Bouldering, which was once considered a simple training activity for longer climbing routes and big walls, has become one of the most popular forms of rock climbing. With each passing season, boulder fields see higher visitation from eager groups of crash pad-wielding enthusiasts.
The simplicity of bouldering is responsible for its rapid surge. Compared to other climbing disciplines, bouldering is approachable and easy to understand. All you really need to get started is a pair of climbing shoes, chalk, and a good crash pad.
The object of the game is simple: Climb to the top — no rope required. As you progress, more difficult routes open up to you with fresh possibilities, offering a satisfying method for tracking progress. It’s a social world, where hanging out with fellow climbers is as much a part of every session as climbing is.
Well-placed crash pads are vital for safe outdoor bouldering. Now, as new products arrive to meet the growing demands of pebble wrestlers everywhere, there are more crash pad options than ever before.
From recognizable and well-established brands like Metolius and Organic to newer, flashy designs from the likes of So iLL, we have compiled the best crash pads available in 2021.
Scroll through to see all of the crash pads we recommend, or jump to the specific category that you are looking for:
The Best Bouldering Crash Pads of 2021
Best Overall: Organic Simple Pad
USA-based Organic Climbing is revered for having the highest quality crash pad foam in the game. With a specific focus on bouldering, Organic Climbing has invested careful attention over many years into developing an ideal landing surface maximized for safety and shock absorption.
With a full 4 inches of padding, including an inch of stiff closed-cell foam and 3 inches of plush open-cell foam, the Simple Pad ($185) is a streamlined workhorse that will hold up to many seasons’ worth of repeated falls.
Featuring a 1,050-denier ballistic nylon shell and a 1,000-denier Cordura landing zone, the Simple Pad’s surface materials match the quality of its foam. And it holds up well to being dragged around on rugged terrain. For hiking and storage, the pad folds down to 36” x 24” x 8”. It is secured with nylon straps and metal buckles.
Organic Climbing’s deluxe hip belt is well-padded with heavy loads and long approaches in mind. As with all Organic pads, the landing zone is customizable with your choice of background and accent colors upon purchase.
At $185, the Simple Pad provides good value in every category. It’s a high-quality option for beginners looking for a do-it-all pad, or for experienced climbers looking to add more reliable surface area to their quiver of pads.
While it can stand alone for shorter boulders with flat landings, at 36” x 48”, the Simple Pad’s landing surface will often need to be complemented by additional pads.
Although slightly more expensive, the Organic Big Four is a large and well-designed option that we also recommend at $300. For a smaller accessory pad from Organic, the Briefcase Pad is a handy piece of extra-lightweight protection.
- Folded: 36” x 24” x 8”
- Open: 36” x 48” x 4”
- Those looking for high-quality function with minimal extra features
- Excellent foam quality
- Good value
Check Price at REI
Best Value: Metolius Session II
This affordable option from Metolius has the same dimensions as Organic Climbing’s Simple Pad. The difference is that both the foam inside and the 900-denier polyester outer fabric are not quite as durable and will likely wear out faster than Organic’s. Still, at $160, it’s one of the least costly regular-sized pads available and has plenty of well-considered features.
The Session II comes with a large flap enclosure system. Because the flap seals the bottom of the pad closed while folded up in backpack mode, you won’t have to worry about your stored gear spilling out on the approach. This cargo system feels more secure than the Simple Pad, which can be ordered with a flap of its own installed for an extra $10.
Two drag handles make it easy to quickly reposition the Session II, or move it from boulder to boulder without folding it back up. We also like the carpet square sewn into the landing area for wiping mud from your shoes in between attempts on your project.
Unique to Metolius Pads, the Session II features an angled hinge that eliminates the gutter that would otherwise exist along the fold line.
Seasoned boulderers will probably be familiar with the Session II. It’s among the best-selling pads of all time, and rightfully so. While it may show wear faster than its competitors, overall it’s a great value with lots of added features relative to its price tag.
- Open: 36″ x 48″ x 4″
- Folded size: 36″ x 26″ x 8″
- Weight: 9 lbs.
- New climbers seeking their first pad and climbers on a budget looking for the best value
- Great value
- Functional features including carpet square and flap enclosure
- Less durable than other options
Check Price at REI Check Price at Amazon
Best Large Crash Pad: Black Diamond Mondo
With nearly 20 square feet of surface area and a thick 5 inches of foam, the Mondo is what you want beneath you on the tallest boulders with the sketchiest landings. At $400, this is one of the more expensive pads on the market, but the security that it offers against high falls when you need it most is invaluable.
The most recent version of The Mondo has been redesigned with square corners to ensure minimal gaps between other pads. Also, a rubberized nylon underside prevents the pad from slipping around on slanted or uneven landing zones.
Aside from these practical features, the pad is actually quite simple — there are no flashy patterns or hidden pockets here. This pad has one job: to soften that terrifying digger when the time comes to commit way off the deck.
A base layer of open-cell foam conforms to the ground, while an upper layer of closed-cell foam disperses impact across the entire surface of the pad. For hiking, the suspension system is made to handle heavy loads. And at 20 pounds, you’ll appreciate the padded shoulder straps and hip belt. Hardy 1,000-denier nylon covers the entire landing area.
For such a large pad, we appreciate that Black Diamond kept the overall design simple and uncomplicated. For new climbers or climbers on a budget, the Mondo might be more pad than you need. But for mega highballs, there is no better option on the market.
- Open: 44” x 65” x 5”
- Highball boulders with bad landings
- Thick foam and huge surface area
- Suspension system with lots of padding for heavy loads
Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Amazon
Best Features: Petzl Alto
The Petzl Alto ($300) is packed with thoughtful features. Although the Alto has been around for several years, its innovative design remains a standout on the crash pad market.
Most notably, the Alto is completely buckle-free. Instead, a multipurpose zipper keeps this taco-style pad folded while in cargo mode on your back.
While bouldering, this very same zipper covers the shoulder straps with a large flap and create a smooth landing surface. It’s a unique design that solves many problems that other pads struggle with. Unfortunately, if the zipper breaks (and as we know, zippers do break), the pad loses its advantages.
A burly suspension system is great for heavy loads, and it features Velcro along the waist and shoulder straps instead of buckles. Because this is a taco-style pad, it does not have a hinge or a gutter.
The other benefit of the taco style is the plethora of storage space it offers while in hiking mode. Because of the zipper system, you won’t need to worry about your stuff slipping out of the bottom. As a tradeoff, though, taco pads do not sit perfectly flat when open, especially after heavy use.
The foam is slightly thinner overall than other pads with similar surface areas. However, Petzl utilizes a dual-density, closed-cell foam layer that sits on top of a layer of plush open-cell foam and cushions all but the largest falls very well.
As a bonus, the Alto can easily convert into a two-person bench seat for lounging around camp. The larger version of the Alto is the Cirro, which is identical other than its increased size.
For those who love technical designs with quirky features, this is the ideal pad. For everyone else, though, at $300 for a standard-sized pad, you are just paying for features and not the simple utility of a reliable landing surface.
- Open: 3.87′ x 3.28′ x 3.9”
- Weight: 12.57 lbs.
- Those who appreciate an innovative design
- Lots of features
- Many of its features solve common issues with other pads
- Expensive relative to its surface area
- If the zipper breaks, the pad is difficult to carry
Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Amazon
Best Specialty Pad: Mad Rock R3
For padding complex landing areas safely, the R3 from Mad Rock ($200) is a specialty pad that offers a certain versatility that no other pad does. Instead of the typical closed-cell and open-cell foam layered structure, the R3 is built with seven separate baffles. Each baffle is filled with chunks of shredded closed-cell foam.
It’s like a taco pad in that it doesn’t open on a single hinge. However, the gap between each baffle means that there are multiple gutters on the R3. It is not ideal for large falls or as a standalone pad.
We recommend you use the R3 when a landing zone includes a large hazard like a jagged boulder or tree stump that needs to be wrapped with padding. The R3’s baffles allow the entire pad to conform to the shape of such features and stay in place when other pads would not. When folded in hiking mode, the R3 can stretch out and carry an impressive volume of gear.
Because it was made specifically to pad the gnarliest of landings, the R3 is fully covered in mega-hardy 1,680-denier nylon. Also, the internal foam filling can be replaced, so the purchase of an R3 is a long-term investment.
Still, this pad is not the best option for a beginner looking to begin building their quiver. At $200 and 20 pounds, it’s heavy relative to its surface area. This pad really should only be brought along when the terrain calls for its particular characteristics. If used properly, this innovative pad can be the puzzle piece that unlocks a safe landing below your project.
- Open: 35” x 55” x 4”
- Weight: 20 lbs.
- Uneven landing surfaces, padding large features like stumps and jagged rocks
- Baffle system fills in gaps where other pads won’t fit
- Heavy-duty cover material and replaceable foam
- Six gutters create the potential for bottoming out if used improperly
- Not ideal as a standalone pad
Check Price at Mad Rock
Best Package Deal: So iLL Eco Camo
Newly available in 2021, the So iLL Eco Camo ($270) crash pad has an eye-catching design and incorporates recycled materials. Notably, this crash pad comes with So iLL’s Gap Pad, a 2.5-inch-thick supplemental pad that works alongside the main pad to create lots of versatility for various kinds of landings.
The main pad is 47.5” x 39.5” and 4.25 inches thick. Made with an impressively durable 1,680-denier polyester material and multiple layers of varied-density foam, the Eco Camo crash pad should hold up well in the long term.
So iLL has intentionally prevented the presence of a gutter by structuring the pad with a hybrid taco/hinge folding method. An “unbreakable” aluminum buckle closure system secures the top, bottom, and side flaps that hold both the main pad and the Gap Pad in place while hiking. Because there are flaps on all sizes, you won’t have to worry about your shoes or water bottle slipping out while you scramble through the talus.
The suspension system features wide, well-padded straps for the waist and shoulders. An added sternum strap is a welcome feature. Not many crash pads include these, and they can offer an important bit of extra security when the load gets heavy.
During your actual bouldering session, large grab handles on two sides of the pad make it easy to quickly slide your pads into position.
Right away, you’ll notice that the aesthetic of this pad is a touch wilder than most others on the market — something we’ve come to expect from So iLL. Although it’s marketed as a camo design, this street art-inspired burgundy and green print stands out more than it blends in.
At $270, the Eco Camo Pad is a solid value thanks to the inclusion of the good-sized supplemental Gap Pad. For those who appreciate recycled materials and eye-catching design, the Eco Camo delivers without sacrificing durability.
- Crash Pad: 47.5” x 39.5” x 4.25”
- Gap Pad: 39.5” x 22.0” x 2.5”
- Style-minded climbers looking to round out their quiver with a solid set of good-value pads
- Comes with the supplemental Gap Pad
- Hinged/taco fold prevents gutter
- Sternum strap for stabilizing heavy loads
- The suspension system rests in the dirt while the pad is in use
Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Amazon
The Best Crash Pads of 2021: How to Choose
When selecting the best crash pad for you, you’ll first want to identify your specific needs as a climber. If you are new to outdoor bouldering and want to own a single pad to contribute to your squad’s collection, you probably want a good, all-around option that is durable and fits your budget.
If you are looking for something to protect your 30-foot-tall highball project, you’ll want something with thick padding and lots of surface area.
Several factors contribute to the overall protection that a crash pad offers. Size, thickness, foam type, outer material, and hinge type should be considerations for anyone looking to purchase a crash pad.
Crash pads come in a variety of sizes. Of course, more surface area is a positive trait in a crash pad. More surface area means more protection.
However, simply purchasing the largest pad available might not be the best move for everyone. Large pads are expensive, and they also tend to be quite heavy.
If you drive a small hatchback or a sedan, you might not be able to fit a large pad inside for transport to the boulders. Generally, a large pad is any pad with a landing area measuring over 20 square feet. These behemoths often have names like the Mondo or the Magnum, and they’re especially handy for high bouldering.
Pads with a landing area of less than 20 square feet can be considered regular-sized pads. This category varies quite a bit in size, and it’s usually a good place to start for those looking to buy their first pad.
The Organic Simple Pad and the Metolius Session II are both options in the regular pad category. Pads of this size can sometimes stand alone as protection for short boulder problems with flat landings. But more often, we use multiple regular-sized pads together to create a safe landing zone.
Yet another size option is the supplemental pad. Expect pads in this category to be less than half the size of open regular pads, and a bit thinner, too.
These smaller, lighter pads are designed to be used as supplements to regular or large pads, and they don’t offer much on their own. Instead, a supplemental pad can provide a key piece of coverage over a pointy rock or ankle-threatening crater.
Supplemental pads are great for boulder problems with a sit start — especially when the ground is wet or muddy. Conveniently, the So iLL Eco Camo Pad comes with a supplemental pad that is included in the price tag.
The author out for a bouldering session in Utah; photo credit: Austin Beck-Doss
After surface area, pad thickness is the most important characteristic to consider. Regular pads are usually between 3 and 5 inches thick. Large pads are almost always at least 4 inches thick. Supplemental pads are usually between 2 and 3 inches thick.
A nice, thick pad goes a long way to cushion your fall from that precarious top out at the lip of your project. If you plan to pursue tall boulder problems with potentially scary falls, opt for a thicker pad.
For certain falls, the thickness of a single pad is not sufficient. You’ll need to stack multiple pads on top of each other. Bottoming out and feeling the ground through your pad is an experience that every boulderer wants to avoid.
However, thickness alone does not tell you how effective any particular pad is at softening a fall. Materials are also a factor.
Materials and Layering
Two primary types of foam are used in the layers of a crash pad. Open-cell foam contains small compartments that are open to the air. When compressed, the air within each of these cells can escape. After compression, air will rush back into these cells to pump the foam back up and help it return to its original shape.
Closed-cell foam does not have nearly as much give as open-cell foam. Closed-cell foam is firm and fairly rigid, as the air inside the cells is not able to escape, even during impact.
Most crash pads use a layered system that combines closed-cell foam with open-cell foam. Generally, these layers are configured so that the stiffer closed-cell foam can disperse the impact across the pad’s entire area. However, the soft open-cell foam absorbs the impact.
Different manufacturers choose to layer their foam in various strategic configurations. Some pads, like the Mad Rock R3, are filled with chunks of foam rather than large, flat layers. This results in a more pliable crash pad overall, which is great for specialty use but is not as effective as a standalone pad.
When foam wears out, which it inevitably will with heavy use, companies like Organic Climbing offer replacement foam to give the pad new life.
Types of Hinges
Because of their large landing zones, bouldering pads have to be folded to become small enough to easily transport. A few different folding methods exist, and each comes with its own pros and cons.
The most common types of crash pad hinges include the classic hinge, the angled hinge, the taco, and the hybrid.
Crash pads with classic hinges are the most common. A classic hinge is found on a pad that simply folds in half along a crease made of nylon or other fabric. Each side of the pad is a separate compartment of layered foam, and the two sides fold perfectly together without creating any space in between.
While folded, the classic hinge does not compress any of the pad’s foam, which is good for longevity. When compressed, foam loses its integrity over time.
The downside to the classic hinge is that, when the pad is laid out during a climbing session, there is a small gap between the two symmetrical compartments of layered foam. This gap — also known as a gutter — can create a hazard because there isn’t any foam to absorb impact beneath the nylon.
When using a pad with a classic hinge, it’s important to ensure that no rocks or other hazards are sitting inside the gutter’s open space. Some manufacturers like Black Diamond have added Velcro to the inside of the hinge to help eliminate negative space.
To solve the gutter problem, other manufacturers, including Metolius, utilize an angled hinge that is lined with Velcro. When the pad is open, this hinge style creates an overlap on foam and greatly decreases your chances of bottoming out.
Photo credit: REI
The taco-style hinge is hardly a hinge at all. Instead, taco-style crash pads are one continuous piece of layered foam that simply folds in half and gets secured into position for transport. While tacos totally eliminate the gutter problem, they need to compress quite a lot to fold, which can harm the foam’s integrity over time.
Taco-style pads like the Petzl Alto are great for storing lots of gear, but they tend to be more difficult to switch into backpack mode. We recommend that taco-style pads are stored open when not in use to prevent excessive compression.
Finally, a few pads combine a classic hinge with a taco fold in an attempt to get the best of both worlds. These hybrid pads, such as the So iLL Eco Camo, include a cut hinge that is covered by a surface layer of foam. With hybrid hinges, the gutter is hidden beneath foam and tends to be less of a hazard.
Outer Materials and Durability
Crash pads need to meet the demands of rough terrain and heavy use. Over the lifespan of a pad, it will cushion falls and be dragged through the dirt over and over again.
The inner foam is contained by an outer layer of nylon fabric that is tasked with facing the stress of constant wear and abrasion. For this reason, look for a pad with a durable cover.
All nylon is identified with a denier count that measures its thickness and abrasion resistance. Generally, the greater the denier count number is, the tougher the fabric will be. Most crash pads come with 1,000-denier nylon or greater.
Pads like the Black Diamond Mondo come with a rubberized underside surface to add durability and prevent pad slippage. If you know you’ll be bouldering in areas with lots of highly abrasive surfaces, like Joshua Tree or Vedauwoo, you need a robust nylon cover.
While the landing surface is the most important functional part of any crash pad, some other features can decrease hassle during transport. Once you know the pad size and thickness you are after, you can begin to consider other traits that may impact your decision.
Depending on where you like to go bouldering, approaches can be long and strenuous. If you’ll be dealing with difficult hikes during your climbing day, you’ll want to select a pad with a well-designed suspension system.
Some pads on this list weigh over 20 pounds — even before you account for any extra gear. After you add your snacks, water, layers, shoes, chalk, camera, tripod, fan, and supplemental pads to the load, you may end up lugging over 30 pounds to your project.
Also, approaches to the boulders notoriously include talus scrambling and bushwhacking. A good suspension system will make all the difference.
Padding and Straps
The larger the pad, the more padding you’ll want on the carrying straps. Some straps are adjustable, so make sure you’ll be able to customize your pad to fit your body.
The So iLL Camo Eco has a built-in sternum strap, which adds additional support and helps the pad move in sync with your body. The Black Diamond Mondo has a noticeably comfortable suspension system. The Petzl Alto has reinforced straps that inspire confidence in the suspension system’s longevity.
During bouldering sessions, easy grab straps or handles allow you to quickly adjust the pad’s placement. Too many bells and whistles can make a pad cumbersome and overly complex. However, well-placed handles are worth seeking out.
Finally, remember that the best crash pad is the one that meets your climbing needs and fits into your lifestyle
Similarly, think about how you will transport your pad from your home to the boulders. Typically, a single regular-size pad will fit in the back seat or trunk of most small sedans. Larger pads require larger vehicles for transport.
If you spend a lot of time traveling, be aware that a crash pad can be difficult to transport by plane. Most pads are too large to be checked, and you have to pay extra to bring them along.
What Is the Best Crash Pad?
Although we recommend crash pads like the Organic Simple Pad and the Metolius Session II for their value and overall performance, the best crash pad is the one that serves your current and future needs as a climber.
Ask yourself questions like: How much space do I have to store a crash pad when I’m not using it? What kind of boulder problems do I most like to climb? What is my budget?
Once you’ve identified your needs, you can select the pad that will best serve you. We recommend all of the pads on this list.
What Are Crash Pads Made Of?
Crash pads have two major elements — the inner foam that provides cushioning, and the outer covering that offers abrasion resistance and durability.
On the inside, two kinds of foam are usually layered to create an effective system of impact distribution and absorption. Open-cell foam is easily compressible because the air within each cell can seep out under pressure. This kind of foam gives a pad its plush cushioning qualities.
Closed-cell foam is more rigid and doesn’t soften when compressed. Inside a pad, the layer(s) of closed-cell foam will be thinner than the layer(s) of open-celled foam. When layered, these two types of foam combine to dissipate and absorb impact.
To contain the foam and protect it from the elements, most pads employ thick nylon covering. Nylon fabric has a denier count, which basically conveys the thickness of the material.
For crash pads, look for at least a 1,000-denier count. When you’re dragging your pad across the forests of Squamish or the deserts of Bishop, you’ll want to know that your pad can hold up to constant abrasion.
Do I Need to Use a Crash Pad While Bouldering?
Back in the day, climbers often went bouldering without pads, opting instead for a thin carpet square that would hardly inspire the confidence of contemporary boulderers. Now, however, crash pads have become a standard piece of necessary gear. We don’t recommend going bouldering without pads.
Depending on the boulder problem, you may only need one or two. In some cases, you’ll want to get the whole squad together to contribute pads before giving that highball project a go.
Photo credit: Lorenia
How Long Do Crash Pads Last?
Foam is usually the first part of a pad to wear out. After cushioning lots of falls over the years, foam can become lumpy, flat, and lifeless. When this happens, it’s wise to retire the pad from climbing and perhaps repurpose it as a bed for your pet.
Some pads — like the Mad Rock R3 and most offerings from Organic Climbing — can be refilled with fresh foam that is available from the manufacturer upon request.
The lifespan of a pad depends on the frequency of use and quality of materials. But, you should expect to get at least a few years out of any good-quality option.
How Much Do Crash Pads Cost?
Because crash pads come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, prices vary a ton. Most regular-sized pads cost between $150 and $300, while most large pads cost between $300 and $500. Supplemental pads are rarely more than $100.
Have a favorite bouldering crash pad? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.
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