Crash pads stem from a relatively straightforward idea. If you’re going to be climbing steep, and potentially dangerous surfaces, then you’re going to need something that will protect you if you accidentally slip and fall.
Crash pads, often made from foam, are placed between you and the ground to reduce the impact from any errors. Usually, they’re used in climbing and bouldering, and placed in pre-defined routes before the climb begins. It’s a lot like having a safety net in place, to protect you if you don’t quite make that next important grab.
The trouble is, while crash pads are essential to keeping you safe in climbing sports, it’s also hard to find the ideal one for your needs. There are literally dozens of options on the market, ranging in size, shape, and price. So, how do you start shopping?
We’ve put together this guide, complete with in-depth tips, and even a few handy reviews, to give you the best shot at choosing the crash pad that’s right for you.
Everything You Need to Know About Crash Pads
Before you can begin your search for the ultimate crash pad, you’ll need to understand what these products actually are, and how they work.
There are a few major kinds of crash pad that you can choose from today, including small, medium, and large pads. Each of these options serves a different distinct purpose, for instance:
- Small pads cover up the cracks or edges in dangerous climbing areas
- Medium pads are popular for the majority of climbing tasks, thanks to their portability
- Large pads are designed for higher falls because they cover a bigger surface area
In an ideal world, most bouldering professionals would take a large pad with them on every adventure, because its great for minimizing the risk of an injury. However, due to the size of this pad, it can be very difficult to lug them around wherever you go.
So, how do you choose a crash pad that’s suitable for your needs?
Well, it’s a complicated process.
You know that when you fall, you’re going to want something soft and reliable to land on that’s going to stop injuries to your feet and body. However, a simple piece of foam might not be enough for all bouldering experts. Here are some features you’ll need to think about when making your choice.
How to Choose a Crash Pad: Crucial Features
Virtually all crash pads come with a few of the same critical components. For instance, all crash pads include a thick foam core in a protective fabric. Most of these products also come with a set of straps, or a carrying handle so that you can take them with you on the move. Additionally, many crash pads also include Velcro components, so you can attach various pads together.
To help you make the right decision when selecting your crash pad, let’s examine some of the most essential features in closer detail.
The Materials: What Are Crash Pads Made Out Of?
You can get very basic crash pads that are just made with a single layer of foam. However, the majority of these products come with two or three layers of foam, mixed between open-cell and closed-cell materials. The open-cell foam is usually softer and more lightweight. It feels more comfortable when you fall against it, so it’s a lot like landing on a mattress.
On the other hand, closed-cell foam is a lot more dense; it helps to spread the force of the impact over the entire pad surface. While it’s nice to have a soft pad that’s comfortable to land on, the hardness of the closed-cell foam beneath is crucial for preventing injury. If you have a cheap soft pad, then you might compress the foam to the point where you’ll still feel the ground beneath.
Some advanced crashpads also come with a layer of memory foam included. These give you a good mixture of hardness and softness to work with. While there’s no one-size-fits-all for the kind of padding you need, it’s best to stay away from anything that’s too hard or too soft.
Remember, when choosing your crash pads for climbing, you’ll also need to think about the kind of thickness that’s suitable for you. As a general rule, most pads will be no less than 3 inches thick. Fatter pads come in thickness ratings of around 5 inches or more. If you’re going to be falling from a greater height, then you’ll need a thicker pad as part of your landing gear.
Folding Styles: Angled, Flat, or Taco?
Once you’ve decided what kind of foam you want your crash pads to be made out of, and how thick you want them to be, you’ll need to consider how you’re going to carry that gear around with you. Remember that some larger pads can come with some serious weight to them. That means that you’re going to need some kind of strategy to make them more portable.
Most standard large pads will fold in half for carrying – although some have three sections that fold into fewer sq ft. There are also taco-style shells that roll up like a yoga mat. If you have a folding mat, then the hinge between your foam filling is important to consider. If the hinge is to big, then it could leave a gutter or gap in your pad where you won’t have any protection.
Fortunately, a lot of flat hinge pads come with Velcro included within the hinge, or a sternum strap along the bottom that keeps the two sides together, even when you’re contending with high ball climbs or high falls. Some manufacturers also create angled hinges in their mats to remove the gutter problem, or you may find some products with a step-style hinge.
The style of pad that you choose will be dependent on a few different things. For instance, if you spend a lot of time bouldering on uneven terrain where there are a lot of hazards or rocks under a fall, then a taco style pad, or one with an innovative hinge, will be more durable and protective. Taco style pads are often very common for organic climbing.
Considering Size and Durability
So far, we’ve considered the materials included in your crash pad, like high density foam and nylon coatings. We’ve also looked at how you can transport your pads using rolling and folding techniques. Now, we need to think more carefully about the dimensions of your pads.
As mentioned above, most crash pads come in a variety of three sizes, including small “slider” pads, medium pads, and large pads. While a standard sized pad can start at around 50 inches, you can also get mats that cover several feet at once. The bigger the pad, the more space you can cover, and the more reassured you’ll be when you’re climbing in difficult areas.
Ultimately, the size that you choose will be up to you. You’ll need to make the decision based on what you know about your climbing preferences. However, you’ll need to ensure that your crash pad is large enough to accommodate your weight (lbs.), and that it’s big enough for the area that you’re climbing in. A pad that’s enough for other climbers might not be suitable for you.
While you’re choosing the perfect size, make sure that you think about the durable outer layer of fabric that will eb protecting your crash mats from the elements too. If you’re the kind of person who likes to do a lot of climbing around sharp rocks, then the last thing you want is for your pad to be exposed to unnecessary wear and tear.
Extras: How do I Carry My Crash Pad?
Depending on your needs, you can also find many advanced crash pads with extra features that make your climbing experience more convenient. For instance, some pads come with a “welcome mat”. This is a towel-like fabric that you can sit or stand on when you’re beginning a route. You can also use welcome mats to keep your shoes clean.
Some pads have welcome mats built-in, while others allow you to add and remove them at will. Another handy feature that you may find on your crash pad is a number of pockets. For instance, if you have a few things that you need to take into climb with you, and you don’t want to worry about bringing an extra backpack, then pockets are a great choice.
Although a sturdy closure and carrying system for your crash pad is often regarded an “extra,” the truth is that many expert climbers consider it to be essential. Plastic buckles can easily break, and a bad closure could mean that your pad ends up opening when you’re walking, which can be a serious pain. Some pads come with multiple metal buckles to help you out, as well as zips that go all around the pad.
On top of that, the majority of leading crash pads will also come with a carrying strap system that includes everything from a waist belt, to a set of shoulder straps to make it easy to carry your pad over tough terrain. A bulky pad that’s easy to transport can end up getting left behind in favor of something smaller, but less secure.
Choosing the Perfect Crash Pad
Clearly, there are a lot of different components to consider when choosing the ideal crash pad. It’s not always as simple as finding the first item that matches your budget, or a mat that’s big enough. You also need to consider your specific climbing style carefully.
To help you narrow down your choices, here are some of the most popular crash pads on the market for different unique purposes.
- Best Value: Mad Rock Mad Pad
Designed by the Mad Rock brand, this crash pad measures three by four feet in size, delivering a pretty reliable amount of surface coverage. We’d usually call this a mid-sized pad, as it won’t cover too much space, but it should be enough for many climbing endeavors.
Created to offer peace of mind when you’re climbing at a range of heights, the Mad Pad is made for people who want to maintain both security and comfort, without having to worry about breaking the bank. The foam in this pad is five inches thick, but it’s made with a unique structure that helps to absorb impact like a much thicker pad.
One particularly impressive feature of this product is how easy it is to take with you on the move. There’s a set of backpack straps included on the pad, as well as a waist and chest strap for easier carrying. Additionally, when you’re done climbing, you can fold the pad up into a comfy chair, so you and your pals have somewhere to relax.
The Mad Pad also comes with Velcro straps included, so you can attach multiple products together to create a more comprehensive landing zone.
- Best for Beginners: Black Diamond Impact
If you’re looking for a basic pad that’s easy to carry and suitable for a range of scenarios, then you’re probably on the right track with the Black Diamond Impact pad. Since many beginner boulderers and other climbing enthusiasts tend to climb boulders of similar styles and heights, this product is often a good choice for those who aren’t ready to test out some more dangerous spaces yet.
Measuring at just a little larger than most entry-level pads, the Black Diamond will cover several feet of ground and rock, so you have a great place to land if anything goes wrong. The foam, which is four inches thick in total, is semi-stuff, which means that it’s comfortable when you hit it repeatedly from different heights.
This is a strap-and-hinge style pad, which means that it’s easy to fold up and take with you on the move. There are carry handles included, as well as shoulder straps and a waist belt for better movability. Additionally, the non-rip polyester means that your pad is more likely to stand the test of time.
- Best Large Crash Pad: Black Diamond Mondo
Another option from Black Diamond for those who need extra protection when bouldering in the wilderness, the Diamond Mondo is an excellent choice. This pad measures about 2,860 square inches of coverage, with foam inside that’s five inches thick – making it one of the sturdiest pads that you’ll see on the market today.
If you spend a lot of time climbing tall boulders, or you consider regular-sized crash pads to be a little too small for your purposes, then this could be the perfect option for you. One of the best boulderers in the world today, Nalle Hukkataival, recommends the Mondo when attempting major boulders.
One great thing about this product is the fact that it’s incredibly versatile. It’s good for using around shorter boulders too. The only downside is that you’re going to have a pretty difficult time taking this product around the wilderness with you. The crash pad weighs around twenty pounds, which means you’re likely to be exhausted by the time you get to wherever you’re going.
- Best Overall: Organic Climbing Big Four
Speak to most climbing and bouldering enthusiasts in the world today, and the majority of them will tell you that they have at least one product from Organic Climbing in their wheelhouse. The Big Four crash pad is reliable and easy to use, with what many consider to be the best foam quality that’s available on the market today. The thing that really sets this product apart from other contenders is the three-layer design, which includes memory foam, open-cell foam, and closed-sell foam.
The unique structure of the Organic Climbing Big Four means that it’s great at offering a good combination of both comfort and durable support. What’s more, there’s the option to purchase the same pad in a five-inch thickness, if you prefer a little more padding.
There are a few downsides to this pad. For instance, the foam is a bit on the stiff side, which means that you might need to spend some time breaking it in before it feels really comfortable. Additionally, if you’re using it on uneven landing surfaces, the traction of this pad isn’t perfect.
- Pyschi Triple Pad
Finally, if you’re looking for a relatively large crash pad that doesn’t break your wallet, or your back, then this could be the product for you. Some bouldering enthusiasts prefer the triple pad design because it makes it easier for them to fold a large amount of foam up into the back of their car or van when they’re going on hiking or bouldering trips.
This product comes with a reliable design that includes dual-density foam, for a good balance of support and comfort. There’s also a hard-wearing material cover included to keep your product in good condition for as long as possible. Created for all kinds of bouldering, including highball problems, the Psychi is a versatile choice for a lot of climbers. Another positive is that it comes in a range of colors, so you can get something that suits your style.
If you can’t find the triple pad from Psychi, then there are similar options available from Mad Rock, too, such as the Mad Rock Triple mad pad, which comes with handy carrying straps and a considerable amount of thick foam for extra peace of mind.
Ready to Go Climbing?
Which crash pad seems the most appealing to you?
If you’re still having a hard time making your choice, here are the key points that you’ll need to keep in mind when shopping:
- Check out a variety of different pads to get an idea of the size, weight, and features you need
- Get a pad that’s big enough to cover all the ground you need, but not heavy enough that you’ll leave it at home.
- Choose the right hinge for the areas that you’re going to be climbing in. For instance, a taco style pad is best for uneven ground.
- Don’t buy cheap foam if you want it to be protective, or durable.
- Consider using different mats for different purposes as you expand your bouldering skills
Tell us about your favorite bouldering pads in the comments below, and good luck on your next climb!