Best Bouldering Crash Pad of 2020
|Price||$249 List||$399.95 at Backcountry|
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|$278.95 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$178.95 at Backcountry|
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|$210.00 at REI|
|Pros||Straps to attach a second pad, plush suspension, sturdy foam for high falls||Great foam, large surface area, lots of grab loops||Least expensive, turns into comfy couch, innovative way to seal up hinge, big enough to sleep on||Least expensive, compact (small but burly), thick and stiff foam (also a dislike)||Super durable, amazing foam, lightweight|
|Cons||Foam is hard for low falls, stiff for uneven landings||No sternum strap, outdated hinge closure||Not most comofortable to carry, can't carry much gear||Thick, stiff square cut foam, hard to pack, hinged||Lack of features, doesn't pack much gear well|
|Bottom Line||A unique strap system, useful features, and thick foam make this model a fantastic all-around pad||A big pad for big boulder problems||An excellent choice for those seeking to maximize their of foam per dollar||Great choice for those on a budget who want a thick medium pad||The best mid-sized crash pad|
|Rating Categories||Mad Rock Duo||Black Diamond Mondo Pad||Mad Rock Triple Mad Pad||Mad Rock Mad Pad||Organic Simple|
|High Falls (30%)|
|Low Falls (30%)|
|Packing Gear (10%)|
|Specs||Mad Rock Duo||Black Diamond...||Mad Rock Triple...||Mad Rock Mad Pad||Organic Simple|
|Surface Size (inches)||56" x 42"||65" x 44"||70" x 44"||48" x 36"||48" x 36"|
|Weight (lbs)||17 lbs||22 lbs||24 lbs||10 lbs||11 lbs|
|Warranty||1 Year||1 Year||1 Year||1 Year||None, but they do repairs.|
Best Overall Crash Pad
Mad Rock Duo
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 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 also boasts an impressively thick foam and is loaded with extra features, such as 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 makeshift 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.
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 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 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. The Mad Pad is among the cheaper models that we tested, and we believe it will outlast far more expensive pads.
The Mad Pad's main disadvantage is its lack of 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 when new. If money is tight, though, this is our first recommendation.
Read review: Mad Rock Mad Pad
Best for Daily Driver
Our top choice for a daily driver pad is 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 were 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 kind of 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. If you are not concerned with either of these aspects, 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
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's is one of the heaviest pads that we tested, with very dense padding. 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 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. Rounding out the tester team is Henry Feder, who 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.
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 acquired, followed by 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 did 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 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.
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. 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 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 really stiff, which makes it among the least likely to bottom out on for high impact falls, as well as being the most affordable. 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.
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 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. 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. 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. The baffles do have less padded seams, 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 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.
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 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 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 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 "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 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 and then 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 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 layup 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 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, along with the Petzl Alto, came in second place. The Metolius 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 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 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 only pads that failed to handle carrying anything more than a few essentials were the Mad Rock Triple and Metolius Recon. We didn't find a significant difference in the comfort of 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. Still, about half the testers never used it because you end up taking it out at the crag since you don't 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 nor 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. 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.
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 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 can make falls much safer than landing on the bare ground. 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 challenges.
— Chris Summit, Chris McNamara, Steven Tata, and Henry Feder