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Best Bouldering Crash Pad of 2021

We tested bouldering crash pads from Metolius, Mad Rock, Black Diamond, and others to uncover the best landing zone for your next project
Modern bouldering makes at least one crash pad an essential gear purch...
Photo: Matt Bento
Thursday September 30, 2021
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Seeking the best bouldering crash pad? Our climbing experts have tested 27+ pads in the last decade. For 2021, we bought and fell on 12 top pads available and put them head to head for critical comparison. We hiked these pads to backcountry blocs, stacked them next to roadside highballs, and spread them underneath expansive roof problems to see how each performs at padding back-slapping low falls and scary diggers from way up high. We also make special note of durability, features, and how well each pad carries gear. You'll find all the info you'll need to find the right pad to put between you and the ground.

Top 12 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 12
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price $259 List$339.95 at REI
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$255.00 at Backcountry
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$119.96 at Backcountry
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$209.96 at Backcountry
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Overall Score
80
83
73
67
66
Star Rating
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Pros Straps to attach a second pad, plush suspension, sturdy foam for high fallsHuge surface area, narrow carrying profile, excellent featuresFolds open and closed better than any other taco-style pad, innovative zip-up flap closure system securely stores gear, well made, sleek lookSecurely holds a fair amount of gear with easy flap closure, handy carpet square for cleaning shoes, durable, affordableEasy to transport, easy to carry, easily closed/opened, handy carpet square, well made, durable
Cons Foam is hard for low falls, stiff for uneven landingsCan't pack as much as a taco-style padDoes not pack large or bulky loads of gear well, no center lifting handle, Velcro and zipper could wear out prematurelyThe single buckle flap closure can come open when hauling heavy or bulky loadsDoes not carry very much gear (barely even the essentials), tri-fold hinge is often flip floppy or overly rigid on uneven landings
Bottom Line A great crash pad distinguished by its innovative strap system for carrying a second pad and many other features that other pads lackThis tester favorite provides loads of coverage without being a pain to hike withAn expensive pad given its size and thicknessAn impressive medium-sized pad at a low costA relatively thin and unimpressive pad that works well to supplement other pads
Rating Categories Mad Rock Duo Metolius Magnum Petzl Alto Metolius Session II Metolius Recon
High Falls (30%)
9.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
Low Falls (30%)
6.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Durability (20%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Packing Gear (10%)
9.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
3.0
Features (10%) Sort Icon
10.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Specs Mad Rock Duo Metolius Magnum Petzl Alto Metolius Session II Metolius Recon
Surface Size (inches) 56" x 42" 70" x 47" 46" x 39" 50" x 37" 60" x 42"
Thickness (inches) 5" 4" 4" 4" 4"
Weight (lbs) 17 lbs 18.7 lbs 12 lbs 9 lbs 14 lbs
Hinge/Taco Hinge Hinge Taco Hinge Velcro Hinge
Closing Flap Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Warranty 1 Year 1 Year 3 Year 1 Year 1 Year


Best Overall Bouldering Crash Pad


Mad Rock Duo


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • High Falls 9
  • Low Falls 6
  • Durability 8
  • Packing Gear 9
  • Features 10
Pad thickness: 5" | Weight: 17 lbs
Unique strap system for carrying a second pad
Thick foam
Plush suspension for heavy loads
Many features, including couch straps and a shoe-wiping mat
Foam not ideal for short falls

The Mad Rock Duo earns our highest recommendation for its innovative strap system that enables you to carry a second pad easily (and even a third, with some difficulty). If you need to carry an extra pad, the Duo makes this a non-issue. This pad also boasts an impressively thick foam. It is loaded with extra features, such as an excellent suspension system with a sternum strap, convenient handles, strap keeper pockets, a pad to wipe off your shoes, and the ability to turn it into a couch. It's large enough to be used as a standalone pad and combines well with an extra pad for more coverage, particularly with other Mad Rock pads that include the Velcro closure strips to keep them together. For those who boulder alone or want to maximize ground coverage, it's a fantastic option. Its price is also very fair compared to many of the higher-priced options available, increasing the appeal of this great pad to a larger audience.

Like other pads with Mad Rock's 5-inch foam, the Duo is relatively stiff for low falls and awkward landings, where softer foam tends to provide a gentler impact. Though the pad softens up over time, 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 a short time.

Read review: Mad Rock Duo

Best Large Pad


Metolius Magnum


83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • High Falls 8
  • Low Falls 9
  • Durability 8
  • Packing Gear 7
  • Features 9
Pad thickness: 4" | Weight: 18.7 lbs
Huge amount of coverage (70"x 47")
Durable triple-layer foam
Narrow profile when folded
Large storage pocket
Not as thick as some "highball" pads

It's easy for us to sing the praises of the versatile, well-designed Metolius Magnum. This pad is huge, and a few clever design features make it easy to manage this behemoth on longer approaches. Our testers strongly consider large pads necessary for fun and some degree of protection in modern bouldering, but no one really wants to carry them. The Magnum's tri-fold design allows for a narrower profile than many smaller, taco-style pads, making the 18.7-pound pad feel more balanced on your back as you hike up hills or weave and squeeze between trees and boulders. A large storage pocket holds the essentials, and you can easily secure a small backpack on the top of the pad under the closure flap. When it's time to get down to business, three layers of foam spread the impact from violent, unexpected diggers, and there are plenty of handles for your friends to grab so they can optimize pad placement quickly as you get higher off the deck.

Some will miss the convenience of a taco-style pad, where you can throw all your gear in the center of the pad and carry it all like a suitcase to the next boulder problem. Our testers learned to adjust and became less of a sprawling junk show in the process. It's only 4" thick, and while many highball pads are 5" thick, the Magnums' huge area makes it a great base for stacking pads when you're looking at big falls. If you're riding solo, this pad is nearly perfect, giving you the coverage of two small pads while being much easier to carry than a Mondo or other pads of similar size. If you want a large pad, the Metolius Magnum should be at the very top of your wish list.

Read review: Metolius Magnum

Best Bang for the Buck


Mad Rock Mad Pad


70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • High Falls 9
  • Low Falls 6
  • Durability 8
  • Packing Gear 3
  • Features 6
Pad thickness: 5" | Weight: 10 lbs
Lots of foam
Relatively inexpensive
Durable construction
Couch straps are a nice feature
Not ideal for carrying lots of gear

The Mad Rock Mad Pad delivers the most pad per dollar of any that we tested and is an excellent 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. In addition, the Mad Pad is one of the most affordable models that we tested, and we believe it will outlast far more expensive pads.

Our main gripe with the Mad Pad is that it lacks a flap closure to help carry gear. It does fine carrying the bouldering essentials, but small items tend to fall out of the crash pad when folded. This isn't a huge drawback if you bring your gear in a small day pack inside 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 before breaking it in. If money is tight, though, this is our first recommendation.

Read review: Mad Rock Mad Pad

Best Foam


Organic Simple


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • High Falls 8
  • Low Falls 8
  • Durability 8
  • Packing Gear 6
  • Features 6
Pad thickness: 4" | Weight: 11 lbs
Our favorite foam in the industry
Carries gear well
Robust backpack straps
Super durable materials
More expensive than some pads with a similar surface area
Lacks extra features

Our testers all enjoy bouldering with the Organic Simple. It has a hybrid suitcase-style closure that combines the traditional suitcase design's packability with the benefits of protection from a taco-style closure. The Simple features handles on both sides of the pad when folded, giving you multiple carrying options while moving between boulders. It's made of the most durable nylon in our test, and its metal closure buckles are our favorite. The backpack system is among the most comfortable out of all the crash pads we tested.

The Simple might not be for you if you are looking for a crash pad loaded with features. It's on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Duo in this regard, but that's not necessarily a terrible thing. Our testers could carry everything they needed; however, if you like to pack lots of gear, the Simple does not hold much more than a small daypack. It's also on the smaller side of the surface area spectrum, which may be an issue for some. If you are not concerned with these drawbacks, then 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


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • High Falls 6
  • Low Falls 10
  • Durability 7
  • Packing Gear 10
  • Features 6
Pad thickness: 4" | Weight: 18 lbs
Baffled design offers incredible versatility
Awesome hauling ability
Convenient features
Not our favorite for long falls

The Mad Rock R3 stands out for 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. To extend this model's life, Mad Rock also sells recycled replacement foam at a low price.

Weighing in at 18 pounds, the R3 is one of the heavier pads that we tested, considering its mid-range surface area and 4" thickness. 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. If you need a pad to cover uneven surfaces, carry your all-day supplies, and that comes with an eco-friendly incentive, the R3 is a standout option.

Read review: Mad Rock R3

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
83
$340
Editors' Choice Award
This tri-fold pad gives us plenty of protection, is very durable, and is easy to carry
80
$259
Editors' Choice Award
A unique strap system, useful features, and thick foam make this model a fantastic all-around pad
78
$199
Top Pick Award
One of the softest pads we tested, it shines for low falls and carrying equipment
76
$220
Top Pick Award
The best mid-sized crash pad
73
$300
A good medium-sized taco pad that comes at a high cost
71
$430
A big pad for big boulder problems
70
$289
An excellent choice for those seeking to maximize their foam per dollar
70
$189
Best Buy Award
Great choice for those on a budget who want a thick medium pad
67
$160
Great value with good foam and handy features
66
$280
A decent large pad that didn't stand out
58
$280
A good pad that works well on shorter problems
57
$230
Not for big problems on its own, this smallish model works better in conjunction with another pad

Bouldering above the Metolius Session II and the Mad Rock Mad Pad, a...
Bouldering above the Metolius Session II and the Mad Rock Mad Pad, a few of several pads we took many falls on during testing.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Why You Should Trust Us


Bringing you this review is the dream team of Chris Summit, Chris McNamara, Steven Tata, Henry Feder, and Matt Bento. 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 also comprises 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. Henry Feder, who holds a B.S. in Adventure Education from Green Mountain College is a former member of Yosemite's Search and Rescue crew, and an avid climber residing in South Lake Tahoe, CA. Matt Bento is another YOSAR veteran who's spent plenty of summers finding and climbing new boulder problems in Yosemite Valley, scaling blocks in Tuolumne Meadows, and wintering in the bouldering mecca of Bishop, California. He'd like every climber who doesn't identify as a "boulderer" to take a trip to Hueco Tanks, where "the climbing is so fun, you might never feel the need to tie-in ever again."

We began this review by researching the best crash pads currently available on the market and spoke with diehard pebble wrestlers about their favorite and least favorite crash pads used. We also looked at the best-selling crash pads on the market. Next, the chosen pads were purchased at full price before 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. Field testing's culmination was an intensive three days where we performed side-by-side controlled experiments on the pads, such as taking a fall repeatedly onto the same "hidden" rock. Throughout, we paid particular attention to how well they padded falls and packed gear, as well as noting durability and useful features.

Related: How We Tested Bouldering Crash Pads

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Analysis and Test Results


After side-by-side tests, we compiled our notes, evaluated differences between each pad, 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.

Related: Buying Advice for Bouldering Crash Pads

Testing the Black Diamond Mondo, Drop Zone, and Organic Simple on a...
Testing the Black Diamond Mondo, Drop Zone, and Organic Simple on a technical V9 in South Lake Tahoe.
Photo: Henry Feder

We define a "medium bouldering pad" as being roughly 48" x 36". We also put pads up to about 49" x 41" into the medium pad category. A medium pad is the most common size because it fits in most cars, is relatively easy to carry, and is large enough for most low to medium height problems. Large pads are 60" x 48" up to 50" to 72". For many medium to tall problems, climbers will want a larger crash pad or several medium and small crash pads.

Value


The pads in our review have a broad 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 range tend to incorporate various features that make them easier to use and carry around.


The Mad Rock Duo is our top recommendation for its combination of thick foam, large area, and useful, unique features at a reasonable price. We consider Mad Rock Mad Pad to be the best choice for those on a budget who are seeking a fully functional pad, beating out pads within its price range in our tests. For one who boulders regularly, the Organic Simple is probably worth the bit of extra coin for its superior foam and durable materials.

Testing crash pads in the Tahoe springtime.
Testing crash pads in the Tahoe springtime.
Photo: Ross Robinson

Padding Falls


High Fall Test

For big drops, our favorite foam to fall on was the 5-inch thick foam of the Black Diamond Mondo and the Mad Pad, Duo, and Triple from Mad Rock. The Mad Pad is also quite stiff, which makes it among the least likely to bottom out for high impact falls, as well as being the most affordable of this group. With 3.5 inches of foam, the Black Diamond Drop Zone started out great but got soft after a few months. It remained a great pad for shorter problems, but we were concerned about taking big drops onto it. We generally don't recommend pads with foam thinner than 4 inches for high bouldering problems.

While a smaller pad like the BD Impact (shown here) can seem plenty...
While a smaller pad like the BD Impact (shown here) can seem plenty adequate when down low, it starts to seem like a postage stamp when you're more than a body length off the ground.
Photo: Matt Bento

A good spotter is just as important as a good crash pad. A stronger spotter who knows what they're doing can make you feel as though you've been plucked from the sky when you fall, giving you confidence when you need to high step or even when heel hooking over your head. You can learn to be a good spotterno matter what size or how strong you are. Being active, moving pads, and making sure the climber lands on them is just as important as being a good belayer and will likely result in everyone in your crew sending harder and having more fun.


Putting the Duo through the paces with a fall from up high.
Putting the Duo through the paces with a fall from up high.
Photo: Ross Robinson

Low Fall Test

When working moves in cave problems, you may find yourself repeatedly falling on your back. It's nice if your landing zone has some cushion to it. In terms of foam, open-cell foam feels softer but must be balanced with closed-cell foam for longer falls from higher up. 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 especially well.

The innards of the R3. Mad Rock will sell and ship you more filling...
The innards of the R3. Mad Rock will sell and ship you more filling if needed.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

A unique and highly appreciated aspect of the Simple pad is that it performs very well on both high and low falls. Of all the 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. The Black Diamond Impact feels quite soft right out the box, plenty plush for short falls on your back, but we are concerned that it could become too soft after just a few seasons. The huge Metolius Magnum uses a 3-layer foam system, with a thick layer of compressible open-cell foam sandwiched between two thinner layers of firmer foam. This creates a great balance for low-ball action while allowing for durability and foam longevity, even though the Magnum is only 4" thick.

Shorter falls onto your back can still be fairly jarring. If you are...
Shorter falls onto your back can still be fairly jarring. If you are a true connoisseur of low-balls, consider using the softer underside of the pad for a plusher landing on short falls.
Photo: Matt Bento


The Simple uses a combination of 1&quot; memory foam on top of urethane...
The Simple uses a combination of 1" memory foam on top of urethane rubber and finally a large amount of open cell foam on the bottom.
Photo: Henry Feder

When brand new, Mad Rock's Mad Pad, Triple Mad Pad, and Duo were stiffer than we liked for low, jarring, on your back type falls.

The BD Drop Zone works fine for low problems with its relatively...
The BD Drop Zone works fine for low problems with its relatively thin foam and large surface area.
Photo: Henry Feder

Uneven Terrain Test

We used the pads on treacherous uneven terrain to see how well they managed. With its innovative baffle design, shredded foam, and medium-large size, the Mad Rock R3 is the best to conform to large lumpy spots such as rocks or tree stumps in a landing zone. However, the seams of the baffles are less padded, making them potentially more likely to bottom out on sharp, rocky landings where jagged objects could protrude through this less padded area between the baffles. While we see this as a potential drawback on paper, we didn't 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, unsurprisingly, the taco pads with medium-stiff foam, like the Petzl Alto.

Pads with a stiff layer of continuous foam tend to struggle in...
Pads with a stiff layer of continuous foam tend to struggle in rock-strewn landing zones. The Mad Rock R3 attempts to solve this issue by using thousands of pieces of recycled foam and a baffled design, allowing the pad to bend along uneven contours. We suggest placing the center of a baffle over rock protrusions as much as possible to avoid bottoming out when landing on the seams.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The Mad Pad, Metolius Magnum, 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 half 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. We highly recommend this style if you boulder a lot at rocky spots. Otherwise, a hinged pad with a velcro flap tends to be more convenient and might be best for your needs.

Tri-fold pads like the Metolius Magnum have three hinge points, making them an excellent choice for padding larger rocks when used in the face-down configuration.

The velcro closure lets you add more Mad Rock Mad Pads, Triple Mad...
The velcro closure lets you add more Mad Rock Mad Pads, Triple Mad Pads, or Duo pads. It also seals up the joint so you don't have to worry about the pad "bear trapping" when landing on the hinge seam.
Photo: Chris McNamara

The exception to the rule that you need a taco-style closure for rocky landings was the Organic Simple with its hybrid hinge design. We found that it worked well on rocky landings.

The hybrid hinge design on the Organic Simple Pad creates a...
The hybrid hinge design on the Organic Simple Pad creates a no-dead-spot landing.
Photo: Henry Feder

Durability


For our assessment, we break down the durability of a crash pad into multiple categories, which combine for a pad's overall durability.


Materials and Craftsmanship

The rubberized "Batman 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 Metolius Magnum employs an ultra-tough 900-denier nylon shell fabric. We've seen this model withstand years of being dragged across bouldering areas. 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. It's important to note that all the pads in our test have foam that can be removed and replaced. Each manufacturer uses velcro or zippers to close the shell fabric around the foam, so if your foam is old and bottoming out, but the shell is intact, you can have the foam replaced.

The Mondo has a grippy rubberized surface that helps keep it in...
The Mondo has a grippy rubberized surface that helps keep it in position on angled landings.
Photo: Henry Feder

Foam Durability

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 separate 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 Metolius Magnum uses three layers of foam, with a 1" layer of closed-cell foam on top, 2.5" of softer open-cell foam in the middle, and an additional ½" of closed-cell foam on the bottom. The result is that the bottom of the pad is noticeably softer than the top, without being too squishy, while adding overall rigidity to the pad.

The Petzl Alto padding is a thick layer of PU foam that's slightly 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. At this point, it will be relegated to low to medium bouldering with the long-lasting quality foam.

The majority of the Alto&#039;s foam is a soft, open-cell polyurethane...
The majority of the Alto's foam is a soft, open-cell polyurethane foam, but there's another layer of mixed density foam to add some firmness for higher falls and a bit more longevity.
Photo: Chris Summit

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 regarding its longevity.

Overall Durability

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 design that we saw was Mad Rock's 5-inch, 3-layer foam 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 Gear


Packing Large Items

While you generally only need to bring shoes, chalk, and some water to go bouldering, if you're going to be hanging out for a while, it can be nice to pack the kitchen sink. The pad that hauled the bulkiest, heaviest loads is the Mad Rock R3. The Metolius Session II also did well with large items. The Session II's flap closure has only one hook buckle strap to secure it, while the R3 has two hook buckle closure straps that allow the pad to hold bigger loads. Its larger-than-average size and drum-like shaped taco-style help 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 Metolius Magnum has a somewhat limited carrying capacity compared to some of the pads that fold in half, but it has a large pocket in its closure strap, and there is space to strap down a small backpack to the top for hands-free hiking.


We liked the Mad Rock Duo&#039;s system for carrying a second pad.
We liked the Mad Rock Duo's system for carrying a second pad.
Photo: Ross Robinson

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 it's not suited for large bulky loads. Our testers also found the Velcro suspension system 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 Duo wasn't great for stuffing tons of large items inside, but we appreciated the daisy chains on the outside of the pad, which could be used for clipping shoes or water bottles, freeing up a bit more space inside for anything else you may want to bring along. Pads like the Mad Rock Triple and Metolius Recon failed to handle carrying anything more than a few essentials. We didn't find a significant difference in the comfort in carrying big loads.

The large closure flap works great for filling the Session II with...
The large closure flap works great for filling the Session II with gear.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Packing Small Items

With its secure zipper flap closure system, the Petzl Alto is hands down the best pad we've tested for carrying small to medium loads of gear. 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-sized 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.

The secure YKK zipper flap closure, which is unique to the Petzl...
The secure YKK zipper flap closure, which is unique to the Petzl Alto among models we tested.
Photo: Petzl

Some of the pads we tested had small storage pockets that some of our testers found useful for holding keys, wallets, phones, etc. These features get mixed reviews from our testers, as many of them prefer to carry a small pack to organize their supplies and don't bother with the pockets on the crashpads. It's also important to note that if you put anything breakable in a crash pad pocket, chances are you'll forget that it's in there and then fall on it. Still, certain bouldering amenities like nail clippers, files, and brushes are low profile, and you'll always have them on hand if they are stored in the pocket.

Features


Buckles

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 Mad Rock buckles were a bit hard to pull tight or loose. All are much better than the old plastic buckles that had a tendency to break or the old Velcro closures that would eventually wear out. With the exception of the Petzl Alto's unique all-Velcro waist and shoulder strap suspension system, all the pads still use similar plastic buckles for the waist belts. With a little practice, the tough aluminum Metolius buckles make great bottle openers.


The Black Diamond Drop Zone (left) and Mondo&#039;s (center) buckles work...
The Black Diamond Drop Zone (left) and Mondo's (center) buckles work well. Our testers preferred the Organic Simple's buckle (right) because of the smooth and easy action.
Photo: Henry Feder

Straps

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. The Black Diamond Mondo has two huge handled straps on either end of the pad, so you can shoulder the whole thing like a giant purse when you fold it in half, making it easier to carry, situating it higher off the ground. The Metolius Magnum has suitcase-style handles on either and of the pad and on the folding hinges, so it's easy to pick up and carry from either side. Little touches like these make your day of dragging pads around much easier.

The Magnum from Metolius has a sufficient suspension system for...
The Magnum from Metolius has a sufficient suspension system for backpack carry, but we especially like the suitcase handles on all four sides of the pad that allow spotters to quickly re-position a pad for the climber.
Photo: Matt Bento

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 is one of our favorite features for a pad to have and makes them especially useful around camp. The Black Diamond Mondo and the Metolius Magnum are large enough for two people to sleep on, though the Mondo is very stiff out of the box, and our testers found the Magnum more comfortable if they slept on the softer side. The bottom (strap side) of all the crash pads in our review is softer than the top. Don't forget that if the top feels too rigid for napping on (or for low falls onto your back), you can always flip it over.

Having a crash pad that doubles as a couch can be great for relaxing...
Having a crash pad that doubles as a couch can be great for relaxing between burns.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Conclusion


Crash pads are an integral part of modern bouldering. Not only do they protect a falling climber from impact with the ground, but they might also add confidence to push for more challenging moves. They aren't cheap, so it's best to make the right purchase based on your individual needs, climbing style, and common landing surfaces (uneven, flat, etc.). We hope this article narrows down your options to help you make an informed choice for your future rock endeavors.

May the bouldering crash pad you choose pad your falls and encourage...
May the bouldering crash pad you choose pad your falls and encourage friendship and recreation in the outdoors.
Photo: Matt Bento

Chris Summit, Chris McNamara, Steven Tata, Henry Feder, and Matt Bento

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