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What Do R and X Mean in Climbing and Bouldering

LAST UPDATED: 26th August 2023

Runout and X rated climbing can be some of the most exciting and the most dangerous aspects of the sport. If you ever see an ‘R’ or an ‘X’ next to a route in the guidebook, it’s probably best you approach with caution. Here’s why.

female rock climbing crack

Rock Climbing Ratings

Rock climbing is an exhilarating sport that challenges both the mind and body, offering a unique blend of physical exertion and mental determination. However, the thrill of ascending a vertical face comes with inherent risks and dangers.

To mitigate these risks and provide climbers with essential information about the difficulty and potential hazards of a climb, a system of climbing route ratings has been developed. These ratings serve as a guide, allowing climbers to assess the challenges they might face on a particular route and decide whether it aligns with their skill level and risk tolerance.

female climber crimping on rock

Rock climbing ratings are not just about the physical difficulty of the climb; they also encompass factors such as exposure, protection, and the potential consequences of a fall. Two notable categories within these ratings are the R rating and X rating, which specifically address the risk factor of a climb. The R rating signifies that there are potentially risky sections where protection may be sparse, while the X rating warns of serious danger where a fall could result in severe injury or even death.

R Rating vs X Rating

R Rating

The R rating, or “Runout” rating, is assigned to a climbing route where protection may be available but is spaced far apart. This means that if a climber falls, they may fall a greater distance before their protection stops them, leading to a higher risk of injury. You’ll find a lot of these routes around Joshua Tree.

While the climb itself might not be inherently dangerous, the lack of frequent protection points increases the stakes. An R rating warns climbers that they need to be confident in their ability to navigate the route without falling or be prepared to manage a longer fall.

climber in off width climb

X Rating

The X rating takes the concept of risk a step further. The x rating meaning signifies that a route has sections where a fall could result in severe injury or even death. This could be due to extremely sparse or unreliable protection, or because of the nature of the climb itself, where a fall might lead to a collision with sharp or hazardous terrain.

Rating X is a clear warning to climbers that the route is highly dangerous and should only be attempted by those with significant experience and a clear understanding of the risks involved. But, as a general rule of thumb, if a route has an x rating, do not climb it!

climber on big wall

R Rating vs X Rating: Key Differences

  • Level of Danger: While both ratings indicate a higher level of risk, the X rating represents a more severe warning, where the consequences of a mistake could be catastrophic.
  • Protection: R rating implies that protection is available but may be spaced far apart, leading to longer falls. In contrast, an X rating might mean that protection is almost non-existent or highly unreliable.
  • Skill Level Required: Both ratings require a higher level of skill and confidence, but an X-rated climb demands exceptional expertise and judgment, often reserved for highly experienced climbers.

R Bouldering Meaning

In the world of bouldering, an R rating, is less common but still significant. Unlike traditional climbing, where the R rating refers to the distance between protection points, R bouldering refers to problems or routes that present a higher risk of injury due to factors such as the height of the climb, the nature of the landing area, or the complexity of the moves required.

Climber in front of Evilution
  • Height of the Climb: R bouldering might be applied to problems that are higher than typical bouldering routes, where a fall could result in a more significant impact. You’ll probably more commonly find R bouldering in highballs.
  • Landing Area: The R rating may also reflect the quality of the landing zone. If the ground is uneven, rocky, or lacking sufficient padding, the risk of injury from a fall increases, warranting an R rating.
  • Complex Moves: Some bouldering problems may receive an R rating due to the complexity or awkwardness of the moves required, which might increase the likelihood of a fall in a potentially dangerous position.

Importance of Understanding R Bouldering & Rock Climbing Ratings

Understanding the R rating in bouldering and other climbing route ratings is essential for climbers of all skill levels. It serves as a warning that extra caution and preparation are needed. Climbers attempting an R-rated route, whether that’s a boulder, sport route or trad route, should consider additional safety measures, such as using extra crash pads, having attentive spotters, carrying more protection or even opting to avoid the problem if it doesn’t align with their skill level or risk tolerance. If a route is X rated, the best thing to do is to avoid it all together.

Think of it this way – the rating system for dangerous climbs follows a similar structure to how the Motion Picture Association rates films. Just as parents do their utmost to keep their young children from seeing an R or even PG-13 rated movie, new climbers should exercise similar judgment in which routes they climb.

Later on down the road, and I’m talking years down the road if you’re feeling brave, maybe then would be a good time to try your hand at runout. Until then, stick with the classics – they are almost always well protected.


Born and raised in Northern Vermont, Zak's parents were hardcore adventurers, and the appearance of a child in their lives did not slow them down much. Each summer, they would toss him and an assortment of gear in the truck and gun it for the American West. After his first year at college, Zak applied for a job in Yosemite National Park, and for the next decade, he worked seasonally in Yosemite and on the Sierra Eastside, doing whatever he could to be close to those mountains. Currently, Zak lives on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, piecing together a living as a climbing guide, bartender and writer.

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