Bouldering Mar: Red Chili Splashdown
7th Mar 2006
My first bouldering mat was made by my mum. It had a waterproof cover, a single piece of medium density foam inside, and a couple of elasticated carry handles. It was great at the time, but I now look back and realise the dangers associated with plummeting 15 feet off a high ball problem at Font only to be bounced almost the same distance back in the other direction because the stitching was so good that the air couldn’t escape! That’s my mum for you, always over engineering things (and over catering too!).
The mats currently on the market have come quite a way since that era: multi layer, multi density foam, multi-use carrying straps, hinged, folded. One thing remains the same though, you still have to fit the things in the back of your car!
The new Red Chili Splashdown definitely falls into the chunky category. It’s 91cm by 60cm folded footprint size is pretty standard fare, but it’s two 12cm thick halves make it about half as think again as many mats. The internal foam bits comprise a 9cm medium (25Kg) density piece topped with a 2.5cm (80kg) high density piece. For those who are unfamiliar with the science of bouldering pads the principle is that a heavy object hitting the mat (you) will first encounter a piece of high density foam which spreads the impact onto the lower density piece beneath. The lower density piece absorbs the bulk of the force. Without the spreading piece on top you’d most likely feel your heels sink straight through the lower piece and bottom out painfully with about a cm of compressed medium density foam between you and terra firma. The extra thickness in this mat obviously means extra protection and allows you to climb higher highballs! I like the fact that somebody out there has decided to invest this extra material in extra depth rather than extra area. In practice the mat was awesome; not so stiff that it bruised your ankles, but stiff enough to give a solid bit of feedback.
Other than the performance of the foam there are two areas of concern when buying a mat: how easy is it to carry, and how easy is it to fold up / pack away? The carrying system on the Splashdown is pretty neat (though not specific to this mat alone). There is a single, long carry strap with plastic clips at each end. The mat has an assortment of plastic D-rings to clip these clips to, either as a long shoulder strap, or, if you feed the strap through a heavy duty Velcro’d loop on the back of the pad, doubled as a fairly set of comfortable rucksack straps. There is also a comfortable rubberised carry handle on the top of the mat. Personally I would have liked to see two such handles so that the mat is easy to gather together whilst moving between problems. Packing the mat away is done via a series of long Velcro straps. There are 5 in total, 3 along the long side, and one each on the two short sides. Each one is 54cm long. Granted, they do their job excellently - i.e. it is possible to really tightly pack the thing up, without any loose straps, keeping any stuff that you have trapped inside pretty snug and safe. However, when the thing is open the straps do get in the way somewhat. It took me a while to realise that I could fold them back on each other, using the opposing Velcro to halve their lengths as well as stopping the Velcro hooks from gathering all sorts of debris. The principle benefit of these straps, as well as making for safe packaging, is to help secure the mat in place for high ball boulder problems and head point style routes (see photo below). One last thing that I liked about the mat was the plethora of D-rings which made strapping it to a set of roof bars particularly straightforward.
What does it look like? Well, you can see from the picture that the image of the rubber clad swordswoman may not appeal to everyone, but the mat is available with a standard Red Chili logo instead.
Retailing at £110 I thin that this is excellent value for money despite having some irritating strapping.