How to Choose a Bouldering Crash Pad

How to Choose a Bouldering Crash Pad

All the best aspects of bouldering, from the camaraderie to the pure freedom of movement, revolve around a single, crucial piece of gear: the crash pad. Bouldering crash pads are essentially rectangular slabs of dual-density foam designed to cushion falls. In combination with good spotters, pads allow you to concentrate on trying your hardest without worrying about getting hurt. They also form a focal point for friends to gather, work through moves together, and share stories on long summer afternoons.

As the centerpiece of your kit, crash pads are worth some careful consideration before you buy. Besides, when you find yourself slipping on a hard move 10 feet off the ground, you’ll want nothing but the best between you and the rocks below.

To help you choose the best bouldering crash pad for your needs, we’ll go over the following in this guide:

  • Crash Pad Sizes
  • Fold Designs
  • Common Materials
  • Features To Look For
  • How To Choose the Best Bouldering Crash Pad

Crash Pad Sizes

Bouldering crash pads come in a variety of sizes, from small, three-foot-wide pads used to fill gaps between rocks, to gigantic, five-foot-wide pads used to cover big, flat surfaces. If your local bouldering area has rocky slopes and uneven landings, like Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, it can be good to have lots of small pads to smooth out those landing zones. If you’re headed somewhere with wide, flat landings, like Joe’s Valley in Utah, one big pad will likely do the trick. Medium-size pads split the difference and can work for a variety of applications. Small and medium-size pads are also lighter and easier to carry than big pads.

Pads also come in different thicknesses. Thin crash pads—anywhere from 1 to 3 inches—are easier to stack and stagger to achieve a more even landing. Thick crash pads—up to 5 inches thick—provide more cushion for longer falls, though the extra foam means they’re more expensive, too.

Many boulderers have a variety of pads for different locations and uses. When you’re starting out, it can be good to get one big pad (around 4 inches thick) as your main landing zone and one small pad (2 to 3 inches thick) that you can use to fill holes, cover the hinges of your big pad, or slide around as needed.

Fold Designs

Many medium-size pads are sometimes called hinge pads because they fold in half via a hinge, which is a narrow gap in the foam. Bigger pads, sometimes called tri-folds, have two of these hinges. The folding style makes these pads easy to carry and allows them to contour terrain, though landing on the hinge gap can be dangerous if there’s a rock underneath. (If you have a hinge pad, also get a small pad to lay over gaps.) 

Some pads include full-thickness foam throughout to avoid that danger. These pads, sometimes called taco pads, are more difficult to fold in half for transport, but they can be a great choice for bouldering areas with rugged, rocky landings.

Some crash pads split the difference with an angle hinge or hybrid hinge that puzzle-pieces together to ensure there’s always foam underneath you. Baffled pads, made of rows of densely-packed fabric tubes, also provide fairly even cushioning while still being easier to fold than taco pads.

Common Materials


Most bouldering crash pads are encased in either nylon or polyester. Polyester tends to be a little more abrasion-resistant, and repels water better than nylon. Both tend to be durable, especially when woven into a thick yarn (look for fabric described as 1000-denier or higher for top-end durability). Reinforced or rubberized corners can also boost pad longevity.


The best bouldering crash pads include layers of both open-cell foam and closed-cell foam. Closed-cell foam is the stuff sleeping pads are made of—it tends to be stiff, durable, and supportive. Many pads include a layer of closed-cell foam on the bottom to shield the climber from sharp rocks. Open-cell foam, on the other hand, is soft and squishy, though not as durable. It provides a comfortable surface to land on, which is why most bouldering crash pads include a top layer of open-cell foam.  

Features To Look For

Pick a pad with these features to add a little luxury to your next bouldering outing.

Padded hip belt: Many bouldering pads have a backpack-style shoulder harness. A wide hip belt provides a more secure carry and keeps the weight off your shoulders.

Carpet square: Some crash pads have a small square or triangle of carpet-like fabric for wiping dirt and grit off your shoes pre-climb.

Cargo flap: A large flap or long, adjustable webbing strap lets you lash multiple pads together for easier transport.

Drag handles: Some crash pads have multiple handles for pulling them back and forth as the climber traverses across the rock.

Pockets: Some pads have stash pockets for storing shoes, chalk, or other gear.

How To Choose the Best Bouldering Crash Pad

The best bouldering crash pads are made of high-quality foam, have an intuitive closure system, and are comfortable to carry. Beyond that, let your personal preferences be your guide.

If you’re just starting out:

A thick tri-fold pad will provide more coverage in most places.

If you’re headed for rocky zones:

Use a few small or medium-size taco pads to fill in gaps and even out the landing.

If you like highball boulders:

You’ll need a 5-inch pad (or thicker) to absorb bigger falls.

If your local boulder field has flat landings:

Hinge or tri-fold pads are for you. 

If you have a small car: 

Hinge pads will be easier to stack.

If your friends boulder:

Get a style of pad that complements theirs.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.