Best Bouldering Crash Pad
Best Overall Crash Pad
Mad Rock Duo
The Mad Rock Duo earns our its high marks for its innovative strap system that enables you to carry a second pad easily (and even a third pad, with some difficulty). For those who want to bring an extra crash pad along, there is no other option that makes this such an easy task. The Duo is also loaded with extra features and has impressively thick foam. Features include a great suspension system with a sternum strap, convenient handles, strap keeper pockets, a pad to wipe off your shoes, and the ability to turn into a couch. It's large enough to be used as a standalone pad but also combines well with an extra pad for more coverage. It especially combines well with other Mad Rock pads that include the Velcro closure strips to keep them together. It's a great option for those who boulder alone or want to maximize ground coverage.
Like other pads with Mad Rock's 5-inch foam layup, the Duo is fairly stiff for low falls and awkward landings, where softer foam tends to provide a gentler impact. The pad softens up over time, but we found it to be relatively firm through the break-in process. While feature-laden products can sometimes seem like a gimmick, our testers were surprised by just how much they came to love the useful additions on this pad, which became our overall favorite in short time.
Read review: Mad Rock Duo
Best Bang for the Buck
Mad Rock Mad Pad
The Mad Rock Mad Pad delivers the most pad per dollar of any that we tested and it is a great choice for anyone on a budget. The 5-inch thick foam is impressively durable and far more confidence-inspiring than that of thinner pads. It even has some extra features such as couch straps and velcro tabs to connect multiple pads. The Mad Pad is among the cheaper models that we tested and will outlast far more expensive pads.
The Mad Pad's main disadvantage is its lack of a flap closure to help with carrying gear. It does fine carrying the bouldering essentials, but small items tend to fall out of the pad when it is folded. This isn't a huge drawback if you bring your gear in a small day pack inside of the pad. Like the Mad Rock Duo, the Mad Pad's foam has a long break-in period and is not ideal for short falls when the pad is new. If money is tight, though, this is our first recommendation.
Read review: Mad Rock Mad Pad
Best for Daily Driver
The Organic Simple is our top choice for a daily driver pad. It has a hybrid suitcase-style closure that combines the packability of the traditional suitcase design with the benefits in protection from a taco style closure. The Simple features handles on both sides of the pad when it is folded, giving you multiple carrying options when moving between boulders. It's made of the most durable nylon in our test, and its metal closure buckles were our favorite. The backpack system is among the most comfortable out of all the crash pads we tested.
If you are looking for a crash pad loaded with features, you may want to look elsewhere. Our testers we able to carry everything they needed; however, if you like to pack lots of gear, the Simple does not hold much more than a small daypack. If you are not concerned with either of these aspects than the Simple might be that durable daily driver pad you have been searching for.
Read review: Organic Simple
Best for Carrying Gear
Mad Rock R3
The Mad Rock R3 stands out because of several reasons: The unique baffle design makes it the only pad made that conforms to uneven landings, the flap closure allows it to carry a ton of gear, it's not too expensive, and it is made out of recycled scraps of foam. The suspension system is top-notch and has reinforced shoulder straps with a handle between the straps to aid in lifting when heavily loaded. We also think it offers a lot of value regarding its price-to-performance ratio. Mad Rock also sells replacement recycled foam for this pad at a low price to extend the life of this model.
The padding of the R3 is very dense and it is one of the heaviest pads that we tested, weighing in at 18 pounds. The foam is much softer than that of the Mad Pad and Duo, which made it better for low to medium height falls but not great for falling from very high up.
Read review: Mad Rock R3
Why You Should Trust Us
Bringing you this review is the dream team of Chris Summit, Chris McNamara, Steven Tata, and Henry Feder. Chris Summit is the author of seven climbing and bouldering guidebooks and many first ascents all over northern California. Pulling down on rock since '89, he continues finding first ascents in out of the way places. We also have our OutdoorGearLab Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Chris McNamara, on board. Chris is also founder and head author of the rock guide publisher SuperTopo, founder of the American Safe Climbing Association. He has over 70 ascents of El Capitan, and holds nine big wall speed climbing records. The team is also comprised by our Senior Research Analyst Steven Tata. Steven holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from UMass Amherst, and after a stint working in marine propulsion, joined OutdoorGearLab. An avid climber, he recently hit destinations from Massachusetts to Alaska on the same trip. Rounding out the tester team is Henry Feder, holds a B.S. in Adventure Education from Green Mountain College, a former member of Yosemite's Search and Rescue crew, and an avid climber residing in South Lake Tahoe, CA.
This review began with research into what is currently available as the best crash pads on the market. We talked to diehard pebble wrestlers about their favorite and least favorite crash pads they've used. We also looked at the best selling crash pads on the market. Next, the chosen pads were acquired. Then followed months of regular, real-world use during bouldering sessions. We took falls from high and low and carried all of the crash pads to remote bouldering destinations. The culmination of field testing was an intensive three days where we made controlled experiments on the pads side-by-side, such as taking a fall repeatedly onto the same "hidden" rock. Throughout, we paid particular attention to how well they padded falls, packed gear, how durable they were, and how useful the features were.
Related: How We Tested Bouldering Crash Pads
Analysis and Test Results
After side-by-side tests, we compiled our notes, evaluated differences between each of the pads, and scored them all across the same metrics. Our ratings are based on the test metrics of Padding Falls (High and Low), Durability, Packing Gear, and Features.
The pads in our review have a large range of list prices, which, in general, tend to correlate with the area and thickness of the pad. On the lower end pads like the Metolius Session II cover medium areas and have simple features, while the high end Black Diamond Mondo covers a massive area and features some of the thickest foam of any pad in the review, and costs a pretty penny more. Pads in the middle of this range tend to incorporate various features that make them easier to use and carry around.
The Mad Rock Duo leads the pack for its combination of thick foam, a large area, and useful, unique features. We found the Mad Rock Mad Pad to be the best choice for those on a budget who are seeking a fully functional pad. For the climber who boulders on a regular basis, the Organic Simple is probably worth the bit of extra coin for its superior foam and durable materials.
High Fall Test
Our favorite foam to fall on for big drops was the 5-inch thick foam on the Black Diamond Mondo and all the Mad Pad, Duo, and Triple from Mad Rock. The affordable Mad Pad is also really stiff, which makes it among the least likely to bottom out on high impact falls. With 3.5 inches of foam, the Black Diamond Drop Zone started out great, but after a few months, it got soft. It remained a great pad for shorter problems, but we were concerned to take big drops onto it. We generally don't recommend pads with foam thinner than 4 inches for high bouldering problems.
Low Fall Test
Our favorite pads for repeated low falls are the Mad Rock R3 and Organic Simple. The R3 is filled with soft bits of recycled foam that cushions low falls very well.
A unique and highly appreciated aspect of the Simple pad is that it performs very well on both high and low falls. Of all pads tested, this one's foam hits that sweet spot best of all. Organic fans praise the foam this company utilizes, and after testing, we understand why. It's great stuff.
Mad Rock's Mad Pad, Triple Mad Pad, and Duo were stiffer than we loved when brand new for low, jarring, on your back type falls.
Uneven Terrain Test
We put the pads over treacherous uneven terrain to see how they all managed. The Mad Rock R3, with its innovative baffle design, shredded foam, and medium-large size make it the best at conforming to large lumpy spots such as rocks or tree stumps in a landing zone. The baffles do have seams that are less padded, making them potentially more likely to bottom out on sharp rocky or uneven landings where jagged objects could protrude through this thinner padding between the baffles. While we see this as a potential drawback, we didn't actually experience any problems falling on the seams during testing. For the main impact spot in the center of a "bad" uneven, jagged landing zone, the pads of choice are, not surprisingly, the taco pads with medium-stiff foam, like the Petzl Alto.
Both the Mad Pad and Triple Mad Pad have velcro flaps to seal up the hinge, mitigating a problem other hinged pads have. If you fall in the middle of most hinged pads, the pad may fold in halfway around you like a Venus Flytrap. The real need for the unhinged foam of a taco style design is only evident on very sharp, uneven, rocky landing zones. If you boulder a lot at rocky spots, then we highly recommend a taco style pad. Otherwise, a hinged pad with a velcro flap might be best for your needs.
The exception to the rule that you need a taco style closure for rocky landing was the Organic Simple with its hybrid hinge design. We found that the hybrid design worked well on rocky landings.
We break down the durability of a crash pad into multiple categories in our assessment, which combine for a pad's overall durability.
Materials and Craftsmanship
The rubberized "Bat-Man Suit" coating on the Mondo is not only waterproof, but it sticks to angled/slanted/tilted landing zones better than any other pad we tested. The coating is also very resilient and long-lasting. The Organic Simple uses the most durable nylon out of any of the pads we tested. The Mad Rock R3 uses recycled shredded foam leftover from its manufacturing facility. One great way to help the outdoor environment we cherish is to reduce, reuse, and recycle, so this is our favorite blend of materials and design. All three pads also have the proven quality of their time-tested name brands.
Most pads on the market today have the softer, open-cell PU (polyurethane) foam and the more dense and firm closed-cell PE (polyethylene) foam combined in layers. The layering makes the pads firm on one side for tall high impact falls on your feet, and softer on the other side for short hard, jarring falls on your backside. This method allows the pads to simply be flipped over for either application. On most pads, the firm side is up for the most common falling scenario, a medium to high fall onto your feet. An exception to the open and closed cell foam combo is Organic's Simple crash pad using memory foam as well as their proprietary foam.
The Petzl Alto padding is a thick layer of PU foam that's a bit too soft. Fortunately, the thinner layer is a 50/50 mix of different density high-quality closed-cell PE foam that makes for a long-lasting pad suitable for low to high bouldering until the PU wears out and then it will have a long lifespan for low to medium bouldering with the long-lasting quality foam.
Mad Rock's R3 padding has shredded recycled foam that is heavy but lasts much longer than most of the pads in this review. You can also purchase more from Mad Rock for a pretty low price, extending the life of your pad for less. The stiff foam utilized in the other Mad Rock pads also impressed our reviewers in terms of its longevity.
For the most part, all of the pads that we tested are well-built and can be expected to last for several seasons of heavy use. The most durable foam layup that we saw was Mad Rock's 5-inch, 3-layer foam that is used on the Mad Pad, Duo, and Triple Mad Pad. It was also the stiffest and provided some hard landings for shortfalls. The R3 is very durable and has thick material and reinforced stitching to ensure a long lifetime of constant use.
Packing Large Items
While you generally only need to bring shoes, chalk, and some water to go bouldering, it can be nice to pack the kitchen sink if you're going to be hanging out for a while. The pad that hauled the bulkiest, heaviest loads is the Mad Rock R3. The Metolius Session II, along with the Petzl Alto, came in second place. The Metolius flap closure has only one single hook buckle strap to secure it while the R3 has two hook buckle closure straps that allow the pad to hold bigger loads. Also, its larger than average size, and drum-like shaped taco style help to pack in more gear. The R3 is also unique in that it has a burly suspension system. The shoulder strap on it is sewn-in (no Velcro) and has handles on top of the suspension to help lift the pad onto your back when heavily loaded.
The Petzl Alto has the most secure zip-up flap closure, but it is not adjustable. It fits an above-average size load pretty well, but large bulky loads don't fit as well. Our testers found the Velcro suspension system is also not as tightly adjustable as an old school buckle style and it has no center lifting handle to aid with heavy loads. The Mad Rock Triple and Metolius Recon were the only pads that failed to handle carrying anything more than a few essentials. We didn't find a significant difference in the comfort in carrying big loads.
Packing Small Items
Hands down the best pad we've tested for carrying small to medium loads of gear is the Petzl Alto with its secure zipper flap closure system. The zip-up flap closes the bag so tight it is sealed like a backpack and not even spare change, or more importantly, car keys can escape the burly YKK zipper seal. The Metolius Session II has flap closures that help keep small to medium size loads of gear in very well. Heavy, bulky loads can fall out of the bottom since there is only a single top closure strap unlike on the Black Diamond Drop Zone and Mad Rock R3 that also have the flap closure that holds medium to large size loads of gear in well with double straps to secure the load. But none of the pads can beat the Alto for securely holding smaller loads with its zipper flap.
Some of the pads we tested had small storage pockets that some of our testers really found useful for holding keys, wallet, phone, etc.; but about half the testers never used it because you end up taking it out at the crag since you don't really want to have your essential items in the middle of the landing zone. Those testers just kept their main items in clothes pockets or a separate pack or bag of some kind from the get-go. Most of the other pads we tested have neither closure flaps or stash pockets so you might want to carry your stuff in a backpack.
The Organic Simple's hook buckles were 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 old plastic style buckles that would break or the old Velcro closures that would eventually wear out. All the pads still use similar plastic buckles for the waist belts except for the Petzl Alto that has a unique all Velcro waist and shoulder strap suspension system.
The straps were about the same on all the pads, generic nylon webbing. All the pads had padded shoulder straps. The most comfortable backpack straps we tested were on the Organic Simple. The Petzl Alto had the first Velcro fastening shoulder and waist straps. Without the buckles, you would have to undo and redo the closure to adjust it on the fly which was occasionally annoying but not a significant problem. The Alto also had an adjustable bandolier strap that helped to transport the pad between boulders.
Comfort Hanging Out
Mad Rock's Mad Pad and Duo, and the Petzl Alto all have straps that can turn the pads into couches when you aren't climbing. When present, the couch option, was one of our favorite features for a pad to have and it makes them especially useful around camp.
Most pads had at least a few custom features, and some can feel a bit superfluous. Just how important some of these features are is debatable compared to more substantial attributes like high-quality foam, solid design, and overall craftsmanship.
Crash pads are an integral part of modern bouldering and have the potential to make falls much safer than landing on the bare ground. They aren't cheap, so it's best to make the right purchase decision based on your individual needs, climbing style, and common landing surfaces (uneven, flat, etc). We hope this article narrows down your options to the best one or two products for you to make an informed choice for your future rock challenges.
— Chris Summit, Chris McNamara, Steven Tata, and Henry Feder