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Black Diamond Drop Zone Review

   
Editors' Choice Award

Bouldering Crash Pads

  • Currently 4.8/5
Overall avg rating 4.8 of 5 based on 2 reviews. Most recent review: March 28, 2015
Street Price:   $240 | Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Big landing area for medium pad, big flap 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.
User Rating:     
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 (4.0 of 5) based on 1 reviews
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
Review by: Chris Summit ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ March 28, 2015  
Overview
Update - April 2015
The Drop Zone Pad has been upgraded as of 2014. See below for additional details.

"The major updates to the Drop Zone happened in Spring of 2014. Those updates include a new shell design and updated foam. The new foam lasts longer and doesn't degrade." - Black Diamond

The Black Diamond Drop Zone crash pad has a redesigned multi-density foam layer set up for longer lasting impact protection. The new foam lay-up is 1" of dense closed-cell PE foam on top and 2.5" of softer high-compression PU foam on the bottom. This new blend is a bit more stiff and has slightly better impact cushioning than the last version and is simply more durable so it will last longer. The rest of the pad is well put together with the exception of the way the pad has an awkward twist or bend to it when in pack-mode. This is only really an annoyance if you carry a heavy load on rough terrain otherwise it was not really a big deal to most of our testers. Also, like most taco-style pads, it does not lay flat when first opened after being folded in pad mode for awhile. The edges stay curled up and bent inward until it relaxes or gets stepped on a bit. This seems more pronounced with the slightly stiffer new foam but is also nothing more than an annoyance. On the flip-side, the benefit of a taco-style pad is that it has no hinge that can bottom out on jagged rocky landings making it worth the minor annoyances in most cases. If you never boulder at areas with jagged rocky landing zones then bottoming out and curled up edges could be enough of an annoyance to consider one of our hinged style pads like the Best Buy award winning Metolius Session. The hinged pads are more compact for storage, fold open and close easier and lay perfectly flat.

One of our testers' favorite new features on the Drop Zone and also on a lot of other pads on the market today is the handle between the top of the shoulder straps. This "center lift handle" helps to lift the pad onto your back in pack-mode and also just to carry it around from boulder to boulder. This handle comes on all Black Diamond pads. The other feature we found very useful was the elastic mesh flap closure system. The two strap flap cinches up the load securely and has tough, easy-to-use metal hook buckles. The last but not least cool feature is the rubberized "Batman Suit" coating on the outside of the pad that helps the pad stick to angled surfaces and is also highly water repellant. This pad is a great pad to do it all. It is lightweight but larger than average size and has plenty of useful features. The taco-style design works great for most landing zones and the functional rubberized coating is like no other. With all that combined, this pad takes our Editors' Choice award.

View our complete Bouldering Pad Review to see how this compares to others.

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review

Performance Comparison


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Black Diamond Drop Zone and Impact testing - Sean Brady on "Blue Steel" V7 at Biddles!
Credit: Chris Summit

Padding Falls


The new improved multi-density foam with a 1" top layer of dense closed-cell PE foam and a bottom layer of 2.5" of softer high-compression PU foam is just slightly stiffer than the old foam lay-up and did a bit better in our tests at cushioning hard impacts from high falls and in the long term it will last longer. It wasn't too dense though and it felt about the same for low but hard and jarring on-your-back type falls.
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Black Diamond Drop Zone - foam layers.
Credit: Chris Summit
Part of padding falls is having padding where you need it. Hinged-style pads can often fail on jagged rocky landing zones if something protrudes up into the hinge from underneath. Taco-style pads do not have this problem and the Drop Zone is one of the best taco-style pads we've tested for padding low or high falls on flat ground or sharp jagged landing zones. If you never boulder at areas with rocky landing zones then you may want a compact hinged-style pad that folds flat. Try the burly Metolius Boss Hogg that has a lot of similar features and a solid "angled-hybrid-hinge".
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Bouldering Pad Hinge Designs 2015: Left stack of pads (taco style); Black Diamond Drop Zone (classic taco) top left, Mad Rock R3 (custom multi baffles) mid left, Petzl Alto (custom taco) bottom left -- Right stack (hinge style); Black Diamond Impact (classic hinge) top right, Metolius Session (angled hinge) mid right, Stonelick (custom stepped hinge) bottom right.
Credit: Chris Summit

Packing Gear


This pad is one of the best we've tested for packing gear. The elastic mesh flap closure system has two straps to secure the load and smooth operating metal hook buckles. The taco-style pads often fit more gear into the drum-shaped interior and this slightly larger than average-sized taco pad securely holds a big heavy load. The only downside is that the taco-style fold in the padding makes an awkward bend / twist in the pad where your back lays against it in pad-mode.
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Black Diamond Drop Zone - the awkward bend / twist in the single piece of foam padding that is warped from the taco-style fold.
Credit: Chris Summit
This is mostly just a problem when carrying a very heavy load on rough terrain and even then our testers felt it was nothing more than a minor annoyance. Without a heavy load you barely notice it and the pad packs a small-to-medium weight load just fine and very securely with the flap closure.
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Black Diamond Drop Zone on the left and the Impact on the right. Notice how the Drop Zone has an awkward bend in the foam from being warped by the taco-style fold.
Credit: Chris Summit


Features


This pad is feature rich! The rubberized "Batman Suit" outer coating sticks to angled landing zones and repels water.
Black Diamond Drop Zone Pad - rubberized waterproof coating
Credit: Supertopo
The center lift handle between the shoulder straps on top of the suspension system is one of the things you don't know you need until you try it and then it becomes vital. The center handle mainly helps with lifting a heavy loaded pad onto your back in pad-mode but also helps just carrying the pad around.
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Black Diamond Drop Zone
Credit: Chris Summit
Elastic mesh flap closure with two straps are equipped with low profile metal hook buckles that hold any size load securely inside the pad.
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Black Diamond Drop Zone
Credit: Chris Summit
Detachable shoulder straps help keep the boulderer from tripping over them when in pad-mode and also work great for tying the pad onto a tree or other object for serious pad spotting trickery.
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Sean Brady helping test the Metolius Session, Black Diamond Drop Zone and Impact. Notice the Impact has one of its removable shoulder straps undone and wrapped around a tree to hold it in place. Both the BD Impact and BD Drop Zone have the detachable straps. Second ascent of "Backstabber Arete" V7 at the Biddles near Castle Rock CA.
Credit: Chris Summit
When attached and laying around in pad-mode the straps can detach and come undone and then have to be reattached before using the pad in pack-mode for hiking. This only a minor 10-second annoyance but is does add up over time.
We actually taped ours shut on the identical straps on the Black Diamond Drop Zone for some bouldering areas where we never saw ourselves untying the straps. We just used the pad in a more normal configuration most of the time so, in the rare occasion, we needed to untie the straps we would just have to un-tape them and then re-tape them again after.

Durability


As with all Black Diamond products they have been designed by a company that has been around for a long time making quality, cutting edge outdoor gear and that comes through in the craftsmanship and quality of materials in this pad as well. With the redesigned, more resilient, long lasting foam improvements, the pad should outlast its previous version that was very durable. Only question with this and most pads is: will the shoulder straps break off prematurely from carrying too heavy of loads? The last version did eventually have the straps break but the padding had worn out and softened up before hand so it was not a big deal. This pad is very durable and should stand the test of time but the new padding lay-up is still being tested so long-term durability is still in question.

Best Applications


The Drop Zone is best suited as your go-to pad that can do-it-all from beginner to expert levels. It also makes a key part of any pad collection. Weighing in at 9 lb., the standard weight of the average sized pad on the market today, the larger than average sized and feature-rich Drop Zone is a lean mean padding machine. It has a standard 48" length but a wider than average 41" width which is 5" above the average. The Drop Zone also comes loaded with features. It compensates for the added weight of all the features and size by taking an inch off the thickness of the foam padding. At 3.5" thick it is only a 1/2 inch less thick than the average 4" of similar pads like the Impact or Session. Only in the extremely high fall test on sharp jagged rocks did our testers feel a slight lump through the 3.5" foam compared to less of a lump felt through the 4" or thicker pads. It was so insignificant that it is barely worth noting and did not make our testers distrust or dislike this pad for padding falls on rough terrain.
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Sean Brady bouldering crash pad testing the Black Diamond Drop Zone on a new V7 at Biddles!
Credit: Chris Summit

The taco-style design is good for most landings you throw it at except for uneven lumpy landings. For uneven landing zones nothing can compare to our Top Pick award winner, the Mad Rock R3 with a multi-baffled design and shredded foam that conforms to uneven surfaces.
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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
Both the R3 and Drop Zone have a handy flap closure that holds gear and supplies in very securely for long hikes along with the center handle for lifting a heavy load. In a collection of pads, the Drop Zone will often rise to the top since it has the solid foam design and wider landing zone than most medium sized pads. Only very large sized pads like its big brother the Black Diamond Mondo have larger surface areas and those usually are a lot heavier and a lot more expensive.

Value


At $240 this is one of the most expensive medium/average sized pads in our overall review but we feel it is worth it for the useful features and slightly larger size. The only other taco-style pad, the Mad Rock R3, is comparable in many ways and lower priced. The R3 works well for packing gear and padding uneven landing zones but is twice as heavy at 18 lb. We tested no other taco-style pads that are this size that come fully loaded with a flap-closure, rubberized coating, metal hook buckles and center lift handle. If you like the taco-style design and don't want the heavy R3 then this is the only option in our tests.

Conclusion


From hiking around, finding new zones far off the beaten track at Castle Rock CA to covering sharp wild landings along the Sonoma Coast and in rugged Mendocino County this pad has done it and will do it all. Perfect for solo bouldering excursions or for use as a vital part of any landing zone pad assortment. The solid foam taco design, storage flap for securing a load, along with the center handle for lifting a heavy load all combine to make the Drop Zone one of our favorite go anywhere, do-it-all pads. For a much thicker and much less expensive alternative, check out the 5" thick foam and basic hinged-style of one of our Best Award winning pads, the popular Mad Rock Mad Pad.
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Testing the Black Diamond Drop Zone and Impact on a project near Castle Rock CA.
Credit: Chris Summit

Other Versions and Accessories


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Black Diamond Impact
  • Cost - $200
  • Smaller, simple crash pad design
  • Works well for all bouldering but the most jagged, dangerous landings

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Black Diamond Mondo
  • Cost - $400
  • Big, thick pad
  • Ideal for creating the softest landing and padding the most difficult terrain

Chris Summit, Chris McNamara

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: March 28, 2015
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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  • 5
 (5.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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  • 5
 (4.0)

100% of 1 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
2 Total Ratings
5 star: 50%  (1)
4 star: 50%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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Write a Review on this Gear

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   Jan 27, 2010 - 09:16pm
climbinginchico · Climber · Modesto, CA
The Drop Zone is a nice overall pad. It was the first and only one I have bought. As a "taco style" pad it folds ok but doesn't have any hinge areas that can mess up ankles on landing. The flip side to this is that it almost always has some curve to it, so it doesn't lay perfectly flat. I find it better for uneven or rocky landings than a hinge type because ankles magically find the hinge and are more likely to get twisted. But the bottom flap and taco make it carry your stuff better than a hinge, so I prefer the taco.

Construction is top notch, as with most things BD. Beefy materials should stand up to the long haul. Weight is acceptable, but I don't carry other pads to compare much, so take it for what it's worth. The suspension works well for carrying, but I found if you load it up heavy the straps can dig into my shoulders a bit. But I'm bony, so again Take it FWIW. The padding is perfect for me. The high density foam disperses loads and the softer stuff absorbs bigger falls. Again, I'm skinny so can't comment on clydesdales. EDIT: maybe mine is a slightly earlier model because I have two densities of foam in mine. Did they change this?

Can't comment about cost as I got a nice deal, but no complaints here. I don't boulder much but my buddies always come by to borrow it, so I guess they like it.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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Black Diamond - Drop Zone
Credit: Black Diamond
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