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Seeking the best bouldering crash pad? Our climbing experts have tested 27+ pads in the last decade. For this update, 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.
Many features, including couch straps and a shoe-wiping mat
REASONS TO AVOID
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, whereas softer foam tends to provide a gentler impact. Though the pad softens over time, we found it 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 quickly.
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 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 Magnum's 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.
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 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 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.
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 has 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 of all the crash pads 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 bad 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.
The Mad Rock R3 stands out for several reasons. The unique baffle design makes it the only pad 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 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.
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.
Our testing of crash pads is divided across five different metrics:
High Falls (30% of total score weighting)
Low Fall (30% weighting)
Durability (20% weighting)
Packing Gear (10% weighting)
Features (10% weighting)
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 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.
The pads in our review have a broad range of list prices, which generally 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. In contrast, 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.
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, making it among the least likely to bottom out for high-impact falls and 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.
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.
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.
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; after testing, we understand why. The Black Diamond Impact feels quite soft right out of 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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. Still, 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.
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.
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 prefer to carry a small pack to organize their supplies and don't bother with the pockets on the crash pads. 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.
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 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, and situating it higher off the ground. The Metolius Magnum has suitcase-style handles on either end 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.
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 you can always flip it over if the top feels too rigid for napping on (or for low falls onto your back).
Crash pads are an integral part of modern bouldering. Not only do they protect a falling climber from impact with the ground, but may 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 review helps you zero in on your options and guides you toward an informed decision for your future rock endeavors.
Chris Summit, Chris McNamara, Steven Tata, Henry Feder, and Matt Bento
We tested 14 of the best ropes available on the market...
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