By: Morgan Cvetkovic-Jones
With winter and the outdoor bouldering season fast approaching, you might be planning to make your debut on real rock, taking the skills you’ve learnt at an indoor wall to your local crags or boulders. In this mini-series we’ll be looking at some of the kit you’ll need to get started climbing outside. This week it’s the turn of bouldering pads, the portable blocks of foam that you’ll be taking with you on a bouldering trip to protect you in the case of a fall. Below we’ll suggest our top 5 picks (in no particular order) for your first bouldering pad, taking price and quality into account.
Before we crack on with our suggestions, we’re going to clarify each type of bouldering pad closure mechanism, so you can choose the right one for you:
Hinge –Exactly what it says on the tin, a hinge closing pad will have an incision in the middle of the pad so it closes like a book. Great for storing your pad easily but can present a soft spot in the pad’s fall zone.
Taco –A taco folding pad doesn’t have a hinge and simply closes by folding the foam unit in half. This presents a safer landing zone but makes the pad harder to store. Storing it folded can degrade the mat’s foam over time.
Tri-fold –Similar to a hinged pad but, instead of one central hinge, a tri fold pad splits into three parts with two hinge folds. Ideal pads for maximum ground coverage but are larger when folded.
1. Moon Pluto
The cheapest full-sized bouldering pad on sale, the Moon Pluto couples its affordable price tag with real quality. Featuring a taco folding design with a multi-use strap, the Pluto is an ideal crag companion and the perfect choice for climbers wanting to sample some real rock for the first time.
- Removable and adjustable carrying strap.
- Taco design provides a consistent, safe landing zone.
- Reinforced corners for maximum durability.
- Utilises two layers of foam (one open and one closed cell) for effective fall absorption.
- Not the largest pad on the market and its square shape is (arguably) not as useful as more rectangular shaped alternatives.
- On the heavier side for a pad of its size at 5kg.
- 600D ripstop polyester outer isn’t as durable as some of the competition.
The best bang for your buck bouldering pad on the market. The Session II is on the cheaper end of Metolius’ range but comes jam packed full of innovative features and quality materials that bely its modest price tag. A true all-rounder, the Session is the ultimate first bouldering pad.
- The Session’s clever angled hinge design eliminates any soft spots along the middle of the pad’s landing zone whilst maintaining the ease of storage that comes with a hinge folding pad.
- Efficient closure system secures climbing accessories like shoes and chalk bag within the pad itself whilst doubling as a ground cover for your carry straps, stopping them from getting dirty on the ground.
- Fantastic, durable materials.
- Useful carpet logo in the middle of the pad for cleaning dirty climbing shoes.
- Premium 10cm sandwich (closed, open, closed) foam construction for optimal impact absorption.
- Lightweight (4kg) for a pad of its size.
- The reversible closure straps are secured with hook and loop Velcro which can get stuck to things like car fabrics and jackets.
- On occasions, because of their construction, hinge pads will flip shut when you land heavily on one side and slap you across the legs which can be a little annoying.
Organic have a reputation for producing awesome bouldering pads and their Full Pad is perhaps the best of the bunch. Staking its claim as the most versatile pad Organic produce, the Full Pad is a standard sized rectangular pad that packs some cool carry features which enable it to carry another pad too.
- Each Organic pad is made by hand from recycled materials. So, not only is an Organic pad sustainable and environmentally friendly, it’s also going to be a unique, one of a kind design.
- An angled hinge design removes the soft spot down the middle of the pad.
- Premium materials like 11cm of foam (thick and plush for a pad of its size) and a 1050d ballistics shell mean the Full Pad should stand the test of time (and lots of abuse) as well as keeping your ankles super safe.
- Pouch feature enables another pad to ‘piggy back’ the Full Pad or provides an excellent storage option for your climbing kit, making solo outings easier and safer with two pads on your back, rather than one.
- No carpet material present on the landing zone for shoe cleaning.
- Heavier weight (5kg) is the price the Full Pad pays for its beefier, upmarket materials.
Fresh to the UK after a 10 year hiatus, American bouldering pad brand Flashed are back with some awesome mats. The best of which is the Big Squishy which takes our range by storm, undoubtedly coming in as one of, if not the best, big bouldering pad on the market. With a hinge fold design, this massive pad from Flashed folds down to a generous size for a pad of this fall saving magnitude.
- Huge landing zone.
- No plastic, all closure systems are metal.
- Hinged design with a protective top layer of foam to protect the hinge gap.
- Premium carrying system with padded shoulder straps, a padded waist belt and an adjustable sternum strap.
- Burly 1680d ballistic nylon with PU undercoating.
- Easy Carry multiple pad system. No extra straps or flaps.
- Soft Touch / heavy-duty seat belt handles.
- 1000d Robic Nylon landing surface.
- Heavier than most pads at 8.6kgs.
- Closure buckles are secure but difficult to undo thanks to their hook-like shape.
Last but by no means least is our very own Showdown Pad. The Showdown is, in our opinion, the best ‘mini pad’ on the market and, although this isn’t a direct replacement for a full-sized pad, can be just as useful for sit starts, easy circuits and for covering awkward terrain with jutting rocks and tree roots. A perfect complement to a full-sized pad, the Showdown (and it’s smaller sibling, the Home Turf) are real bouldering game changers.
- Made in the UK.
- Durable (1000d), water resistant, removable and washable outer fabric.
- Lightweight (1.1kg) and extremely portable – will easily fit inside another pad.
- Great ground coverage for the weight.
- 2.5cm of closed cell foam – our foam is tested to 45kg density, which is more durable than most other pad manufacturers and the extra size means you are getting more for your money.
- Two grab handles.
- Not a direct replacement for a full-sized pad.