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Alpkit have been making bouldering mats for nearly 15 years. 2013 has seen them introduce some new mats plus make modifications on their old models. In this review, Paul Phillips and Alan James check out the two top-end mats the Project and the Mujo.
The Project is a big slab of mat in a 'Taco-style'. Taco-style mats offer a larger single piece of foam which bends in half for carrying, and they don't suffer from weak spots in the hinge. The larger size single piece of foam also gives better load absorption by spreading the impact over a wider area. The downside is that they are awkward to fold up, more bulky to store at home and it is not always possible to fiddle them into small landing zones.
The Alpkit Project mat has a very slightly larger surface area (1.0x1.4m) than comparable mats like the Wild Country Big Air, The Black Diamond Drop Zone and the POD Super Crash Pad although the difference is only small. It has a total depth of 9.5cm comprising of 70mm open cell foam below a 33mm layer of closed cell foam. This gives you slightly more of the closed cell foam than many other mats which in turn makes it a bit stiffer than its rivals.
Another positive feature of the Taco-style mats, and the Project in particular, is the space they offer for carrying kit when folded up, making it easier to approach with just a single mat on your back containing all your kit. There is even room for additional smaller mats if you want. The closing flap ensures that nothing can fall out and is integral to holding the pad in its folded shape so there is no way you can forget to close it.
The carrying system is a normal double-strap back system, with an unpadded waist belt. The closing straps for the flaps are well made with solid metal buckles which will take a lot of battering. They can be slightly fiddly to unfasten but you can be sure that they won't accidentally unfasten themselves.
So how does it perform?
I'm a fan of taco-style pads due to the way they can work on uneven landings. You avoid the V forming where you are channeled to the one section of the pad without any padding in it. On the gritstone landings there are many places where it fits between gaps which are more awkward to cover with a hinged version.
As a mentioned, the thick 33mm of closed-cell foam makes for a solid-feeling mat which gives a reassuringly sturdy landing. You don't want the mat to absorb you like a cushion, then again you don't want it to be so solid that you end up turning an ankle. The compromise on the Alpkit Project seems about right.
For the walk-in the mat proved an easy and comfortable carry except in high winds (but then all large mats suffer from acting like sails in high winds). It was possible to get a decent amount of gear - two pairs of boots, chalk bags, a wiping mat and other kit - in the closed mat. Unfolding initially made me think that it was never going to spring back but it is surprisingly easy to flatten it once you have unfolded. The recommendation though is not to store it in folded taco form which makes it an even more awkward thing to store in your house if space is tight.
A great taco-style mat that gives good protection with a set of simple features. Slightly more solid than its rivals and very slightly larger. The price tag of £150 is about the same as other comparable mats.
The Mujo is a full-size hinged bouldering mat with an innovative elasticated closure system. The elastic cord stretches to allow you to stuff more kit inside it on the way to the blocs. When you open it up though, the cord goes underneath the mat and actually holds it in the open position.
The Mujo is slightly smaller than the Project but still quite generously sized at 1.0x1.3m. It has a total depth of 9.0cm comprising of 60mm open cell foam below a 33mm layer of closed cell foam. The balance of open and closed cell foam works well and I've taken some pretty big falls on it without anything more than a bruised ego.
The carrying system is a normal double-strap back system, but lacks the waist belt from the Project. It's comfortable to carry and easy to adjust the length of the straps. The attachment points on mine are metal clips as in the photo of the Project above but these have been replaced with nylon buckles now.
So how does it perform?
To be honest, having used more taco style mats recently, I do prefer them over the hinged design. The hinge does make it easier to fit in the car and store in the hallway though so that's worth considering if it matters to you. It was no hassle traveling down to Font strapped to the roof of my car using just the roof rails. A popular variation on the hinge is to have the hinge at an angle but it's completely straight on the Mujo. This does give a slight dead zone if you land right in the middle but I think you'd be pretty unlucky for that to contribute to bad fall.
The same thick 33mm of closed-cell foam as the Project makes for a solid-feeling mat which gives a reassuringly sturdy landing.
The rounded corners helps reduce wear by taking away those pointed abrasion spots.
For the walk-in the mat proved an easy and comfortable carry. It is possible to get a decent amount of gear inside but be weary of smaller objects as they could fall out. It certainly holds a few pairs of shoes and a boulder bucket inside okay but I generally just put a should bag over the top of the whole mat and carry my kit in there.
A quality mat that I don't think can be beaten with a price tag of £120.00. The foam is just as good as any of the higher-priced competitors and the burly 1100d Cordura fabric has taken quite a beating and still looks great.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Alan James & Paul Phillips - UKC and UKH: