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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

Happy landings

By Ashleigh Naysmith
05, Aug, 2014

So, you have chosen your bouldering mat and set off for the crag. Once there, how do you position your mat to optimise safety?

Peaks crashpad

Ultimately, nothing can guarantee a safe landing when bouldering. It is a fantastic, adrenaline filled sport but safety cannot be a certainty. When scrambling up that humongous boulder, I am well aware that it is as possible that I could injure myself falling from 10 cm as it is possible I may fall from 10 m and manage to walk away. I find that most ‘comfortable’ bouldering takes place between 1-3 metres. 3-5 metres can feel rather high and the pad can look pretty small from this distance. Learning to fall safely from this height is a skill. Especially when you are at your limit. I always feel much more secure with a group of friends and multiple crash pads!

Once I am at the foot of my chosen problem, the first thing I think about is where I am most likely to land if I fall off the boulder. If it is a straight forward vertical problem then I would simply place the bouldering mat at the base of the rock in a central position. Often I will put the mat about 10 cm away from the rock on a vertical climb as I conclude I am unlikely to fall in that space. Unless, of course, I have grated myself down the whole rock, in which case I will have probably slowed down enough to not sustain so much injury from the landing anyway! (Top tip: don’t grate yourself down the rock- it will hurt).

I hate to be without a spotter when bouldering. A spotter can help to slow the speed of a fall and to guide you on to the mat. Other duties of a spotter is to stop you rolling off the mat down the hill and to prevent hapless wanderers walking underneath whilst you are climbing. I always feel comforted having someone there to do that but there are mixed opinions on spotting. A spotter can get in the way of a fall and cause injury to both parties so it is a personal decision. But whenever I am bouldering higher than about a foot or 2 off the ground, I always have a spotter. I find spotters can also be useful for shuffling mats to give you the best protection for each part of the climb.

I always do a quick ground survey of the base of the climb and surrounding objects and make mat adjustments accordingly. For example, I would see if there was a slope beneath the problem that could cause the mat to slip away. In this scenario, I would get a spotter to jam the mat whilst I climbed. Sometimes there may be protruding rocks from nearby boulders but a relatively low, flat landing. In this case I might use the mat to protect from these rocks rather than the landing.

Once the mat is positioned and I’m on the wall, I would need to consider landing. Having climbed for about 16 years now, it comes as second nature so I am not focusing on falling during every move. I am aware of my position relative to the mat and how an awkward move could affect how I will land. I know which positions are higher risk, where my strengths are and where I can push a bit harder. That said, I am not without apprehension on bold moves even if logically it should be within my capability! Much of this is just common sense and listening to your own instincts.

One thing I always remember is my mother telling me when I was little about if one falls from a height and tenses up, one is more likely to break bones. So I always try not to tense up during a fall! I fell face first out of a tree once on the forest floor (long story) and naturally relaxed everything. When I hit the ground my nose bled and I winded myself but there were no broken bones! This may not work for everybody though.

If I am falling in a controlled manner (i.e. feet first, upright) I always try to land in the centre of the mat with feet apart whilst bending my knees. If I am falling in a less than perfect manner, I try to go with the flow of the fall following the format of a semi-parachute roll. I am particularly cautious about taking impact to my knees because I have always had dodgy knees that used to click out of place. So, I may fall feet-ass-hip/back-arm which I feel spreads out the impact but many climbers have disagreed with me on this!

Generally speaking, I try not to fight gravity by over- controlling the fall. Attempts to rectify falling position often lead to more injury. Another important skill I have learnt, is knowing when to back down from a climb- learning to let those niggling projects go (albeit temporarily); practice and come back another day. The main thing when out bouldering is common sense. Do not try to push past your experience level. Trust your gut instinct. If something feels unsafe, find another way of doing it.

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