The Grip List is CBJ’s annual roundup of climbing hold companies — ranked by those people who work with the holds on a daily basis, the routesetters. This is the fifth installment of the annual Grip List, and while every year is exciting, this year’s awards feel extra special.
The climbing gym industry is on fire and hold companies are fanning the flames by starting a new era of innovation spurred by fierce competition. The big players are now firmly established but need to remain vigilant against scrappy up-and-comers. The Grip List shows us that setters are demanding evermore creative tools to do their job. Hold brands that aren’t constantly trying to be at the forefront will be quickly left behind.
The setters have voted so without further ado, onto the 2018 awards…
Anybody who has been reading CBJ for a while knows that Teknik needs no introduction. The company has been producing holds for nearly two decades and has found itself winning the Grip List “All-Time Favorite” award more times than any other hold-maker. With such an illustrious history, it’s no wonder why setters still love the brand.
“Teknik makes my job as a routesetter easier. Plain and simple,” wrote one voter. “They are often my go-to hold company when I am selecting holds. I can always find something from Teknik to serve whatever function I need for the problems I am setting. Some of the best crimps and pinches in the game.”
Teknik is known for having a wide selection of styles, and owner Seth Johnson said that 2017 was one of the company’s most prolific years, in terms of new shapes—93 new designs in total, spreading the gamut of sizes and purposes.
“Teknik’s shapes are simple and classic,” wrote another Grip List voter. “They mix well with so many sets because there are no crazy textures or patterns on them. They are therefore great for setting aesthetic routes—an important factor in modern commercial routesetting.”
There are some people who might be rubbing their eyes in disbelief at this ranking and asking a couple of questions: Didn’t Pusher, famous for its iconic “Boss” hold, go out of business years ago? Didn’t Pusher’s Clark Shelk release a heartbreaking announcement back in 2014 that read: To keep this company going, I am facing a hard reality; make huge financial investments into the company and make big ethical compromises. But I am not able to do either of those things right now?
Well, sort of. Pusher did close for a while, but it is back now thanks to new owner Jared Roth, who took over ten months ago. Roth managed to pick up where Shelk left off. He now runs the company, although he admits that the current shapes are a mix of his own ideas and the renowned Pusher designs of yesteryear.
In total, Roth’s hard work amounted to the rebirthed Salt Lake City-based company releasing 129 different styles and a hangboard. The Classic Hueco Crimp Set, along with the Fontainebleau-inspired Boss, proved to be the top-sellers, along with a new Font set.
“I wanted to start a hold company, but I couldn’t think of anything really good to name it,” he told CBJ. “Every time I came up with something, it just sounded stupid and I just wished I could call it Pusher…I wanted to make a new Pusher. But then I thought, ‘How cool would that be to just have it be Pusher again?’”
After working out a deal with Shelk, Roth officially got his wish. But make no mistake—the company is his. “Every new shape [for 2017], I shaped myself,” Roth said. “Every old classic hold I remastered myself. I molded every single hold myself. I made every single hollow-back myself. I poured the holds and took the photos and built the website (almost) by myself.”
Many setters were quick to recognize Roth’s commitment and craftsmanship,with one voter saying simply, “Jared Roth is working some serious magic with brand new and classic shapes!”
Akron, Ohio-based Rock Candy proves that there’s still a place in the industry for the wily veteran. For more than a decade, Rock Candy has been steadily producing holds that are now staples in practically every gym. To put that in perspective, when Rock Candy first started shaping plastic, routesetters weren’t even considering making holds touch or overlap on a wall, and all of the jumpy movement that is so prevalent nowadays was relegated only to gymnastics and skateboarding.
Consider Rock Candy then to be the company that has, perhaps more than any other, embraced the grind over the past 10 years—they’ve seen changes come, styles evolve, and they’ve managed to stay extremely popular and highly respected among setters.
Third Place is the highest that Rock Candy has ever ranked on the Grip List, and its largely due to the company’s constant consideration of what routesetters want. “We are most excited about being able to provide unmatched turn-around time on hold orders, and a hands-on approach to product quality,” said owner Liz Yokum, referencing her company’s 10-day turn-around guarantee for orders.” Such expediency is an admirable move—especially considering that the company also launched a new website in 2017, simplified its ordering system, and ran its Support Your Local Routsetter program. “In our 10 years of business, we’ve all grown together and in that growth comes the ability and the necessity to plan. 2017 was a big year for putting plans into action and it’s an exciting place to be,” Yokum told CBJ.
In last year’s Grip List, CBJ noted that Flathold was like the “cool kid of the climbing world.” It’s fitting then that the company’s reputation continued to grow in 2017—because everyone wants to hang out with the cool kid, right?—and saw the Swiss company jump from Third Place to Second Place. There have been other European hold makers that have tried to cross the pond and make waves in the American market, but none have even come close to the success of Flathold.
Flathold’s popularity—and an inventive aesthetic that could be seen as the post-modernism of the hold world—likely has to do with co-owner Mathieu Achermann’s outlook. “We try to create movement, and not only shapes,” he told CBJ, in the same way that an artist might look to create a visual experience rather than just a painting.
But what’s interesting considering Flathold’s high standing on this year’s Grip List is that the company actually felt some hiccups in 2017. Achermann admits that logistically it was a challenge to be based in Europe yet meet demand in America: “Bringing our newest shapes in North America is always a longer process, as we create it first for our European production,” he told CBJ. “Then we must recreate other molds for the North American production, and it takes time.” Still, Achermann managed to work out any kinks despite delays and brought the two newest sets of holds at the beginning of this year. He has also set a goal of making production swifter as the year progresses.
The two sets that were released in 2017 were Electric Flavor, a 177-hold series that mixed “bad slopers” and crimps with other positive holds, and Damage Control, a series of 109 pieces that are mostly highly technical (and “demanding,” according to Achermann) dual-texture holds. The company also produced two new sets of fiberglass volumes—the Thunderbird and Elliot Master—for a total of nine volume units.
Flathold also continued increasing its visibility in 2017. Achermann pointed out that being a partner of USA Climbing, as well as seeing his holds used in international comps, was positive reinforcement for his aim of always creating interesting shapes.
The Grand Prize for this year goes to Kilter, and the company is no stranger to the coveted top spot. In fact, this was Kilter’s third year in a row winning the First Place award; considering that the Boulder-based brand amassed 26 percent of the total vote—more than twice as much as second place—it’s right to say that Kilter has established a multitude of devotee routsetters who swear by the brand’s eclectic offering.
Kilter’s mastermind, Ian Powell, has been an unstoppable creative force since starting the company four years ago. In the past, he’s made waves for his “stacks”—holds that can be melded on top of volumes, but it’s the fact that his company is so prolific with its innovation that makes it stand out.
In total, Kilter produced 473 new holds in the United States in 2017 (373 sets, along with 100 board holds). There was also an overseas line in 2017—part of the company’s ongoing objective of European production. Additionally, Kilter worked with Peter Juhl of Urban Plastix and Dan Yagmin of Decoy, who moved to Boulder to work on a longtime “dream” (according to Hueftle) of building “a creative studio that produces multiple brands.” Hueftle said, “Dan [Yagmin] and Peter [Juhl] are both talented shapers, and we’re building brands around them, letting them focus on shaping and branding—the creative side of the business—the same we did with Ian and Kilter. We’ll be releasing the first sets from Dan’s new brand, Foundation Bloc, in early 2018.”
Perhaps one Grip List voter summed it up best: “The breadth of Kilter’s line is unparalleled,” they said. “If I only had Kilter Grips at my disposal, I could set anything that I could imagine, and then some. Beyond the incredible range of their line, Kilter pays incredibly close attention to comfort/ergonomics and aesthetics/detail. Other companies do the same, without a doubt, but Kilter impresses me every time I see something new from them.”
In all the years that CBJ has tallied votes, waded through routesetter opinions, and given out awards for the Grip List, only one company has consistently been declared the All-Time Favorite—Teknik. Although the Canadian powerhouse had a stellar showing this time as well, it narrowly missed out (by a single vote!) on claiming this award for a fifth year in a row.
In the end, the award for 2018 goes to Kilter, and that feels appropriate to anyone who objectively surveys the remarkable strides the company has made.
The company got a nice boost in visibility when vlogger Eric Karlsson chronicled the setting of The Project at a gym in Sweden on his popular YouTube channel. That route featured Kilter holds and was attempted by Adam Ondra, Jorg Verhoeven, Nalle Hukkataival, and other world-famous climbers.
One voter specifically likes how Kilter works in conjunction with athletes. “Kilter is one of the few companies not only pushing what a climbing hold should be, but also caring for the community,” they said. “They have so much input from athletes that climb and train more than anyone. They just make a great hold.”
For the second year in a row, the top honor for volume-makers goes to Montreal, Quebec-based Dimension. The creative force behind the company is cabinet-maker Kristopher Feeney, and the fact that he sticks to his woodworking roots seems admirable when other brands are so keen to play around with fiberglass and various mixtures. “Dimension is still a new business but we’ve stayed true to our values from the start,” said Feeney. “We continued putting our profits towards the growth development of the company.”
Dimension added more than 30 new shapes to its lineup, bringing the total number of designs offered to more than 100. Feeney notes that an additional 30 shapes are slated to be added in the future, many of which will be unveiled at USA Climbing’s upcoming Bouldering Open Nationals in February.
According to Feeney, one of the highlights of 2017 was filling the company’s largest order to date—a single gym requested 350 volumes, which were packed and shipped a week before Dimension moved into a newer, larger location.
Given all that, it’s no wonder that routesetters who talked to CBJ praised nearly all aspects of Dimension, from the company’s customer service to the sturdy construction of the holds. “The shapes and the angles, [and the volumes’] use in comp settings were unparalleled,” said one user, while another simply said, “Beautifully crafted and great texture.”
There’s really nothing else any setter—or climber—could want out of a volume.
The Grip List was Written By:
Mike Helt, Editor-in-Chief
John Burgman, Assistant Editor