I recently pulled a rock off a highball and had a pretty nicely sized fall. I landed feet first on my pad and was completely okay…i was suprisd by how well the pads actuallyy absorb the force…
How high can you fall bouldering? The biggest bouldering fall that only resulted in minor injury was 7 Meters when Nick Melhousen fell off ‘Ambrosia’, the 50 Foot, V11 Boulder.
In this article I cover:
- Minimum Height
- Falling Perfectly
- Bouldering pad spec
- Other Factors
- Ambrosia V11
- and The problem with stacked pads
How High of a fall can I take onto a boulder pad?
Just recently I did a pretty sketchy highball, I hadn’t checked out the landing,
I just threw my bouldering mat into the hole at the bottom of the climb and got climbing!
I pulled a jug off about 3 meters up and spun rightwards, luckily landing on my pad completely unscathed.
It was actually really lucky I pulled the jug off because it made me spin to the right and I landed perfectly on my bouldering mat.
The climb trends left and if I had fallen straight down, I would have completely missed my bouldering mat and just landed on some jagged rocks.
It got me thinking though, that fall was okay… how high could I fall onto my trusty Boulder mat, and still be ok?
Perhaps you have wondered too, so i thought id investigate!
How far can i fall onto a Crash Pad? Three to five meters is considered an okay hight to fall onto a single bouldering mat if your landing in controll and can absorp most of the impact with your legs, however an awkward landing can make a one meter fall cause damage.
That question is what we’re going to be looking at now!
So, you’ve just got into bouldering, congratulations!
It’s a great discipline of climbing and there are many reasons why people love it so much!
one of the main reasons that I hear a lot is the simplicity is very attractive to a lot of people.
You don’t have to mess around with lots of climbing gear like quick draws or ropes and you don’t need a belayer which Is super convenient for people with busy schedules.
If you live close to some climbing you can quickly fit in a hour or even half hour session, which just wouldnt be practical with roped climbing.
Especially now in our current pandemic you can just go out bouldering on your own, or at least keep sensible distance from the other climbers.
I do not recommend going bouldering on your own because it a potentially dangerous activity and it’s much better if you have somebody there with you in case you do get injured.
since we don’t have a belayer, there’s no ropes or protection we rely completely on are bouldering pads to protect our falls.
The simplicity of bouldering is also what makes it much riskier than roped climbing.
Your constantly taking falls and just hoping you land on your feet.
Some people find it a bit daunting, but if you have taken some falls on a bouldering pad you know that they are pretty safe and they do a great job of absorbing impact forces, and that is exactly what we’re going to look at today!
How far exactly can i fall and be kept safe?
There’s no minimum height.
I’m sure you’ve also wondered how high of a fall you could take onto a bouldering pad and not get injured.
Well firstly we must clarify the fact that you could break your ankle if you missed your footing on the way into the crag, in fact you might even know someone thats done this, i do!
There’s no minimum height you need to reach to injure yourself, like I said you could break an ankle falling half a metre and you could take a nine-metre fall and be completely fine…
although Its pretty unlikely!
So all these figures were going to determine really are just numbers, there is no minimum height for getting injured.
Now that disclaimers out the way, lets get into it!
Bouldering fall form
When I’m talking about taking the highest fall possible and being okay, I am assuming you land perfectly, and by ‘ok’ I mean not even a twisted ankle.
This means landing both feet shoulder width apart on a nice flat surface, not landing on an angle or landing one leg first or anything like that.
Bouldering pads are incredible but there’s only so much they can do for you, it’s very important still that you land correctly, they essentially just provide a more comfortable surface to land on.
If you take a fall theres a few key technique you need to do to minimise injury risk.
when you fall:
- Try land on feet shoulder width apart
- roll back onto your bum as you absorb the fall force
- Keep your arms in front of you
- roll onto a shoulder not your spine
The list is essentially how we teach people to fall at the bouldering centre, let me explain.
you want to absorb as much as the fall as possible with your legs, we say roll onto your bum so you dont injure yourself trying to take all the weight of your force with your legs.
keep your arms in front of you so your not tempted to put them out to break your fall, you might just break a wrist instead!
rolling onto a shoulder can help you avoid hitting your head and further reduces risk of injury to your spine.
Also a lot of the gnarliest bouldering falls are really bad because they have collapsed on top of themselves and there chin / face hits there knee.
This will really mes you up, which is why we recommend rolling back if you have a choice.
Boulder pad Specification
Anyway, let’s get into it! so I’m going to be laying out some facts on bouldering pads specifications, how to mix pads for high-balls and theorising potentially how high of a fall you could take!
So, considering you land perfectly like we mentioned, an average bouldering pad with a section of closed cell foam on top and open cell foam on bottom.
With the average thickness of 10 to 15 centimetres it’s considered fairly alright to fall from three to five metres.
However, you must remember there are so many factors that come into it so it’s impossible to say a safe hight for your scenario.
This is Nick on IG as ProfessionalVagrant… He took a seriously big fall off ambrosia, and its this fall we are going to use as our ‘max’ because im not willing to go any higher!
What other factors could we consider to Max out this safe falling zone?
Firstly, you want the pad to be completely flat,
any amount of slope or gaps in between pads or a rock that protrudes sharply under your pad will make an uneven landing and when you impact your pad you will most likely roll your ankle.
You really want to make sure the landing is as flat as possible!
Having as many pads as possible is also a great way to minimise risk.
Lots of the bouldering injuries ive experienced were as a result of not having enough pads.
im sure if we could transport like 10 crash pads to our boulder problems we would all get injured much less.
Another really important factor is obviously the pad itself.
Let’s get a general understanding of bouldering pad construction first.
So, all bouldering pads I know of have two different types a foam in them if you have your own you’ve probably experienced this, on the bottom is an open cell foam.
This is like a sofa kind of foam; air comes in and out freely and it makes this section nice and soft.
The reason this is the bottom is it smooths out the uneven terrain the mat is on by absorbing all the protruding rocks and uneven sections.
This helps create that nice flat landing surface with no funny angles in the crash pad.
The top section (landing side) is made from closed cell foam.
This is a denser foam because as the name suggests the air is trapped in the cells, this gives it great density and the ability to suppress big bouldering falls.
This is the top section because it absorbs impact much better and it keeps a flat surface.
If you landed on the underside it’s quite likely your ankle will roll because the Open cell foam won’t support your ankle nearly as well on impact, and the force of landing will send your ankle sideways without the dense foam like the top layer to resist your ankle moving.
If youd like to Read the review I did for you on my Trusty Boulder Pad You can click here.
Three to five meters.
That three to five metre okay zone is for an average pad and good landing conditions.
There are pads designed specifically for highballing and of course we can stack pads on top of each other two create a softer land and also reduced the height of the fall slightly.
One of the biggest pads I can find on the market is the Mad rock triple mad pad, it’s 12.5cm thick and has three layers of foam.
Two closed cell foam layers top and bottom and in the middle; open cell for maximum impact absorption.
The pad weighs nearny 11 kilogrammes which isn’t a lot for the surface areas its covering but is still can impacts your manoeuvrability on the approach to the boulders.
If you’re serious about doing highballs all you just want the best protection you can get bouldering, I would say this is the pad for you!
Disclaimer: I’m simply theorising these figures based on what I have seen. I’ve personally never experienced a fall above 4 metres onto one pad and I honestly can’t recommend you go ahead and deliberately take some 4, 5, 6 metre falls because as we mentioned before there are so many factors the go into it being safe that you simply can’t determine.
50-foot v10 ‘Ambrosia’
Let’s say then this top-of-the-line boulder pad could take a fall from four to 6 metres, this is already pretty high and I’m not sure id take that fall voluntarily.
Often though we see climbers with at least two pads.
I’m sure you’ve seen the photos of pros doing 50-foot boulders with a sea of like 20 pads below them, how high could they fall onto those?
Watching videos on the 50-foot highball ‘Ambrosia’ v11, its common to jump off from the rest at about 20 feet, or 6 meters, and since you’re falling deliberately its safer than falling out of control.
However, they have stacked pads at least 4 high to make this an okay decision.
The single biggest fall I can find on YouTube is Nick Muehlhousen on ‘too big to flail’ the 50-foot V10 put up by famous free soloist Alex Honnold.
Nick fell 25 feet or 7.6 meters onto what looks like 4 pads and he immediately stood up.
he didn’t suffer any injuries although he probably did have sore joints for a while, I know I would!
His landing was far from safe though, his legs immediately buckled under the sheer force and his body slammed the pads, it was very lucky he wasn’t seriously injured.
I really recommend that video, its insane aha
The problem with stacked pads
So, if one pad is three to five meters, why isn’t it okay to fall six to ten meters onto two pads?
The closed cell layers in boulder pads are there to make a supportive layer to Land on so you don’t roll your ankles like we mentioned, but this also means stacking pads doesn’t really double the safe fall zone.
The pads protection will plateau around 4 pads because in between each soft layer (the open cell foam) is the denser layer of closed cell foam which stops all of the force from being absorbed.
The higher the fall the softer you want the landing to be but since most pads are 50% closed cell foam the landings are still relatively hard.
This is why a crash pads ability to protect a fall kind of plateaus around 4/5 pads.
in my opinion even seven metres with all those stacked pads Nick was very lucky to not be injured And I certainly wouldn’t like to fall that far; I can’t imagine it being a soft landing at all.
Two pads vs one
Obviously two pads are going to be better than one but somewhere around 3:00 to 4:00 pads the impact absorption plateaus, landing on six pads instead of four you probably won’t feel any difference other than the miniscule reduction in the fall height.
So, in conclusion some gnarly people have taken very big falls probably upwards of eight metres onto at least four pads and have been relatively okay, however I think they’re pretty lucky there falls where okay because like we’ve mentioned even a one metre Fall can have serious consequences.
I’m not sure if we’ve reached the Max falling capability but for one or two standard pads, I would say the maximum height is around five to six metres,
This still depends on so many factors it’s hard to say for sure, dont just go and assume a 6 meter fall with your three pads is cool
Nicks fall on ‘too big to flail’ is the biggest I’ve seen so you could say the maximum is 7.6 metres,
I know people have taken bigger falls onto even one pad, and while they lived, they certainly were not okay.
Take it easy people, i hope you enjoyed this post.