How to Choose a Crash Pad

Calling all pebble wrestlers! Let’s talk crash pads. How do you choose one? What makes some crash pads more preferable than others? Can’t I just use a mattress? We will cover all of that and more. But before we get started, you should know the following:

  • You are going to be hard-pressed to find a “bad” crash pad from big-name brandsIf you are nervous about buying a “bad” crash pad, stay within the established climbing brands: Organic, Mad Rock, Metolius, Black Diamond, Petzl, Misty Mountain, and Evolv. You can’t go wrong with a pad made by one of these companies. This guide, however, is designed to help you pick the best one for your needs.
  • If you haven’t budgeted at least $150 for a crash pad, wait until you can. Any pad cheaper than $150 is not going to be worth the purchase.
  • Lastly, please be sure to never buy used pads as you don’t know what conditions they’ve been kept in.
Crash Pads
As a pebble wrestler, I am easily confused by crash pads.

Let’s do this! Not all crash pads are created equal, especially when it comes to your budget. To pick out a crash pad that hits all of your needs AND falls in your budget, let’s first go over the difference between, say, a $400 Black Diamond Mondo Pad and a $150 Metolius Session Pad.  These are both great pads but have very different uses. To understand those uses, we’ll break down crash pads into three distinct attributes: style, size, and materials.

Crash Pad Style

The style of a crash pad refers mainly to the closing method of the pad but also the overall design. As of 2017, there are 3 main crash pad styles: Hinge, Taco, and New Baffled.

Hinge

  • Hinge crash pads are really two pieces of foam held together by a thin piece of the outer fabric. Often times they come with straps to wear as a backpack AND to carry like a briefcase. There have been a couple of iterations of hinge pads over the years by different companies including the angle hinge, which angles the top layer of foam all the way to the closing point of the hinge, and the hybrid hinge, which contains one layer of continuous padding along the top while the bottom layers are separated as normal. Be sure you are aware of what kind of hinge you are looking at when shopping for hinge style crash pads.
  • Pros:
    • Folds nicely. Hinge style crash pads fold down the most of any style which is optimal for storage. I have found that they are also the best to shove gear into on the approach.
    • Lays flat. Hinge pads also lay the flattest on flat ground. They create the safest landing zone when there isn’t much debris.
    • Tri-fold. The hinge design allows for pads to be bigger and fold up smaller. Because of this, we get the tri-fold option which is a great way to get a big pad that won’t take up your entire trunk.
Pad Types
  • Cons:
    • Rocks can get you through the hinge. I cannot tell you how many times I have laid my hinge pad down on a landing only to fall and be stabbed through the thin hinge by a protruding rock. Hinge pads are the worst choice for uneven terrain. While angle and hybrid hinge variations work to alleviate this problem, in my experience they have not completely solved it.

Taco

  • Taco style pads are made up of one continuous piece of padding that is closed by folding the single piece in half (it looks like a taco). Every taco pad I have seen comes with backpack straps but sometimes they do not have side handles.
  • Pros:
    • No hinges or openings for rocks to get you on uneven terrain. Taco pads are perfect for laying right over any terrain and creating a nice landing zone when there isn’t one.
  • Cons:
    • They can’t lay flat. Because you are folding the single piece of padding, taco pads don’t lay flat and are therefore the worst option for flat landings.
    • Not to mention they are a pain in the butt to store in a closet or trunk.

New Baffled

  • There is currently only one pad on the market with this style (hence “new”) and it is the Mad Rock R3 crash pad. Go Mad Rock for changing up the game! You’ll find reviews across the internet raving about this pad and I have been lucky enough to fall onto one of these bad boys. New baffled style pads are essentially comprised of a couple of tubes of recycled material connected by padded hinges.
  • Pros:
    • This thing is a beast. Regardless of the terrain, new baffled pads lay flat and conform to the landing. They also fold up nicely for storage (and are the comfiest to sleep on!).
  • Cons:
    • They have the most failure points.
    • New baffled pads have a ton of little hinges holding the tubes together. While we haven’t had enough time to test the new baffled style, more hinges = more opportunities to fail.
    • It is one of the heaviest pads on the market at 18lbs. As boulderers, our approach usually isn’t so bad, but it is still worth noting.
    • One size, one manufacturer, one option.

Crash Pad Size

Crash pad manufacturers make size choice pretty simple for us. You are generally going to find two sizes of pads: small and large. Sometimes these are called half and full or medium and big. Regardless, you are looking at a 3ft x 4ft pad or a 4ft x 5ft pad. These sizes may vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer but for the most part, these are your options. So, are you looking for a big pad or a little one?

Big Pads

  • Pros:
    • Cover more landing area
  • Cons:
    • Heavier
    • Take up a lot of space
    • Difficult to travel with
    • More expensive

Little Pads

  • Pros:
    • Lighter
    • Take up little space
    • Easier to travel with
    • Less expensive
  • Cons:
    • Cover less landing area

If you have the space and budget for a big pad, get one. Otherwise, I’ve taken plenty of falls onto small pads, it’s not so bad.

The Black Diamond ``Mondo`` is one of the biggest crash pads on the market.

Crash Pad Materials

Now we are getting down to the nitty-gritty. There are 2 different materials to be aware of in a crash pad: the cover and the foam. The cover would be just that, the material on the outside of the crash pad. It’s the material you are coming in contact with every time you fall or pick it up. The foam is the innards or the actual pad portion of the crash pad.

Cover

You should be aware of the material that is covering the pad you are looking at. Hard covers are going to be more durable and often weather resistant but won’t be as comfortable to lounge around on. This is a bigger deal than you may think as there can be quite a bit of lounging when bouldering. Soft covers, on the other hand, are good for wiping off your shoes before you climb and are nicer to lounge on, but may not hold up as well to the elements.

Foam

The foam is the most important part of your pad. While many pads may look the same (have the same height, give, etc.), they may not have the same foam core which means that the pads will not take falls in the same way.

  • Foam Type
    • Closed-cell foam is a stiff, durable, weather-resistant foam. Many times in the description of a pad you will see it referred to as “stiff foam” or “hard foam.” Unless you are looking to fall onto what feels like plywood, I wouldn’t suggest an entirely closed-cell foam pad, but many pads have at least one layer of closed-cell foam. More closed-cell foam means a stiffer, more uncomfortable, more durable pad. You also want to look for more closed-cell foam if you plan to fall from taller boulders as the stiffer pad has a lower chance to bottom out (compress all the way to the ground).
    • Open-cell foam is the opposite: soft, not as durable, and absorbent (so more prone to mildew and not as weather resistant as closed-cell). Many pads have at least one layer of open-cell foam, often referred to as “soft foam.” While open-cell foam makes for a cushier fall and is nicer to sleep on, more open-cell foam means a much higher chance to bottom out when taking long falls.
    • Memory foam is found in some new models of crash pads. I have seen layered in as both “soft foam” and “hard foam” depending on the pad and the density of the particular memory foam used. These pads tend to be more on the expensive side but, as one would expect, they take falls fairly well.
  • Foam Usage
    • Take a look at how many layers of foam are in the pad and what those layers are comprised of. Using the info above about types of foam, you should be able to get a good idea about how the pad will take falls from different heights as well as how durable and weather resistant the foam will be.
  • Pad Height
    • The overall pad height will also give you a good idea of how the pad will take falls. Small pads can be as little as 3 inches tall and bigger pads can reach upwards of 5 inches. Taller pads tend to have more layers of foam and thus are more expensive. These pads are built to take bigger falls and distribute force more evenly. Meanwhile shorter pads will likely be less expensive, but they are built for smaller falls.

With all of this info in mind, I will leave you with some questions you can ask yourself when picking out a crash pad and also some of my personal suggestions for pads.

How to Choose a Crash Pad

  • “What terrain am I mainly climbing on?”
    • If your local bouldering is incredibly developed, hinge pads are better suited for flat landings, so a hinge style pad is probably the best choice.
    • If you are looking to bushwack it, you probably want a taco pad or a new baffled pad to cover those jutting rocks in your landing zone.
    • If you are into highballs, you will not want a pad thinner than 4 or 4.5 inches.
    • If you are terrified of highballs, you could save a few bucks by looking at thinner pads.
  • “What kind of storage do I have for a crash pad?”
    • If you live in an apartment or out of your car with little to no storage, you definitely do not want to go for a taco pad.
    • If storage isn’t an issue and you have plenty of trunk space in your car, you might consider a taco pad.
    • If you travel a lot to boulder, specifically on a plane, you definitely want a hinge pad and may want to splurge for memory foam as they tend to be lighter.
  • “How many pads do I already have?”
    • Zero. If you are looking to buy your first crash pad, I suggest a hinge style or new baffled style. While there really is no “beginner” crash pad, when you are starting to boulder outside for the first time, you are likely going to climb at developed areas with flat landings, so you won’t want a taco style pad.
    • One or more. If you already have one or more crashpads, consider buying a different style so that you are better suited for varying terrain. So if you have a hinge pad, I’d grab a taco pad. If you have both, seriously check out the Mad Rock R3.
  • “Do I want to sleep on my pad?”
    • If you don’t have a sleeping pad or just want your crash pad to be multi-functional, be sure to grab a big pad. Trust me. I am over six feet tall and have slept many nights on small pads with my legs hanging off. It is very cold. More open-cell or memory foam in the padding would also make for a better night’s sleep.

Suggestions

Organic Full Pad ($185): Ol’ Reliable. While this pad won’t completely break the bank, this has been my pad of choice for the past 5 years. It has survived storms, mud, snow, ice, and countless falls. It is just stiff enough to take tall falls well and soft enough to sleep on. It stores gear tightly for approach hikes and is all around light enough to wear for approaches more than a mile long.

Mad Rock R3 ($189): The Golden Child. I have yet to find a bad review of this pad. Mad Rock is the first company to revolutionize crash pad design in years and it paid off. This pad solves a lot of the problems with traditional hinge and taco pads. It lays flat over uneven terrain, takes falls like a champ, and best of all, it’s the most eco-friendly pad on the market (R3=Reduce, Reuse, Recycle).

Black Diamond Mondo Pad ($400): The Big Boy. This is the best pad I have ever fallen on. Clocking in at 5 inches thick and almost 5 and a half feet long, this pad is an absolute beast. The only cons to the Mondo are the hinge design, the weight (20lbs), and, of course, the price.

Metolius Session ($150): #Value. The Session is the best $150 crash pad I have found. There are several others in the price range but between the angle hinge design, light weight (9lbs), decent size (4ft long), and the foam height (4in), it is the best value at the $150 tier.

1 Comment

  • Freeda Demuizon Posted May 27, 2018 12:55 pm

    bookmarked!!, I really like your web site!

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Year you started climbing?
2010

Year you started working at Sportrock?
2014

Favorite climbing spot?
New River Gorge, WV

Most memorable climbing experience?
Splurging on a cabin at the New and getting to soak in a hot tub every night after climbing. Not so much the having to sleep on the couch after.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee?
Summer Camp instructor, Belay instructor, Front Desk staff, Marketing Manager, Brand Manager.

Passions in life?
My family, all animals (especially my two cats), design, and popcorn.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words?
Creative, loud, and obsessed-with-animals.

What would surprise us to learn about you?
Surprisingly, there are still people at Sportrock who don’t know I have an identical twin sister...even though we climb together. Also that I’m originally from California and married to my high school sweetheart.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why?
Definitely a cat. I love naps in warm, cozy places.

Lillian Chao-Quinlan
Lillian Chao-Quinlan

President

Year you started climbing? 1999

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2000

Favorite climbing spot? Kalymnos, Greece.

Most memorable climbing experience? Too many and all memorable for different reasons - sending a hard climb, being in a beautiful place, climbing with my husband and friends...

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? Instructor, Investor, President.

Passions in life? Creating opportunities in the climbing community that support people in discovering their potential!

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Passionate, driven, reliable.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I LOVE M&Ms (dark chocolate specifically!).

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? Grizzly bear because I love the great outdoors, eating fish and scaring campers!

Andrew Kozak
Andrew Kozak

Senior Director | Director of SR Sterling

Year you started climbing? 1999

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2002

Favorite climbing spot? Red Rocks, NV.

Most memorable climbing experience? The Great Arch in Stone Mountain, NC.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? I’ve done them all.

Passions in life? Family.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Caring, Committed, Clean.

What would surprise us to learn about you? On hard, crimpy boulder problems, I only climb with 9 fingers.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? A pet panda for my daughter because she LOVES them.

Sean Taft-Morales
Sean Taft-Morales

Director of SR Alexandria & Outdoor Programs

Year you started climbing? 2001

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2010

Favorite climbing spot? Yosemite in early spring.

Most memorable climbing experience? One of my most memorable moments came at the end of the first day of my first big-wall climb. I was hating life, had been belaying on a 6 inch ledge for hours, was cold, hungry, and had forgotten my headlamp in the bottom of the haul bag. I was just about ready to give up on climbing forever when the sun started to set, and a cloud of a thousand swifts started feeding all around me. Climbing to me is all about stepping back to find beauty in these extreme environments and experiences. You have to get out of your head and recognize that it's a pretty cool planet.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? Outdoor guide, Desk staff, Closing manager, Basic Skills instructor, Camp Director, Director of Alexandria, Director of Outdoor Programs.

Passions in life? Aside from climbing, I love baking bread, sailing, and playing dungeons and dragons.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Evidence-based, Glittery, Color-coordinated.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I once hitchhiked over 2,000 miles in 8 months around the southwest US climbing. I also started climbing after attending a Sportrock birthday party.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? I would be a blue whale - it's the most alien landscape and fundamentally different experience I could imagine.

James Anastasion
James Anastasion

Director of Membership

Year you started climbing? 1994

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2003

Favorite climbing spot? Chattanooga, TN.

Most memorable climbing experience? Leading my wife up Old Ladies at Seneca Rocks to propose on the south summit.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? I started as a routesetter and continued with that part-time through most of my Sportrock career. I was also the SR Rockville Gym Director, Operations Director, Instructor, IT Department, Cleaner, Builder, Repairman, Purchaser, Installer, etc. And I continue to do many of these roles while also working as the Director of Membership.

Passions in life? My family is always at the top of my list. A recent and strong passion of mine though has become obstacle course racing. If I'm not spending time on either of those things, then you will probably find me in the shop fixing or building something.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Sarcastic (from my wife), Strong (from my daughter), Blank stare (from my son).

What would surprise us to learn about you? I can add poop and fart lyrics to most Disney tunes, especially Frozen and Descendants. If you want to get your daughter laughing, just sing “let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.”

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? Okapi. It is rarely seen and rarely heard of. However, when it finally comes to light you can only think that Prometheus’s children got a hold of the clay one day.

Molly Donelan

Director of Programs & Events

Year you started climbing? 2004

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2007

Favorite climbing spot? Echo Cliffs or Red River Gorge.

Most memorable climbing experience? Deep water soloing in Mallorca, Spain.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? Yoga Instructor, Climbing Instructor, Front Desk Staff, Outdoor Instructor, Lead Manager, Assistant Director, Director of Alexandria, Director of Programs & Events.

Passions in life? My family, jigsaw puzzles, my dogs, camping, climbing, running, baking, neurobiology, and eating.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Passionate, Crazy, Independent.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I used to run my own catering baking business, DC Treats, which served to over 15 bars/restaurants in the DC area, including Good Stuff Eatery and Sticky Rice.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? An elephant because they are strong, intelligent, loyal to the group, and unstoppable.

Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas

Assistant Director of SR Alexandria

Year you started climbing? 2010

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2010

Favorite climbing spot? Red River Gorge and Reeds Creek.

Most memorable climbing experience? The Red River Gorge was my first outdoor trip ever. I knew nothing and went with experts! It was my first lead belay and the first time I cleaned a route. I fell in love. And the experience reminded me that I was improving, growing, and getting over my fear of heights every day.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? Birthday Party Instructor, Front Desk Staff, Front Desk Manager, Instructor, Retail Manager, Assistant Director of Alexandria.

Passions in life? My passion in life is helping others work for and achieve goals. Every personality test I’ve taken led me to the same common theme: helping, teaching, and motivating others. Currently, I want to share the love of climbing with those who may not have the opportunity to do so and introduce a new mental and physical challenge into their lives.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Loyal, Enthusiastic, Supportive.

What would surprise us to learn about you? Other than being absolutely afraid of heights...I love love love the sound of lawnmowers because it reminds me of warmer weather and free time. It's the sound of summer! I played soccer since I was 2 years old, was a Middle School PE teacher, and completed a 500 mile hike. I also lived in Istanbul, Turkey for six months and scored free tea and coffee almost daily for three of them!

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? Golden Retriever - The extroverted, loyal cuddler that loves to play and meet new people. They are energetic, active, and they love and want to play with everyone. They also like meeting new people, going on long hikes and adventures, and sharing hugs and treats.

Gray O'Reilly
Gray O'Reilly

Marketing Manager

Year you started climbing? 2012

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2014

Favorite climbing spot? Leavenworth, WA.

Most memorable climbing experience? Freezing temps. 50-degree sleeping bags. Car stuck in the mud. Unable to start a fire. Finally start a fire. Snow. Fire goes out. Car still stuck in mud. Start another fire. Survive the night on body heat and sheer force of will. Climb at Endless Wall the next day!

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? Belay bot for parties and open climb; Summer Camp instructor; Private Lesson instructor; Head Camp Coordinator; Marketing Manager.

Passions in life? School is and always will be one of my great passions. If I could professionally collect degrees in various fields, I would. Also, publishing a novel is a lifelong dream of mine. So I would say, besides climbing: learning, writing, music, environmentalism...and climbing.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Follows directions.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I was NOT in a fraternity in college. But I was in an all-male acapella group.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? Humpback Whale. No natural predators, meals swim into my mouth, and people travel from around the world to watch me belly flop? Yes, please.

Jeremy Hardin
Jeremy Hardin

Senior Director | Director of Routesetting (L5)

Year you started climbing? 2002

Year you started setting? 2004

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2002

How many comps have you set for? 100+ including multiple World Cup and National Championships.

What is your goal when setting? For gym setting, I try to make every climb consistent in grade, with respect to height and reach, with flow and memorable sequences or movement. For comp setting, the goal is to create fun and fair routes or problems to separate the field of competitors. We try to test all abilities and styles for the overall "best" climber of the event.

How do you come up with route names? That's the hardest part of my day. Normally it comes down to the first two words I can rhyme that are appropriate.

Favorite route name? One Crazy Hooker.

What inspires you to stay constantly creative? My reputation.

Setting pet peeves? When climbers do a sequence or move incorrectly or harder than what is obvious and then complain the movement was "awkward"... sometimes it's not the climb that’s awkward, it's the climber.

Words of advice to climbers who get stumped on your routes? Try harder.

Passions in life? My wife and son, cars and trucks, fixing stuff.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? He’s a Workhorse.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I train and compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? A Lion, because he’s the king of the jungle!

Stephen Meinhold
Stephen Meinhold

Head Routesetter (L4)

Year you started climbing? 1996

Year you started setting? 2001

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2017

How many comps have you set for? 32

Why did you start setting? Early on I was more focused on competing than setting. I competed in ABS & USA Climbing National events, UBC Pro Tour events, Mammut Bouldering Championships, Dark Horse Series, Portland Boulder Rally, 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, and even an Ice Climbing comp. I thought comps started to neglect the competitor for "world cup" style problems so I started to focus on setting to better understand this style. I have been head setter for a few different gyms in NC, PA, and OR over the years, and I have set multiple USA Climbing National events.

What is your goal when setting? To force you to do whatever I want you to do.

How do you come up with route names? I stare at the computer screen and mumble until I come up with something.

Favorite route name? Manilla Vanure.

What inspires you to stay constantly creative? Coffee and pastries.

Setting pet peeves? Metric bolts.

Words of advice to climbers who get stumped on your routes? Seek out beta or work it out with a friend. Sometimes I can set very contrived with a specific sequence, so if you can't figure it out maybe someone else can. Just like outside, learning how to project routes can help with the redpoint process. More pull-ups always help.

Passions in life? My wife and baby boy... and cookies, all of them.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Slow-motion Train Wreck.

What would surprise us to learn about you? Before getting back in the gym I was a High School Chemistry/Physics/Math teacher. I have horrible balance. I am a huge fan of rap and hip-hop.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? Gorilla, it’s my spirit animal.

JD Cantrell
JD Cantrell

Routesetter (L2)

Year you started climbing? 2005

Year you started setting? 2009

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2012

How many comps have you set for? Dozens.

Why did you start setting? I would skip class to go climb at Virginia Beach Rock Gym while my friends, Scott Johns and Tommy Morrison, were setting and they kind of took me under their wing.

What is your goal when setting? To force the movement, duh...

How do you come up with route names? I keep an ongoing list in my phone of things and phrases that I think would make good route names. There’s lots of pop culture references.

Favorite route name? All my favorite route names are NSFW.

What inspires you to stay constantly creative? The bills don't pay themselves.

Setting pet peeves? Not having enough coffee.

Words of advice to climbers who get stumped on your routes? Trade beta for baked goods.

Passions in life? Rock climbing, yoga, art, building things.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Doesn't follow instructions well.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I’m a bit of a neat freak.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? A pug, everybody likes pugs.

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