The crash pad

Table of contents

Crash pads - fall protection with portable bouldering mats
Crash pads – fall protection with portable bouldering mats

Burrito, taco, hard foam or preferably something soft? How big should it be, how important is the carry system, and what actually distinguishes the good pads from the bad?

For bouldering, you actually don’t need much gear: a pair of climbing shoes, chalk, comfortable trousers and a beanie. That’s basically it. If you want to go bouldering outside, though, you actually also need a bouldering mat, also known as a crash pad. But because they’re big, and often expensive, too, perhaps you shouldn’t decide on the model too quickly.

We’ve put together a bit of information for you that should make the decision easier.

The beanie and wide-legged trouser faction is popular again today. It’s all about the crash pad. The accessory par excellence for boulderers, and anyone who wants to become one. The nice thing about bouldering is that you can leave all the climbing paraphernalia such as harness, rope, quickdraws etc. at home, and you can have fun with the movements without thinking too much about it. In the climbing gym, as long as you don’t fall on anyone’s head, this can really be so carefree. When it comes to taking your climbing gym skills outside and onto the boulders of the world, though, for the sake of your health you’d better get some secure fall protection equipment to take with you, and this sooner rather than later. But since you usually won’t want to and can’t drive to your favourite block in a car full of soft floor mats like you’re familiar with from the gym, you’ll have to consider a practical alternative: a portable bouldering mat. We’ll give you a little overview of when different kinds of crash pads make sense, which features are essential, and why burritos and tacos are more than just Mexican delicacies these days.

If you feel safe, you move better. Or something like that. Either way, the bouldering mat is primarily supposed to be there to make you feel safe. Whether or not it manages to do this doesn’t only depend on whether your head agrees with what your body is doing, but also to a large extent on factors such as the properties of the material, functionality and how you and your friends handle the crash pad.

Crash pads should make you feel safe
Crash pads should make you feel safe

The fill

The portable bouldering mat is not just a more or less solid foam mat, it’s a cleverly designed construction consisting of several soft and hard layers. It’s usually two or three layers that are designed to absorb a fall as comfortably as possible. The top layer is made of hard foam so that the energy that you bring to the mat when you fall can be spread as widely as possible and to prevent twisted ankles. Under this comes a softer layer that ensures as much energy from the fall is absorbed as possible and you have a gentle landing. With some crash pads, there is then another hard layer to even further reduce the possibility of bottoming out.

Folded or hinged

And now to the burritos and tacos. Both great, both have filling, but tacos are folded and burritos are hinged. When it comes to crash pads, that is. While fall protection mats made in the “taco style” have a continuous foam construction and have to be folded for transportation, “burrito designs” are systems with two or more parts connected to each other through an outer shell or even a zip. This creates a hinged seam between the individual chambers, which makes the crash pad ready to be transported quickly and easily. The seam also encourages your ankle to twist on landing, though, and thus represents a weak point in the crash pad system. But to do this, you have to land on that point exactly.

The boulderer factor

Unfortunately, even the best crash pad only works as well as we use it. It’s no use, for example, if you lay your pad at the start because it’s so nice to sit on there, but then after two metres you turn through a roof and, at the crux, realise that it might have been better to place it here, underneath where you are now. So, either you examine the boulder carefully beforehand, position your mat at the problematic spot and hope that it will turn out like you think it will, or you have enough crash pads at hand that you can cover all the potential dangerous and not-so-dangerous areas.

A third option would be for your friends to constantly position the crash pad underneath you while you boulder. This is a very good option. For this though, you need not only attentive friends but also a bouldering mat that can be repositioned quickly. Crash pads are characterised as being easy to handle when they are fitted with loops, preferably on all sides.

Folding and hinged versions of portable bouldering mats
Folding and hinged versions of portable bouldering mats

Highball or parkours?

Apropos of how easy they are to handle: Before buying a crash pad, you should think about what you want to use it for. As is so often the case, the bigger the mat, the heavier and more unwieldly it is. This rule is true of bouldering mats, too. At the same time, a large mat naturally covers a bigger surface. If you want to get straight into the ultimate challenge of scaling an eight-metre boulder, a pad designed for high falls like the Mondo from Black Diamond makes total sense. But if you want e.g. to quickly run through a parkour course in the forest of Fontainebleau where it can get really narrow, a small, lightweight crash pad is a definite advantages. For this, the Bergfreunde edition crash pad Paddy Cava V2 from Ocun is a possibility. This is why it’s rumoured that there’s a trend towards the “second crash pad“.

The carry system

To make the bouldering mat as comfortable to transport as possible, a carry system is attached to the mat in a more or less sophisticated way depending on the company. Good systems are characterised by the fact that they can be removed or covered while you’re bouldering, and the easier the better. The shoulder straps should be adjustable like with a backpack, and, for heavy mats, they should be padded. A hip belt provides extra stability when you’re carrying it.

Nice, useful extras

For traverses or larger projects, bouldering mats with multiple parts that can be joined together lengthwise or crosswise are a sensible option.

And equally useful part of a good crash pad is a felt boot mat so that you can embark on your project in the best possible condition.

So, before buying your new favourite crash pad, you have a few options to find the features that work best for you. But it’s hard to tell from looking at a screen whether a crash pad offers optimum safety and cushioning. Trying out a bouldering mat in a discount shop of your choice doesn’t give you more than a few insights, either. Real life experience is indispensable, so it’s recommended that you ask your friends or talk to our customer service team.

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Alpinetrek-Expert Florian K.

Alpinetrek-Expert Florian K.

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