Climbing Hold Review

There are two things route setters love above and beyond their 401k plan and fame:

1) Setting a route or boulder problem that forces specific sequences and maintains a specific grade regardless of the climber’s height.
2) New Holds
 
At many gyms, new boxes of holds show up as infrequently as Santa. Their arrival spawns a celebration of excitement, anticipation, and exuberant bewilderment, as gym employees place bets on what altered state the hold manufacture was in when they sculpted their most recent creations.
For route setters, selecting holds can be painstaking. Limited budgets and a seemingly unlimited array of holds from entirely too many manufactures can make decisions difficult.
Some gyms and gym owners consult Gear Guides, which ultimately offer reprints of catalog descriptions and seldom offer any real feedback about the holds, shoes, harnesses or anything else for that matter.
What about an Editor’s Pick, you ask? Hmm, how much did you pay for advertisement? OK, you win.
Whatever happened to airing some honesty?
Hell, we admit it, we thought about going in the direction of a gear guide review. Let’s face it, it would have been a lot easier to let the companies do the hold descriptions for us. Ultimately, we decided to do things the hard way, because that’s how we roll. The truth be told, we did get scared when certain company’s holds came back with a less than favorable review. DPM survives off advertisement dollars, theoretically if we say the wrong thing . . . well, you get the idea. The interesting thing was, all the companies welcomed the feedback we offered, and they were appreciative of us caring enough to gather that type of information from real climbers.
 
 
Some Facts:
There are a lot of great hold manufactures out there.
All manufactures have good sets of holds and bad sets.
Personal preferences on texture and shapes differ from climber to climber.
All holds break, rip, warp, or loose their texture over time.
In order to have a good array of holds, gyms should order from as many different companies as possible. Variety is the spice of life!
 
What we looked for:
Ergonomics- People don’t like climbing on holds that hurt, so this was one of the biggest factors in scoring.
Looks- We didn’t plan on this being a factor in our test, but ultimately with the gym patrons, it did play a role. People even commented on color. Whatev!
Texture- There are subtle differences in texture that make this a factor to consider when purchasing holds. Things to take into account when determining the right texture would be whether or not your gym uses muriatic acid to remove caked on chalk, or if the holds are being used exclusively on a homewall which receives less traffic than a commercial facility.
Price- Prices of holds vary. This should not be the sole determining factor in purchasing holds. You do get what you pay for.
 
The Test:
Rather than sit behind a desk and fondle plastic shapes like a group of trophy wives at an adult toy party, we took the sample holds we received to the The Gravity Vault Climbing Gym in Upper Saddle River, NJ. There, we laid the holds out and allowed setters and patrons of the gym to offer feedback. Problems were set and each person who set a problem or climbed on the sample holds was asked to fill out a questionnaire. In all, nearly one hundred questionnaires were turned in. After receiving input from real climbers and setters, we washed the holds, to see how their texture held up to a muriatic acid bath, then we drop-tested the holds from an 8-foot ladder to see how they reacted to real life abuse. No, our test wasn’t scientific, it was simple real people offering real input. Here are the results:
 
 
Rigid Polyurethane
Cost: $$
Appearance: ** Texture *** Ergonomics **
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: some chipping
Asana sent us their new Staples and a nasty XL shape they call the Visitor. Our testers swooned over the Visitor, a half pimple-faced, pillow-biter; part burn victim, depending on which way you turn it. The overall consensus was that the ostrich skin texture provided the most user friendly, yet challenging surface of the two-sided sloper.
The Staples were probable the least favored holds going into the hold review. On the wall, however, their versatility shined. Their unique shape allowed setters to incorporate interesting grip sequences, creating cerebral challenges for climbers to unlock.
“The Staples shape reminds me of the Pinewood Derby Car I made in the 6th grade as a Cub Scout. Ah, the memories.”
“Those dimples had me pawing The Visitor like it was a bunny rabbit. I like bunny rabbits.”
 
 
Climb-it 8.88 www.climbit.com
Polyurethane
Cost $$
Appearance *** Texture *** Ergonomics ***
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
Climb-it introduced us to their holds by sending us their Silverado Cobbles and their Erosions. It was funny to see the evolution of feedback on the Siverado Cobbles. The first comments were negative, as climbers quickly pointed out their intentionally slick inconsistent texture which simulated real rock. As climbers pulled and played with the blocky cobbles, the mood shifted and the Silverado’s became a favored set in the review. Their unique texture and blocky shape allow setters to easily incorporate interesting false grips and forced meat hooking of the holds on steeper walls.
“The Climb-it Holds can have my babies”
“The combination of gritty and slick texture reflect a realism not typically seen in climbing holds.”
 
 
Crater 8.1 www.craterholds.com
Polyurethane
Cost $$1/2
Appearance *** Texture **** Ergonomics ****
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
Recently purchased by Pyramide, Crater is celebrating its fourteenth year in the hold industry, and their experience showed. The texture and comfortable shapes of their Sandstone line scored high with testers. The odd “ribs” on the Sandstone line-up made finding the sweet spot of the hold difficult; this confused many of the less seasoned plastic climbers, creating mini-cruxes on every hold.
“I really like how the holds appeared to offer a positive surface, but then turned out to be slopers”
“The lips on the pockets made targeting the positive section of the hold difficult. That was kind of cool.”
“Perfect texture.”
 
 
Cryptochild 7.6
Polyurethane
Cost $$
Appearance **** Texture *** Ergonomics ***
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
Go ahead, put a guy with hair on only half his head, place him in a van filled with creepy dolls, ask him to sculpt climbing holds, and see if the end result is any different. These holds are the masterful artwork of Jason Kehl. Jason has sculpted holds for years and now is manufacturing his own line through So Ill. These holds scored high in appearance, and offered many different gripping options. Favored was Cryptochild’s Blades. These new holds look like shelf mushrooms and their versatility was obvious before we even put them on the wall. The Big Blade, a large feature hold hacked up from warped, imaginative minds behind Cryptochild was a favorite among surveyed climbers .
“Very gritty, almost like sand.”
“Who designed these, Willy Wonka? These holds are insane.”
 
 
DRCC 8.75 www.thedrcc.com
Polyurethane
Cost $$1/2
Appearance  **** Texture **** Ergonomics ****
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
Who would have thought that a newcomer from Michigan would stir up the hold industry like these guys have? Their dual texture is something that needs to be seen first hand to understand how different it really is. Their shapes are simple which adds to the beauty of the holds. They scored the highest in appearance and ergonomics. Their holds offered a user-friendly climbing surface and their superb dual-texture was mentioned in almost every survey.
“Wow”
“By far, the best dual-texture I have ever seen.”
 
 
E-Grips 7.5 www.e-grips.com
Soft polyurethane
Cost $$$
Appearance *** Texture *** Ergonomics ***
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
E-Grips is one of the biggest hold sponsors of USA Climbing. They were also one of the first manufactures to start using polyurethane in their construction process creating a durable more environmentally friendly climbing hold. E-Grips played it safe and sent us a variety of jugs. What can you say about jugs? No one ever complains about jugs. Hell, Hugh Heffner built his empire on jugs. The one exception to the line up of jugs was The Bubble Wrap Pinch, which is new this year. This large pinch and the Drop Art Buckets and Jib Jabber Jugs were groped, slapped, and yarded on by our testers. New climbers commented the texture was notable more aggressive, at first, but this complaint was not resonated by the seasoned climbers who scored E-Grips high on their list.
“I love jugs, right honey?”
“That pinch is pretty sick. I dig the texture. I honestly didn’t think it would feel that positive at that angle.”
 
 
Etch 7.4
Hard Polyurethane
Cost $$
Appearance *** Texture **** Ergonomics ***
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
Etch continues to focus on basic shapes that provide a user friendly surface to climb on. Their line up includes numerous sets of edges, jugs, slopers, in a polyurethane that feels more rigid than other holds in the review. Etch holds scored very high in the skin-friendly department with a true sandstone-like texture with their Joe’s Valley Set. This line of crimps and finger buckets required interesting hand adjustments for optimum power on each hold which added a realistic quality climbers enjoyed. Etch’s Comp Series all featured dual texture and a skin friendly climbing surface. The set we received was perfect for steep angles and the dual texture was effective in eliminating foot options which is sometimes desired when forcing sequences.
“There was always a good spot to crab, but you had to nurse the hold in order to find it.”
“If I were building a home wall, these are the holds I would order.”
 
 
Polyester Resin
Cost $$
Appearance *** Texture *** Ergonomics **
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Some edge chipping
Metolius was one of the first American hold manufacture with nearly twenty years of experience. Their holds are renowned for their durability. We received two sets from Metolius, the new Drips and the Pinches. Typical of all Metolius holds, the texture was held in high regard with setters. These sets, however, were not as comfortable, nor did their shape inspire creative movement as much as many of Metolius’s other premium holds. They do however come in at a nice price point, making these holds an affordable option for homewall owners.
“Metolius holds are some of the best, these just aren’t my favorites.”
“As a setter, I appreciate the durability that Metolius holds offer.”
 
 
Nicros 8.1
Soy/Corn based Resin
Cost $$$
Appearance **** Texture *** Ergonomics ***
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Some edge chipping
Nicros has led the industry in wall construction and hold manufacturing for nearly 15 years. On the wall, their holds are virtually indestructible. They have pioneered technology like the use of fiberglass to create large hollowback holds, that are not only lighter than contemporary holds, they are also stronger. Nicros calls this “Extreme Hold Technology” (EHT). Our test holds featured Nicos’s new Soy/Corn Resin which they formulated to help reduce their environmental footprint. There was no noticeable change in the texture or durability of their “greener” holds. Climbers loved the Jug-or-Not, a large feature hold utilizing Nicros’s EHT. It allowed smaller holds to be added to its exterior skin making the hold usable at any angle. Nicros continues to expand their already extensive line-up. Their Skin Saver Crimps and a new line of dual-textured cobbled holds that still remain unnamed were favorites among testers. www.nicros.com
“The Jug-or-Not allows the setter to add another dimension of creativity being that the hold is modular, and I like that.”
“It is nice to see Nicros adding some cooler shapes to their line up like the dual textured cobbles. Their giant features are cool too. They are so light, I would actually haul them to the top of the lead wall.”
 
 
PM Climbing 6.2 www.pmclimbingsystems.com
Soy/Corn based Resin
Cost $$
Appearance ** Texture *** Ergonomics **
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Some edge chipping
Originally hailing from Canada, this company is now manufactured stateside and utilizes the same environmentally friendly soy based resin used by Nicros. Unlike other manufactures in this review, PM Holds does not manufacture the large features. Instead, PM is more focused on creating holds for today’s growing population of young climbers. Their hold profiles are smaller and most are positive, allowing more holds to be applied to a smaller surface area. Their finer texture makes them more comfortable to unseasoned skin, something many of our testers appreciate. PM provides a cost effective solution for summer camps and schools by offering their holds in groups of 10, 20, or 50 based on size.
 
 
 
Project 7.75 www.projectholds.com
Polyurethane
Cost $$
Appearance *** Texture *** Ergonomics ***
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
Project holds has been quietly plugging away at the hold market for several years and currently has a line of holds that rivals some of the “big” hold manufactures. These guys were born on south eastern slopers and their love of slopers and pinches shows in their holds. Their Mutations, part of their “Dream Series” offered a multitude of gripping options and allowed route setters to create hand-flipping sequences with ease. The Mutations also scored high in comfort, each gripping options offering a smorgasbord of thumb catches to fit any sized hand.
“I can’t think of any negative qualities about these holds.”
“These holds are fresh, can I keep them?”
 
 
Rigid Polyurethane
Cost $$1/2
Appearance *** Texture *** Ergonomics ***
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test:
Revolution (formally Pusher) changed the indoor game from being about pain and discomfort to being about energy, flow, creativity, and fun. While Euros were importing shards of sharp plastic to sell to gyms these guys sculpted pieces of art and made climbing indoors fun. Revolution’s hold colors and variety are extensive. Their “Boss” sloper is legendary in the indoor arena (word has it the Boss is coming back!). Smaller and requiring far less wall space than the Boss is Revolution’s Happy Fun Balls, and their Incuts. While the incuts provided nice medium sized edges for training on steep walls, the Balls offered interesting thumb catches and rounded dimples that required precise hand placement.
“I love playing on Revolution’s Balls.”
“The Happy Fun Balls make my hands smile. They are a joy to climb on.”
 
 
Rock Candy 7.1 www.rockcandyholds.com
Polyurethane
Cost $$
Appearance *** Texture *** Ergonomics ***
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
These newcomers have entered the market and are already developing a following. The husband and wife team have been busy expanding their line, creating interesting variations to common holds. Their Hueco Crimps offered realistic patina-esque incuts with a dual-textured back which forces the climber to use just the edge of the hold regardless of the wall angle. These holds provided a realistic replication of the Texas bouldering mecca’s revered rock. In contrast, their bright pink (available in other colors) Turkeys took the basic pinch, and sculpted them in such a way that matching them forces interesting hand positions. They were positive enough to use on the steepest walls, yet they could be rotated to provide difficult sequencing on a lesser angle.
“These pinches are so awesome!”
“Damn! They really make you bear down!”
 
 
Rigid Polyurethane
Cost $$
Appearance *** Texture *** Ergonomics ***
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
Fun. That sums up the holds at SoIll. Their shapes are not only interesting to climb on, they become the topic of conversation at the gym or on your home woody. Big teeth, lightbulbs and other oddities within their line set SoIll apart from all other hold companies. Their holds are so devious that one gym patron maliciously took a steel brush to the dual textured climbing surface of one SoIll hold so that he could use the hold he was to week to pull on. We are pretty sure that equates to chipping. The Limbs, a set of low profile finned pinches, required a subtle grip, yet when held correctly they were incredible positive, even on steeper angles. Other favorites included the Implants and the Lumps, two different sets rumored to be inspired by Furgie Furg, former member of the Black Eyed Peas.
“I love SoIll. Their holds always equate to fun.”
“Great colors, good shapes.”
 
 
Polyurethane
Cost $$$$
Appearance **** Texture **** Ergonomics ****
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
While some companies sent us several sets of holds, Tekniks sent us exactly two...two holds! This actually was smart on their part. The two holds were the same pinches featured in the Men’s Final of this year’s ABS Nationals. At first glance, these holds appear to be similar to XL pinches in the hold line-ups of every other manufacture, but something sets these guys apart. Even on vertical terrain, these pinches force the climber to “milk” the pinch. It was a phenomenon we watched from the floor, climbers grabbing, then resetting their hand again, then again. The fantastic texture made groping these holds feel like palming a real feature outside and their long footprint made hand-heal matches an easy sequence option.
“These holds belong on every boulder problem in the gym. I love ‘em.”
“Yo, these holds are the shizzy.”
 
 
Three Ball 7.95 www.threeballclimbing.com
Rigid Polyurethane
Cost $$$$
Appearance *** Texture *** Ergonomics ****
Muriatic Test: good
Drop Test: Pass
At first glance, it was obvious that the guys at Three Ball pay a lot of attention to detail. These holds even featured a washer in the pre-drilled directional screw hole! Any setter who has split a hold while sinking in a screw to prevent the hold from spinning can appreciate that. Bolt heads also remain flush on all of their holds preventing the mono bolt hole from coming into play. Their hollow backs blew setters away. Every inch of these holds was well engineered. Our test included the Mantis set and the Juggernauts sets. The Mantis set featured carefully sculpted edges with ambidextrous thumb catches. These holds were made for training, and more than one climber commented on the comfort of these slightly incut edges. In contrast, Juggernauts are a series of jugs. They are not extraordinary in their shape, but the jugs scored the highest in comfort of any hold in our test by a significant margin.
“If American auto makers made cars the way 3-Ball makes holds, they would dominate the world market.”
“Finally, jugs that don’t roll your calluses...did I mention they don’t roll your calluses?”