Bouldering may be the most free discipline in climbing—all that’s
required are shoes, a daub of chalk and a brush for sweeping grime and chalk off the grips. At the gym, thick mats minimize potential for injuries,
but you may still want to supplement the gym mats with your own bouldering or “crash” pad. When you climb outside, you are entirely on your own and
having a crash pad, or two or three, is essential. Use a pad even when a landing is good and flat—the cumulative effects of repeatedly pounding
the ground can tweak you from your neck to your toes.
There are dozens of crash pads, varying in size and thickness. A larger pad covers more real estate, making it an easier target to hit; a thicker pad offers
greater cushioning. The biggest pads—often called “highball” pads—can take up an entire car trunk and be difficult to weave through dense
trees and talus. They also cost more.
Some pads are composed of two or three pieces of foam and fold on “hinges”—spots where the pads meet. Be careful. A hinge is a soft spot, and you
can be injured if you fall onto this area. Some companies offer hingeless pads, which fold over like a taco, or a burrito if the pad folds several
Most boulderers own a medium-sized pad, usually around three by four feet, and three inches thick. A pad of this sort usually folds in half and has a complement
of shoulder straps for carrying. The better pads also have a secure closure system of buckles and flaps that snug up the folded pad into a pack of
sorts that holds shoes, a chalkbag, brushes, food and other sundries. Other features to consider include an absorbent top surface for scuffing dirty
shoes on, and metal buckles (which won’t break like plastic buckles) or Velcro.
Check out Rock and Ice's crash pad reviews.