3 Reasons Why Soft Grades Matter

Kris climbing "Theater of the Absurd." (V10a+/b-) Hueco Tanks, Texas.

Kris climbing "Theater of the Absurd." (V10a+/b-) Hueco Tanks, Texas.

I'll come clean. I'm a defender of "soft" grades. In my opinion, they not only matter, but they are necessary for growth and balance. Does that mean I'm against "stiff" grades? Not at all. In fact, if we didn't have soft grades, wouldn't stiff grades just be "normal" grades?

Honestly, I'm bothered a little every time that I hear someone disparage or choose not to do a certain climb because it's considered soft. I should just let the ridiculousness of it float away in the breeze, but it's a tough one for me to let go, for whatever reason. I feel the same defensiveness when Sierra Blair-Coyle is brought up, but that's a different story for another blog post. 

Here is a fact for you: When you do a rock climb and log it on your 8a, no matter what grade you give it, or what grade the guidebook gives it, the difficulty of said rock climb does not change. It's exactly the same amount of challenging for you no matter what number you, or anyone else, attaches to it.  

So let's talk some of the reasons why soft grades should remain exactly what they are:


For the sake of progress, we need soft grades.  The next logical step from a stout 12a is still a soft 12b, no matter what your ego wants to do. I've seen dozens of climbers spend months adding half pound weights to each successive hangboard workout, and then want to jump to the next stout grade when they get outside. Why throw out the logical progression when your time is limited and it matters most? Is your ego controlling things?


You know what? Some of those butter soft 12b's are REALLY FUCKING GOOD. And some of those super stout 12b's REALLY FUCKING SUCK. Frankly, I'll take a 5-star inflated V7 over a 2-star sandbagged V9 every single day.  Don't get me wrong - I'll climb both - but I'll recommend the V7 over and over again, and the V9 will just be another tick. Grades have absolutely nothing to do with quality ratings, and for me, quality is a far better reason to climb something. 


Let's be honest here: grades are already confusing enough. Let's imagine if we tried to consolidate so that all grades are solid. We'd have to create a new grade range for those climbs at the low end of each spectrum. 12b-? V9a+? It's only going to get more complicated with further delineation. I suppose if you really want to, you should just go ahead and do it. You're free to grade things however you want, with whatever system you so desire. Just don't be surprised when nobody wants to discuss why that V6 you just did should only get V5d.

So maybe all of you who are staunch supporters of the stout should just acquiesce to the existence of soft grades. I mean, without them you'd have nothing with which to prop up your ego.

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