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Field Tested: Organic Climbing’s Backfourty Pad

Basics

The team at Organic Climbing, a longtime leader in crashpad tech, teamed up with the Bozeman-based backpack experts at Mystery Ranch to design a bouldering pad explicitly meant to be hauled long distances. The Backfourty is essentially a classic Organic pad with a suspension and carrying system. It’s available in two sizes: Big (open dimensions: 46” x 58” x 5”) and Simple (open dimensions: 36” x 48” x 4”).


Pros

Upgraded shoulder straps: These ones are wide, stiff, padded, and very comfortable; the plastic cores help distribute weight over your shoulders, while also minimizing shoulder-strap bunching. // The adjustable straps and carrying system allow you to customize the pad to your body or shift the way you carry the pad over the course of a long day. // Organic pads are famously well built, with high-quality foam and a durable shell, for a long life; when the pad’s foam gets too soft, you can buy replacement foam rather than a whole new pad. // The Backfourty comes with a wide, padded waistbelt called the “Muffin Protector,” which is normally a $27 add-on. // You get to choose your colors!

Cons

Heavy: My Backfourty Big Pad is 21 pounds exactly, though some of that may be dust. For context, this is six pounds heavier than the slightly smaller Asana Superhero (40” x 57” x 4”; 15 pounds) and marginally heavier than the gigantic Black Diamond Mondo (44” x 65” x 5”; 20 pounds, six ounces). // One of the more expensive pads on the market: The Big version costs $399; the Simple $239.


Our Thoughts

The Organic Big Pad is one of the best crashpads on the market. The Backfourty improves on the Big Pad by adding a thoughtfully designed carry system that will spare your neck, shoulders, and back on long approaches. If you routinely haul multiple pads for multiple miles, the Backfourty should be on the top of your wish list.


Size Reviewed

Big Pad (46” x 58” x 5”)

Weight

21 pounds

Price

$399

Brand

Organic Climbing


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Organic has been making the Backfourty for several years now, but I didn’t jump on the bandwagon until last October, after a friend and I had the bright idea of hiking four pads (two each) up to Legoland—a sector in Lake Tahoe renowned for its gigantic boulders. Normally the hike is “only” 10ish miles round trip, but the access road was gated, which added two miles of walking on a gentle dirt road to each end of the day, for a fourteen-mile excursion. I was carrying an Organic Big Pad with a Simple Pad attached to the back, plus clothes, climbing gear, food, and water—probably 45 pounds in total; a typical load for me. But my Big Pad was 10 years old and floppy; its shoulder straps were twisted into salty cords; and I’d disintegrated the waist-strap’s buckle in my car door a few months before. So I had no effective way of getting weight off my shoulders.  

By mile eight or so, my arms were going numb from trying to hold the weight of the pad off my shoulders. By mile ten, my back and neck were cramping so badly I had to take stretching breaks. By the time we got back to the truck, I had stabbing pain around my ears and in several vertebrae and couldn’t bend over to tie my shoes. (The awkward load had inflamed an old spinal injury that I’d been lucky enough to mostly forget about until then.) The next day, barely able to walk, I ordered the Backfourty Big Pad. 

I’ve been more than happy with the purchase.  

The Backfourty’s pre-curved shoulder straps are wider than the traditional Organic pad straps and are kept stiff with embedded plastic strips. The plastic has two functions: It helps distribute weight across the strap, decreasing hotspots on your neck and shoulders; and it keeps the straps from bending and rolling into shoulder-destroying ropes as they age and grow more pliable. The shoulder straps also hang farther apart than they do on the Big Pad, which takes a lot of pressure off the back of the neck. The straps are attached to the pad with webbing, and there are 10 different anchor points, which gives you plenty of options to adjust them to your body.  

(NOTE: I’m not a particularly big guy—5’8” on tiptoes, medium build—and for me the shoulder straps fit nicely widthwise; but at roughly five inches apart at the neck, the shoulder straps may be set too wide for smaller climbers, putting the weight nearer to the shoulder-head than the saddle above the clavicles. Since this is one of the few places where the Backfourty is not adjustable, it might be worth test-driving one first if you have a narrow body frame.) 

Another substantial difference between the Backfourty and the Big Pad is that Mystery Ranch’s suspension system involves a curved plastic back frame that contours to your back. In addition to increasing the stability of the carry system, the frame lets the pad hang a bit farther from your shoulders. This space allows you to articulate your neck more—i.e., look upwards—without your head hitting the pad. I found this especially helpful on the approach to Juniper Canyon in Red Rock, Nevada, which requires scrambling up a steep drainage clogged with truck-sized boulders; it was certainly nice, on that technical terrain, to be able to move my head and arms without the pad getting in the way. 

The Backfourty comes with Organic’s Deluxe Hip Belt (aka the “Muffin Protector”), which is usually sold as a separate add-on for $27. In Organic’s other pads, the waist belt is made of nylon webbing; this means that carrying a heavy load can lead to cuts and abrasions on your hips. But the Muffin Protector—which can also be fitted to the Big Pad and Simple Pad—is wide and padded, and allows you to comfortably channel more weight to your hips. 

Oh, and all the pieces of this bulky suspension system—the stiff shoulder straps, the wide hip belt—are easily removable, which allows you to lay the pad perfectly flat when you’re climbing over it. 

As a landing zone, the Backfourty strikes the perfect balance between soft and firm: The pad is rigid enough to hold its shape when laid on uneven surfaces, but you can still backflop onto it without suffering too much of a shock. And with five inches of top-quality foam, the pad is soft on the heels and knees when falling from taller boulders. I generally use the Backfourty as the centerpiece of my landing zones—situating it where I expect to take my biggest falls. (To see me take a proper digger on my Backfourty, check out this weekend whipper.)

The Backfourty also has an extra attachment point inside the pad’s hinge-side handle for those days when you’re hauling multiple pads into the mountains; it’s designed to fit their Load Flap (sold separately: $33), which allows you to easily attach one or two more pads to the back of the Backfourty. (Gear hack: If you’re in a pinch and don’t have a Load Flap, wrapping a ratchet strap around multiple pads works fine, but in the long term this will damage the foam of the outermost pad and the ratchet itself will abrade the pad’s nylon sheath, so I recommend investing in the Load Flap.) 

Criticism of Organic’s pads generally focus on two things: weight and cost. But to my mind, any weight considerations are offset by the quality of the landing zone and, in the Backfourty’s case, the heavy-duty carrying system. And the cost is perfectly reasonable given the quality of the pad. Organic pads are durable and well-made. In fact, the 1050d ballistic nylon shell and 1000d Cordura nylon landing zone are so tear resistant that Organic now sells replacement foam, allowing you to simply re-stuff your pad when it gets too soft. After you’ve had an Organic pad for 10 or 12 years, that steep initial investment begins to feel pretty reasonable.