Eight picks for pad people
The beauty of bouldering is its simplicity. Grab a pad, shoes, some chalk, and head up to the nearest boulderfield for a quick after-work burn or an all-day outing. A good crashpad softens the blow of ankle-wrecking, heel-bruising falls, so you can boulder longer and harder, and it doubles as a bed in the back of your van. Our testers hauled 15 pads around the West’s primo bouldering areas to select these eight top models, ranging from massive highball behemoths to light and compact halfpints. We scrutinized everything from foam quality and buckle strength to overall durability and strap configuration. Since it’s hard to compare a plush highball pad to a normal-sized mat, we categorized them by size into small, medium, and large.
Testers’ Favorite ORGANIC SIMPLE (medium) 48” x 36” x 4”
Four testers couldn’t get enough of this high-quality and functional mat; three-plus months of testing put the Simple at the top of everyone’s list. Thought to have the best foam in the review, this pad’s closedcell top layer with open-cell foam underneath made for comfy landings from five to 20 feet. Each of the four testers gave the pad a solid 5 (out of 5) in durability, after all their dragging, hauling, packing, unpacking, and overall abuse didn’t manage to break a single strap, buckle, or seam. “This pad’s best feature is its toughness,” said one tester. One downside: the Simple wasn’t the best for carrying gear—although a strap on the bottom kept large items inside, it didn’t do much for smaller gear (shoes, water bottle, chalk pot). An optional Slider sit-start pad ($40) is great for covering small gaps between pads or just cleaning your shoes before a send.
Burly to the max
Overall Excellence METOLIUS BAILOUT (medium) 48” x 36” x 4”
“Large enough to make you feel protected on highballs, but not too large to hate carrying around,” the Bailout shone for having comfortable shoulder straps and a simple unfold-and-go design that includes three closure points with sturdy buckles. A day’s worth of bouldering gear (food, water, shoes, jacket) tucks in nicely, but anything more might run the risk of falling out. One tester found this the perfect pad for Bishop highballs, and despite the dense foam (1-inch closed cell, 2.5-inch open, 0.5-inch closed), it wasn’t too harsh on the feet and ankles. This “great pad in a great size” opened up to 48 by 36 inches, which was large enough to cover a sizable amount of ground, but still packed down nicely for loading into the car. And at nine pounds and about $140, it won’t break your back or your wallet.
Perfect for one-pad owners
Shoe-wiping top carpet square
Best Value MAD ROCK MAD PAD (medium) 48” x 36” x 5”
This pad has been around for several years, and it remains a favorite because of its value and durability. After owning his for four years, one tester has managed to only lose one buckle. He said he “feels much more confident falling from palm-sweating distances” onto this pad, thanks to a cushy five inches of foam (1-inch closed, 3-inch open, 1-inch closed). Landings are soft on your feet and ankles without running the risk of bottoming out, and despite the generous foam allotment, the Mad Pad is inexpensive at $140. One annoyance is the lack of drag handles, but backpack straps kept it comfy on hikes of two miles or less. (Those backpack straps did tend to snag on roots and rocks, though.) If you’re on a budget, this is a great pick. You’re also gaining a couch with this pad: The side straps will hold it in sofa mode.
Durable, durable, durable
Doubles as a couch
Colossal Carrying Capacity MAMMUT SOHO (large) 47” x 39” x 3.5”
“I really can’t stress how awesome and easy to pack up the three-dimensional triangle design is,” said one tester. “You could carry everything from a small puppy to a tripod in this thing.” Thanks to this triangular fold, the Soho also has a narrow profile for squeezing between trees and boulders. However, this pad’s unique carrying capacity comes with a caveat: It’s extremely bulky to pack into a car or closet. Also, the strip of webbing that latches the bottom flap is too short to maximize the “diaper” flap’s potential carrying capacity. More than three months of testing proved the Soho’s durability—it showed little to no wear and tear, and the foam easily withstood the battering of many falls.
Perfect for photographers/videographers
Slim for navigating overgrown terrain
Transformer MISTY MOUNTAIN STEALTH (small) 48” x 35” x 3”
“The Stealth is like the group’s goofy little brother: If you want to squeeze just one more pad in the car, the Misty does the trick,” said one Colorado tester. “This little guy is great for sit starts and leveling out landings.” This is the only pad in the review that separates into two parts, making it great for filling in small gaps and covering long traverses. The petite nature of the Stealth was great for shorter climbers, who tend to drag the bottoms of larger pads when descending steep terrain. Backpack straps, a waistbelt, and briefcase handles offer a nice variety of carrying options, but beware that smaller items carried inside might migrate out the bottom or sides when hauling or boulder hopping. The pad’s extra-long straps were annoying and tended to catch on everything, but that’s easily solved with a knife and a lighter.
Perfect for post-work burns
Most Innovative Design STONELICK YOSE (medium) 48” x 36” x 4.5”
Stonelick’s ingenious “step hinge” was a favorite among testers because it eliminates dead spots in the middle of the pad (a weakness of regular hinge designs) and prevents foam wear and tear from repeated folding and unfolding (a weakness of unhinged— taco or burrito—designs). Even laid out on curved surfaces, the pad doesn’t fold up on you, as the step hinge provides a sort of lock. (This also means it doesn’t drape well over rocks if you need it to conform to the surface.) Velcro closures around the hinge also help hold it open. One tester said, “I think this will become the standard for hinge-style pads in the future.” The high-quality foam was suitable for falls from all heights. One negative: the straps weren’t great—the backpack system didn’t have much cushion and had no waistbelt. Bonus: One percent of the purchase price for any Stonelick pad goes to the Access Fund.
Best hinge design
Cadillac Pad FLASHED SHOGUN (large) 66” x 42” x 4”
As the heaviest pad in the review at 18 lbs., the Shogun also offers the largest landing space at 6.5 by 3.5 feet—nearly the square footage of a twin-size mattress. The full-suspension carry system includes a waistbelt with thick webbing and a burly buckle, which “carries like a champ.” The side-closure buckles were a bit futzy because of their small size, but the trifold design and large size allowed for hauling plenty of gear. (This means packing it in a car was a bit tricky.) Testers complimented the foam’s balance of softness and density; it stood up well to the multi-month testing period, and was suitable for any boulder, including the uneven landings and highballs at Rocky Mountain National Park and Mt. Evans in Colorado. Overall, “This pad stands out because it’s huge and comfortable and carries well.”
Doubles as a bed
Big, big, big
Smart Sizing and Flaps Kinetik Newton (large) 48” x 41” x 3.5”
“Absolutely brilliant flap system that covers the hybrid hinge and backpack straps when open and provides a safe cocoon for gear when packed up,” said this pad’s main tester, who took it throughout the Southwest and Texas. Waterproof bottom material, a small pocket, and the ability to choose different sizes for the carry system round out the Newton’s bells and whistles. See a full review here.
Get the right pad.
Foam: Open-cell foam is the soft stuff that usually makes up the middle of a pad. While it makes for soft landings, it’s easier for a falling climber to bottom out, and it wears out sooner. Closed-cell foam is the dense stuff on the top and sometimes bottom of a pad. It spreads out impacts better, making it useful for highballs.
Carry system: If you’re carrying your pad more than five minutes, you want backpack straps (most pads have these). The comfier, the better. If you’re carrying a large pad more than a mile, you will probably want a waistbelt. Drag handles (briefcase style) are great for leaving your pad open and dragging it from problem to problem.
Packing: When carrying a pad on your back, you’ve got to put your gear somewhere, and inside the pad is the way to go. Most pads have compression straps that ratchet down to keep your stuff from falling out; newer designs have large flaps that guarantee your belongings won’t create a line of breadcrumbs following you down the trail. Photo and video people would do well to pay attention to this feature.
Folds: Bifold (taco) and trifold (burrito) are the most popular designs, and each has its own pros and cons. The taco pad is usually smaller in area and has one hinge (a dangerous weak spot in your landing zone where you can bottom out). The burrito will either have no hinges or two hinges. These pads have a slim carrying profile.