Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: The soft but dense foam conforms to uneven landing surfaces and cushions short abrupt falls very softly, hauls a lot of gear very well, handy features
Cons: The soft foam is just a bit too squishy for long, high falls and the slightly lumpy baffles could roll a weak ankle on a lighter person
Best Uses: Difficult low-balls and steep cave problems, integral part of a collection of pads for covering uneven landing zones for low to high problems, an all around general use pad that hauls gear in backpack mode very well
The R3 is the best pad we tested for conforming to lumpy landings, it is one of the best pads for steep lowball falls and it packs gear better than almost any other pad. For these reasons, we give it a Top Pick award.
The R3 (Reduce Reuse Recycle) bouldering pad uses recycled EVA / PU foam that, according to Mad Rock, would normally be collected and shipped for disposal. This reduction in manufacturing costs and environmental waste enables Mad Rock to provide a high quality 1680 denier nylon shell that they say is the most durable in the industry. Mad Rock offers replacement foam for the R3 system so it can be re-used for many years. This pad may be the color orange on the outside but it is going "green" on the inside.
The R3 has other unique innovations with its 7 separate "baffles" that keeps the custom shredded foam compact and keeps it from piling up on one side. At the same time the baffles allow the pad to flex and conform to uneven landing zone surfaces better than any other pad its size. The foam has been shredded into popcorn size pieces giving it a unique, soft and flexible, yet dense and compact feel compared to most other crash pad foams. The softness makes for one of the best pads we've tested for cushioning low to medium high (short, abrupt) falls. For high-ball falls it tested just about average for its size category. The baffles give this pad a hybrid mix of the good and bad qualities from both a hinged style pad and a hinge-less/folding taco type. Mainly this means that you get the more reliable landing zone coverage of a taco design with the ability to open up and instantly lay flat like a hinged design.
Packing gear is easy and secure with ample room inside as well as side and bottom flaps to hold the stuff in. The suspension system is solidly attached with comfortable shoulder straps, chest strap, waist belt and the extremely useful handle between the shoulder straps for loading the pad onto your back in pack mode. There is also daisy chain webbing on the back of the pad for quick easy attachments of the straps as well as any other gear. The 55' x 35' x 4" size is just above average but still feels like a smaller size pad when carrying it and at 18 lbs it is just a bit heavier than other comparably sized pads. The extra features that add the relatively small amount of weight are very useful and are, in our opinion worth the extra poundage.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The unique design of the R3 with 6 "hinges" that are partially (about 35%) sealed with padding and the 7 individual "baffles" offers benefits over the two most popular pad designs: single unsealed hinge style pad and hingeless/taco style. (If you are already confused about hinges, read our Bouldering Pad Buying Advice). First of all, when we saw the many partially sealed hinges we were a bit skeptical. Pads with a single unsealed hinge have failed some of our tests when a rock, root or other obstacle protrudes through the unsealed hinge into the landing zone. We thought that this pad with multiple hinges might have multiple chances to fail. So we tested specifically to see if we could get the 6 partial hinges to fail. After several tests the hinges did not fail unless the pad was placed right over a lot of extremely jagged rocks in which case a few pointy rocks would, on a very rare occasion, be able to be slightly felt through the hinges. Of course, in an even less likely scenario, this could possibly cause minor injury but in most cases it is nothing to be overly concerned about. Because the hinges are partially filled with padding nothing ever pushed all the way through. The hinge-less/taco style pads offer the more reliable landing zone coverage on jagged terrain having no single unsealed hinge to fail. The classic single hinged style and this new style with multiple baffles both open up and lay flat quickly and easily. The other benefit that the baffles give and that no other average sized pad on the market shares is the ability to conform to any surface. This is the best pad design for covering rocks or any lumpy landing zones (see pics) and is therefore an important part of any collection of pads.
Packing a lot of gear is also very comfortable and secure with a great suspension system that is solidly attached. The shoulder straps and waist belt are padded and fit well. The chest strap is always a useful addition and the ever so handy handle between the shoulder strap for loading the pack onto your back is essential. The daisy chain webbing all over the back of the pad makes for quick and easy attachments and adjustments of the closure straps as well as being able to clip on other miscellaneous gear. There is also a handy extension flap/tarp that rolls out to keep your feet and bottom clean and dry at the base of a problem. The flap/tarp can also protect the suspension area of the pad so if the ground is muddy you don't get your back wet and dirty when it's time to pack it out. The shredded, recycled foam is not just good for the environment, it has a soft but dense feel and has barely softened up in a few months of rigorous testing. We believe the longer lasting life of the foam could partially be due to the separated, tightly sealed baffles. The dense softness makes for one of, if not the best, cushioning pads for short, abrupt, medium high falls and jarring, low-ball, on your back type falls.
For high-ball falls it tested just barely below average for its size category. The baffles seem like they could be just lumpy enough to roll an ankle on if you were extremely light and had weak ankles but that never happened to our average sized tough ankle testers. It seems that the softness of the foam allows the lumpy baffles to squish down just before rolling an ankle, hopefully. It was not really bad at highballs in our tests but not as good as other thicker pads with denser foam. The 1680 Denier nylon is touted as being the most durable in the industry but we would like to test it more to find out for sure. The different weaves of the Denier can often make 1050 stronger than 1680 in some cases so time will tell and further testing is needed. We will add the durability into this review after a few more weeks-months of tests. The final dislike is pure nitpicking since we do like the orange color but we think a green or brown version would be more fitting.
If you mostly do difficult low-balls and steep cave problems where you're falling hard on your back a lot then this is one of the best pads out there. This could also be an integral part of a team of pads for covering the lumpy/uneven parts of highball landing zones. If you need a pad that works well in backpack mode this is one of the best at packing and hauling a lot of gear.
A fair deal for a very specialized product with a lot of innovative, useful features, quality materials and good craftsmanship. Here's how the (55' x 35' x 4") R3 stacks up against a few of its closest competitors: The Mad Rock Mad Pad is a fairly less expensive, yet comparably sized (36" x 48" x 5") pad but offers less features, less carrying capacity in a hinged style. The thicker padding on the Mad Pad makes it better for your average, no frills medium to high problem. For a few dollars less than the R3 you can get the slightly smaller (38' x 48' x 4") but tried and true Organic Full Pad with high quality foam. Or to compare at almost double the price you can get the Cadillac of pads, the smooth upholstery covered Voodoo Highball 5000 (48' x 59' x 4"). See our overall pad comparisons for a lot more info.
View our complete Bouldering Crash Pad Review to see how this product compared to others.
— Chris Summit
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Most recent review: February 8, 2013
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