Boulder Better with a Crash Pad

In the span of a few decades, rock climbing has grown from a tiny niche activity to a global community millions of people enjoy. One of the more popular climbing styles is called bouldering, where individuals attempt to scale a rock or reach a certain point on a climbing face, sans equipment.

However, because boulderers use little more than climbing chalk, it can be a dangerous activity if precautions aren’t taken. To guard against falls, both accidental tumbles and intentional bails, foam cushion beds called crash pads are placed at the foot of the rock to soften impacts.  Crash pads are padded enough to cushion a falling climber, but mobile enough to be brought to a bouldering site and hiked back out.

These large tumble cushions are built from multiple layers of different types of foam that combine to form a pad that is both durable and impact absorbing. These pads need to be stable enough to land on foot-first, but soft enough to catch an uncontrolled fall without injury. To accomplish this, both open and closed-cell foam varieties are layered in this construction to make a cushion pad.

The most basic crash pad consists of two layers of foam. The bottom is a shock-absorbing open-cell foam layer, usually two, three, or four inches thick depending on the boulderer’s requirements. High-quality foam is vital in these pads, due to the force of a body crashing into the material, so paying special attention to the density of foam is important. Lower quality materials can bottom out which, for all intents and purposes, is like not having a pad at all. The top layer is made from a couple inches of closed-cell foam. This style of foam is firmer and distributes weight across the pad instead of absorbing it. It also offers a stable surface to land on feet-first in a controlled fall.

For boulderers, crash pads are often the only piece of safety equipment used, excluding human spotters who attempt to guide falls. For this reason, high-quality materials and construction are of incredible importance. Fortunately, selecting the right foam products will get you padding that is up for the job.