In a market crowded with many good options, the Alto pad from Petzl stands out because of its unique design. For boulderers who routinely head out with lots of gear inside their pad, the Alto’s zippered flap closure works overtime to keep loose objects safe. The patented folding system lengthens the life of the foam and offers uniform cushioning across the entire surface of the pad.
Unlike any other pad we have encountered so far, the Alto can be used with either side flipped on top. While the carrying system does offer plenty of comfort, with wide shoulder straps as well as a sternum strap and waist adjustments, we did find that the velcro closures were less adventure-proof than other options. The pad construction is impressively burly, with reinforced corners and lower seams in areas that come into contact with the ground. The cover that holds the three layers of foam together is made of highly durable materials and has been waterproofed to keep water from soaking into the foam.
We loved the grab handles and adjustable bandolier for smaller trips between nearby boulders, although we wish there were a “suitcase” option for easy one-hand transportation. All in all, the Petzl Alto pad is a quality product with a few minor drawbacks that won’t affect you much unless you’re a hardcore boulderer doing long approaches day after day.
- 4″ protection is comfortable and sufficient for short to mid projects while keeping the weight down
- Very sturdy overall
- The zip flap closure is ideal for securing objects during transport
- Versatile: can work as a primary pad or as supplemental protection
- Velcro closures can become an issue over time if you boulder in sandy/dusty spots
- No “suitcase” handle
- Expensive (but worth it!)
Fall Impact Protection
The primary job of a crash pad is to offer protection for bouldering falls by padding the landing. The Alto, like many others, uses a three-layer foam assembly specifically developed to cushion falls from a low height safely. This system provides good impact protection in tandem with an attentive spotter.
Keep a few things in mind when setting up this pad. One is that the foam on the inside has different densities, which provide varying levels of protection. The thicker and softer open cell foam layer is great for lounging on or cushioning smaller falls, but it won’t protect from a highball fall and the thicker closed cell foam layer. Luckily, the Petzl Alto is specifically designed to use it with either side facing up. If you want to face the closed cell foam up for better cushioning, simply zip up the flap closure with the pad opened up so that the chest and waist adjustments are hidden away and don’t become trip hazards.
The Alto is a taco-style pad, meaning that it features a one-piece hingeless design instead of two pads that are attached with a fabric “hinge” This design is great because it eliminates the fold in the middle of most pads which doesn’t offer as good of protection for bouldering falls as the center of the foam. Instead, the entire surface area of the pad has excellent uninterrupted protection.
The Alto is a crash pad made with durability in mind. The high-denier, waterproof cover has protected corners and reinforced stitching in exposed areas. The closure straps use solid metal buckles to clip the pad shut when folded, a system that will definitely last for years of heavy use. The triple-layer foam assembly is water and mold-resistant, so even if you get your pad soaked, you don’t need to worry too much about deterioration. Just make sure to set it out to dry in the sun later. Petzl’s patented folding system lengthens the pad’s life because it doesn’t rely on any fabric hinges to hold the two sides together.
For boulderers heading to extreme climates, there are some advantages and drawbacks to the Alto’s design. The zippered flap system is good for transport, but large zippers must be properly maintained and kept clean to function well. Similarly, the velcro adjustment on the chest straps could potentially fail if it gets too dirty. Another point of relevance for advanced approaches; the backpack feature is ergonomic while being worn but does not have fantastic durability when a loaded pad is being grabbed by a single strap.
For most bouldering trips, the Alto is a good choice with solid durability in the pad zone. However, if you plan on going somewhere extreme with lots of dirt or sand, then a zipperless, velcroless pad would be ideal.
Ease of Use
Even though zippers and velcro aren’t great for extreme conditions, they do make for a very user-friendly experience. Compared to most other pads, we found the Petzl Alto to be one of the most ergonomic on the market. The single pad design works double time as both a safety bonus and a much more comfortable lounge spot. It’s even possible to rig it in couch mode for evenings around the campfire. These folding Petzl pads offer an innovative design that helps out as much when you’re off the wall as when you’re on.
The backpack function of the Alto is quite full-featured and comes with a chest strap and both chest and waist adjustments to make carriage over any terrain a breeze. Unlike many other pads, the backpack seems to have a bit of a suspension system, so the load gets more evenly distributed between your shoulders and hips. The zippered flap can cover either side of the pad, and we found it easy enough to shift back and forth depending on personal preference.
Overall, the Alto is easy to use while climbing and offers many ergonomic features for transport and lounging. We think it is one of the best crash pads available regarding user-friendliness.
Packing and Transport
One of the standout features of the Alto is its ability to swallow climbing gear when folded and keep it stored safely inside. The zippered flap was specifically developed by Petzl and provides storage space for loose items that usually fall out of a folded pad. We found that this feature makes for quick transport between boulders and easier packing. It isn’t the most voluminous pad, but what it can hold, it holds well.
As we mentioned before, the backpack function is excellent and has wide shoulder straps for a comfortable carry over long distances. There are multiple handles for transitions between boulders for a one- or two-person carry system. Overall, the Alto offers easy handling and incredible comfort while hiking to your project. We think the only drawback here is the limited amount of gear that will reasonably fit in the closed pad, but that won’t matter to most people unless you are doing long overnight approaches.
Is the Alto the Right Pad for You?
The Petzl Alto is a great pad for all but the most committed boulderers out there. Suppose you often find yourself bouldering in areas where a campsite is within walking distance and where zipper-unfriendly materials like excessive sand and mud aren’t issues. In that case, you will never run up against the potential drawbacks of this pad. If you are looking for the most rugged and durable pad, and want something that can hold a few days worth of water and food, perhaps something bigger, like the Black Diamond Mondo, would be a better choice. The Alto shines on more casual outings but offers exceptional protection and cushioning. It is more expensive than other pads, but we think the many well-thought-out design elements justify the extra money.
|4″ (10.2 cm)
|46 x 39″ (117 x 99 cm)
|12.56 lbs (5.7 kg)
|High-strength Cordura ballistic fabric, open and closed cell foam