The debate about Kneepads for climbing has been going on for a long time. In the recent past, more and more professionals have expressed themselves on the subject, including Alexander Megos, Adam Ondra and Edu Marin. Do Kneepads change the level of difficulty? Does a special assessment have to be introduced? We summarize.

Kneepads are rubberized padding that is attached to the thigh / knee with straps. For a long time, the American manufacturer 5.10 was the absolute top dog with its Kneepads. Since the sale of the brand to Adidas, no more Kneepads of 5.10 have been produced, the place in the Kneepad market has been dominated by the Send Climbing brand from Hueca, USA.

No longer a marginal phenomenon

The first Kneepads appeared in the United States in the 90s, but they were a marginal phenomenon and mostly "in-house brand". That changed with the Kneepads from brands like 5.10 and Send Climbing. Much has changed in the 30 years of climbing and so more and more professional athletes can be seen bouldering and route climbing with Kneepads.

Knee clamps: old technology artificially improved

The climbing technique that kneepads are used for is knee clamps. In doing so, your knee and foot are jammed between two rock structures. With shorts or pants made of thin fabric, a knee clamp can be quite uncomfortable or even painful. And this is where the Kneepads come into play. Kneepads make knee clamps more comfortable and the rubber coating also makes knee clamps hold better.

This advancement in climbing, comparable to the development of tear gloves, is in itself not a bad thing. However, the question arises: do Kneepads change the level of difficulty of a route or a boulder? Do you need a separate evaluation in the case of an inspection with a Kneepad?

Adam Ondra in the knee clamp of the route Beginning in Arco (picture Giampaolo Calza)
Adam Ondra in the knee clamp of the route Beginning in Arco (picture Giampaolo Calza)

That's what Edu Marin, Alex Megos and Adam Ondra say

The Spanish professional climber Edu Marin made an explicit statement on this topic a year ago.

When I climb a route with a kneepad, I do a different route because the movements are different and there are possible resting points that are not possible without a kneepad.

Edu Marin

In 2020 Edu Marin has set himself the goal of being able to climb a 9b route red point. As a 9b project, Edu has the route Stoking the Fire made that Chris Sharma First climbed in 2013 - without a Kneepad.

Edu Marin is locked in a knee clamp. (Boild Esteban Lahoz)
Edu Marin is locked in a knee clamp. (Boild Esteban Lahoz)

If we use Kneepads in a route that was first climbed without a Kneepad, it is very likely that new resting points will be found or that climbing moves will become easier.

Edu Marin

For Edu Marin one thing is clear: sport climbing is, among other things, about mastering a certain level of difficulty. And for him, Kneepads are clear “game changers”. So if you climb a route with a Kneepad, you have to rate it if the route becomes easier and must not claim the same level of difficulty. Edu Marin even goes so far as to suggest a separate assessment. In his opinion, routes should be rated with, for example, “9a + KP” or “9b without KP”.

Alexander Megos: The "how" is of central importance

The opinion of also goes in a similar direction Alexander Megos.. He wrote in December 2020 in connection with the boulder The Story of two Worlds on the topic of climbing ethics. The boulder was originally climbed without Kneepads - today, however, mostly with Kneepads, with correspondingly different movements.

I have the impression that the climbing community makes no difference how a line was climbed. When it comes to climbing - especially bouldering - the "how" is of central importance.

Alexander Megos.

Even if Alexander Megos rarely climbs with Kneepads, he is not a total Kneepad refuser. Like Edu Marin, Alexander Megos' kneepads are part of the further development of the sport.

Alexander Megos climbed The Story of Two Worlds without a kneepad. (Picture
Alexander Megos climbed The Story of Two Worlds without a kneepad. (Picture

However, both are of the opinion that when walking a route you have to say whether you have scored with or without Kneepads and demand that you be honest with yourself with the evaluation. About the fall of the boulder The story of two worlds says Alex Megos:

One climber (Dai Koyamada) started lower than all the others and climbed without a kneepad. Nevertheless, all of them claim the degree 8c for themselves? It's very strange.

Alexander Megos.

Adam Ondra: Skin on knee prepared with sandpaper

Adam Ondra, as he explains in an article on his website, has climbed wearing shorts for many years and only carefully knee clamps during the first few days of a climbing trip to make the skin in the area harder. In some cases he has even treated his knees and thighs with sandpaper to encourage callus formation, as many climbers do with their fingers.

In the recent past Adam Ondra however, Kneepads are being used more and more frequently for climbing. The world's first 9c route, Silence, Adam Ondra climbed with Kneepads. In some bouldering lines it worked specifically on knee clamp positions in order to rest longer and was thus able to climb the line at all. A look at Adam's numerous inspections in 2020 shows that he refined and increasingly perfected knee clamp technique.

Here the ascent of the boulder stands or falls with the success of a knee clamp

What does this knee clamp and kneepad specialist say about the evaluation of routes and bouldering?

With Kneepads you can do knee clamps in places where knee clamps are not possible with bare skin or with pants. This can significantly change the difficulty of routes.

Adam Ondra

Adam Ondra emphasizes that he regards Kneepads as a further development of the sport, just like climbing shoes or magnesium were (are).

Climbing shoes have developed significantly over the past decades

But Adam also says clearly that Kneepads make it difficult to consistently evaluate climbing routes. For example, in cases where smaller climbers - due to their shorter legs - cannot do a knee clamp, but larger climbers can.

In my opinion, classic and older routes such as Ben Moon's Hubble only count if they are climbed in the same way as the first ascent - i.e. without a Kneepad. Because in 1990 Ben Moon was not familiar with the technique of the Kneepads.

Adam Ondra

In the conclusion of his article, Adam Ondra basically agrees with Alexander Megos' vote: Nowadays, professional climbers should not simply claim an ascent, but also say how the route was climbed. In addition, professional climbers should not just take the level of difficulty from the climbing guide, but also incorporate factors such as the use of kneepads, new solutions in a route, etc. into their assessment.

Conclusion: Kneepads have an impact and professionals have to be transparent

Other important voices have also already expressed themselves on the subject of the Kneepads. Even if the statements differ in their clarity, most of them agree on the following points:

  • Kneepads are a further development in climbing
  • Kneepads have - in many cases - an influence on the level of difficulty
  • Climbers must communicate transparently whether they have climbed a route with or without a kneepad
  • Climbers should be honest with themselves and sometimes devalue a route or boulder if it is easier to climb with a Kneepad.

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Credits: Cover picture Esteban Lahoz