Foam / Fall Protection
Covering almost 19 square feet, the KJ fits solidly into the large, highball category of pads that are designed to keep climbers safe on all types of problems, even on long falls and bad landings. Not only does the KJ cover an impressive surface area, it does so with five inches of foam. This type of coverage and thickness was exactly what I was looking to bring on my solo bouldering days.
Traditionally, pads like that Organic Big Pad are set up with one inch of closed-cell (or “stiff”) foam on top of three or four inches of open-cell (or “soft”) foam. The idea behind this traditional construction is that the stiff foam on top will break the force of the fall while the softer foam underneath will cushion the fall and provide a soft landing.
Asana, however, slightly tweaked this dual-density foam structure and sandwiched three inches of firm, high-density, open-cell foam in between one inch of stiff, industrial-grade, closed-cell foam on the top and the bottom. Putting an extra inch of closed-cell foam on the bottom stiffens the underside of the pad, which prevents rocks or any uneven feature in the landing from pushing up through the open-cell foam and creating a hard, potentially dangerous spot in the landing. Additionally, by having stiff foam on both sides of the pad, the KJ can still both break and cushion a fall if it is draped upside down over a hazard in a tiered or slanted landing.
Besides this tri-layer construction, the Asana foam is also the same foam they use in their commercial grade pads made for climbing gyms. The foam is extremely high quality and meant to withstand abuse from thousands of commercial gym customers.
When I first began using the KJ, the foam seemed very stiff. In Joe’s Valley while trying the new problem, Milkman Sit, I was backslapping repeatedly off the second move, so initially opted to use an older, much softer Black Diamond Mondo to protect this move—the stiffness of the KJ would almost knock the wind out of me on each fall. After around a month of use, however, the foam has softened up slightly and now provides comfortable landings in all types of falls.
The initial stiffness, combined with the fact the KJ has softened only slightly during a month of near constant use, to me illustrate the quality of the foam and indicate that the KJ ought to hold up for years to come without becoming overly soft.
Shell Material / Durability
To encase the foam, Asana use both Ballistics Nylon and 1000 denier nylon. The majority of the KJ’s shell is made from 1000 denier nylon, which seems extremely tough and abrasion resistant. After a month of abuse in the desert locations of Joe’s and Moe’s Valleys with dust and rocks constantly being ground into the pad, the KJ shows no signs of wear and tear.
For further durability, Asana used 1680 ballistic nylon on the side rails to protect the high-wear areas like the corners, which are typically the first to fray and fall apart. Finally, Asana triple stitched stress zones, like the seams by the handles and the closure straps, to help ensure the KJ will stand up to significant use.
For the most part, I am extremely happy with the quality and design of the KJ. However, there are three minor drawbacks that should be noted. First, the stiffness of the KJ foam makes it uncomfortable to sleep on. This problem is compounded by the sandwich construction, which does not allow the KJ to be flipped upside down to expose the softer open cell foam for a better night’s sleep. Ultimately, however, this lack of comfort as a mattress is a small price to pay and, in my opinion, is outweighed by the added security while climbing.
The KJ also has very sharp, angular corners and edges compared to pads like the Black Diamond Mondo. These sharp angles are created by the 1680 ballistic nylon side rails and are a concern because they increase the possibility of rolling an ankle when landing on an edge of the pad. But, while this is a concern, it can be mitigated by careful pad placement.
Finally, while the KJ’s closure is one of my favorite features, the lack of a closure flap (like those on the Revolution Mission pad) means small items can easily slide out of the KJ during approaches. On several occasions during my recent trip, I had to retrace my steps to find one of my flip-flops that had fallen out during an approach. In my opinion, a simple bottom flap would entirely alleviate this problem, but it can also be largely avoided through intelligent packing.
The Asana KJ pad is a top-of-the-line highball crash pad that is competitively priced with other pads in the same size range, like the Organic Big Pad ($315), the Black Diamond Mondo ($400), and the Revolution 12-G ($400). However, the KJ is excellently designed to include all the necessary features without any superfluous add-ons. This sound design combined with the high-level of craftsmanship and the use of quality materials make the KJ and excellent choice for any climber looking for a large crash pad that they will be able to rely on season after season.