Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Big landing area for medium pad, big flaps to store stuff, easy-to-use hooks, cool waterproof backing, strong shoulder straps.
Cons: Foam that wears out fast and is thin.
Best Uses: Lower boulder problems where you take repeated falls.
The Black Diamond Drop Zone is a crash pad loaded with features and attention to detail. It has a hinge-less "taco" design, solid waist belt, handy flaps, buckles, straps, and rubberized "Batman suit" waterproof backing. We like the big side and bottom flap to hold gear inside when in backpack mode. The straps, buckles, and handles are all well designed.
Of all the pads we reviewed, this is one of the best medium size pads for all-around use except for one thing: the foam. We wish it had thicker and better foam. If you ordered the type of closed cell foam that is in the Organic Simple Pad and put it in the Drop Zone frame then this would score much higher. We did this and it cost $30, which starts to make this pad pretty expensive but worth it if it fits your personal needs. The Mad Rock Mad Pad foam isn't necessarily any better, but at 4 inches thick vs 3 inches for the Drop Zone there is just so much more of it that you get more peace of mind and longevity. Its other main competition is the slightly more expensive Metolius Boss Hogg, which has better foam but not as good of a carrying system and closures.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Update - March 2015
The Drop Zone has had a change in color; other than the color, the pad appears to be the same as in this review. We have contacted Black Diamond and are awaiting confirmation.
This pad is three inches wider than most medium pads we tested, giving you a slightly bigger landing area. It excels for lower problems where you are taking repeated falls. The soft and thin 3.5-inch foam means you are less likely to roll an ankle if you land on the edge and the bigger surface area gives you a big target. It works for circuit training or exploring where there is no need for a large pad, just one big enough to sit on and do a few burns on some classics. This is the only pad with a rubber backing that both protects it from soaking up water and keeps it less likely to slide on a hillside.
We like the securely attached shoulder and waist straps that are sewn in, meaning there is no Velcro to wear out. Also, this is the only pad with a handle on top of the shoulder straps that helps you lift it onto your back. This is very useful if you really like to load your pad up. The big flap on the side has two easy-to-use hook buckles. They have a smooth, rounded shape that makes them easier to hook and unhook as compared to more square-cut hook buckles. Overall, the suspension, handles, and closure are among the best we tested.
There was one main dislike with this pad and it was a big one: thin foam that got soft after a few months. When that happened we no longer felt as comfortable taking big falls as we were with most other pads. This was one of the lowest performers in the test where we put a single softball-sized rock under the pad and fell. At that point we felt the pad was only good for lower problems. To address the foam problem, we bought some new phone and created a Black Diamond Drop Zone With Custom Foam Insert
While overall we do like the extra width of the pad, it does make it hard to fit in the back of Chris Mac's Subaru. It is harder to stack and store lots of pads when space is tight.
Finally, we did rip the shoulder strap off. We can't totally fault the pad for this as we did have it pretty loaded up. However, we have put similar abuse to pads like the Misty Mountain Magnum which have never shown any signs of wear. We won't say this pad is not durable. But there are more durable options out there. The way to tell generally if a pad has a durable suspension system is to look for big bar tacks (or not) connecting the tops of the shoulder straps to the pad.
This pad is best for lower problem on flat terrain and is not ideal for taller problems or terrain where sharp rocks may stick through.
At $239 it is toward the expensive side of medium pads. It comes with a ton of features, but since the foam wears out quickly it is spendy compared to an Organic Full Pad that has longer lasting foam and is less expensive.
Black Diamond Satellite is a smaller pad. The Black Diamond Mondo is their bigger pad. We made a Black Diamond Drop Zone with Custom Foam Insert.
— Chris Summit, Chris McNamara
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: March 26, 2015
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