bouldering. Boulder grades can be 3 or 4 out. Rope grades are often one, which you could maybe then argue I suppose too.
    – user2766
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 9:11
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    I find climbing outdoors way easier. I'm tall, so when outdoors I can easily reach holds that most people can't. Indoors you're limited to the holds that the setter used, whom often has a different climbing style than I do. The holds indoors are often grimy, chalked up, and polished as well, not the case outdoors (except for maybe ultra developed, high-traffic climbing areas).
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 22:34

4 Answers 4


The biggest difference in indoor climbing is that your routes are mapped out for you. It can be challenging to figure out the proper sequence, but it's much easier if you know where all the holds are right away.

Another big factor is the abundance of large(ish) foothold. When setting in a gym (from 7 years of personal experience) even the tiniest jib can be very positive. Outdoors you struggle with purchase and deal with dirt/sand/etc... Which makes footwork even harder.

Some gyms make their grades soft on purpose, I've never really been able to understand why. They think it's beneficial to the beginner climber, but consistency is more important. Where I worked (in Seattle, WA) the grades would always stiffen back up when the setters got back outside in the summer, and soften a bit over the winter.

If nothing else, indoor routes are set with the intention of being climbed a certain way. When we set we know the moves will work. Outside it's just a blank canvas with a grade attached to it.

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    Nice answer. I also guess some gyms make it easier to attract the beginners. One could feel approved implicitly to climb really good in that specific gym.
    – Wills
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 11:44
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    My gut feeling is all the gyms I've been to (at least 4) have purposely made the grades easier. At least at the lower end of the scale.
    – user2766
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 12:21
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    I think I'd agree at the lower end. Our local indoor centre is still a bit mental above 7C... Ours also gets much harder in winter as the routes get condensation and sometimes ice...
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 16:06
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    Brian is entirely correct, but it's additionally worth noting that climbing indoors is usually going to seem easier simply because you do it more often. Indoor climbing is almost entirely face climbing on obvious holds. Outside things are not so obvious, you have various size cracks, arête's, dihedrals, roofs & more, so it usually requires a much larger array of skills. It likely won't occur to you that you can efficiently climb "au cheval" until you've done it for example.
    – Raz Peel
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 16:34
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    Nice answer. My take on gyms is that they're especially useful to train: do repetitions and have your body learn and strengthen. They are designed for that.
    – Roflo
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 15:42

Interesting question. Here's some speculation, but I don't know if I'm right.

  1. There has been a clear tendency for climbing grades to inflate over time. You can really see this, for example, if you look at the climbs at Tahquitz Rock that were originally used to define the Yosemite Decimal System. For example, The Trough was the original definition of 5.0, but Vogel and Gaines (2001) call it 5.4. Climbing gyms are a relatively new invention, and most climbing gyms are not that old. Therefore it seems natural that there would be a tendency for gym ratings to be soft, compared to outdoor ratings at long-established climbing areas, which may have been assigned at one time and then resisted inflation. The most inflated ratings I've ever seen are at the gym Sender One in Santa Ana, California, which opened a year ago.

  2. We're just talking about different types of climbing, which aren't comparable. Routes in the gym often have "jug" holds, which you almost never see outside. Outdoor trad climbs are often crack climbs, but the gyms I've been to don't even rate their cracks. Gym routes are super safe because they have many bolts, no ledges, no loose rock, and so on. The consequences of a fall in the gym are zero, whereas outdoors a fall often is a more serious thing. I'm conservative on multipitch climbs because they're committing; gyms don't have multipitch climbs. In general, I'm willing to attempt stuff in the gym that I would never try outdoors.

  3. Gyms want to stroke the egos of their customers.

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    Stroke the ego's! Ha ha. I think there is more than a degree of truth in this.
    – user2766
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 7:42

I suggest that this is because you climb in gyms more than you do outside. Back when gyms were rare, when I went to the gym, it felt way harder for the grade than outside routes. That was because I climbed outside way more than inside.

Any new area seems harder because different types of rock, holds, conditions, styles, setting, etc require substantially different technique and fitness.


I find similar graded climbs are so much easier outside than the ones in the gym. Maybe its because I'm a shorter climber, I think I have many more options to find foot and handholds outside. It seems to me, in the gyms I've frequented, that many of the climbs are geared more toward climbers of average to taller heights with little choice for alternative holds for shorter climbers. Outside I have many more options to reach the next hold

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