2022 has been a year of wary optimism. Lockdowns are a thing of the recent past, competition circuits are back in almost full swing, and while many climbers still remain cautious, community gyms are filling up once again and becoming more and more like we remember them. For climbers who are back inside pushing their limits on wood and plastic, there’s likely to be many pleasant new surprises on the walls in the form of innovative new holds, macros and volumes. That said, the world still carries a messy legacy from the pandemic, with some of the largest production and shipping times ever seen―up to six months for some gyms’ hold orders. Patience, as we’ve all learned, continues to be a necessary virtue.
While COVID caused the gym industry to stutter, innovation in the holds sector still cranked forward in a trajectory that, at the moment, seems to have no ceiling. The climbing industry is growing both bigger and smaller at the same time, with new companies and products springing up in a world that feels more global and connected than ever before. This evolution is marked by this year’s Setter’s Choice Top 5 awards going to companies from five different countries.
There are some very familiar faces in the winner’s circle this year, with one American company continuing their winning streaks in multiple categories, while a Swiss favorite is nipping even closer at their heels. One fresh name broke into the Top 5, signaling that hold operations of all shapes and sizes can continue to make big impressions in both the gym industry and on the world competition stage.
Board systems, for their part, continue to be a favorite training tool both commercially and at home, and users across the boards are very vocal about which product they prefer. To keep up with an influx in digital solutions, we have created two new awards—Best Routesetting App and Best Homewall App—and it is exciting to see where, and how, technology will continue to influence our sport.
The climbing hold industry is a remarkable, ever-changing space that keeps us all on our rubber-clad toes, while helping climbers at all levels push their own limitations and build community. As always, a big thanks goes out to all the routesetters who voted, more and more of whom are coming from outside North America.
Without further ado, please join us in celebrating this year’s Grip List winners! (Scroll down or click on the links below to navigate to each brand’s awards. For the methodology and full results of the 2022 Grip List Survey as well as a history of past winners, click here.)
ATOMIK – BLOCZ – BLUE PILL – CHEETA – FLATHOLD – GRIZZLY – KAYA/PLASTICK – KILTER – STOKED – STŌKT – TEKNIK
Setter’s Choice – 5th Place
Blue Pill made their Grip List debut this year, breaking into the Setter’s Choice and claiming 5th place. Blue Pill is a German company with a young and dynamic team that has come to be known for their rounded fiberglass macros, diverse hold sets, and uniquely asymmetric wooden volumes.
Owner, shaper and routesetter Joseph Wetzel is behind many of the designs, and is the man driving the shape and future of the company. “Blue Pill holds are created for everyone,” Wetzel says. “We want to create something unique, something special, something that creates emotions while climbing.” Those special and unique designs have caught the eye of setters around the world, including at the highest level, as Blue Pill is now commonly seen on the IFSC World Cup circuit. The macros in their fiberglass Impression series have clean, rounded curves and dual-textured options that make them a great fit for both commercial and competition setting.
“Good range of macros, and I really like that you can get them all fully textured or dual-tex,” says Ben Seeley, Routesetting Manager at Quay Climbing Centre in Exeter, UK. “Great range of shapes across the Competition Holds range, Split Grip Holds range and Straightbloc Holds range, providing pretty much everything I could want from a single supplier.”
Setter’s Choice – 4th Place
It’s hard to imagine indoor climbing without the presence of Teknik shapes. The small Canadian company, run by Seth and Zoe Johnston, has been creating clean, simple, highly functional holds for 20 years. They have won awards in the Grip List for either Setter’s Choice or All-Time Favorite every year since the survey’s inception, speaking to the long-term appeal of their holds.
Each year, they put out new designs, and 2022 was no exception, with the creation of the Unnecessarily Large holds. “It’s a funny name,” says Seth, and a name which complements the humorous ones of other lines, like Fatty Fat Pinches, Fatty Long Fat, and No Shadows. Their approach to the business is as simple and functional as their shapes. “We just love what we do and are grateful so many people love our stuff,” says Seth. “It’s just the two of us, Zoe and I, whittling away like happy little gophers.”
Stef Myr, Head Routesetter at Climb Tacoma, sums up Teknik well, calling the holds “very original and classic” and “bread and butter,” and claiming they have the “best footholds.”
Setter’s Choice – 3rd Place
French-based company Cheeta Holds claimed 3rd place for the third year running. Founded by routesetting legend Laurent Laporte, Cheeta’s designs are grounded in a single, simple core idea—their holds allow setters to “Shape the Movement.” While Cheeta’s innovation is cutting edge, their operation is more traditional, and largely a family affair. The company is headed by Florence and Laurent Laporte, their son Mateo, with guest appearances from their daughter, Marie.
At the core of Cheeta’s recent innovations are the shaperiders—a series of modular, interchangeable holds built for custom stacking that they have expanded on this last year. The series allows setters to create their own holds, stacking up to five different levels of endless hold and hold-angle combinations. This year, Cheeta also expanded on some of their classic lines, including the Taji Long pinches and a number of fiberglass volumes that extend their current ranges.
Cheeta is a favorite for setting competitions, and holds a long-standing presence on the IFSC stage. “The utility in the design of Cheeta holds feels like the best in the market when it comes to setting comp-style problems,” sums up Nolan Robertson, routesetter at Grip Bouldering.
Setter’s Choice – 2nd Place
Swiss hold makers flathold are standouts in the industry, with their unmistakable aesthetic, smooth lines, and unmatched macros. For the third year in a row, flathold both claimed the Favorite Fiberglass Macro award and placed 2nd in the Setter’s Choice Favorite Holds category, this year coming shy of the crown by a razor-thin margin of .13%.
Owners, setters and shapers Mathieu Achermann and Manu Hassler are the masterminds behind the brand, with Achermann’s visual arts and communication background pairing well with Hassler’s years of experience setting and innovating on the IFSC World Cup circuit. “While setting, I am often looking for a very specific hold which I most of the time don’t really have,” says Hassler. “It gives me ideas or solutions for future holds, volumes or systems.” Many of their shapes stemmed from this thinking, including some of their now-classic fiberglass macros, like the Thunderbirds, the Jolly Jumpers and the Tsunamis.
This year, they expanded upon the popular Damage Control hold series, a family of dual-tex holds that range from thin crimps to large, varied slopers. As for what’s to come, they are working on a project that is soon to be released to the public. “This project is a new innovative modular system which [will] allow the setter to set with big volumes that are moveable on a spherical base,” says Achermann. “We hope to finalize it for the beginning of next year.”
In hearing from the setters, many commented on the aesthetics, versatility, hand-feel and durability of flathold’s holds and macros. “flathold holds are great to climb on, great to set with,” says Miura Hawkins, Head Routesetter at Gebla Climbing in Malta. “They make super diverse and useful shapes that enable creative movement, while maintaining a lightweight, visually appealing form factor.”
Setter’s Choice – Grand Prize
Kilter Grips needs no introduction. They claimed the 2022 Setter’s Choice Grand Prize title for the seventh year in a row, and the All-Time Favorite award for the fifth year running—making them comparable to the Janja Garnbret of climbing holds. Their relentless dedication to quality and innovation have left them as not only the favorite amongst setters, but as arguably one of the most influential brands fueling the growth and elevation of the indoor climbing industry.
“From the beginning, Kilter has been about shaping systems,” says co-owner and lead designer Ian Powell. One innovative example is Kilter’s Complex series—holds designed to work together to adjust and modify grips. “Complex holds are an incredible tool for setting in that they actually let you adjust the difficulty of any given move or series of moves simply and in a more precise way,” says co-owner Jackie Hueftle, who notes that these holds―which are being used more often at USAC Nationals and IFSC World Cups―are ideal tools for competitions because they allow setters to dial in the specific difficulty they need. Kilter’s other systems include many full lines from a handful of talented shapers—lines like the Noahs, Teagans, Sandstone series and Southern Slopers—that together form one of the largest and most versatile catalogs in the industry.
“We’d like to say that we really appreciate everyone’s votes,” says Hueftle. “Positive votes are a nice marker that we’re achieving our goals and providing the value to the industry that we’re constantly working towards.” Jesse Cameron, co-owner and Head Routesetter of Volta Climbing in Maine, echoes that positivity, stating Kilter has a “massive catalog, attention to detail, quality plastic, and great customer service.”
Best Board System
Best Homewall Board System
Kilter’s innovation reaches out of the setter’s closet and into the training room, with the ever-popular adjustable Kilter Board. This year, the Kilter Board swept the training board categories, winning the Best Board System and Best Homewall Board System votes by large margins.
The concept for the board was to design a training tool that encompasses a wide variety of options for a wide variety of users, and with over 70k problems on the Kilter app, spanning from beginner to pro-level problems, Kilter has delivered on their intentions. Over all iterations of the board, Ian Powell has shaped over 2000 holds, all designed for ergonomics and comfort, and to visually light up with a 360-degree ring of light from LED lights, specified for each hold. (More specs are in CBJ’s Training Board Hold Systems and Climbing Walls for Training Boards Buyer’s Guides.)
One key component of the Kilter Board isn’t even a component—it’s the community it builds. With an intuitive app, anyone can set their own problems, post them into the database for climbers around the world to try, as well as share beta videos. Kilter also runs a Kilter Board Festival every year—an international online event, where climbers submit beta videos and enter a drawing for prizes.
That community extends to users’ garages and backyards, where the Kilter Board has become the favorite choice for homewall setters too. “Around the start of the pandemic we released a smaller crop of the Original Kilter Board – a 7×10 size to fit better in home spaces,” says Hueftle. The smaller design―which also comes in extended 8×12, 10×10 and 10×12 sizes―offers homewallers more ways to meet their space and training needs, while giving them access to the thousands of problems in the app.
“Good, long term R&D has produced a super ergonomic training wall with something for everyone,” says Jordan Grant, Head Routesetter at Beta Park Bouldering in Tasmania, Australia. “I think they have opened the door for huge innovation in this space.
Best Wooden Volumes
Volumes are essential tools, allowing commercial setters to change the terrain of their walls with each new set, and helping competition setters push the limits of what high-level athletes are capable of. For the third year in a row, German volume manufacturer Blocz is the favorite choice for wooden volumes.
There are numerous factors that make a good volume—functionality, versatility, durability, shape and texture—and Blocz ticks all of the multi-angled boxes. Blocz prioritizes quality over quantity, putting much of their effort into build excellence, quality control, and longevity. Many regard them as the gold standard in quality volume making, which is why a handful of other volume brands―including Blue Pill, Unit, Formik and Menagerie―have their own volumes manufactured by Blocz.
Most Blocz designs come from longtime setter and designer Robert Leistner. Recently, Blocz put out three huge new lines—the Boomerangs, the Chips and the Assymetric soccer balls. Blocz also improved on their sustainability practices by sourcing from only certified sustainable forests and switching their macro material to a 100% recycled ABS.
“Fantastic texture, solid manufacturing, durable as hell, and the t-nuts are better quality than other volume companies,” says Nathan Yager, Head Routesetter at Vertical World Redmond.
Best Homewall Holds
Best Homewall Volumes
When it comes to grips, Atomik continues to be the top choice for homewallers. This year, Atomik claimed the Best Homewall Holds for the third consecutive year, and took that success one step further by winning the Best Homewall Volumes award for the first time.
Atomik has been focused on homewalls, kids walls and school walls for two decades. “Our goal for the past 20 years has been to provide the most cost-effective shapes to the homewall owner considering the space they have and their limited budget,” says Annika Suchoski, COO for Atomik. “We all started on homewalls, and I personally will never forget the need to fill a wall on a limited budget.” Atomik manufactures their own holds—a unique position in the industry—which allows them to offer generous savings to the customer while providing an incredibly fast turnaround of five business days. On top of this, they boast one of the largest hold catalogues out there, with the addition of 10 new shapes a week on average, and over 1,000 this past year.
In addition to holds, homewallers are always looking for volumes that will fit onto their homewalls, and Atomik answered that call with their small-sized polyurethane volumes that come in a wide variety of colors. Suchoski says Atomik is largely a team-run operation of more than 20 employees, and they focus on providing a safe space for employees from all different backgrounds, an environment that emphasizes both creativity of design as well as efficiency.
“They keep climbers of all abilities in mind, and shape an inventory to keep them motivated and training!” says homewaller David Wise.
Best Homewall Volumes – Runner-Up
This year, the race for homewall volumes was nearly a tie, with less than a percentage point difference between the two front runners. sToKed volumes, the winner for the past two years, came in as a very close runner-up this time.
At the core of sToKed’s business model is a simple mantra: “Get people STOKED on climbing!” sToKed’s volumes range in size and shape, from the low-profile Orange Slices and Honeycomb Slits to their popular Squeezies and the diverse options of the Tri>ds. This year, the newest shapes causing the most buzz are the Dillos and Trips, which Travis notes are selling “like lobster tails in Maine.” sToKed is a team operation run by Travis and Kimberly Williams (the big T and K in sToKed), and they give a big shoutout to Adam, Aidan and Ethan, as well as their routesetter and gym-owner partners who help with some of the designs. The sToKed community is loyal and psyched on the volumes, and sToKed works to keep that psych alive with Instagram auctions, Week of Stoke, and their playful Box of Crap promo.
“Solid quality at a good price,” says homewaller James Haigler. Other homewallers commented on the speedy production time, small size, and versatility of sToKed’s low-profile designs.
Best Routesetting App
As routesetting becomes more professionalized, numerous companies have come up with software and apps to help routesetters create, maintain and organize the product they create—which setters will soon be able to compare in CBJ’s forthcoming Routesetting App Buyer’s Guide. In the inaugural year of the Best Routesetting App category, Kaya took the crown in style, claiming nearly 50% of the votes.
Kaya, founded and run by climbers, exists to help climbers track climbs and share beta. The Kaya platform has two main products: Kaya, an app for climbers, and Plastick, the software for routesetters. “[Plastick] enables head routesetters to plan out their sets for their crews, from the difficulty distribution to assignments and more,” says Kimberly Ang, Kaya CEO. All of the newly set climbs then go live on Kaya for gym users to interact with and share beta. Plastick also provides feedback from Kaya users, including comments, star ratings, suggested grades, and anonymous demographic data, to give insight into how the community is interacting with the routesetting.
“Routesetting software and member engagement all in one!” summarizes Alejandro Aquino, Director of Routesetting at Aspire Climbing Vaughan in Ontario. “A head setter’s dream app.”
Best Homewall App
STŌKT is an easy-to-use app solution for climbers from all around the world to create and share climbs on spray walls, whether it’s a training wall at a gym or a custom homewall. Climbers can browse climbs, log their ascents, track their progress, and connect with other climbers. This year marks the inaugural award for Best Homewall App, and STŌKT took the title, claiming over 30% of the overall vote.
STŌKT was founded in 2017, when climbing friends Nicolas De Pontaud, Robert Creaner and Jonathan Saragosti joined forces to create an app that would cover the indoor climbing experience. Without any external funding, they decided to start with training boards, which can often be intimidating and confusing for beginners. While it was initially intended for commercial gyms, COVID lockdowns made STŌKT a favorite tool for homewallers. This bolstered the community in unique ways. “People can view walls around the world and create climbs for each other,” says De Pontaud. “Climbers started to ask others to create climbs for them. We didn’t really plan for this to happen, so it was a real cool thing to see.”
In the near future, STŌKT is planning to introduce more features, including climbing lists, competitions, social features, and private content. There are also plans involving LEDs and standardized boards.
“STŌKT is better for homewalls,” says Janfel Bacho, routesetter at The District in Texas. “Great UI, reasonably priced, and the industry standard in Australia for gym spray walls as well,” adds Jordan Grant of Beta Park Bouldering in Tasmania.
CBJ Grip Showcase
Branded-route events have been around in some capacity for ages, appearing at pro comps for over 20 years. They’ve also taken place in climbing gyms during past CWA Summits since its early years, and this year was no exception. With the return of the beloved industry gathering after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, CBJ was proud to again help showcase some of the hottest grips on the market. In 2019, the Shape Gallery at Wooden Mountain birthed CBJ’s first People’s Choice award in the Grip List, and 2022 marked the newest rendition of this concept.
Ahead of the CWA Summit and IFSC World Cup events last May, 30 different hold and volume companies converged at The Front South Main in Salt Lake City to show off their offerings as part of the CBJ Grip Showcase in partnership with Vertical Solutions. Each company had one boulder set with their holds, and then attendees could climb the boulders and rank their favorites. Out of all the brands, Grizzly Holds―winner of the Shape Gallery in 2019―again claimed the crown, with a boulder set by Kelsey Hanson using the Meridians and Microbes, Grizzly’s newest dual-tex hold sets.
Grizzly Holds, owned and run by Anthony Richard and Tom Wojtkowiak, is a relatively new company, having launched at the CWA Summit in 2019. Since then, they have become an IFSC authorized hold producer, and have been featured in a few World Cup Competitions. Being experienced setters themselves, Tom and Anthony base each series on what the holds are best suited for—commercial setting, competition setting, or homewalls. Their highly directional, dual-tex Meridians―which are some of the biggest screw-on polyurethane holds on the market―give competition setters the movement control they need. Their aesthetic, highly functional Flakes and Glacier series are more geared towards the commercial setter, allowing for interesting and diverse movement across grades. As for new innovations, Grizzly is expanding on their dual-tex creations, while also offering the innovative Nut Plugs, which are small steel t-nut blockers intended for volumes that have t-nuts on the useable surface.
Sheldon Hill, routesetter at The Cave Rock Climbing in Mississauga, Canada, calls Grizzly’s holds “aesthetic, with good texture, good edges, and lots of options for different moves.”
This year’s Grip List Survey methodology functioned similarly to past year’s, with professional setters―those who get paid to set―determining the Setter’s Choice awards, and all setters responding to the survey deciding the People’s Choice and Homewall awards. For a full breakdown of the methodology as well as complete voting results, please click here.
Thank you routesetters for voting for the 2022 Grip List awards!
- Winner: Kilter
- Honorable Mention: flathold, Teknik, Cheeta
- Winner: flathold
- Honorable Mention: Cheeta, XCULT, Squadra
- Winner: Blocz
- Honorable Mention: Dimension, sToKed, Cheeta
- Winner: Kilter
- Honorable Mention: Tension, Moon, Beastmaker
- Winner: Kaya/Plastick
- Honorable Mention: Vertical Life, STŌKT
- Winner: Kilter
- Honorable Mention: flathold, Cheeta, Atomik, Teknik
- Winner: Atomik
- Honorable Mention: Kilter, Teknik, Escape
- Winner: Atomik
- Honorable Mention: sToKed, Homemade, Blocz, Dimension
HOMEWALL BOARD SYSTEM
- Winner: Kilter
- Honorable Mention: Moon, Atomik, Tension, Decoy
- Winner: STŌKT
- Honorable Mention: Kilter, Retro Flash, Atomik, Kaya
- Winner: Grizzly
- Honorable Mention: Menagerie, Unleashed, sToKed, Kilter
Jonathan has been climbing for ten years and routesetting for half as long. He is a former magazine editor, and his writing spans from marketing content and journalism to speculative fiction. When he’s not writing or bolting plastic to plywood, he’s probably outside somewhere, hiking, climbing, or surfing poorly. He’s been known, on occasion, to drop everything and travel the world for months at a time.