Crash Pad Review: The Best Bouldering Pad

We selected over a dozen of the best bouldering crash pads, lined them up, and took practice falls on them repeatedly. Then we took them on as many bouldering excursions as we could. We found big differences in each of them when evaluated by foam, design, durability, and features. We put them all through a variety of tests including high falls, low falls, packing big stuff, packing small stuff, and overall durability. We then chose both our Editors' Choice award winner and Best Buy winners.

Read the full review below >

Review by: , Chris McNamara

Top Ranked Bouldering Crash Pads

Displaying 1 - 5 of 10 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Mad Rock R3
Mad Rock R3
Read the Review
Video video review
Black Diamond Mondo Pad
Black Diamond Mondo Pad
Read the Review
Metolius Boss Hogg
Metolius Boss Hogg
Read the Review
Video video review
Metolius Magnum
Metolius Magnum
Read the Review
Video video review
Metolius Session
Metolius Session
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award       
Street Price $189
Compare at 2 sellers
$400
Compare at 5 sellers
$215
Compare at 2 sellers
$325
Compare at 3 sellers
$149
Compare at 1 sellers
Overall Score 
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Editors' Rating
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Pros Versatility. Soft but dense foam with multiple hinges conforms to uneven landing surfaces and cushions short to medium length falls very well. It also hauls a lot of gear well and has handy features.Nice suspension, tons of foam, long landing area, many handles, great bucklesOne of the best hinges with a more safe angled design and a separete top foam layer, flap holds in a moderate amount of gear, burly reinforced cornersEasy to transport, easily to open and close, handy carpet square, durable, velcro hinge reinforcement, doubles as bedSecurely holds an average amount of gear with handy flap closure, thick 4" foam, carpet square for cleaning shoes, affordable
Cons Specialized. The soft, squishy, shredded foam and slightly lumpy "baffles" are not the best for some long, high falls - they could possibly roll a weak ankle on a lighter person.Soft middle seam, be careful of rolling your ankle.Sometimes flap opens at the bottom if packed a lot, hinges can sometimes be less secure than a taco designDoes not carry very much gear inside (barely even the essentials)The closure flap can come open at the bottom when hauling a lot of gear similar to the main problem with the Boss Hogg
Best Uses Conforms to uneven landing zones. Great for short to medium length problems and steep falls with back jarring landings. A versatile general use pad that hauls gear in backpack mode very well.Highball bouldering problems and all-around bouldering.All-around bouldering, highball bouldering, long approaches with an average amount of gear, circuitsShort hikes to tall problems or as an easier to store extra padAll bouldering, highballs or lowballs, long approaches with a moderate amount of gear, circuits, sessions!
Date Reviewed Mar 26, 2015Mar 28, 2015Mar 26, 2015Mar 27, 2015Mar 27, 2015
Weighted Scores Mad Rock R3 Black Diamond Mondo Pad Metolius Boss Hogg Metolius Magnum Metolius Session
High Falls - 30%
10
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8
10
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9
10
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7
10
0
9
10
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7
Low Falls - 20%
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
Packing Big Stuff - 10%
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
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4
10
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2
10
0
8
Packing Small Stuff - 10%
10
0
10
10
0
6
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
6
Comfort Hanging Out - 10%
10
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5
10
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6
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
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7
Foam Durability - 20%
10
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7
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5
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7
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7
Product Specs Mad Rock R3 Black Diamond Mondo Pad Metolius Boss Hogg Metolius Magnum Metolius Session
Size (inches) 55 x 35 44 x 65 36 x 48 48 x 72 36 x 48
Weight (lbs) 18 20.5 12 19 9
Foam Thickness listed top to bottom (inches) 4 5 (1 C x 3 O x 1 C) 4.6 (1 C, 3.5 O) 4 4
Hinge/Taco hinge(s) / baffles Hinge Hybrid Angled Hinge Angled Hinge(s) ? Angled Hinge
Suspension Sewn in Sewn in Velcro Velcro Velcro
Closing Flap Yes No Yes Yes No
Warranty Lifetime limited 1 Year 1 Year 1 Year 1 Year


OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Review Update In-Progress: March 2015
We are testing new pads to update this review. The last complete review was March, 2012. Here are the additional pads and why we chose to include them in the update:
  • Black Diamond Drop Zone - it has new foam since we last tested it. The biggest problem with the old drop zone was foam that was too thin and deteriorated too quickly. We will find out if they solved this issue.
  • Black Diamond Impact - BD's new entry-level pad. It is $50 more expensive than most other entry-level pads. Is it worth it? We will find out.
Petzl just entered the pad market in 2014 with 3 pads:
  • The Petzl Alto - their mid-size pad. Features a unique zipper closure design and what looks like a very ergonomic suspension system. Will it hold up to the abuse at the boulders? How is the foam? Does it carry better than other other pads to justify the premium price? We will find out.
  • The Nimbo - an auxiliary/small crash pad for protecting the "seam" between crash pads, sit starts, and just keeping your shoes clean before a problem


While overall some pads edged ahead of others, all the pads excelled in some areas. For this reason, it is especially importantly to evaluate the pads on both individual scores as well as overall scores. In selecting a pad, you really need decide what features are most important to you. Is it foam? Pad design? Carrying ability? Cool materials? Value? Read more below to see how the pads compared when being tested head to head.

We defined a "medium bouldering crash pad" as being about 36" x 48". We also put pads that were up to about 41" x 49" into the medium pad category. A medium pad is the most common size because it fits in most cars, is relatively easy to carry, and is a good size for most low to medium height problems.

Large pads are generally 48" x 60" all the way up to 50" to 72."

A new style of smaller size, auxiliary/back-up type pads is emerging that are great for sit-starts or the sides of the landing zones as well as for the spotter to deflect a fall. These new mini pads are lightweight, portable and very effective. If they continue to grow in popularity we will test + review them as well.

Click to enlarge
Anna Joseph on Fly Boy Arete, Bishop, CA.
Credit: Max Neale

High Fall Test


Our favorite foam to fall on was the Organic, which was not too stiff but also prevented us from bottoming out. While most companies use standard open and closed cell foam, Organic uses a unique "memory style" foam that is both durable and impact absorbing. Other top contenders generally scored based on how thick the foam was. The Mad Rock Mad Pad had the thickest foam (five inches), which gave us confidence on the big drops. It was also really stiff, which made it the pad least likely to bottom out. The Metolius Boss Hogg and Voodoo Highball 4000 also did well on the tall problems but got noticeably softer over time. The Black Diamond Drop Zone started out great but after a few months it got really soft due to its thin foam (3.5 inches). It remained a great pad for shorter problems but we were scared to take big drops onto it. Any pad with foam thinner than 4 inches we would not recommend for high bouldering problems by itself.

Low Fall Test


Our favorite pads for repeated low fall were the Black Diamond Drop Zone and the Voodoo Highball 4000. Both had slightly larger surface areas and had softer edges. The softer edges were key to making the pads less likely to cause a rolled ankle. For the same reason the Drop Zone was not ideal for tall problems, but it was nice on short problems because it was so soft. The Voodoo, with its custom felt, was especially nice for when floundering around on sit starts. The Organic pads and Boss Hogg were also nice on repeated low falls. The Misty Mountain Magnum also stood out for being cozy yet big: it was the nicest of all the big pads to fall on onto our back from low problems. The Mad Pad was the only pad that was too stiff when brand new. We joked that you had to pad the Mad Pad. If you landed on your back from a low sit start, you really felt it. One option was to flip the pad upside down and land on the softer side. However, then you had a big gutter in the middle and had to deal with the suspension system. Ultimately, the best solution was to just let the Mad Pad break itself in by falling on it a lot from up high.

Uneven Terrain Test


We put the pads in uneven terrain to see how they handled when you fall right in the middle of them. Not surprisingly, the taco pad with medium-stiff foam did the best: The Highball 5000 and Misty Mountain Magnum. For a hinged pad, the Boss Hog also did well because of the angled hybrid hinge. The Mad Pad did well because it had so much foam; it was hard to get rocks to come up through the hinge and the Triple Mad Pad has velcro to you can seal up the hinge. All hinged pads acted like bear traps (see photos above) except for the Mondo and Triple Mad pad which come with straps to "deactivate the bear trap." If you fell in the middle of most hinged pads, the pad folded in half around you. This is more annoying than dangerous, but there is always the chance that your foot can hit the hinge and find a rock underneath.
Click to enlarge
Sean Brady helping test Mad Rocks R3 bouldering crash pad and a few others in a rocky creekbed at Mt Tam, CA. We're on the semi-classic low-ball "Bonum Vitae" (V7). Notice how the R3 works well conforming to the uneven landing area.
Credit: Chris Summit
This short video demonstrates how the Mad Rock R3 conforms to uneven landing zones better than an average hinged style pad - from all of our pad tests over the years, so far, the R3 is the best for padding uneven terrain:

Packing Big Stuff


The pads that hauled the bulkiest, heaviest loads were the Misty Mountain Magnum and the Highball 5000 because of their larger size and taco style. Both pads also were in unique in that they had burly sewn-in straps (no Velcro) and handles on top of the shoulder straps. These handles make it much easier to put the pad on when it's heavily loaded with gear. Most other pads did okay with the big stuff. The Metolius Boss Hogg, Mad Rock Triple and Metolius Colosus were the only pads that failed to handle a big pack. The velcro closure on the Boss Hogg actually burst open (see photo at the Metolious Boss Hogg Review). We didn't find a big difference in the comfort in carrying big loads. One difference was the Organic's shoulder straps have two levels of height adjustment. If you are less than 5' 6", you might appreciate the lower suspension setting.

Packing Small Stuff


The Drop Zone and Boss Hogg both have closing flaps that keeps the small stuff from falling out the bottom. The Organic Full Padd does not have a closure flap on the bottom but does have a big pouch to stash the small stuff. Most other pads have neither closure flaps or pockets, which means you need to put your stuff in a backpack or bouldering bag.

Click to enlarge
The more crash pads the better. Bishop, CA.
Credit: Max Neale

Buckles


The Black Diamond hook buckles are the best we tested. They are all more or less indestructible and about as easy to use as the plastic waist belt style buckles. The Metolius and Mad Rock were a bit hard to pull tight or loose. All are much better than the plastic style buckles in that the plastic could break or the Velcro closures would eventually wear out. All pads used similar plastic waist buckles for waist belts.

Straps


The straps were all about the same on all pads generic nylon webbing. All the pads had padded shoulder straps. The Mad Pad has extra long straps that make the pad into a lounge chair, which is a cool feature but also means you have extra long straps that dangle around (a little annoying). The only pad without a waist belt was the Mad Pad.

Top Materials


The Voodoo has by far the best top material. It's a cozy velvet that is comfy to hang out on and great for cleaning your feet. Even once the foam is beat down, this is still a great pad to hang out on. The Metolius Boss Hogg and Misty Magnum come with auto upholstery up top that makes it the second most comfy pad to hang out on. It is great stuff to wipe your feet on and hang out on. The only down side is it seems to be a magnet for little grass and twigs. Most other pads used similar burly topside materials. The mad pad was the only pad that used more slippery top material. This was not ideal when falling on problems on a slope because your feet were more likely to slip.

Custom Features


Most pads had a few custom features. However important many of these features are is debatable compared to the big deciders like foam quality.

Metolius Boss Hogg: Hypalon reinforced corners and hinge. Hypalon is a durable rubber-like fabric and will probably keep the corners from blowing out. That said, we find the foam goes limp long before the corners on a pad blow out completely. The more innovative feature was the hybrid angled hinge that does a good job of addressing the issue of a rock sneaking up through the hinge.

Black Diamond Drop Zone: very cool, rubbery Batman-suit-style bottom side that is technically called Anti Slide waterproof EVO (PVC Free). This keeps water from soaking into the pad and helps it "stick" to sloping rocks and hillsides.

Mad Rock Mad Pad: comes with a handy square of carpet for keeping the feet or butt clean and dry when the pad is stationed at the landing zone and not at the start. It also comes with Velcro attachments to connect multiple Mad Pads together. This is a great idea. If you are torn whether to get a giant pad or a medium pad, you can buy two of these, lash them together and have the best of both worlds.

Voodoo Highball 4000: custom velvet topsides. So comfy.

Organic Pads: awesome "memory style" foam. No other pad has it.

Click to enlarge
Summit - highfall from highball! Just another day testing pads for OutdoorGearLab :)
Credit: Valentine Cullen

The History of Bouldering Crash Pads


The bouldering crash pad is an incredibly simple invention. But to understand its place in climbing history you need to understand what came before its creation. During the early years of Rock climbing the focus and objective was to conquer a mountain or imposing rock cliff. The most natural ways to the summit of these formations was typically the first to be climbed. Rarely did the earliest climbers, those of the late 19th century and early 20th century look to the large boulders as being suitable objectives for rock climbing. However, in some regions, the various Mountaineering or climbing clubs, largely compiled of middle and upper-middle class gentry, began to utilize these large boulders as a training ground of sorts for learning some of the basic climbing skills required in the mountains.

Few areas hold the prestige and history of 'bouldering' as Fontainbleau, a forested area south of Paris, France with a huge density of large sandstone boulders. In the early 19th century the Club Alpin Francais would gather and climb on many of these boulders, gaining the name 'Bleausards.' Many of these Bleausards went on to make early ascents of impressive mountains from the Alps to Aconcagua and even into the Karakoram as early as the mid 1930's. It is also here that Pierre Allain invented the precursor to the modern climbing shoe, The P.A. and later the EB; a smooth rubber soled shoe intended for climbing on rocks, although a bouldering crash pad was never considered.

Meanwhile in England in the late 19th century in the Lake District a similar form of 'practice climbing' was being developed. In this region it was being spur headed by strong and gymnastic climber named Oscar Eckenstein. Here the bouldering was again being used as practice for the bigger mountains of world, however, legendary bouldering pioneer John Gill notes that Eckenstein was pushing the limits of climbing in the lake district in a way that suggests a "competitive environment, eclipsing the roll of bouldering as merely training for the mountains" thus possibly marking the beginning of a sport within a sport.

In America in the 1950s, John Gill took a gymnastic approach to bouldering, or 'short rock climbs' as he referred to them. Inspired by gymnastics, and a gymnast himself, Gill began to challenge difficulty with his climbs and introduced a more dynamic style of climbing. Gill is often credited with the invention, or at least popularization, of the 'Dyno.' However, again Gill never used a bouldering crash pad.

Throughout the 60's, 70's, 80's and even the early 90's all of this bouldering was done without any sort of protection or padding to break ones fall. Often climbers would throw down a "chuck mat" or small piece of carpet or rug to brush their feet on and clean the soles of their shoes before climbing and climbers would 'spot' or stand on the ground and break the fall of the climber should they take a tumble. Despite both exceptionally tall and extremely difficult boulder problems climbers were not yet using any sort of bouldering pad on the ground, from time to time some moves on the climbs were rehearsed with top ropes and then done without, as a proper boulder problem.

It wasn't until 1993 that the first commercially available bouldering crash pad came to the market, although rumors of full sized mattresses being hauled to the base of boulders are prevalent before 1993. The Sketch Pad by Kinnaloa was designed by legendary pioneer of hard bouldering, John Sherman, also the creator of the V-Grade system, and is credited to be the very first commercial pad. However, these pads didn't catch on until the late 90's when bouldering slowly emerged to become its own facet within the greater sport of rock climbing.

Today an assortment of high tech high density foams are used to make bouldering pads. Different foams are layered on each other in hopes of protecting the feet, ankles, knees and back of a falling climber. Indoor gyms utilize massive pads to cover the floor, and equally massive pads like the Black Diamond Mondo Pad, Metolius Magnum or the Mad Rock R3 provide an airstrip of landing space for your outdoor bouldering needs.

Click to enlarge
Shawn Rogers does his classic Dragonslayer V3 circa 1990's. Notice no pad - instead an old school piece of carpet! A bit bigger than the usual small carpet squares of the day shows that we were really serious.
Credit: Chris Summit

Editors' Choice Award


The Mad Rock R3 is our favorite medium pad. It contours to sharp rocks better than any pad we tested, carries all your stuff, and is relatively inexpensive. It is also made of recycled foam.

Favorite Custom Order Pads


We also chose the Organic Full Pad for best medium pad and Organic Big Pad as our best large pad because we liked the foam the best and liked how it held up over time. In the end, we felt that when considering all the features, it is the foam that matters not only the most, but much more than any other consideration. We also recommended Voodoo Highball 5000 because we liked the taco design, awesome topside material, and sewn-in shoulder straps.

The Drop Zone was originally a favorite because of the taco design and it was clearly the best pad for carrying stuff. It has that cool backing material and bomber suspension. But after a month the foam was too soft for high problems. So ultimately we couldn't recommend it. However, we are going to try and find some "Organic-like foam," replace the beat up BD foam, and see if we have constructed the ultimate pad.

Best Buy Award


The Metolius Bailout was the best value because it is one of the least expensive yet has a great design and attention to detail. It is not just an entry level pad, because it is so light and easy to carry, we use it has a second pad with our main big pad. It has just been replaced by the Metolius Session which we are currently testing. It just edged ahead of the Mad Rock Mad Pad With the Mad Pad, not only do you get a ton of foam for $140, you get some cool features like the little carpet square, lounge straps, and ability to mate it with other Mad Pads. This is a great option for anyone who is on a budget and does not mind the sharp edges (beware of the angle roll) and stiff foam (give it a few hundred falls to break in).

Chris Summit, Chris McNamara
Helpful Buying Tips
How to Choose the Best Bouldering Crash Pad - Click for details
 How to Choose the Best Bouldering Crash Pad

by Chris Summit, Chris McNamara
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