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By now, most of us are isolated at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, with rock gyms closed or closing, national and state parks closed or closing, and restrictions on non-essential travel in place. Not to mention the whole social-distancing thing, which doesn’t work well when we flood the local crags.
Still, as climbers, we hate to lose fitness. With our usual avenues to climbing or getting our gym session in temporarily road-blocked, and with plenty of pent-up energy and angst, what better time than now to install a hangboard at home and start a strength, finger-strength, or power-endurance protocol?
Along those lines, we’ve rounded up eight of the most interesting boards currently on the market, some new for 2020 and some that have been around longer. All you need is a stud finder, a power drill, and bit of free-hanging room over a doorjamb, and off you go—training at home, with one of the most time- and cost-efficient climbing tools ever invented.
Our Top 8 Hangboards
Metolius Light Rail
I first saw a Light Rail prototype while putting together our 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers course with the pro climber Jonathan Siegrist, its designer. As Jonathan, the crimp master, demo’ed the board, it became clear just how much was being done with so little for this reversible, portable (18” x 3” x 1.5”) wooden hangboard, which boasts a 38mm rounded incut, a 38mm sloper, an 18mm crimp, and a 13mm micro-edge. At the crags to warm up, I did deadhangs and pull-ups—the smooth texture was spot-on (no wasting precious skin), and I was warm by go-time. The Light Rail has all the holds you need to train fierce/warm up and none you don’t—perfection! —Matt Samet
Dan Varian and Ned Feehally, two of the UK’s best boulderers, designed and produced this iconic board, which has become literally the world standard for serious training. Crafted from sustainable tulipwood, the board has a texture that is reliably grippy after a short break-in period, even on its notorious slopers. Comfortably radiused edges in the right positions allow a consistent platform for weighted hangs, while the 1- and 2-finger pockets tempt the truly daring and/or strong. With its variety of grips and smooth surfaces, the Beastmaker 2000 is perfect for endurance repeaters as well, meaning a climber can push her strengths and not stop because of skin damage. The bottom center rung is a classic, flat first-pad edge, ideal for one-hand hanging. While the Beastmaker 2000 is definitely not a beginner board, it’s the go-to for many serious climbers and a staple for various feats of strength posted on social media—the hangboard equivalent of a MoonBoard. And best of all, should it ever somehow reach the end of its useful life, throw it on the fire or in a compost heap, as it’s 100-percent biodegradable. —Peter Beal
Tension Grindstone Mk2
The wooden Grindstone Mk2 improves on the original version to create one of the best hangboards out there. Featuring edges from 30mm down to 10mm spaced at 5mm increments, plus 8mm edges, one 50mm edge, and jugs, it’s intended for intermediate to expert climbers. Our tester appreciated the asymmetrical layout: All hold pairs are equidistant from each other, which was friendly to shoulders. The poplar board looks good and provides minimal friction. Our tester’s skin didn’t bunch over the custom edge profile, which is tapered just enough to preclude passive hanging; you’re always working to keep your fingers curled. Because of this, he had to use bigger holds than usual—humbling, but great for getting stronger. —Kevin Corrigan
So Ill Iron Palm
Shaped by the Cryptochild himself, the legendary highball boulderer Jason Kehl, the Iron Palm has one of the best textures on the market—fine grained and sticky, but without being too aggressive (read: skin shredding). I always hit the urethane Iron Palm up at the gym as my go-to board for max hangs (weighted hangs) when my skin is thin or already worked from climbing. With its Dali-esque contours, the Iron Palm in a very compact package features two cool, plus-sized sloper balls, four vari-sized edges/rails with a light rounding at the lip that won’t hit you in the painful finger creases, and a small- and a wide-grip pinch. It’s rare to find pinch options on hangboards, so if pinch training is a priority for you, move this board to the top of your list. —Matt Samet
Metolius Prime Rib
The Prime Rib dispatches with the bells and whistles of larger boards. There are no pockets or slopers or pinches, just three edges—large (38mm), medium (23mm), and small (15mm). And that’s really all you need. The simple design results in a compact board (20″ x 4.2″ x 1.5″) that will fit where others won’t and requires just four screws, making set-up easy. I mounted the Prime Rib above a doorframe at my house. The 38mm upper edge is slightly positive, good for warm-ups and pull-ups, though by no means “easy.” I’ve found that it’s also a good reference for recovery. I use it to get a baseline each day—if I can approach my longest hang time, it’s a good time to try hard, but if I’m falling off early, it might be better to rest. The lower rungs come in at 23mm and 15mm. Because there are only three edge sizes, you’ll want a system to add and remove weight to get the difficulty just right. Due to the Prime Rib’s smooth wood texture, all of the edges have felt wicked hard to hang, but didn’t hurt my skin. At $50, it’s also one of the most affordable options on the market. —Kevin Corrigan
Tension Simple Board
The Simple Board is a modular hangboard system that gets back to the basics. No unnecessary edges and no pockets—just a simple cut of wood with three or four edges depending on the model. To break it all down:
- The J2015 has a large top hold for warming up and pull-ups, and tapered 20mm and 15mm edges. Both the 20mm and 15mm edges are labeled for reference.
- The J1086 has the same warm-up jug but then boasts a 10mm, 8mm, and 6mm edge in place of the 20mm and 15mm edges; these are also labeled for quick reference while training.
Both models come in either a solid board that’s 22 inches long or in pairs that are 5.5 inches long each. (The solid board starts at $85, while the paired mini-boards start at $50.) I trained on both the J1086 and J2015 blocks, and added the optional end caps—pieces of machined metal that attach to your board ends to offer additional hold selection and training options. This hardcore, spartan tool makes you check your ego at the door, and that’s what I loved. The tapered edges make each hang more difficult than it would be using an incut or flat edge. Tension added the taper to keep the edge comfortable and not bite into your skin, allowing you to hangboard multiple days in a row or after a climbing session. The taper also lets you train two- and three-finger hangs without the need for a pocket—on other boards, with flatter or more incut edges, trying to train “pockets” this way often creates painful biting. —Levi Harrell
Transgression USA Progression hangboard
The Progression and its even more punishing (read: smaller edges) cousin the Transgression are serious boards for serious climbers looking for measurable gains or who are following strict hangboard regimens—they aren’t for dabblers. Designed by the top Spanish climber and coach Eva Lopez, the boards dovetail with her PhD thesis Effects of Different Grip Strength and Endurance Training Methods on Sport Climbers of Different Levels, and synch up with a series of instructional videos on YouTube (evalopeztraining). The boards feature a staggered set of edges all with their depth on clear display (from 10 to 24mm on the Progression, and from 6 to 18mm on the Transgression) so you can easily and rapidly access the hold size you need—perfect for repeaters on vari-sized holds, max hangs on a specific grip size, etc. The shape is a basic incut edge, but by using it in either a fully open or half-crimp position, you can train for specific hold types and strengths. My local bouldering gym, The Spot, has the boards, and they are my go-to for max hangs on days when I’m feeling frisky and want to either measure gains or experiment with different hold depths. Hit these boards up with fresh skin—the texture is notable. —Matt Samet
Trango Rock Prodigy Training Center
The Rock Prodigy is an outstanding hangboard that meets the needs of beginner to expert climbers and can keep you psyched for long-term gains. I’ve been using it along with the hangboard protocol described in Mike and Mark Anderson’s book, The Rock Climber’s Training Manual, for years, and have seen measurable gains. Unlike slimmed-down hangboards, the Rock Prodigy has many useful grips (i.e., not just edges) including pinches, slopers, crimps, micro-crimps, and comfortable pockets (2-, 3-, and 4-finger) with texture that won’t shred your skin. With its split, mirrored, symmetrical layout, it’s perfectly designed to allow comfortable hanging positions without other grips getting in the way. I also like the varied hold sizes, which I use depending on how strong or weak I’m feeling. Trango also sells the Rock Prodigy board with pulleys, rope kit, and the training manual (called the Rock Prodigy Elite Package) so you can get totally set up with one purchase—definitely the way to go. Or you might consider the Rock Prodigy Forge, which offers slightly different grips and has a smaller footprint. With both boards, you can also hang Three Ball Climbing’s Beast Balls on the eyebolts below the hangboard and campus to the slopers or jugs. It’s a great workout. —Ted Lanzano