What is Bouldering?
Bouldering involves climbing a series of difficult moves on small rocks usually 10-20 feet high (ropes are not used), and popularity for highballs (25-45 feet) is rapidly increasing with the recent surge in interest for bouldering. Debates are sparking about the lines being blurred between highball bouldering and free-soloing, but rules and standards are relative to certain areas, so check with a local first before spraying.
Bouldering is the cheapest form of climbing. Only a pair of climbing shoes,
a chalk bag and a crash pad are used.
For many years, bouldering was usually viewed as training for climbers, although, in the 1930's and late 1940's, Pierre Allain and his companions enjoyed bouldering for its own sake in Fontainebleau, France (considered by many to be Europe's Mecca of bouldering). The first climber to actually make bouldering his primary specialty (in the mid 1950's) and to advocate its acceptance as a legitimate sport not restricted to a particular area was John Gill, an amateur gymnast who fell in love with the challenge and movement of bouldering.
A crash pad (a thick foam pad) is the primary means of protection
and reduces the forces of a fall. There are various sizes and makes, but the most common type is a folded mattress, three to four inches thick, that when unfolded measures about 3 x 4 feet. Every company sells their own line of foam and therefore a thicker pad is not necessarily better.
Crash pads increasingly have been made with extras such as plastic or metal buckles, extra pockets and straps, and/or padded shoulder and hip straps.
Boulderers generally climb in groups and therefore do not feel like you need to purchase a massive crash pad. Crash pads are generally stacked when you are climbing highball boulder problems. Crash pads cost between 100 and 300 USD.
Open Cell vs. Closed Cell
The upper layer of foam in a crash pad is made of closed cell foam and is more dense than open cell foam. This dense upper layer distributes the impact across the pad.
The lower layer is open cell foam and is softer to be able to mold to the shape of the rocks below it. It acts as a brake, slowing you down and absorbing the shock of a fall.
Thicker padding and the number and density of the layers within the crash pad correspond to increased protection.
A good pad will help to break your fall, rather than bottoming out or bouncing you back.
Sandwich, Taco or Burrito
"Crash pads divide into hinged and unhinged designs. A hinged, or sandwich-style, pad has two separate slabs of foam joined by a central fold of fabric, allowing it to pack
quickly and stow neatly. Because the foam itself is not being folded, manufacturers can make the cushioning of firmer material. The downsides: Hinged pads don’t have much carrying capacity; if you bring more than just your bouldering gear and lunch, you’ll need a separate day pack
to carry your stuff. Also, with the exception of the innovative Metolius pad, they don’t provide seamless fall protection
if the hinge straddles a protruding obstacle like a tree trunk or rock.
Unhinged pads are made from a single slab of foam; most fold in half, like a taco, when packed. The main advantage of the taco design is that you can load it with gear like a backpack
(straps or flaps close the bottom and keep small items from falling out). The disadvantage: The firmer the foam, the harder the pad is to fold, and folding can stress and weaken the foam in the center of the pad. You can prolong the life of a taco-style pad by storing it in the open position.
A burrito design is an unhinged pad that closes with two or more folds. Burrito models work with jumbo-sized pads and put less severe bends in the foam, but can be complicated and time-consuming to pack."
Written by Dave Pegg for Climbing
magazine (no.214, Aug'02)
Extra FeaturesPlastic vs. Metal Buckles
- Plastic buckles break and if they are sewn into the pad, they can be difficult to replace. The best buckles are metal S-shaped “speed” buckles that hook
into a webbing
- Padded shoulder and hip straps are nice for carrying the pad, especially when you get larger, heavier pads, or you are trekking to your bouldering area (keep in mind that the extra padding is also extra weight though).
- Extra pockets or other devices are useful for storing keys, sunscreen or food for the day; however, it is easier to simply stick all your gear, including your shoes and chalk bag, down the middle of the pad when hiking.
The most commonly used grading system in Europe is the Fontainebleau system, which ranges from 1 to 8c+. The standard bouldering rating scale in the U.S. is measured in 'V' grades ranging from 0-16. Both scales are open-ended at the top, and thus the upper grade of these systems is always increasing as boulderers ascend more difficult problems.
The V-scale was created by [u]Stone Crusade[/] author, John "Vermin" Sherman. A predecessor was John Gill's B1-B3 scale. A B3 was a theoretical grade in which the first ascentionist couldn't even repeat their own problem.