Who would have thought that something seemingly so simple as a bouldering mat could be the cause of so much debate? Barely a week seems to pass without some apparently bewildered individual popping up on an internet forum to seek guidance in the confusing world of the crash pad. Although for the vast majority of mats the concept is straight forward: a couple of layers of foam, a fabric outer, and some rucksack straps, as is so often the case the devil is in the detail. Small things such as the design of the buckles, or the positioning of the straps can make the difference between a pad being a pleasure to use, or if done badly the source of niggling frustration. I purchased my Highball pad 2.5 years ago; my magpie tendencies must have been attracted by its large size and cheerful yellow appearance. Since then on average I’ve used the pad 2 or 3 times a week, which I reckon probably works out at about 50p per use. Hopefully the foam’s still got a few more months life left in it yet, so overall I’d say it’s been an excellent investment.
Design and Construction
The Highball is a classic hinged pad; for those who prefer a wrap-around ‘taco’ design there’s also the DMM Dyno, which is the Highball’s sister pad. With some hinged pads the join between the two sheets of foam can lead to a soft strip down the middle of the pad if the foam doesn’t fit the cover closely enough. Thankfully the Highball is a quality product and the foam has remained a very tight fit within the cover, so I‘ve never found this to be an issue. The foam itself is in 3 sheets, with a thick slab of low density open cell foam sandwiched between 2 sheets of high density closed cell foam. The idea behind the high density lower sheet is that the load is spread more evenly if the pad highball1.jpgis placed on uneven ground: in practice it’s hard to say for sure whether this set up is more effective than the standard 2 layers of foam, but with a total foam depth of 10.5cm the Highball certainly provides a soft landing and lives up to its name.
Now it’s well known amongst regular boulderers that some of the big brands in climbing gear use really low quality foam in their pads – whilst this may save the manufacturer a few quid it does nothing for the climber who is soon left with a soft and useless pad. Fortunately DMM have not gone down this sneaky cost cutting road and the foam is of a high grade – squeezing it does not produce a tell-tale popping noise for instance! It is noticeable however that even when new the pad is quite soft; fortunately the foam seems to hold its bounce really well and has softened up surprisingly little, even after 2.5 years of use in my case. The choice of fabric is similarly robust: the 1000d Ballistic Cordura comprising the base is suitably bombproof. As the name suggests this fabric was developed for use in military body-armour and has withstood the sharp rocky landings at classic Lakes venues such as the Lad Stones and Carrock Fell with impunity. The landing surface, although taking far less stick than the base, is still constructed of 1000d Cordura. Likewise this is still totally intact and has even maintained its original cheerful yellow colour. The stitching and build quality are hard to fault; some stitching has come undone on the closure flaps, but this is only cosmetic and after so much use this is the kind of wear and tear that you would expect to receive with any product of this nature. The rounded corners are certainly a good feature of the Highball, as the large holes in the square corners of our Alpkit Phud pad will certainly attest to! The closure straps are easily long enough to allow a rucksack to be carried inside the pad and the fabric flaps should stop your stuff from dropping out of the bottom.
It’s certainly the sign of a good product when you have to rack your brains for a while to come up with any bad points. One complaint that springs to mind comes from my short legged girlfriend rather than I; this is that the shoulder straps are set quite high up on the pad. Although this is not a problem for myself, she finds the bottom of the pad bangs against the back of her knees whilst walking, as well as making it difficult to scramble over boulders and the like. Therefore boulderers under 5’4” who enjoy visiting blocs with long walk-ins should probably try before they buy – the Wild Country Big Air pad for instance has the straps set lower down. Personally I think the pad would benefit from slightly higher density foam, and maybe only 2 sheets rather than 3 to reduce weight and bulk, although at 5.4kg the Highball is not overly heavy compared to similar sized alternatives anyhow.
If you’re looking to invest a bit of money in a very well made hinged pad then you won’t go far wrong with the Highball. For my money this is the perfect size for a bouldering mat – small enough to be used for circuit bouldering and yet big enough to cover a good area of ground when going for highball numbers. When my current highball goes to the great boulder field in the sky I’ll certainly be buying another, and I guess you can’t getter a better recommendation than that.