UKC

Mid-Sized Bouldering Mats Group Test

In our massive pad review, eleven mats from leading brands go head to head - but which comes out on top?


Bouldering mats have come a long way since the beer towel and improvised mattress. Not only do modern mats give a better quality landing, they have also got bigger, been made easier to carry, and boast useful extra features. Whilst most pads are based on the same fundamental design, the details can still differ a lot. This test highlights the range of options currently available.

Here are some of the things we look for in a quality mid-size bouldering mat:

  • Foam Quality: The foam is the bread and butter of the pad - it should be stiff enough to provide support when landing from high up, but soft enough that it's comfortable to land on. Some use two layer, which is only suitable for use one way up, wheras others use three layers, which is usable either way (and tends to have a different feel when landing on). Foam should also be durable, capabale of taking a repeated pounding of falls over several years.
  • Carrying System and Comfort: Mats can be big, heavy and cumbersome so a quality carrying system is a must. Our preferred system is a set of rucksack straps, often with a hipbelt, as after lugging numerous pads up numerous hills this we've found this to be the most effective.

How many is too many?, 177 kb

  • Closing System: The closure is particularly important as more often than not you're going to stuff all of your climbing gear inside it. It should be robust and easy to use and, most importantly, nothing should fall out of the pad.
  • Durability: Not only the foam but also the outer fabric, the straps and the fastenings all need to be durable. Even if the foam remains good quality, if one of the straps or handles breaks on a mat it can easily be relegated to the basement.
  • Weight: Obviously something light enough to comfortably carry is preferable, but quality pads do still often weigh a lot. However some of the best models manage to be relatively light and exceptional to land on, so that's not always the case.
  • Other features: There are myriad extra features available nowadays. Some of our favourites include an in-built door mat to dry your feet on and rubberised fabric to prevent slippage.

Make and model

Pros and cons

Moon Warrior

Price: £175

Weight: 6kg

Dimensions: 130 x 100cm

Depth: 11cm

Best in Test Large, 13 kb

Moon Warrior, 82 kb

Pros: The Warrior has all the features you'd want, is a good size, well made, and comes in at a highly competitive price

Cons: Needs a bit of flattening out before use, but nothing too challenging

Organic Simple

Price: £190

Weight: 5kg

Dimensions: 121 x 91cm

Depth: 10cm

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Organic Simple , 136 kb

Pros: Bomproof, High Quality Foam, Not Overly Cluttered with Features

Cons: Quite pricey considering the absence of any features

Petzl Alto

Price: £250

Weight: 5.7kg

Dimensions: 118 x 100cm

Depth: 10cm

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Petzl Alto, 134 kb

Pros: Most comfortable to carry on test, great for days out & putting a pack/gear inside

Cons: Price (it's the most expensive on test). Closing system - great though it is once done up - is quite a faff

Black Diamond Impact

Price: £175

Weight: 4.3kg

Dimensions: 114 x 100cm

Depth: 10cm

BD Impact , 73 kb

Pros: Simple, clutter free pad

Cons: One of the smaller pads on test, very basic on features

DMM Highball

Price: £195

Weight: 5.4kg

Dimensions: 122 x 99cm

Depth: 10.5cm

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

DMM Highball, 95 kb

Pros: Durable, Lots of foam

Cons: A little more expensive than some

Beal Double Air Bag

Price: £206

Weight: 5.3kg

Dimensions:

Depth: 10cm

Beal Double Air Bag, 129 kb

Pros: Verso system - one side is harder, the other softer

Cons: Poor carrying and closure systems

Ocun Dominator

Price: £225

Weight: 6.4kg

Dimensions: 132 x 100cm

Depth: 14.5cm

Best in Test Highly Recommended Large, 14 kb

Ocun Dominator, 127 kb

Pros: Lovely thick and unique foam (thickest in test), excellent robust design and build, extremely light for its size

Cons: The material on the base of the pad can be a bit slippery

Snap French Toast

Price: £165

Weight: 4.5kg

Dimensions: 100x100cm

Depth: 7.5cm

Best in Test Good Value Large, 10 kb

Snap Toast, 52 kb

Pros: Simple, durable and great foam

Cons: Fiddly buckles

Alpkit Mujo

Price: £175

Weight: 4.5kg

Dimensions: 130 x 100cm

Depth: 9cm

Alpkit Mujo , 168 kb

Pros: Relatively cheap compared to most in the review

Cons: Not durable and a poor carrying and closure system

Boreal Crash Pad

Price: £175

Weight: 5.8kg

Dimensions: 140 x 100cm

Depth: 12cm

Boreal Crash Pad, 124 kb

Pros: One of the largest pads on test

Cons: The looped shoulder strap system renders the pad very awkward to carry. Ridge down the hinge presents a landing hazard

Edelrid Balance

Price: £240

Weight: 5.8kg

Dimensions: 140 x 110cm

Depth: Variable (due to bean bag)

Edelrid Balance, 101 kb

Pros: Well made and unlikely to break

Cons: Doesn't fulfill its primary purpose and is slightly unsafe on flat ground

Moon Warrior - £175

Foam Quality

The Warrior uses a single sheet of 25mm closed cell foam on top of a single sheet of 95mm open cell foam, totalling an overall depth of 12cm. The result is a good balance between firm and fair, with good initial spread from the harder foam and good absorption from the soft stuff. Due to the taco design there is - perhaps unsurprisingly - a little bit of a bump when first opening the pad out, but nothing that isn't easily remedied by flattening it out.

The one peculiarity about the foam is that it is encased in plastic. This is there for two reasons, the first being that it keeps the foam nice and dry and the second being that (apparently) it makes the pad a lot easier to put together. Whilst we're a little sceptical about how much water foam actually absorbs, we can see the case for it; however, the end result is a very crinkly sound every time you walk on it.

photo
Penny Orr testing the Moon Warrior in Bishop
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

photo
Penny Orr on The Nadser at Kyloe in the Woods, using the Moon Warrior
© Rob Greenwood UKC

Carrying System

The back system of the Warrior was redesigned last year, making what was already a comfortable system into something far more state of the art. The straps now resemble something you'd expect to see on a mountaineering pack, with a good amount of padding, a chest strap, and a minimalist/unpadded waist belt.

As a result of the taco design there is plenty of space to slip a pack down the middle of the pad for those long days out. Due to the addition of the felt overlay (mentioned below) it is also quite secure, as it's unlikely to fall out. Coupled with the fact that the back system is already very comfortable, these features combined make the Warrior a great pad for any crag with a walk-in.

Aside from the back system, there is also a variety of grab handles for you to use if you're just ferrying the pad short distances.

photo
The Moon Warrior with the felt overlay covering the back system

photo
The Moon Warrior with the felt overlay removed from the back system

photo
The Moon Warrior with the felt overlay reversed, so the pad can be carried cleanly

Closing System

Here in the UK we are blessed with a lot of good bouldering, but also a lot of wet weather and mud - as such it is frequently the case that one's bouldering mat gets covered in the stuff. The result, historically, has been for the whole of the back system to get wet as a result, but not so for the Warrior due to the cunning use of the felt/velcro cover, which protects the back system, keeping it nice and dry once folded over and into place. The felt also doubles as a foot mat, upon which you can clean your shoes before climbing - a nice touch.

Aside from that the closing system is simple, with three easy to use buckles. The good news is that they stay in place, the bad news - if we are being picky - is that they can be a little fiddly with gloves or cold hands.

Durability

The Warrior is built to last, with 600 denier nylon used throughout. So far it has stood up well to the test of time, with the zip on the side spontaneously springing open once, but not having done so since.

Other Features

The base of the mat features an anti-slip fabric, which is really useful when stacking pads. Nylon on nylon can create something of a skid pad, especially when on a slope, and that has no doubt led to more than one intrepid boulderer surfing their pads back down towards the cars (Lordy, Lordy in the Llanberis Pass is a fine place to test this out). The rubberised fabric on the base helps to minimise this problem.

Easy to use buckles, 76 kb

High wear edges, 53 kb

Anti-Slip fabric, 86 kb

Grab handle, 80 kb

The foam/packaging, 69 kb

Carpet/felt, 118 kb

Summary

The Warrior definitely hits the spot on a number of levels: it's well made, features high quality foam, is comfortable to carry, and is easy to put a pack and extra gear into the middle of. Looking at it like this it is hard to find a fault unless we're really picky. Even the price is reasonable!

For more info see Moon Climbing


Organic Simple Pad - £180

The Simple Pad alongside its big brother, the Big Pad, 170 kb
The Simple Pad alongside its big brother, the Big Pad
© Penny Orr

Foam Quality

Organic's reputation for quality foam is well deserved, with a unique mix of memory foam, high density urethane rubber, and soy based open cell foam, all coming in at 10cm thick.

At first the Simple Pad feels a little on the firm side, but given a few outings/falls it soon beds in; still, it's firm enough for it to be something to be aware of, so watch those ankles in the early stages! The firm nature does lend itself towards longevity though and even though it softens it never loses its structure. As such, it's a pad for life.

Carrying System

The Simple Pad features a neat comfortable padded strap system, coupled with an unpadded webbing waist belt and similar chest strap, making it nice and comfortable for long walk-ins. That said, there isn't any system for keeping this dry, so if you do put it down in the mud…well…both it and you will get muddy! The hinge design also makes it a little more awkward to put packs down the middle (although it isn't impossible), plus there's a buckle on the bottom to stop it falling out.

Closing System

Simple pad, simple closing courtesy of four easy-to-use buckles. They fasten up quickly, are easy to undo (even with cold hands), and stay closed when fastened in place. When transporting around doing up one will do you fine, when going longer distances the bottom one will stop the various bits and bobs you've stuffed in your pack from falling out the bottom. All in all: quick, simple, and effective.

photo
Penny Orr on the red circuit at Manoury, Fontainebleau
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

photo
Penny Orr on Monumendal at Dame Jouanne
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Durability

Using a blend of 1000 and 1050 denier nylon, this is a pad that is likely to last you a long, long time - especially when coupled with the bombproof foam. The fact that it is as simple as it is means there's less to go wrong too, as there's basically nothing to break!

Other Features

In line with the pad's name, it is simple - as such there are no other features other than the fact Organic's designs tend to be quite radical and cool.

photo
The buckles

photo
The back system

photo
The handle

Summary

The Simple Pad does exactly what it says on the tin, offering a no frills mat which excels in the fundamentals of a basic bouldering mat: the foam is excellent and the shell is virtually indestructible. Add into the mix the comfortable carrying system and the nice colours and you've got yourself a winning combo. Were we to offer fault, it would simply be that there are other pads coming in at around the same price which could be seen to offer a lot more for the money - if you want the features that is (and not all do).

For more info see Organic Climbing


Petzl Alto - £250

Rob Greenwood on Saigon Direct, Bishop, 202 kb
Rob Greenwood on Saigon Direct, Bishop
© Penny Orr

Foam Quality

As with many of the pads in the review, the Alto features a triple layer construction of polyethylene (PE) and polyurethane (PU) foam (i.e. high density and low density). It starts out on the soft end of firm, giving in time to create a comfortable landing for medium height problems, but it can feel a little lacking on the highballs (although what single pad wouldn't?). The hingeless design flattens out with ease and provides the obvious benefit of being a single piece, thus there's no hinge or gap to fall into. In total there is a 10cm thickness.

Carrying System and Comfort

The Alto has what is probably the most comfortable carrying system on test. The straps are made of broad padding, which cover a wide surface area around both the shoulders and waist. They are also quite unique in that they use velcro. Initially we weren't quite sure how these were going to handle, but they're easy to fasten and even easier to undo when you arrive sweating at the crag. Again, due to the breadth of the straps used around the waist belt - plus the customisable fit courtesy of the velcro - you really do get a feel that they're taking weight of your shoulders, not to mention hugging the pad against the pack, which adds further stability.

If that weren't enough the pad's taco design means that there's plenty of space down the middle for packs, jackets, and anything else you're likely to need for the day out. Furthermore, because of the zip feature (described below) the pad and its contents are all zipped tight within, hence removing the danger of things falling out. In short, the Alto is pretty much unrivalled when it comes to longer walk-ins.

photo
Penny Orr on Tufatafoni Traverse at Salt Point, California
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

photo
Rob Greenwood a little further through Manou (but still in North Wales)
© Alex Haslehurst

Closing system

The Alto features a highly engineered closing system, which is undoubtedly the most intricate on test (by some margin). The wraparound zip feature takes a couple of goes to get used to, but the benefits are immediately felt: firstly (as described above) nothing falls out the bottom of it and secondly the back system stays dry. If there were to be a downside it would be our inevitable concern about the whole pad being so reliant upon a single zip; however, Petzl UK have assured us that they are yet to receive word of a single fault (barring one from an athlete, which was a sample - thus not a production model). That said, there are times when the zips are quite awkward, particularly in sandy areas such as Font where the grains can get in amongst the teeth, requiring them to be cleaned out before it can be closed up again. Mud didn't have quite the same effect thankfully!

Durability

We've addressed our concerns about the zip above, but other than that this is a pad that is built to last, with quality materials throughout and very little to go wrong. We've heard a couple of reports of the wire retainers in the corners having come out, but these hold no real purpose other than to hold shape and can be removed if they do end up showing.

Other features

Whilst it may not be the most exciting of 'other features', the Alto has a variety of handles - plus a velcro adjustable bandolier - for carrying, which are ideal for dragging the pad from problem to problem.

Petzl Alto Unwrapping - Phase 1, 119 kb

Petzl Alto Unwrapping - Phase 2, 118 kb

Petzl Alto Unwrapping - Phase 3, 121 kb

Petzl Alto Unwrapping - Phase 4, 128 kb

Summary

The Alto is the most high tech pad on review, with an unrivaled carrying system that is both comfortable and easy to adjust. Despite our reservations about the single zip, functionally it works really well (once you've got used to it) and is perfect for stuffing your kit into without fear of it dropping out the bottom, although it is a bit of a faff. The only drawback we can offer is that these positives come at a price, with the Alto being a lot more expensive than most competitors, and that the foam could be a little firmer. As such, it's one for the connoisseur.

For more info see Petzl


Black Diamond Impact - £175

Foam Quality

The Impact features two-layer foam, 10cm in thickness, which means that it is one of the lighter weight pads in the test. This isn't necessarily a pad you'd want underneath you whilst highballing, but that's not what it's necessarily designed for. This is what we would describe as a small all-rounder and the foam used reflects this.

Carrying System and Comfort

The carrying system on it is - much like the rest of the pad - simple and effective, consisting of stitched-in shoulder straps and a waist belt. It's a comfortable pad to carry, not least because it is one of the lightest in the review. The hinge design means it isn't ideal for putting your pack within, but it is possible and the addition of a strap on the underside of the pad means that it won't fall out once in.

photo
The BD Impact Zone in use at Stanage
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Closing system

Much like the carrying system, the closing system is perfect insofar as a) it works and b) there are no frills. Throughout this review there's been a whole host of buckles that undo when unweighted, but the ones used on the Impact do exactly what you need to and are easily adjusted too. The fact that there's three - two on the side, one on the bottom - means that you can pop a pack in too.

Durability

By now you are probably getting the message about the Impact: it's not designed with a tonne of features, just pure, simple function. The pad's shell continues along this theme; constructed of 600 denier PU-coated nylon, this isn't a pad that is going to be wearing out anytime soon.

Other features

There are two grab handles which are useful for shifting the pad around, be that within a stack of pads or from problem to problem when doing a circuit.

Black Diamond Impact - Front, 122 kb

Black Diamond Impact - Buckle, 91 kb

Black Diamond Impact - Back, 126 kb

Summary

Despite being well made, the Black Diamond Impact feels like it is a little lacking - particularly when you take into account the £175 price tag. It's clean, simple, and small in size, which makes it an excellent choice as a second pad, but maybe lacks the surface area for your main 'go-to' pad.

For more info see Black Diamond


DMM Highball - £195

Foam Quality

The Highball features a sandwich of high-density foam in between two layers of soft density foam. The foam is of a high quality, feeling a little firm to begin with, but bedding in nicely after a few sessions. Due to the fact there is quite a lot of foam (it's not called the Highball for nothing!) it is also one of the thicker pads in the test, providing a good degree of shock absorption. Overall there is a 10.5cm thickness.

Rob Greenwood on The Captain at Froggatt (a great problem btw, worth seeking out!), 217 kb
Rob Greenwood on The Captain at Froggatt (a great problem btw, worth seeking out!)
© Sam Lawson/Lawson Beta Productions

Carrying System and Comfort

The carrying system on the Highball is both comfortable and simple, with a modest amount of padding around the shoulder straps and a basic webbing waist belt. The straps themselves have velcro at their mid-point, which helps to keep them even, but also allows for them to be removed if you want to convert the carrying system to an over the shoulder style. This is particularly useful when carrying two pads, as you can easily loop it over the top of the pad you're carrying. Strangely it is the only one in this Group Test to have such functionality, which is odd considering how many people are out there using multiple pads on a daily basis.

Due to its hinged nature, it isn't overly ideal for carrying bags within, but there are some straps and attachment points on the outside of the pad you can use to fix bags to. Generally speaking we aren't overly convinced with this system, as it tends to lead to your bag flopping around a lot - thus making it quite uncomfortable to carry. This is made even worse by the absence of a waist belt.

DMM Highball - Front, 138 kb

Grab Handles, 107 kb

DMM Highball - Back, 120 kb

Closing system

Finally, a brand that has got buckles right! DMM's closure system closes easily, is locked easily, and undos easily (when you actually want it to undo). After reviewing a variety of pads that don't offer this functionality, the Highball is a somewhat refreshing example of how things should be done. With two methods of closure - the first being a single hook through and the second being a double back - you're sorted for both quick release and security depending if you're moving a metre or two to the side or heading off elsewhere to another area.

Durability

With one member of the test team having owned a Highball for the best part of eight years, we can say with some authority that this is a pad to last. Whilst the foam does indeed get softer, due to its girth it keeps giving long into its life. The ballistic nylon used throughout is pretty bombproof, showing little or no wear even after all this time.

Benno Wagner using various generations of the Highball...on a highball... , 145 kb
Benno Wagner using various generations of the Highball...on a highball...
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Sam Lawson using the Highball on a distinctly lowball problem, 131 kb
Sam Lawson using the Highball on a distinctly lowball problem
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Other features

There's a little foot mat hidden within a sleeve in the pad, which is a nice feature (unless you lose it).

Summary

The Highball is - even after all these years - a pad to be reckoned with. Whilst its pricepoint is a little higher, the fact it is likely to last you a lifetime - plus the fact it's a little thicker than many others on test - make it justify its pricepoint. Features-wise it's a little lacking though and the absence of a flap on the back means that when you put it down in the mud it does get very muddy.

For more info see DMM Climbing


Beal Double Air Bag - £206

Theo Moore on The Line at Rowtor Rocks, 175 kb
Theo Moore on The Line at Rowtor Rocks
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Foam Quality

The Double Air Bag features a novel 'Verso' system. One side of the pad is harder, for increased protection when you're falling from a height, and the other is softer for a more comfortable landing when you're only taking a small fall (for example, from a low roof). In practice this works well and it's a nice feature to have.

The foam itself is 'triple density enclosed foam' which seems to work well. The hard side of the pad is pretty hard and the soft side is not too soft - this means it's good for high and low-ball problems, but on a medium height problem it can feel either a little stiff or soft, depending on which way it's oriented.

The pad also has a good sized surface area which means it covers a satisfactory area of ground beneath a problem. In combination with another similar sized pad you could quite happily pad out most landings with the Double Air Bag.

Carrying System and Comfort

The Double Air Bag can be carried with the 'briefcase' handle or by two rucksack straps. In principle this is great, however the rucksack straps are greatly let down by the buckles which attach the bottom of the straps to the base of the pad. These constantly come undone whilst you're carrying or moving the pad and as such it's a real pain to carry. We have resorted to carrying it by the briefcase handles in one hand. As many of us know this is not practical for anything other than short distances!

Closing system

Unfortunately the closing system exacerbates the above problem. The pad is closed by only a single strap two thirds of the way up the body. This means there is nothing holding the bottom section of the pad closed and so if you put your bag, shoes etc. in the pad whilst you're carrying it they will inevitably fall out of the bottom.

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The size of the Beal Pad making itself known when compared to the Organic Simple Pad
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Durability

The outer of the Double Air Bag is polyester, and the corners of the pad are reinforced. Over the months that we've tested it we have found no issues with durability and it seems to be a well made pad that will stay together.

Beal Pad, 109 kb

Beal Pad, 108 kb

Beal Pad, 103 kb

Summary

The Verso concept makes the Beal pad a useful pad that is a good compliment to another more standard mat. It's also nice for climbing low-ball problems. The foam works well and once the pad is under the problem it's fine. However, it is greatly let down by its carrying and closing system which make it a faff to carry. These issues could easily be resolved with some better buckles and an extra closing strap lower down on the pad so hopefully these can be added to the next version of the Double Air Bag.

For more info see Beal


Edelrid Balance - £240

photo
The Edelrid Balance placed on some sharp rocks
© Nick Brown - UKC

photo
The best use we found for the pad - wedged in
© Nick Brown - UKC

Foam Quality

The Edelrid Balance is the most unusual pad in this review. Instead of conventional foam, the pad features a 'bean bag,' with the aim of evening out rocks, bumps and slopes. There is a thin layer of foam on top of this where you land.

We'll start this review by saying we have a lot of respect for Edelrid. They're constantly looking for ways to innovate products and bring new ideas to the market, the recent Edelrid Ohm being a great example. The fact that they have tried something new with this crash pad is fantastic. However we believe they have missed the mark with the Balance.

The 'balance bag' which the foam sits on is more often than not a hindrance, rather than a benefit. When used on flat ground, landing on the pad can be an issue. The lack of tension between the 'balance bag' and foam on top means that as soon as you jump onto it, you have a moving pad to contend with. Unfortunately, this often feels quite dangerous when moving at high speed and can lead to you being thrown off the mat.

The Balance would definitely be more at home in the talus slopes of Rocky Mountain National Park, than the flat, boggy landings of the UK. In these areas, the 'balance bag' would be able to sit deeper into the ground and become wedged, hopefully mitigating the lack of suitable connection between the bag and foam.

Edelrid Balance, 93 kb

Edelrid Balance 2, 101 kb

Edelrid Balance 3, 118 kb

Carrying System and Comfort

The carrying system on the pad is quite impressive. It has the option to move the shoulder straps lower for those who are slightly smaller, as well as a waist strap. The pad is very comfortable to carry and feels light due to the 'balance bag.'

Closing System

The closing system consists of simple tensioned straps, and seems to work. The buckles do not undo like on some of the pads in this review and do their job right.

Durability

The pad is well made and features a water-resistant nylon base and sides. In short, it's well made and has suffered very little wear. The buckles are aluminium – essentially indestructible - and the handles are made from recycled rope.

Rob Greenwood becoming unbalanced, 236 kb
Rob Greenwood becoming unbalanced
© Nick Brown - UKC

Summary

The mat is extremely well made, and Edelrid should be given credit for attempting to make a key innovation to the pad market. Unfortunately, it falls short in its primary function: it doesn't work well on uneven ground and is slightly unsafe on flat ground. If you're planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, it may be useful, although it's the pad that you want your mate to have. It is a shame because Edelrid have tried to do something different, but the name 'Balance' seems ironic in the circumstances. We think there should have been more product testing before it was released.

For more info see Edelrid


Ocun Dominator - £225

The Dominator competing for colour space at Brimham Rocks, 244 kb
The Dominator competing for colour space at Brimham Rocks
© Theo Moore

Foam Quality

The Dominator uses slightly different foam to the other pads in this test. This features 'FTS Absorption Block' padding which, in layman's terms, means that inside the foam there are hollow cylinders which are usually full of air but which, when you come crashing down on them, compress, taking the force out of your fall. In practice this means that the Dominator is extremely comfortable to land on whether you're falling from low down or high up, making the Dominator excellent for highballs as well as regular sized boulder problems. It also has a drastic effect on the weight - the Dominator weighs only 6.4kg which for such a big pad is amazingly light. When we picked it up for the first time we were surprised, and the reduced weight makes a big difference when you're slogging up a muddy field to get to the boulders.

With a whopping 14.5cm thickness, this is the deepest mat on test by quite a margin - though its unusual structure is not directly comparable to others. The fact it is so thick is overall a positive, but can make it awkward when using multiple pads, as the additional depth tends to make it stand proud of the others (not a huge negative, but something to be aware of).

Carrying System and Comfort

The Dominator features two rucksack-style shoulder straps made from their WeBee webbing. This is also featured on a range of Ocun harnesses so it is obviously durable, breathable and light. Perhaps notable by its absence is a hip belt as many pads these days tend to feature them. This is fine for short walk-ins, but could get annoying for longer approaches where more gear is carried. Overall though, the Dominator is comfortable, stable and easy to carry with a durable carrying system.

Closing system

The two sides of the pad are closed together with metal buckles which are secure, easily tighetened, and have not unintentionally come undone. The pad itself features a zip down its spine and along its base between each side of the pad. This allows you to reconfigure the pad and turn it lengthways for traversing which is a really useful feature. The zip along the base of the pad also means that when you're carrying it on your back the bottom is secured together so your shoes, backpack, guidebook etc. don't fall out of the bottom of the pad. It's well thought-through and means that you can throw your stuff inside your pad without worrying about it rolling down the hill or getting lost in some bracken.

Another neat feature is two small velcro straps which, when the pad is laid out, attach the undersides of the two halves together making the whole pad completely solid. This means that if you happen to land directly in the middle of the pad your foot will not 'go through' it. Just like a taco-style pad, the whole thing is effectively one solid piece rather than having a hingeing weak-spot which can lead to a rolled ankle.

photo
The Dominator is thick enough to adequately pad a landing by itself
© Theo Moore

Durability

The Dominator seems extremely durable to us. The cover of the pad is made from 650 denier Cordura fabric with Teflon protection on the top, and Plastel on the bottom. In practice the outer material of the pad seems like it will last a long time. However, it is quite a smooth material and if you're on a particularly muddy or steep hill this can cause the pad to slide quite alarmingly, so much so that you could easily surf it a good distance down a boggy hillside (be warned!). The straps are really tough, being made from the WeBee webbing, and the buckles all seem to be good quality which we can't see breaking any time soon. The rubber handles which are used for carrying it 'briefcase style' haven't shown any signs of wear and tear either.

Ocun Pad, 126 kb

Ocun Pad, 98 kb

Ocun Pad, 100 kb

Other features

The unusual feature of the Dominator is that it can be arranged lengthways either to protect traverses or to fit around other pads when they are arranged for a highball. This is a great feature, although not one that we've been using every time we're out. A further thing which we discovered recently after months of using the Dominator is that it comes with its own doormat-style piece of carpet for wiping your feet! This is really useful for drying/cleaning your boots and is tucked neatly in to a pocket on the top of the pad.

Summary

The Dominator does feature a big innovation in its foam, and the 'traversing' layout is really useful, but overall the triumph of the Dominator is that it's a good pad made excellently. The foam, carrying and closing system, and the materials used are all top quality and this results in a pad that is not only great to land on, but one that is light and easy to carry. The Dominator is one of the best pads our reviewer has ever used, and one that you'd be likely always to take out with you due to its size and how easy it is to carry. Being a thick pad its only drawback is that if you're going to climb some bum-scraping sit-start problem or if you're climbing out of a pit it might put you a bit too high off the ground to start climbing effectively.

For more info see Ocun


Snap French Toast - £165

Theo Moore using the French Toast at Curbar, 223 kb
Theo Moore using the French Toast at Curbar
© Nick Brown - UKC

Foam Quality

The foam in the French Toast is what we have come to expect from Snap - excellent and durable over time. It has 2.5cm of high-density foam to break the fall and 6.5cm of PU foam to absorb the shock. This means that the pad can feel different depending on where you fall from, and in our experience can feel slightly firmer when falling from a greater height.

The fold in the middle of the pad means that once it is opened it's ready to go, unlike some 'taco' style pads that require some flattening out. There's also velcro on the hinges, which make sure that there's no issue down the centrefold of the pad. It's a simple pad which can feel on the firm side initially, but on the flip side means that it is likely to last far longer.

Carrying System and Comfort

The carrying system is basic and nothing particularly special. The straps are reasonably comfortable, especially when you've loaded the pad with a rucksack (you will only fit a small rucksack in) and aren't likely to move or rub like some competitors on the market. This is due to the velcro holding the straps in place at the top - a simple solution which cuts out one of our pet hates in bouldering pads, which is when the straps aren't pinned down in the centre and are allowed to move around.

Due to the firmer foam, the pad can feel slightly rigid against your back, although it's nothing to be particularly worried about in such a reasonably priced pad.

Our one complaint about the carrying system is the buckles used to keep the straps on the bottom of the pad. Whilst they are virtually indestructible and unlikely to ever come off on their own, they are very fiddly and hard to remove with cold hands when you want to move the strap to carry the pad over one shoulder.

Closing system

The French Toast has three thick velcro straps to close the pad and can be pulled extremely tight. Our reviewer has had the Snap Wrap Original Pad for nearly three years now and this uses the same system. The straps are durable, basic and unlikely to break. The velcro itself has not shown any sign of wearing out.

Durability

This pad is built to last. It's made from 1680 denier polyester and has no seams around any of the edges, making it harder wearing. Simplicity is the key with the French Toast - there are no overly complicated features that are likely to wear faster. As previously mentioned, the foam is firm to begin with meaning that it lasts a long time. All the straps and buckles are heavy-duty too.

photo
Theo Moore testing the French Toast above a landing of sheep poo.
© Nick Brown - UKC

SNAP French Toast, 101 kb

SNAP French Toast, 74 kb

SNAP French Toast, 90 kb

Summary

As we've already mentioned a couple of times, the pad is simple. It is a no-thrills, does exactly what it says on the tin product and it's likely to last several years in a good condition. One of the most attractive aspects of the pad is the price. At £165 it's the cheapest pad in the review and at that price we're essentially unable to fault it. Perhaps the only minor negative is you are likely to have a muddy back at the end of the day, as the strap side of the pad faces the ground - something which Taco pads don't have an issue with. Overall, it's a cheap, simple and durable crashpad.

For more info see Snap


Alpkit Mujo - £175

Rob Greenwood lunging wildly above the Alpkit Mujo, 236 kb
Rob Greenwood lunging wildly above the Alpkit Mujo
© Nick Brown - UKC

Foam Quality

The foam in the Mujo consists of two layers; closed cell and open cell. Essentially what this means is the open cell base layer is less dense, which provides cushioning and also helps to release moisture - particularly useful in the UK. The closed cell layer is what you'll be landing on. This layer feels harder and more durable, although initially you may be taken aback by quite how firm the foam is. At 9cm thickness, it is among the thinnest pads on test.

Carrying System and Comfort

We have had several issues with the carrying system. The back straps are held onto the pad by some velcro and the bottom of the straps attach onto the pad with some dubious buckles. We found that more often than not, when carrying the pad there would be a complete failure of the buckles and the velcro system, leading to the pad simply falling off the wearer's back. This happened particularly when carrying the pad over one shoulder, when the buckles simply come loose and fall off the pad. We imagine that the whole system could be saved with a couple of minor corrections, but currently the whole system is flawed.

photo
Martin Smith on yet another five star problem in Font
© Nick Brown - UKC

photo
Rob Greenwood sharing my pain over the straps
© Nick Brown - UKC

Closing System

The pad is built around a centre hinge which is fairly normal for a pad of this size. We have a slight issue with pads built like this when using them in the UK: you are likely to get an extremely muddy and wet back at the end of the day. This issue could be countered by using a tarp, but that's certainly not ideal.

The pad is held closed with elastic and plastic clips. This whole system needs a rethink and probably a return to the usual velcro or tensioned straps. We managed to break one of the clips on the pad's second outing and another soon after. The lack of tension in the elastic means that whenever you put a bag inside the pad, it simply falls out.

Broken clips on the elastic closure system, 225 kb
Broken clips on the elastic closure system
© Nick Brown - UKC

Summary

Alpkit say that the Mujo is 'a bouldering mat for climbers who run a punishing schedule devouring problems on grit, limestone, granite or sandstone day in day out throughout the year.' Unfortunately, We've not found this to be the case and the pad is simply not that durable. The shoulder straps and the closing mechanism are the pad's downfall and make the mat difficult and irksome to use. It is priced at £175 and is a country mile behind similarly priced products on the market.

Since this pad was reviewed, Alpkit have changed the buckles on the straps and they are far less likely to come undone on their own. Alpkit have also told us that the pad they sent us for review may have had the elastic cut too long, making it slightly too loose.

For more info see Alpkit


Boreal Crash Pad - £175

Foam Quality

The Crash Pad features a sandwich construction, with hard - soft - hard density foam; as such the pad can be used either way round. The soft layers of the foam are certainly at the softer end of the spectrum compared to other pads in the review, although there is quite a lot of it - 12cm to be precise - and so it gives quite a soft catch.

Whilst it doesn't have a direct bearing on foam quality, one thing we did notice in our review pad is that the sleeves within which the foam is located are quite baggy. The result of this is particularly noticeable around the central hinge, which due to the abundance of material presents a distinct and quite noticeable ridge. This ridge really does present an issue, because the uneven surface makes something of a hazard to land on. Boreal have since informed us that the foam had been cut 1.5cm too small, which resulted in the middle gap. They have replaced the foam in any affected pads and none of the faulty batch will reach the market.

photo
Duncan Campbell (and his jumper) on Milky Buttons, with the Boreal Crash Pad below
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

photo
Ferdia Earl with the Boreal Crash Pad (and many others) below
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Carrying System and Comfort

Upon picking up the pad for the first time a fairly major error in the design was obvious: the straps on the back haven't been centrally stitched. The result is that they free-flow backwards and forwards, one way and the other, which has a hugely negative impact on both comfort and stability. The waist belt, which is made of wide nylon webbing, helps to minimise this, but stitching or velcro would have significantly improved the pad. At the end of the day, if the pad is so cumbersome that you don't want to carry it… well… that's a fairly major strike.

Closing system

The fastening system on the Boreal Crash Pad is quite simple, featuring two large buckles around the side. The buckles themselves are wide, but with an extremely narrow opening so they're quite awkward to tighten; but unlike several others within the review they do remain fastened once done. There's no buckle on the bottom, which could present a problem when carrying packs as it makes them more likely to fall out the bottom (particularly as the side buckles are difficult to tighten).

A neat feature of this pad is the green flap which doubles as the attachment point for closing the pad and as a flap to keep the strap system clean. As we've said elsewhere, this is a really valuable feature for UK use where we're often presented with a squelchy (technical term) landing.

A final feature that we like is the small strip of velcro in the edges of the pad, which mean that when you fold it together to carry it sticks together rather than open.

Durability

Featuring 600D nylon with reinforced edges, this pad hits a similar spec to many others in the review. The material used is of quite a slick nature, so be warned as it can be quite slippy.

In terms of the foam, its soft nature is a little concerning when it comes to long-term durability, as foam tends to get even softer over time.

The Boreal Crash Pad relaxing in the evening light at the Five Clouds, 153 kb
The Boreal Crash Pad relaxing in the evening light at the Five Clouds
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Other features

The Crash Pad is the largest bouldering pad in the review and is certainly at the upper limit of the 'mid-size' spectrum. This is kind of a feature in and of itself, as it has a larger surface area as a result, which is no doubt desirable for many. Still, as always with these things it's a case of swings and roundabouts, as it's also a lot heavier - something that is all the more noticeable due to the awkward strap system.

Another nice little feature is the velcro carpet that is attached to the inside of the pad, which is good for keeping your feet clean. There is also a small velcro tab at the top edge of the pad, which keeps the pad shut when in short-haul transit (i.e. from problem to problem). Whilst it may not sound like much, it's a simple design feature which makes life that little bit easier.

Boreal Pad, 98 kb

Boreal Pad, 77 kb

Boreal Pad, 67 kb

Summary

The lack of stitching on the shoulder straps of the Crash Pad makes it awkward to carry, although this should be a simple issue to sort in the future. There are some other features we like such as the way in which the back system can be kept clean and the velcro strip along the edge that keeps the pad closed during transit. The price seems spot on for a crashpad of this size.

For more info see Boreal

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