You only have to unexpectedly deck once to understand how crucial crash pads are to rock climbing safety. Crash pads are predominately used for bouldering but are also sometimes used at the beginning of outdoor sport climbing routes with high first clips. They’re also mainly used outdoors as indoor gyms are generally built with padded flooring. There’s a wide range of crash pads available on the market and personal preference has a lot to do with which crash pad is the best for you. The guide below outlines the differences between different crash pads and how to pick the best crash pad for your needs.
There are several different design types to choose from when it comes to rock climbing crash pads — each design will wear, travel, and catch your falls a little differently. On top of that, there’s a whole spectrum of foam stiffness and pad size that crash pads fall on. A lot of choosing a rock climbing crash pad has to do with your personal preference for these different design features — but you also have to keep in mind what type of terrain you’ll be climbing on, how good you are at placing crash pads, and how well you can predict the direction of your falls. Here are several things to consider when selecting a crash pad.
Table of Contents
- Things to Consider When Choosing Crash Pads
- Best Crash pads on the Market Review
Things to Consider When Choosing Crash Pads
Different designs of crash pad are categorized based on how they fold for storage and travel — taco, hinge, hybrid, and baffled.
Crash pads with a taco design are a single piece of foam and, in order to travel with the crash pad or store it, you fold it in half — like a taco — the best you can. The major upside to taco designed crash pads is that there is no separation in the foam. Other crash pad designs use two pieces of foam and — no matter how small the gap between the two pieces of foam is — there’s always a chance for rock and rough terrain to poke through the gap between the two pads and injure the climber during a fall. Crash pads with a taco design eliminate this risk. However, they are the most difficult to store and travel with. In storage mode, they won’t lay or stack flat. And in travel mode, they won’t lay flat against your back. This can make them a little cumbersome. Taco designed crash pads also tend to become misformed after years and years of use and forced folding.
Crash pads with a hinge design, as mentioned above, are two pieces of foam connected along a seam. The two separate pieces of foam and hinge mean that the crash pad folds neatly in half when it’s time to head to the crag, leave the crag, or be stored away until the next trip to the crag. Also as mentioned above, there’s one major flaw with the hinge design. If the hinge of the crash pad is accidentally placed over a sharp rock or uneven terrain, it could poke through the hinge of the crash pad and injure the climber falling on the pad. If you plan to predominately climb in areas with rough terrain, this might be something to keep in mind.
Crash pads with a hybrid design have made efforts to remedy this flaw in hinged crash pads. Hybrid crash pads are essentially hinge crash pads with an additional, thinner, continuous layer of foam on the top of the crash pad. This means if a rock or uneven terrain manage to make it through the bottom, separated portion of the crash pad, the upper, continuous level will protect the climber. Climbers tend to prefer crash pads with hybrid designs because you get the portability and storability of a hinge crash pad with safety capabilities closer to that of the continuous foam of a taco design crash pads.
The last crash pad design is the baffled design. Baffled design crash pads are seven foam-filled tubes encased in a thinner layer of foam. They essentially look like lumpy taco design crash pads. The lumpiness of the design means that baffled design crash pads work more cohesively with rough, uneven terrain — and there’s no risk of terrain poking through any hinges as the folding system is the same as the taco design crash pad. Baffled design crash pads do fold and store a little easier than taco design crash pads as the separate foam tubes.
Between all these designs, the only safety feature difference is what type of hinge you’re dealing with. Other than that, it’s all about personal preference. How do you want your crash pad to carry? How do you want it to store? Do you want it to lie flat at the crag? Are you okay with some lumpiness?
There are three main types of foam used to make crash pads — open cell, closed cell, or memory foam. Some crash pads use more layers of foam than others. Some use thicker layers of foam than others. All of these factors will determine how firm and durable your crash pad is. For obvious reasons, thicker and stiffer foam is going to last longer than thinner, softer foam. In general, stiffer crash pads are more forgiving on high falls and less stiff crash pads are better for those 1 to 2 foot tricky sit start routes — but a lot of this also has to do with personal preference. Even the softest crash pads are going to provide an adequate layer of protection between you and the terrain.
There are two categories of pad size for rock climbing crash pads: medium (generally 3x4 feet) and large (generally 4x5 or 4x6 feet). Different pad sizes are good for different types of climbers. Medium-sized crash pads are much easier to transport and they’re generally less expensive. However, the more terrain your crash pad can cover the safer you’ll be. There is always the option of stacking crash pads or lining them up side by side — but this also creates a whole maze of seams, hinges, and gaps that you’ll have to hope you don’t hit on your fall. For that reason, even though large crash pads are more expensive, they’re significantly safer.
Best Crash pads on the Market Review
1. Black Diamond Impact - Best for Beginners
If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive, durable, medium-sized crash pad to start out your outdoor bouldering journey, the Black Diamond Impact is a great choice for beginners. The polyurethane-coated, 600-denier ripstop polyester as well as the abrasion and water-resistant sides and bottoms will get you through years of adventures outside — without breaking the bank. Shoulder straps, a hip belt, and two side grab handles make this pad easy to carry to and from the crag. The closed-cell polyethylene foam top and high-compression polyurethane foam bottom make this pad just the right level of stiffness for beginner climbs.
This crash pad also comes with a 3-strap closure system with easy-hooking buckles for even more ease of transportation. As a medium-sized crash pad, the Black Diamond Impact weighs in at only 9 pounds and 8 ounces. Also as a medium-sized crash pad, it’s easier to store for those beginner climbers who may not have had to designate an entire corner of the garage to climbing gear yet. The main downside of this crash pad is the same as the major downside for all crash pads with a hinge fold design — if you’re climbing over terrain with some rough rocks, there’s a chance those rocks could poke up through the hinge and injure the climber during a fall.
2. Black Diamond Mondo - Best Large Crash Pad
If your main priority is ground coverage, look no further than the Black Diamond Mondo Crash Pad. This monstrosity lays out at 44 inches by 65 inches — the best large rock climbing crash pad on the market. It’s also 5 inches thick with a closed-cell PE foam layup on top and high compression PU foam on bottom. It can be a little unwieldy to transport — especially considering it weighs over 20 pounds. But it also comes with a three-strap closure system and improved buckles to make it as secure as possible. Padded shoulder straps mitigate some of the discomfort and a hip belt takes some of the weight off your shoulders.
The Black Diamond Mondo was designed with four corner grab handles and two shoulder webbings for easy movement around the crag and a PU-coated 1000d Nylon top, sides, and bottom so you can drag it around the crag to your heart’s content without worrying about durability. You’re paying for this coverage, however. The Black Diamond Mondo comes with about $350 price tag. Again, one of the biggest flaws of this crash pad is the hinge closure design that poses the potential for poke through. However, with a pad this large it would be difficult to manage with some of the other closure systems.
3. ORGANIC Climbing Simple Pad
The Organic Simple crash pad is exactly what it sounds like — a no-frills, no gimmicks, solid crash pad. Made with some of the most durable foam on the market, this crash pad will make it through countless trips to the crag, and its indestructible closure buckles will keep it securely stored during and between those trips. The Simple also includes handles on both sides for dragging between boulders.
The Organic Simple is somewhat expensive for a medium-sized crash pad — especially when it is, in fact, so simple. You also won’t be able to pack a lot of extra gear in this pad. However, it is relatively lightweight compared to some of the other medium-sized crash pads on the list.
4. Mad Rock Duo - Best for Multi Crash Pads
The Mad Rock Duo Crash Pad was designed to carry its own weight — and the weight of an additional crash pad. If you’re headed to a crag with some big, dynamic climbs that necessitate a couple of stacked and lined up crash pads, you’ll want the Mad Rock Duo along for the trip. Since designers knew you’d be carrying additional weight, they designed the Mad Rock Duo with a suspension system that will help carry both crash pads comfortably. The Mad Rock Duo was designed with an innovative strap system for carrying a second pad — its ability to transport other crash pads has a lot of rock climbers saying it’s the best one out there.
At 17 pounds and about $238.95, the Mad Rock Duo is moderately sized and priced. It also comes with a water bottle holder, a welcome mat, load lifters, and an excess strap pouch. Who doesn’t love extra pockets? It is still a hinge closure system — perpetual poke through problems. And climbers have said this crash pad’s stiff foam isn’t great for shorter falls.
5. Metolius Session II Crash Pad
The Metolius Session II is a solid medium-sized crash pad for a reasonable price. The 900 d poly outer fabric of this crash pad will keep it in tip-top shape for trip after trip to the crag — and its built-in carpet square for shoe cleaning will make sure it looks brand new too. On top of that, the aluminum speed-hook buckles are guaranteed for life according to the Metolius website. At only 9 pounds, the Metolius Session II is one of the more lightweight medium-sized crash pads — roughly the same weight at the Black Diamond Impact beginner crash pad.
The Metolius Session II comes in black and gray or green and black — color variation options that aren’t available for most rock climbing crash pad products. The redesigned closure flap of this crash pad is meant to make carrying the Metolius Session easier — however, some climbers have said that the redesigned flap comes open during transport.
6. Mad Rock R3 Crash Pad - Best Baffle Design
Finally, a crash pad you can use without worrying about those pesky poke through rocks. The Mad Rock R3 is the top baffle design crash pad on the market right now. This makes it extra versatile on rough terrain with some uneven landings. While it doesn’t fold as easily as a hinge design crash pad would, the closure flap system makes it reasonably easy to carry to and from the crag. The Mad Rock R3 is as durable as all of Mad Rock’s other crash pads — but Mad Rock also sells replacement recycled foam for this pad which extends its life span even further.
The Mad Rock R3 is less expensive than the Mad Rock Duo with less of the multi-pad bells and whistles — but it comes with plenty of space for packing additional gear. There are several factors, however, that make this crash pad less than ideal for higher falls. While you can finally stop worrying about rocks poking through a hinge closure, you do have to worry about rolled ankles if you land between baffles in an awkward way. The Mad Rock R3’s foam is also softer than a lot of other crash pads on this list so it’s not ideal for falls from higher distances.
7. Black Diamond Drop Zone - Best Taco
And, last but not least, the best taco design rock climbing crash bad on the market — the Black Diamond Drop Zone. This 12-pound crash pad comes with about $229.95 price tag (making it the most expensive of the medium-sized crash pads), waterproof rubberized backing, easy-to-use buckles, and a gloriously continuous piece of foam through which no rocks could ever poke ever (as they would if this were another hinge design crash pad).
Likely the most significant downside to the Black Diamond Drop Zone is the foam thickness. At 3.5 inches, this crash pad has the thinnest foam out of all the crash pads on this list. Sure, it’s composed of 1 inch of closed-cell PE foam on top and 2.5 inches of high-compression PU foam on the bottom — but it’s still just not quite as thick as other crash pads. If you’re planning on taking a lot of hard falls, this might not be the best option for you.
Every crash pad on this list — with its pros and cons — will serve any boulderer or lead climber well out at the crag. With options for folding style, foam thickness, and extra features, any preference you may have for your climbing gear, a crash pad exists to meet them. No matter how many bouldering trips you’re planning and to what crags, there’s the best crash pad on this list that will fit your needs.
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