When I first saw a MoonBoard in a climbing gym I was slightly intimidated and excited to give it a go at the same time. While I wish I could sit here and tell you that I absolutely knocked it out of the park, that would be a lie. The MoonBoard kicked my butt to say the least. This begs the question … just how hard is MoonBoarding?
As a general rule, MoonBoard problems are approximately 1 to 3 grades more difficult than standard gym bouldering problems. MoonBoard problems are sandbagged due to their notoriously difficult setting which requires precise big and powerful movements to send.
The MoonBoard is an incredible training tool that I think every climber can benefit from using. Just don’t let it hurt your ego if you can’t send what would normally be an “easy” grade for you. Below I discuss what exactly makes the MoonBoard so hard and why the grades are sandbagged so much compared to standard gym grades.
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MoonBoard Benchmarks vs Gym Bouldering Grades
The majority of MoonBoard problems are graded between 6a+ and 7c (on the Font Scale). The hardest MoonBoard benchmarks currently reach up to 8b+ while the easiest are around 5+.
There are certain problems on the MoonBoard referred to as “benchmarks”. These MoonBoard benchmarks are problems that have been climbed by a large number of climbers and have been graded by each one. These independent grades have determined the problem to be “true to grade” and therefore it can be used as a “benchmark” for other climbers to measure their ability.
It should be noted that MoonBoards are either set using a 25 or 40 degree angle. The lowest 40 degree benchmark is 6a+, unlike the 25 degree which has a few benchmarks graded 5+. This is due to the MoonBoard’s inherent difficulty.
I recommend not reading too much into these grades however as it is widely accepted that MoonBoard benchmarks are sandbagged. This means that the problems are actually harder than what their grade implies.
The table below summarizes how the MoonBoard benchmarks approximately compare to standard gym bouldering problem grades.
|MoonBoard Benchmark||Typical Gym Problem Font Grade||Typical Gym Problem V Grade|
|5+ (V2)||6a to 6b||V3 to V4|
|6a (V3)||6b to 6c||V4 to V5|
|6b (V4)||6c to 7a||V5 to V7|
|6c (V5)||7a to 7b||V6 to V8|
|7a (V6 to V7)||7b to 7c||V8 to V9|
|7b (V8)||7b+ to 7c||V9|
|7c (V9 to V10)||7c+ to 8a||V9 to V10|
|8a (V11 to V12)||8a to 8a+||V11 to V12|
|8b (V13 to V14)||8b to 8b+||V13 to V14|
Keep in mind when looking at the table above that all grades are subjective and each route will present its own unique challenges to different climbers. The same route that is graded a V3 may feel like a V2 for tall climbers and a V4 for shorter climbers. Climbing grades are not an exact science.
As grades get increasingly more difficult, the amount of sandbagging on the benchmarks seems to decrease according to the majority of advanced climbers who have given them a go. I discuss why the easier benchmarks are typically more sandbagged than the more difficult benchmarks in the next section.
Reasons Why MoonBoard Problems Are Sandbagged
MoonBoard problems are sandbagged due to the generally advanced climbing ability of MoonBoard climbers, the general desire for climbers to be stronger than they are, and the inherent difficulty of the set problems.
Not every climber has access to a MoonBoard and for those gyms that do have one, it is typically used by the more advanced climbers. This is because a base level of strength and climbing ability is needed to use it. Not to mention, it is a really fun way to train and track your progress; especially after years of traditional gym climbing.
Because the majority of climbers grading these “easier” benchmarks are able to consistently climb much harder, they end up downgrading them. I think this is because they are so used to climbing harder problems, that they start to lose a sense of what differentiates the lower grades. For example, it may be difficult for a strong climber who warms-up on V6 problems to accurately judge the difficulty difference between V2 and V3 because they are unaccustomed to them.
Another factor I believe contributes to the sandbagging is the general desire for climbers to feel/be strong. While most may do it subconsciously, one way to feel strong is to say something is easier for you than it really was. While this really has no direct effect on anything besides sandbagging the route, it inflates a person’s sense of ability and ego. Such is human nature… wanting to feel special or be recognized for their skill.
The last factor I believe that contributes to the sandbagging is the inherent difficulty of the MoonBoard. While a problem may be “easy” by MoonBoard standards, it would be considered very hard for climbers who are used to only climbing more technique and balance focused vertical problems. This leads to climbers downgrading a problem on the MoonBoard because they are comparing it to the other incredibly difficult problems of the board.
If you are curious as to what makes the MoonBoard so hard, I discuss this in the next section.
What Makes MoonBoard Problems So Difficult
MoonBoard problems are so difficult because of the board’s steep overhang and short problem length.
Obviously, the 40 degree MoonBoard is generally more difficult than the 25 degree. The increased overhang angle really forces climbers to keep good body tension, have more precise footwork, and requires a greater amount of grip strength to stay on. That said, the 25 degree angle is still not a walk in the park (especially for climbers who are unaccustomed to overhanging problems).
In addition to this, the majority of MoonBoard problems are only 4 to 6 moves long. As a general rule, shorter problems/routes rely a lot more on strength and power than muscular endurance. For example, a problem graded V5 that only has 4 moves is going to require a lot more strength than a V5 with 10 moves. This causes the MoonBoard problems to be very physically demanding.
To make problems difficult in such a short amount of space, the higher graded MoonBoard problems rely on using smaller holds spaced very far apart. This just goes to enhance the physicality of the problem. To me, it seems that the MoonBoard places a huge emphasis on strength and dynamic movements over endurance and technique.