The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Black Diamond Drop Zone Review

An excellent all-around pad with good cushioning and plenty of features.
Black Diamond - Drop Zone
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $250 List | $249.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Large surface area for medium pad, fits plenty of gear, easy-to-use hooks, grippy waterproof backing, strong shoulder straps
Cons:  Foam wears out quickly and is relatively thin
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Chris Summit, Chris McNamara, Steven Tata  ⋅  Jan 18, 2018
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78
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 10
  • High Falls - 30% 7
  • Low Falls - 20% 8
  • Packing Gear - 20% 9
  • Features - 10% 7
  • Durability - 20% 8

The Skinny

The Drop Zone is the best crash pad for most people. It has multi-density foam layers that are effective at padding both high and low falls. The foam lay-up is 1" of dense, closed-cell PE foam on top of 2.5" of softer high-compression PU foam. The rest of the pad's construction is well-done with the exception of the way it awkwardly twists while folded in half. Also, like most taco-style pads, it does not lay flat when first opened. On the flip-side, the benefit of a taco-style pad is that it has no hinge to bottom out on jagged rocky landings. 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. Hinged pads are more compact for storage, fold open easier and lay perfectly flat.

The elastic mesh flap closure system was great for packing lots of gear and easy-to-use metal hook buckles cinch down two straps to keep the pad closed. 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 repel water. The Drop Zone is a great all-around pad that is a great choice for most boulderers. It is lightweight but still has a large surface area to function as a stand-alone pad. The taco-style design works great for most landing zones and the functional rubberized coating is a unique addition. All considered this pad earns our Editors' Choice award.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


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

Padding Falls


The multi-density foam is composed of a 1" top layer of dense closed-cell PE foam and a bottom layer of softer 2.5" high-compression PU foam, which performed well at cushioning hard impacts from medium-high falls and didn't soften up too rapidly. It wasn't too dense though and it felt about the same for low but hard and jarring, on-your-back type falls. Because it is only 3.5" thick the Drop Zone was not as good for high problems as thicker pads like the Black Diamond Mondo or Mad Rock Mad Pad.

Black Diamond Drop Zone - foam layers.
Black Diamond Drop Zone - foam layers.

A significant aspect of properly padding falls is having padding where you need it. Hinge-style pads can often fail to cover 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 more compact hinged-style pad like the Metolius Session, which folds flat.

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.
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.

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 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 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.
Black Diamond Drop Zone - the awkward bend / twist in the single piece of foam padding that is warped from the taco-style fold.
Black Diamond Drop Zone - the awkward bend / twist in the single piece of foam padding that is warped from the taco-style fold.
This is mostly a problem when carrying heavy loads over 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.

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.
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.


Features


This pad has plenty of features that our testers liked. The rubberized outer coating sticks to angled landing zones and repels water, which improves durability and inspires confidence when the pad is on uneven surfaces.

Black Diamond Drop Zone Pad - rubberized waterproof coating
Black Diamond Drop Zone Pad - rubberized waterproof coating

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 heavily loaded pad onto your back but also helps just carrying the pad around.
Black Diamond Drop Zone
Black Diamond Drop Zone
An elastic mesh closure flap with two straps holds any sized load securely inside the pad.
Black Diamond Drop Zone
Black Diamond Drop Zone
Detachable shoulder straps help to keep you from tripping over them when the pad is on the ground and also work great for strapping the pad onto a tree or other object for serious pad spotting trickery.

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.
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.

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 only 3.5" of foam, the Drop Zone isn't as durable as larger pads like the Black Diamond Mondo and Mad Rock Duo, which both have 5" of foam. This wasn't a significant drawback since you'll probably want to invest in a larger pad before climbing tall problems with daunting falls.

Best Applications


The Drop Zone is best suited as your go-to pad that can do-it-all from beginner to expert levels. It fills a key niche of any pad collection with its medium size, the light weight of 9 lb., and taco-style folding. It has a standard 48" length but a wider than average 41" width which is 5" above the average of our review. The Drop Zone compensates for the added weight of its features and size by taking an inch off the thickness of the foam padding. At 3.5" thick it is 0.5" less thick than the average 4" of similar pads like the Impact or Session. Only in the high fall test on sharp jagged rocks did our testers feel a 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. Large pads like the Mad Rock Triple Mad Pad and Black Diamond Mondo are better for highballs with rough landings because of their 5" thickness.

Sean Brady bouldering crash pad testing the Black Diamond Drop Zone on a new V7 at Biddles!
Sean Brady bouldering crash pad testing the Black Diamond Drop Zone on a new V7 at Biddles!

The taco-style design is fine 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.

Sean Brady helping test Mad Rock's 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.
Sean Brady helping test Mad Rock's 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.

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 much more expensive.

Value


At $250 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 didn't find any taco-style pads that of 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 heavier R3 then this is the only option in our tests.

Conclusion


From finding new zones far off the beaten track at Castle Rock, CA to covering wild and sharp landings along the Sonoma Coast and in rugged Mendocino County, the Drop Zone has done it and will do it all. It is 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 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.

Testing the Black Diamond Drop Zone and Impact on a project near Castle Rock CA.
Testing the Black Diamond Drop Zone and Impact on a project near Castle Rock CA.


Chris Summit, Chris McNamara, Steven Tata