Does the Type of Landing Surface Matter?

PART 1 – What does the Landing Surface in an Indoor Climbing Facility Do?

Climbing is an exciting and rewarding sport that can be enjoyed both indoors and outdoors. However, whether you are a beginner or an experienced climber, safety must always be your top priority. One of the most important safety considerations for indoor climbing is the landing surface. It is the one piece of equipment that every climber uses in indoor climbing. First and foremost, a landing surface must be able to absorb the impact of a fall, reducing the risk of injury to the climber. Falling is an inherent risk in climbing, and even the most experienced climbers can take a tumble from time to time. The landing surface in indoor climbing facilities must be safe, durable, and ergonomically sound.

1.) SAFE

Every indoor climbing facility should focus on providing climbers with the safest space possible. When a climber falls or impacts the ground, the landing surface should be designed to minimize the risk of injury and protect joints, muscles, tendons, and bones from the damage caused by repetitive falls.


A landing surface should stand up to continual use and retain its ability to minimize the injury risks of ground impact. The longer it can sustain the effects of high traffic and endure the wear and tear of an indoor climbing facility, the more cost-effective it is.


The ergonomics of landing surfaces have to do with the design’s impact on the human body. It deals with the intricate balance between energy absorption, dissipation, and energy restitution or “give-back.” The key is for a landing surface to take the energy of the impact away from the body, so it does not experience the full force of a fall.

A good landing surface reduces the brunt of a fall by absorbing or dissipating the energy, so the body does not endure as much of the impact’s force. The elasticity of the landing surface determines how it lessens the shock of the encounter.

If a landing surface is too firm, then much of the energy is given back to the body. How elastic the landing surface is and how it reduces the impact force by absorbing and dissipating the energy of a fall are important considerations. However, when a landing surface is too soft, it becomes more difficult to walk upon, can create uneven surfaces as it compresses, and can be more difficult to contain, maintain, or stand-up to continual use.


Landing surfaces must have a balance between force reduction and energy restitution. Force reduction is the amount of energy the surface absorbs and dissipates, whereas energy restitution is the amount of energy the surface “gives back.”

Firm surfaces, like concrete or tile, are hard on joints and the body because they provide very little force reduction and it “gives back” more energy to the object impacting it. Whereas, a softer surface, like sand or rubber mulch, absorbs and dissipates more impact force, giving back less energy. That is why falling on concrete increases the likelihood of injury more than toppling on the beach. Ideally, an indoor climbing facility’s landing surfaces should reduce the stress of impact as much as possible.


How a landing surface responds can be classified by its elasticity. The most common types of elasticity are area-elastic or point-elastic. The key difference relates to the relative area of deflection when a downward force is applied to the surface.


Resilient landing surfaces such as open-cell foam, rubber, and polyurethane represent point-elastic flooring systems. These surfaces are softer and have shock absorption, energy rebound, and vertical deformation to varying degrees. However, the area of compression and deformation on point-elastic surfaces is generally at and around the point of impact. One benefit of this is that the surrounding areas of the floor remain relatively unchanged by activity in a particular area. In essence, a point-elastic surface interacts with each contact event on an individual basis.


Climbing landing surfaces. Area-elastic landing surfaces such as closed-cell foam, carpet, and some hardwood flooring spread the force of an impact over a greater area and have less vertical deformation.

Area-elastic landing surfaces such as closed-cell foam, carpet, and some hardwood flooring spread the force of an impact over a greater area and have less vertical deformation. These surfaces are denser, firmer, and not as pliant as other materials; therefore, vertical compression and deformation occur over a larger area when a force is applied, dispersing energy farther across the surface. With area-elastic surfaces, the area that is engaged in returning energy to the athlete is larger. That is why you can run faster on a basketball court than you can on a sandy beach. Additionally, because the deformation and compression at the area of impact are shallower, it lessens the potential for uneven surfaces at the point of impact that could cause an awkward landing and the possibility of sprains, breaks, and other injuries caused by twists, hyper-extensions, and unexpected contortions. 


Climbing landing surfaces. Combi-elastic systems, also called combination systems, consist of an area-elastic substructure with a point-elastic resilient surface.

Combi-elastic systems, also called combination systems, consist of an area-elastic substructure with a point-elastic resilient surface. By engaging both types of elasticity, they respond to impact both locally and across the wider surface area. As a result of this duel response, combination systems are widely regarded as one of the best landing surface options in terms of comfort and safety. Combination systems also provide a high degree of uniformity and are typically ranked in the higher classes of shock absorption.

Multi-faceted floor systems combine point-elastic surface properties with an area-elastic substructure. This gives climbers significantly more comfort, thanks to vertical deformation at the point of impact, which reduces the force of the fall, and cushioning that is spread over a larger area, which disperses the energy across a wide area.

A successful landing surface will need the right balance between safety (which increases with force reduction), and performance and durability (which increase with energy restitution). The “perfect” blend of these two components depends on what the specific use and facility needs are. For example, the needs of a climbing “fall zone” vary with the application. In bouldering areas, the falls are slightly different from those where there is top rope and/or lead climbing. Of course, falling from greater heights increases the force of the fall. Also, impacting the ground at different angles, along seams, at edges, etc. make a landing surface respond in different ways.

In Part 2, we will explore the various types of landing surfaces for indoor climbing facilities.

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