So, one thing you need to completely understand before you even start bouldering is that it’s a pretty dangerous sport.
Crash mats help make the sport a lot safer but its still easy to injure yourself if you’re not careful. Just by being more aware of this possibility, and knowing about good mat placement, you can reduce the risk of injury as much as possible.
Crash Mat Basics
So there are three main types of pads. There’s small, medium and large.
Each of these pads serves a different purpose, but to put it simply – most people use the small pads, aka “sliders”, to cover up edges or cracks. Medium pads are the most popular kind for the majority of climbing problems due to their portability, most people only really break out the large pads for high problems. Logically, the higher the fall, the larger the pad.
If you can take large pads with you everywhere I would recommend it to help reduce the chance of an injury, however, due to the size, it’s not always possible to lug the 10kg mats out to the boulder.
A question that tends to crop up when talking about pads is ‘how far can you fall?’. Most climbers tend to agree that the rule to live by is “there is no safe height to fall from” but if you do have to fall, (which happens sometimes) then a height of 3-5 meters will be the maximum I personally would feel comfortable with on a medium size pad.
So you might be wondering what separates good pad from a bad one?
So the main differences are the:
Since I have already mentioned sizes above all let’s talk about the foams.
There are a ton of different foams out there, all with different properties, but the ones that work best in crash mats need to be high density, whilst still being fairly thick to cushion you from the fall.
Most pads are made up of a mix of foams, usually 2-3 layers kinda like a sandwich, they have a harder, denser Foam on the outside (the bread) and softer foam on the inside (the filling). Sometimes on cheaper pads designed for small falls, manufacturers opt to not have a bottom layer of hard foam to make a more affordable pad.
So the outer hard foam is what’s called a closed cell foam. A closed cell foam is denser because its designed to help distribute the weight across the pad. This is pretty important as, without it, the pad is useless since you might still impact the floor through the pad. This horrible occurrence is called ‘bottoming out’ and if you have used a thin or super old pad before you might have experienced this, for those of you that haven’t click here.
Now, the softer foam is the nice part of the pad that absorbs the impact of your falls and stops you getting hurt, this is called an open cell foam it allows air to get inside it which helps compress and cushion your fall.
It All Hinges On The Extras
Another thing to consider when seeking your fall companion is to decide if you want one with a hinge or not.
Climbing pads generally come in two ways, a complete uninterrupted pad or one that splits in the middle to allow it to fold for easy storage.
I personally prefer the so-called “taco” hinge, which is a complete pad as I feel a lot more comfortable knowing the pad doesn’t have any hinge or breaks in it and definitely not because it has taco in the name.
The only downside of the taco hinge is that due to the lack of a split hinge it’s more difficult to store and carry since you should store the mat in its open form to help protect the foam.
The hinge pads that split have the benefit of being way more storage friendly and a lot easier to carry but the downside is the seam in the center where the pad splits. However, watching your friends be swallowed up by the impromptu jaws attack that happens if you land on the hinge can be pretty fun and is 100% a plus in the hinge pads pros or maybe a con if you happen to be on the receiving end.
So pads can sometimes come with extras! However, this varies from pad to pad.
The kinda of extras I am talking about are things like pockets which can be pretty useful as it lets you carry stuff on your pad while making your way to routes.
Small mats for wiping your shoes are also sometimes included which can be awesome if your climb is in the woods or off the beaten track.
One last thing to note when you are looking at choosing a pad is making sure you pick a pad with a pretty durable outer.
The outer material of the pad always rips before the foam, leaving a lot of pads looking pretty ragged when the foam inside is perfectly fine but making sure you get a tough outer can help this.
A very wise climber once said it’s not the fall that hurts-its the landing.
So with that in mind, I think the most important thing for good placement is a good spotter. Once you are climbing there is no way you can adjust your pad and make sure your landing zone is clear.
A spotter can make all the difference between a comfy landing and a twisted ankle. However even more important than mat adjustment is helping the climber control a fall.
It’s the spotter’s job to make sure if the climber falls they make it to the mat in a safe controlled way. Now don’t confuse this with catching the climber it’s about making sure they hit the pad safely.
So now onto the actual placement of your mat, 90% of the time you are going to want to have it directly under you, however, if there are any out sticking rocks in the ground or uneven ground it can be worth moving your pad so it favors the more dangerous side.
When it comes down to it the initial placement isn’t really too important as your spotter should be adjusting the mat while you climb anyway.