I do a lot of bouldering by myself, which means that I do a lot of pad hauling—carrying two, three, even four pads into the lonely woods. Over the years, I’ve experimented with various methods of affixing these pads together to make carrying them easier, and in the process, I’ve learned a few things. While most of these insights seem pretty obvious in hindsight, trust me when I say that there was plenty of error in my experience of trial and error.
This should be self-explanatory, but for weight-dispersal reasons, you’re better off having your biggest, heaviest pads closest to your body, so you don’t get tossed around by their weight. For me, this means carrying the Organic Backfourty (21 lbs), and then attaching the Big Pad (19 lbs), then the Simple Pad (12 lbs), and lastly the Black Diamond Circuit Pad (8 lbs) in that order.
(Note: In the explanations below, I’m using the above-mentioned pads, and my methods will have details specific to them. That said, you can easily translate the ideas and basic principles onto other brands and sizes. See the final picture of this article for another version.)
There’s one major principle at play when deciding how to situate the pads vertically: the higher the weight is situated, the less you have to lean forward to center that weight over your hips. Try to stagger the pads, stacking each pad a little higher than the last, like so:
What happens when you do the opposite? This:
How to physically attach the pads
The ratchet method
When attaching multiple pads together without something like Organic’s Load Flap (which was great until I lost mine), I use ratchet straps, also known as tie downs—the kind you can get at hardware stores for roughly $7 apiece. If I’m only attaching two pads, I’ll forgo the actual ratchet instrument and instead just cinch the strap tight and knot it. But when I’m connecting three or four pads, I find the ratchet itself to be instrumental.
Step 1. Attach the strap to the hinge side of the pad by running the strap around the handle and then looping it through the strap’s metal eyelet.
Step 2. If the pad is lying with its shoulder straps on the ground, attach the ratchet to the lower of the two handles—the one nearest the ground.
Step 3. Ratchet it down.
One more tip: You can put a second strap higher around the pads to keep the tops of the pads from flopping around when you’re walking. This one does not need to be particularly tight.
Three disclaimers about the ratchet method:
- Ratchets can catch on and tear your pad’s fabric covering, so make sure no fabric gets caught in the ratchet’s gears while tightening your ratchet down.
- Ratchet straps comprise relatively thin webbing and, when you tighten them down, can leave imprints in your pad—specifically in the open-cell-foam exterior.
In the long run, these imprints may deform and de-stiffen your pad. To minimize this, you can shim a piece of cardboard between the webbing and the pad. The cardboard makes the whole setup a little less secure, however, so I generally just put my cheapest or most-weathered pad on the outside.
- The handles of your bouldering pad are not designed to take this kind of weight and force, and could feasibly wear more quickly and break. In the 10 or so years that I’ve been using ratchet straps with my Organic pads, I have never actually had a handle break, nor have I seen evidence that one might do so. But I’m sure it’s possible. And I know other climbers who prefer to wrap their ratchet straps fully around all of their pads rather than weight the handles. I sometimes use this technique myself when carrying two smaller, lighter pads. (See the final image in this article.
The non-ratchet method
Attach the ratchet strap to the pad just as with step 1 of the ratchet method, but instead of using the ratchet to tighten and secure the strap, just run the strap around the handle, sit on the pads to compress them, and tighten the strap down on itself with a regular slip knot—leave a loop so it’s easy to untie.
The pros of the non-ratchet method: (1) You don’t have to worry about a ratchet tearing up your pad. (2) You don’t have to worry about your actual ratchet mechanism disappearing in leaves or down a talus hole when you’re climbing.
The cons: It’s way harder to get the system tight, which can be especially important when you’re carrying more than two pads. In general, I use the ratchet when I’m carrying three or more pads, but go without when carrying just two.
The non-handle method
Both of the above methods can be used without attaching the cords to the handles of the bouldering pad you’re carrying if you’ve got long enough ratchet straps. They tend to come in 6-foot and 12-foot lengths. I find 12 feet simply too much cord to deal with, but a six foot ratchet won’t reach all the way three full pads… so I do the handle method.
Carrying your gear inside the pad vs. carrying it in a bag on your chest
Opinions vary here. I’m a pretty short dude with a really short torso, so when I carry a bag like a baby carrier, it tends to bang against my groin while simultaneously obstructing my view of my feet. For this reason, I prefer to stuff my pad full of gear, even though in the long run this will compromise the shape and stiffness of the pad. It’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make, but I know a number of people who make the opposite one.