by Christopher Schafenacker
Training boards are the new cool in climbing. Or, they’re the old cool made new (and cooler). They have lights, interactive apps, and the sport’s biggest pros have Instagram accounts dedicated to showing off their use. ‘Why all the fuss?’ you ask. Because modern training boards offer a better effort-invested-to-gains-made ratio than just about any other training tool and, if that weren’t enough, you can fit one in your garage.
The Kilter Board, Moonboard, and Tension Board are the three most popular modern board models and each serves a different purpose. In an ideal world, you would train on all three and adjust your usage based on your current climbing goals—however, few have access to such privileged training digs. Nonetheless, it helps to know where each board excels…and it doesn’t hurt to dream of having them all.
As the first modern board on the market, the Moonboard set the standard for those that would follow and so it makes sense that it be the first we talk about. Based on Sheffield's fabled School Room—which itself plays a central role in the history of indoor training for rock climbing—the Moonboard arrived in 2005 when Ben Moon developed a 40° overhung wooden training board set with standardized, specially designed resin holds. For reasons too detailed to get into here, the idea didn’t gain momentum until 2014 when Moon remounted the board on an adjustable frame and designed the Moonboard app which would become one of the defining features of his innovation.
The first widely-used Moonboard, referred to as the 2016 set, is characterized by small holds and hard problems. Nothing easier than V4 is on offer, and Moonboard boulders are notoriously sandbagged. Users complain of wrecked skin and bruised egos, and yet nobody denies that the 2016 Moonboard is as close as you can get to outdoor climbing while training indoors. This said, the preference for crimps and total absence of good holds means that users are limited to a static, high-body-tension climbing style that might prepare you to crush at Smith Rock but not get you ready for your next trip to Kalymnos. The 2017 and 2019 Moonboard resets both address this limitation, but it’s the Tension Board and Kilter Board that really offer alternatives to the nails-hard style that has almost become synonymous with the Moonboard name.
Tension Climbing entered the board scene the same year Ben Moon’s innovation started to gain real momentum. It makes sense, then, that many of the Tension Board’s defining features provide answers to the Moonboard’s limitations. The all-wooden holds, for instance, are distinctly skin-friendly, providing for longer or more frequent board sessions and a different style of climbing. Wood’s low coefficient of friction (when compared to resin) means contact strength and precision are required of the Tension Board; meanwhile, the abundance of pinches paired with the board’s symmetrical layout provide for problems that favor compression and dynamic movement (and muscular balance). Lastly, the slippery nature of wooden feet means the Tension Board, even more so than the Moonboard, trains the sort of precise footwork required of outdoor rock.
The Kilter Board is the newest major player in the board world and in almost all respects, it is bigger and better than its predecessors. While retaining the essential features of a community-driven app and light-up problems, it adds a far bigger climbing area and the versatility of a climbing angle that adjusts from 0° to 70° at 5° intervals. Kilter holds are sculpted works of art that are as nice to look at as they are to grip. Their texture strikes a midpoint between traditional resin and wood, ensuring skin is not the limiting factor in your session, and their accommodating shape means beginners can enjoy problems set at a gradual angle, while pros like Jimmy Webb can crush V13s without risking a pulley rupture.
The Kilter Board’s size and adjustability mean that it can be used to train a wide range of climbing styles, but it is not without limitation. Outdoor climbing holds are rarely ergonomic and so the transition to real rock after training on the Kilter Board’s clean, four-finger grips can be not only challenging but risky. Finger injuries often occur when one finger is disproportionally loaded while gripping a hold, after all. This is why it is important to cycle one- and two-finger pockets through your hangboard routine, and it is also why training on the wonky-shaped holds of the Moonboard is valuable.
Cost and size are additional limiting factors of the Kilter Board and yet this is at least partially offset by the option to buy pre-cut and drilled Kilter panels that allow you to cobble together your own wall without shelling out for the costly complete kit.
The Kilter Board community is fast developing new problems, and will soon rival the diversity available on the Tension Board or Moonboard.
Rockstar Volumes sells freestanding Tension Board climbing walls (holds not included), as well as the panels needed to construct a Kilter Board. Beyond these options, many climbers use our standard 30º and 40º Rocket Walls to set up systems boards, which are an unparalleled way for climbers to train strength and power.
Featured Climbing Training Gear
*NEW* The Rocketeer Wall: our free-standing adjustable solution for those who can’t mount a hangboard anywhere in their home or apartment—or who are limited on space. The Rocketeer gives climbers the additional option to set specific climbing holds. Recreate the crux holds of your proj and get ready to send, bruh.
The Rocket Wall: Available in 6’ and 8’ widths, it’s been tough for us to keep up with the demand for this innovative home climbing wall solution. Slightly overhanging, the Rocket Wall is big enough to set routes on, or to build a systems board.
The Rock-Stah: Our handcrafted version of a traditional hangboard, with curving crimp rails to help alleviate unnecessary strain on your pulleys. Because ain’t no one got time for a finger injury…
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