Here in the UK we share a lot with the Americans. Our taste in music, fashion and culture, the food we eat and even some of their climbing brands. The latest of which is Flashed, a bouldering pad company some might recognise having been on the UK climbing scene over 10 years ago. Now they’re back for another bite of the cherry with two pads that attack the premium end of the bouldering mat market but promise robust, unrivalled quality. A neat addition or more American trash? Read on to find out.
Back on the Scene
The revival of Flashed has seen the introduction of the Big Squishy (massive!) and the Drifter, two hinged mats which come packed full of premium features and even fuller with fancy foams. The Big Squishy takes aim at the lesser established big pad market and, with its gigantic size, feels like an American super truck on British back country lanes. The smaller Drifter pad sits nicely at the premium end of the medium sized pad market, taking on the likes of Snap and Moon for a seat at the ‘normal sized’ pad table.
But, what sets these pads apart? Well, like everything American, the Flashed pads are a drinks dispenser short of being the most fully featured bouldering pads out there, not to mention some of the biggest. But, full feature lists aside, the fundamental purpose of a bouldering pad is to save your ankles and both offerings from Flashed do this tremendously. Both pads feature open (soft) and closed (hard) cell foam layers with the Big Squishy coming in the thicker of the two pads with a 3 layer, sandwich style construction (a thick layer of soft, open cell foam wedged between two thinner layers of harder, closed cell foam) whilst the smaller Drifter sports 2 (one layer of each). In practice, this meant the Big Squishy was the stiffer of the two pads to land on with the softer Drifter proving perfect for most lower-level situations. Although the Drifter is arguably more practical and versatile, especially in the UK, the Big Squishy really comes into its own the higher you climb with that firmer landing area soaking up the impact of high ball falls better than anything I’ve used before.
The central crease caused by the hinge has long been a negative of the hinge folding style of pad - many brands have come up with ways to alleviate this problem over the years, some more successfully than others. But here, on both pads, Flashed have come up with a relatively simple solution. Whilst the main bodies of foam are split into two exclusive sections either side of the hinge, the top layer of thinner, firmer closed cell foam is continuous across the whole pad. This means that the gap down the hinge is protected by this layer of foam, stopping your ankles from disappearing down into the miserable abyss and preventing the pad from buckling and folding upwards when you land on the joint.
So, they’re great at saving your ankles but, what about the rest of your body? The Flashed pads certainly aren’t the lightest and carrying them to the crag, especially on longer walk ins, can take its toll on other parts of your body. But, thankfully both pads come with a fully featured carrying system with nicely padded shoulder straps, a reinforced waist belt and even an adjustable sternum strap. A real highlight of the Flashed pads was the robust quality of the strapping and carry handles, all of which were heavily reinforced and made from a combination of premium metals and strong seatbelt-like materials.
The headline feature with the Flashed pads, though, is undoubtedly the multi-pad carrying system. Consisting of two buckled seat belt straps that run around the body of the pad, these simple straps can be loosened off and tightened around another pad to fix it in place for a long walk-in. In practice, the system works superbly, especially when using the Big Squishy to piggyback the Drifter. A real bonus of the system is that it's not exclusive to Flashed pads, so can be used with other brands, pads and even children. So simple yet so effective, this surprisingly unique addition certainly sets the Flashed pads apart in terms of practicality and premium features.
Whilst we've only been using the Flashed pads for a few months, it's clear to see how well made they are. The burly 1680d ballistic nylon shell has stood up well to sharp rock and all manor of scrapes suffered whilst bushwhacking with the pads in tow - no lasting damage has been caused to this outer fabric or the 1000d Nylon landing surface so far. All buckles and attachment points are made from metal and, although quite fiddly thanks to their hooked shape, have been bomb proof so far.
Last but certainly not least, the foam. With the closed cell layers of foam being put the outside of the pads, no noticeable degradation has taken place thanks to this stiffer layer of foam's ability to bounce back from damage.
The Flashed UK renaissance is well underway and if these first offerings are anything to go by then long may it continue. The Big Squishy and the Drifter are both truly premium options that, although weighing in with a premium price too, definitely justify that price tag thanks to a unique set of innovative features like the multi pad carry system. The Big Squishy is the one pad to rule them all and would be suitable on its own for most bouldering adventures but its the Drifter that's the more versatile of the pair, being more maneuverable and easier to store at home or in a car. Together, the Flashed pads are the perfect pair, the ultimate combination and probably the last bouldering pads you'll ever have to buy.