The Recon is Metolius' compact big pad, designed for both serious bouldering and portability. The clue to its American origins is in the name, invoking sunny days hiking up into the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada, reconnoitring for new boulders, possibly with rocky landings over potentially danger strewn ground.
The Recon has both a compact profile and large landing area. This is achieved with thinner foam than that found in most big mats and a tri-fold build, which allows it to fold up into a block that is thicker but less wide than a traditional mat. This means when it's folded and carried it extends up and behind you rather than past your sides. But don't think this means it's small – it's still a very big pad. It takes up most of the back seat of my Ford Fiesta and will easily span the width of the boot of most estate cars.
Folded out, the mat provides a large 1.06m by 1.52m landing area. Metolius only stock one bigger mat – the huge Magnum. Compared to other popular mats it has a larger landing area than the Moon Warrior and just smaller than a Moon Saturn (but is significantly lighter). It also has a larger landing area than the very popular DMM Highball but is only marginally heavier.
The three fold construction works surprisingly well. The hinges are angled so they fit together snugly and don't create any dead space for a landing climber. Heavy duty Velcro flaps enable you to secure each hinge. I found this useful when working problems with good landings, but on more complex ground not having the Velcro attached allowed the mat to be more portable and fit better over uneven landings.
The folds are secured together using a single strap which makes packing and unpacking quick and easy. However when they're unattached the long strap can snag on rocky ground. The cover flaps can be inverted and fastened together to avoid this (and also keep the shoulder straps clean). A downside of this was obscuring the straps made moving the mat awkward. This was one of the few drawbacks for me about the mat and could easily be resolved by a handle at the bottom of the central fold. On the upside though, leaving the large cover flaps open on muddy (or sheep poo covered) ground actually provided a good area to stand on with climbing shoes while spotting.
Metolius make a big deal out of the heavy duty material and, as you'd expect from a top American brand, the build quality feels excellent. After several days of deliberate and malicious abuse it showed little wear. One common criticism of the material was that it was slippery and made starting on non-flat ground awkward. However, after a particularly muddy afternoon in the Churnet Valley, I discovered an unexpected upside of this – the mat hosed down nicely and dried overnight to almost new condition. A great feature if you have to store your mat inside your house.
Another key feature of the mat is a foot pad in the centre of the mat for wiping your shoes before you set off on your next problem. Unfortunately this reflects the mat's origin from dry climate and is non-removable. After a day in Llanberis Pass, it was tainted by sheep poo, which was hard to get rid of. An ideal adjustment for the British market would be to make this pad removable for washing because otherwise it's a great addition.
As with most large mats, the Recon has storage pockets built into the mat. On the top securing flap there is a small external pocket that will fit car keys and wallet or phone. The bigger storage area underneath the top flap will fit a pair of shoes, chalk bag and a guidebook but not much else. Also despite the mat packing up quite tight, you can still stash shoes and a chalk bag in the folds of the mat for quickly moving it around different problems. One possible drawback of the storage pocket is that it is on the top of the mat, so if it rains while you're carrying it then your stuff will get wet (though the tough Ballistic body fabric will protect against the odd shower).
A key factor I wanted to test was the landing quality of the mat. A few people who had used the Recon had commented on how soft the mat felt so I wanted to see how it performed on large falls and falls onto complex, uneven ground. For complex ground (i.e. bad landings) like Porth Ysgo, the three fold construction worked well, allowing the mat to sit snugly over nasty boulders and avoiding the potentially dangerous dead space on wider panelled mats where the mat is sticking out over air and collapses when you land on it. The mat felt reassuringly solid when falling and jumping off onto this sort of landing.
Also for jumping off highballs the worry about the foam was unnecessary – it was firm and comfortable. Any sacrifice in thickness to save weight had been more than compensated by the quality of the materials used and the construction and design of the mat. I also found myself using the diamond foot mat in the centre of the mat as a target for highballs. I'd place it on the best landing spot and knew when I bailed that I had to aim for the foot mat.
The final test of the mat was the walk-ins. The shoulder straps are padded and there is a waist band to augment these making it very comfortable and stable while it is being carried Considering its size it feels light on your back, especially with the waist straps cinched. The only downside was having gear in the top storage pockets can make it a bit top heavy to carry.
Finally with a big mat comes a big price tag, especially for a respected brand like Metolius. The Recon's RRP is £225 and fits nicely between the Moon Saturn (which has an RRP of around £240) and the Moon Warrior and DMM Highball (£180 and £165 respectively).
While debating the merits of the Recon a friend posed the question: “It's better than my Alpkit mat – but is it £100 better?”
The answer is that if you're a serious boulderer or you want a big pad that is easy to carry (for example if you are quite small framed) then it is worth it. If you can find a deal on a Saturn which is close to the price of the Recon and tend to do easy walk-ins then that may be a better choice (plus you'll be supporting British manufacturers). Equally if you're an every-now-and-then boulderer (and especially if your local venues have good landings) then it may be worth going for something cheaper. But the Recon fills its niche well – a big pad that is easy to carry and provides great performance. It's definitely worth considering when you're looking for your next boulder mat.
Nik Goile is an expat Kiwi based in South Wales. He's a keen all round climber and pretends to program computers during the day.
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