This is CBJ’s fourth annual list of the most sought after climbing hold companies that are distributing their wares in North America as voted on by those who use their goods everyday, the routesetters.
This year’s Grip List was unique in several ways. We saw the rise of what could be a new era in volume making. We also saw two very different types of hold companies top the list: one a brash, sensitive genius on the bleeding edge of innovation and the other, a no-frills hold merchant prone to southern hospitality.
We only give awards to the top five Official Selections, Favorite Volume and All-Time Favorite. But we want to give credit where credit is due. That’s why we want to tell you the top ten favorite hold companies that setters voted on. Coming in at #10, with help from Cryptochild’s amazing Bubbies volumes is So iLL Holds. We know this is a bit awkward for Mark Bradley but his new stalwart of the hold room, Working Class is in a dead heat with Kingdom Holds for #9 and #8. At #7 is the definition of classic, Teknik Handholds. And racing up the list, and just out of reach of an Official Selection, is Cheeta Holds at #6.
Now to the awards!
The competition for Favorite Volume was fierce this year with new comer Dimension Volumes coming out on top. Based in Montreal, Quebec and run by Kristopher Feeney, a cabinet maker and long-time routesetter, Dimension is perfecting the simplicity of wood volumes with what many are calling the best volume texture on the market.
Many setters think they can make wood volumes at home, but creating quality construction that can withstand the abuse of a commercial environment takes a professional approach that few can mimic in their garage. By using lightweight fiberglass reinforcement on the inside of each panel joint, Dimension has created some of the lightest and strongest volumes money can buy.
But when it comes to wood volumes, texture is everything. Too many of today’s volumes, whether wood or fiberglass, have either a slippery yet bomb-proof texture or a texture that comes off with the first few passes with a pressure washer. According to Dimension’s sales rep, Louie Anderson, “Dimension’s texture mix hits a perfect blend of durability, ability to hold chalk, all without an aggressive texture.”
Anderson isn’t the only one that likes the texture. Ben Winstanley, Head Setter at Wallnuts Climbing Center commented that Dimension has the “best and longest lasting texture I’ve seen on volumes in over 15 years of commercial routesetting and indoor climbing.”
The whole point of volumes is to dramatically change the angles of a given wall, allowing the climber a new way to move up a route. Feeney, and his one part-time employee, have built 101 different volume shapes that do just that. Available either as bolt-on or screw-on and in sizes large and extra-extra large, these volumes are truly changing the dimension of indoor climbing.
Competitors Note: Nipping at the heels of Dimension is Blocz, which was 2 percentage points away from first place. Blocz is a German-based and US-distributed volume maker that produces very similar models as Dimension. For years, up until now, wood volumes had been dominated by Texas-based Motivation. Now with these two newcomers on the market, setters will start to see some serious competition which should drive innovation up and costs down.
The award for All-Time Favorite hold company goes to Teknik for the fourth year in a row! The venerable Canadian hold company is still capturing the hearts and minds of setters with their classic shapes and this year is no different.
Celebrating their seventeenth year in business, Teknik has developed such a deep back catalog of shapes that, as Blake Green, Head Setter at Highpoint Climbing commented, “It’s hard to imagine opening a new gym without a large volume of Teknik shapes. The company is so ubiquitous.”
To some climbers, grips are just utilitarian pieces of the wall. But to others it was Teknik’s shapes that were so inspiring that they changed people’s lives: “They were the first company to open my eyes to pursuing pulling on plastic as an end unto itself.” wrote one Grip List voter.
When CBJ asked Teknik Founder, Seth Johnston, what they did this year that they could attribute to their ongoing success, Johnston responded, “We were just ourselves, really. Making the holds we have in us to carve and continuing to implement our standard of customer service to all those we do business with.”
Even after twenty years in the game, eGRIPS, led by Ty Foose and his impeccable, precision shaping, is still at the top of their game. They bumped up one spot on the Grip List this year with the help of some amazing shapes.
One example of this is the “Wings” series which comes in “parrot” and “falcon” (with rumors that a “condor” could be coming). The craftsmanship and detail on these holds is amazing to behold and is unparalleled in the industry. Foose also put out a number of very cool shapes that could stand alone but are benefited by the addition of the iconic “bubble wrap” texture.
“Setters have been asking me for many years to do more 2-Tex Bubble Wrap shapes, and to make large Bubble Wrap features. While I was in Wisconsin last January for the USAC Bouldering Nationals, I was finally talked into it by the very insistent Nationals setting crew. I knew it would be a huge undertaking to combine big, bubbly and glossy smooth all into one. Hand carving all those individual bubbles on a giant shape takes long enough, let alone creating a perfectly polished surface on all the other sides. It took the better part of 10 months for us to produce those 7 shapes, but I’m really excited about how [they] turned out.” – Ty Foose
Their unwavering support of routesetters has been the backbone of what Rock Candy is all about since they opened shop ten years ago. And this year, that support helped maintain Rock Candy’s position on the Grip List at number four.
Coming straight out of Akron, Ohio this family operation has been focusing on giving setters the right tools to make their job easier. Rock Candy knows where to put their effort, from original shapes by Nathan Yokum himself to a lifetime guarantee on power bits to a streamlined ordering form.
The Rock Mill, which opened in 2016, is Rock Candy’s very own bouldering gym and allows Yokum to test out shapes but, “more importantly routesetting itself,” he told CBJ. This focus on the craft and profession of routesetting has led the company to put out a “Support Your Local Setter” campaign. The program is aimed at providing setters with new holds for competitions at no cost. If the setters like what they set with they can then buy the holds at a discount.
This year Rock Candy introduced their “Colossal” size which is their biggest and by big, we mean HUGE!
“Some of their new shapes have become my instant favorites. The Diatoms are simply amazing holds and my favorite shapes I’ve seen come out this year. Also, colossal shapes like the Blockus and the Dimples are visually stunning and lend themselves to really good movement. Rock Candy just keeps on getting better!” – Quinn Kellogg setter at Vertical Adventures.
If there was a cool kid of the climbing hold world, it would be Flathold. Led by an Internationally known setter with connections to the strongest climbers on the planet, Manu Hassler and Mathieu Achermann, with their smooth texture and original urethane shapes, have mastered the art of Swiss-cool.
Their highly recognizable volume and screw-on shapes are some of the most sought after on the market. “Flathold has this amazing knack for producing practical climbing holds with all the aesthetic appeal of your favorite Jackson Pollock.” Andrew Shoemaker Setter at Cirque in Olympia, WA commented.
Achermann told CBJ that he and Hassler spent the year shaping about 350 new holds and nine new volumes which will be released sometime in 2017. He said the team has been more focused on working out new ideas and, “taking time in the workshop to develop new shapes and trying to stay inspired.”
For this past year, Flathold put out eighty-three holds that make up the new “Tokyo 2020” set which many of the voters commented on. “Amazing”, “excellent”, “fabulous”, were just a few of the adjectives used to describe the set.
Flathold has one of the smaller total line-ups of any company but they have brought to market features that setters have been wanting: washers for set screws, and plugs for bolt holes and now they’re starting to perfect their dual-tex.
Flathold has only been distributed in America for a year but has already made a serious impression on setters. Get ready to see more of Flathold as they just signed on as an official USAC National sponsor, “It is just a beginning for us in the North American market,” Achermann said.
Wow, what a year Element has had! They released 170 new holds, took Catalyst, their hold pouring division Nationwide and signed up eight brands, sponsored the new National Cup series and became an official USA Climbing hold sponsor, and brought on legendary hold shaper Louie Anderson to be their US sales rep. AND they lept from fifth place in last year’s Grip List up to second place this year!
One reason for the jump in position could be the amount of time and money owners David and Lisa Filkins have put towards making sure everyone knows about Element. His marketing could be seen at the annual CWA Summit last spring. The Element logo was everywhere in the venue along with a savvy campaign to get the word out about Catalyst. Sponsoring the Setter Showdown, which gets holds directly into the hands of setters, and the new opportunity that national exposure will bring them when they debut their grips at the USAC Bouldering National Championship this winter is sure to keep the Element team busy.
Even more than the marketing, or the hold selection or even the low prices, what seems to separate Element from the rest of the competition is their absolute maniacal focus on customer service. Element had more diverse voting than any other hold brand. They received votes from every aspect of the hold buying universe; from commercial head setters, university wall setters and even home woody buyers.
Ian Powell’s obsession with artistry balanced with his innate desire to create ground-breaking designs is why Kilter takes the Grand Prize in this year Grip List. And just like last year, Kilter dominated the voting, taking 34% of all votes tallied (the next closest was 7%).
The company is only three years old but is already knocking on the door of All-Time Favorite hold company (watch out Teknik!). They are doing this in two ways. First, by sheer brute force: the amount of holds that Kilter puts out in one year is more, by far, than any company on the Grip List. This year alone they put out over 225 new shapes, most of them in the overwhelmingly popular Sandstone series, “[The] sandstone line is amazing and the dual tex versions are jaw dropping incredible,” wrote one Grip List voter.
Second, by pushing the level of artistry to new levels. There are only a handful of people in the world that can hold a candle to what Powell can do with foam. The way he can turn foam into works of art beguiles his burly bodily dimensions and his brusque demeanor. Though he has a tendency to come across as a playground bully online, we imagine that once alone, he whispers the sweetest nothings to get the foam to release its secrets.
“The quality of these holds is just on another level. Subtle shapes, beautiful aesthetics, and amazing texture.” – Max Robertson, Routesetter at Gravity Climbing Gym
It’s not just Powell’s shapes that setters are eating up; the “Lowriders” by pro-setter Jeremy Ho, “Puccio Pinches” by Alex Puccio and Jimmy Web’s “Southern Slopers” all garnered a lot of attention this year. All these shapes come from Kilters “Haptic” line which are shaped by a unique collection of professional routesetters and climbers.
“Good mix of young and experienced shapers pushing the hold industry into a new and exciting age.” – Cody Grodzki, Head Setter at High Point.
Many hold companies think they are being innovative but Kilter is one of the few that actually is. And this coming year we could see that in full effect when they release the much touted “Stacks”. Climbing walls are flat and thus climbing holds have a flat back. But with the proliferation of volumes the climbing wall now has 3D dimensions allowing for the possibility of melding a hold to a volume. The Stacks will have the ability to “bend” 2 – 3 degrees to match up to the corresponding volume angle.
“Stacks are a lot more than a simple gimmick. I’ve come to see them as a necessary connector between planes all over gyms and something that volumes needed to tie them to walls more elegantly. It’s one of those designs that you didn’t realize was so valuable until you see them and then it clicks. I’ve been working on them for a few years now so at this point walls without them have started to look a touch simple to me. Hopefully, the market agrees with me and starts to feel the same way.” – Ian Powell told CBJ