2023 has been a year of excitement in the climbing industry. For the first time since 2020, it finally feels fair to say that we, as an industry, have stepped out of the looming shadow of COVID’s worst days and have been finding greener pastures. Climbing gym markets are still thriving and expanding despite an altered economic landscape, and the holds industry is growing right along with it, with new shapes, new brands and new innovations springing up like wildflowers. Lead times on production and manufacturing are returning to saner levels, if still somewhat longer than preferred. When it comes to the products of the industry, the holds, macros, volumes, training boards and apps continue to reach new heights, serving climbers at all levels—from first–time commercial gym users to the athletes fighting to earn their Olympic berths for Paris 2024.
The biggest story in the awards this year is the upset of a longtime reigning champion in both the Setter’s Choice Holds and All-Time Favorite Holds categories. The Top 5 saw a few shifts from last year, but all the winners are familiar faces from recent awards—three hailing from North America and two from Europe. The second upset came in the FaHomewall Holds category, with one of this year’s Top 5 winners snagging the victory for the first time.
Geographically, this year’s vote was more global than ever, with over one third (33%) of the survey responses coming from outside the U.S. and Canada, and over one quarter (26%) coming from Europe—both percentages marking all-time highs. On a smaller scale, the same dozen or so brands continue to remain at the top of the game, proving that an established name holds weight in this game, and that it continues to remain tough for small brands to make a wide-scale splash in the industry. But it is important to note that, despite many of the same faces standing on the podium this year, the margins of victory in many categories foretell the chance of further upsets in years to come.
The holds sector is an exciting, innovative space within the larger climbing industry, and it’s a huge force in pushing climbing forward, higher, and into funkier and more fun positions on the wall. It is our honor once again to celebrate all of the hard work, creativity and innovation of these brands, and the passionate humans behind them. As always, a huge thank you to all the routesetters, homewallers and holds aficionados who voted this year.
As a bonus this edition, for the 10th anniversary of the CBJ Grip List, we’re sharing a brand-new Grip List dashboard showing the full 2023 survey results and the changes over time in each vote category. It’s a dynamic tool with plenty of filters to play around with, so be sure to check it out by clicking here.
And with that said, 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 full methodology, click here.)
Setter’s Choice Holds – 5th Place
Teknik is one of the most established names in the history of the Grip List awards, appearing in the Setter’s Choice Holds awards eight times in the survey’s ten-year history, and earning a grand total of 12 awards in that span. Known for their simple, classic, functional shapes, the Canadian hold company, run by Zoe and Seth Johnston, continues to be a fan-favorite around the world.
The company’s ethos is as no-frills as their shapes. “We are trying to make a perfect line of holds as defined by our own evolving aesthetic,” says Seth. While that aesthetic is evolving, many of their original sets are still as popular among setters as they were 10+ years ago, including the Fat Lips, Fatty Fat Pinches and Scarabs. Their lighthearted approach shows up in the fun names of their sets—Big Mouths, Fanciful Ribbons and Unnecessarily Large Pinches, to name just a few. “Have we mentioned,” says Seth, “that we reaaaally love climbing holds?” Teknik is also known for their reasonable price point, making them a go-to for commercial gyms and homewallers alike.
“I appreciate the no-fluff, straight-to-the-point versatility that Teknik has to offer,” says Michael Hafner of Movement. “It seems like Teknik also has some of the stronger holds out there, and can take the beating of commercial setting.” “They have really comfortable and ergonomic holds, good to use at all angles,” adds Ashley Stockman of Touchstone Climbing.
Setter’s Choice Holds – 4th Place
Favorite Homewall Holds
Decoy, the brand of New England climber/artist/setter Dan Yagmin, is back in the Grip List again, claiming 4th place in the Setter’s Choice Holds category for the second time in three years. Decoy also won the Favorite Homewall Holds vote this year, an award that until now has belonged exclusively to a single brand.
In a market that often trends toward “bigger is better,” Yagmin has anchored Decoy with a relatively small, quality-focused catalog that features sets with a wide range of sizes. “I focus on making sure I have a lot of comfortable, functional holds with distinct aesthetics in all sizes, from footholds to larger macros,” he says. “But I keep the bulk in the mid-sized range.” This focus on medium-sized holds is part of what makes these holds so appealing to homewallers, who are often looking for lots of smaller holds with less obstructive footprints. “Decoy makes the minimalist line,” says Ewan Bennett. “These holds are perfect for anyone looking to drench their homewall in sick shapes.”
As the industry grows and expands, Yagmin is intentionally keeping the Decoy operation small. The whole company is just him and TJ Kelly, a veteran setter and recent addition at Decoy, who handles customer communication and some of the work that goes into making the shapes. “I am always looking to simplify and downsize,” says Yagmin. “I would rather edit my current lines, improve old shapes, and focus on the quality and artistry of the brand, not just sheer sales numbers.”
One of the newest innovations in the past years is the Decoy Board, which was entirely 3D modeled, and features a number of symmetrical sets, offering a unique take on the market of training boards. Yagmin is also developing Polyfiber Macros within his lines that are produced by Peak Polymers in the U.S.
“Decoy consistently provides intricate shapes that also provide an amazing range of versatility,” says Andrew Bellisle of Black Hills Basecamp, “all while maintaining high-quality production in their weight, hardware, and plastic durability.”
“They’re the most ergonomic holds, they look amazing and different from other sets, and they’re comfortable,” adds Connor Perzeely of The Gravity Vault.
Setter’s Choice Holds – 3rd Place
Cheeta, the veteran French hold company, has claimed 3rd place in the Setter’s Choice Holds category for the fourth year in a row. Cheeta is the brainchild of routesetting legend Laurent Laporte and his family, who center the brand around a simple, core concept: letting setters “shape the movement.” “This year we would like to celebrate the family team that built and grew Cheeta into what it is,” says Mateo Laporte. “It has been a very big adventure for us, and we have now decided to integrate a new team of people to carry the torch in order to let the brand grow even more.”
As the brand grows, setters continue to look to Cheeta when choosing grips for both competition and commercial setting. One of the most innovative concepts in recent memory is Cheeta’s Shaperider series—a series of modular, interchangeable holds built for custom stacking. “[The Shaperider Series] has been a big challenge, as much in terms of technical innovation as in shaping,” says Laporte. In response to setter feedback on this new system, they developed a soon-to-be-released range of hybrid wood/PU holds in the series that provide more stable support for the bigger holds, while preventing flex in the whole system. A frequent IFSC producer, Cheeta has been selected as one of the brands for the 2024 Olympics in three categories of products: holds, fiberglass macros and wood volumes.
Outside of competitions, Cheeta continues to be a favorite choice for commercial setters with their classic, directional holds, including the Taji line, Craters, Planets, Odyssey line and the ever-popular Boomerangs. “Cheeta never ceases to surprise me with how simple and comfortable yet bizarre and creative their shapes can be,” says Duncan Goff, Head Routesetter at Movement Boulder. “Diverse, multifunctional and aesthetically pleasing shapes,” adds Victor Meulendijks, Chief Routesetter at Mountain Network in the Netherlands.
Setter’s Choice Holds – 2nd Place
Favorite Board System
Favorite Homewall Board System
In the history of the Grip List, no company has earned even close to as many awards as Kilter, which claimed 22 awards in the past ten years. This year, Kilter placed second in the Setter’s Choice Holds category, while their training wall, the ever-popular Kilter Board, retained its titles in both the Favorite Board System and the Favorite Homewall Board System votes.
Kilter, run by longtime setter Jackie Hueftle and veteran shaper Ian Powell, is known for its wide-ranging and diverse catalog, functional and aesthetic shapes, and fierce dedication to quality, both in terms of shaping and in manufacturing. As innovation pioneers, Kilter not only launched the revolutionary Kilter Board, but they’ve practically perfected the concept of the Complex series—a specially designed series of holds designed to work together to adjust and modify grips. This year, they have been among the brands incorporating vacuum-thermoformed (VTF) grips into their lineup, a new step toward more sustainable climbing holds. “VTF is recyclable and can be made from post-consumer recycled plastic,” Hueftle says. “It is lighter than fiberglass and cleaner to use, and does not smell or itch like fiberglass can.” The production is led by Binary Holds, and the process has been honed for over 18 months, to ensure high standards.
The award-winning Kilter Board is one of the most well-established and embraced training tools on the market. With its signature LED backlit holds, adjustable wall angle, easy-to-use app, and a system containing over 100,000 boulder problems, it’s a training tool intentionally designed for everyone. “We’ve been really happy to see how many pro climbers and comp climbers have embraced the Kilter Board,” says Hueftle, “as well as folks from the whole spectrum of climbing, from new climbers, teams, kids, para-climbers, homewall users, gym climbers of all abilities, and underground crushers.”
“Kilter’s Complex series holds have so many interesting shapes that can all interact with each other in ways that make it easy to set so many different and fun routes,” says Dylan Hewins, Head Routesetter at Fort Rock Climbing. “Kilter has won my heart,” adds Aaron Young, Head Setter at Rockfish Climbing and Fitness. “I love the simple, functional first shapes with subtle yet intricate detail.” And in reference to the Kilter Board, Riley Kenna, Head Setter at Boulderwelt Munich, emphasizes, “Climbers at EVERY ability level will find something enjoyable to climb on this board.”
Setter’s Choice Holds – 1st Place (Grand Prize)
All-Time Favorite Holds
Favorite Fiberglass Macros
People’s Choice Holds
The biggest story in this year’s Grip List awards is an upset seven years in the making: flathold, the long-tenured Swiss brand, unseated the reigning champion in three different categories: Setter’s Choice Holds, All-Time Favorite Holds and People’s Choice Holds votes. flathold also maintained their seat atop the Favorite Fiberglass Macros category for a fourth consecutive year. In total, flathold has accumulated 14 Grip List awards over the years, the second most of any brand.
While flathold won multiple votes for the first time this year, they are far from newbies on the scene. Co-owners Mathieu Achermann and Manu Hassler, both of whom are setters and shapers, are the brains behind the brand, a collaboration that first started in 2008, making flathold a relative pillar in the industry. Achermann’s visual arts and communication background are paired with Hassler’s years of experience setting and innovating on the IFSC World Cup circuit. “[We] always prefer to spend time shaping and developing a product which really convinces us before we put it on the market,” says Achermann. “Our philosophy is not ‘quantity’ but ‘quality.’ Everything that goes out is a product that we know we can trust.” As evidence of their expanding operation, this year they hired a new shaper to the team: Yoris Delahaye, formerly from SNAP.
flathold is perhaps best known for their simple, clean aesthetics, from the swooping lines of the Tsunami and Thunderbird macros to the finely detailed, dual-tex grips of their Creature of Comfort and Damage Control lines. In sync with their philosophy, they released a small number of perfected shapes this year in their expanded Damage Control line, and nine new macros in the Borderline Mini series. Perhaps most exciting, the flathold team is launching a new modular system later this year called UTURN, which will be under its own brand name and logo. “This system offers routesetters the possibility to move some fiberglass volumes on a spherical surface for precise adjustment,” says Acherman. “It creates more three-dimensional possibilities and is really kind of revolutionary in terms of 3D adjustment.”
“I love the subtle perfection of their shapes,” says Matt Robbin of Whetstone Climbing. “Nothing is wasted or frivolous. If they’ve included something, such as dual-tex or a taper, it really serves its purpose and increases the setter’s control in a natural way.” Other setters comment on the “aesthetics,” “versatility” and “simplicity.” “If I had to set an entire gym with only one hold company, it would be flathold,” says Ben Carr of Elevation Bouldering Gym.
Favorite Wood Volumes
For the fourth year in a row, Blocz, the German volume manufacturer, has won the award for Favorite Wood Volumes. As gyms and competitions continue to push the boundaries of climbing movement, volumes continue to be an essential tool to help change wall terrain, force movement, and challenge what athletes can do on the wall.
“Blocz was born out of the idea to build volumes for our own bouldering gym, as there were no reasonable ones on the market,” says owner Tom Petzold. “Since then, our passion for the sport and our products has never diminished.” That original idea is seen in their catalog of wood volumes, from huge volumes that can change the character of a wall to low-profile shapes that force delicate foot movement, unique shapes like the Hexamites, and everything in between.
Blocz is also a leader in the industry in manufacturing standards and quality. “Our new robot revolutionizes our operations by assuming the repetitive manual tasks that were once the domain of our skilled workforce,” Petzold says. Many brands use Blocz to manufacture their own brand designs, including Bluepill, Menagerie and Unit. The durability and lifespan of the volumes is often regarded as arguably the best in the industry.
Blocz is unveiling some exciting new macros and new exciting volume shapes in 2024, all coming from their design team, led by Robert Leistner. “These groundbreaking designs represent a departure from the norm, unlike anything the community has seen before,” hints Petzold. Blocz is consistently featured at the IFSC World Championships and Olympic qualifiers, helping setters challenge the best climbers in the world.
“Blocz volumes maintain their texture and physical integrity beyond the lifespan of other volumes,” says Ewan Bennett of Rock Spot Climbing. “Creative shapes, versatility of movements, good and a lot of attachment points, and great grip,” adds Pedro Pato, Head Setter at Vertigo Climbing Center in Lisbon.
Favorite Routesetting App
KAYA has once again claimed the crown for the Favorite Routesetting App, marking the second time since the award’s inauguration last year. In a growing field, KAYA continues to be setters’ preferred choice by a huge margin, winning with over one third (37%) of the total vote for that category.
This brand is a double-edged platform tool: KAYA, which is designed for climbers, and PLASTICK, designed for routesetters. The two work in concert with each other: PLASTICK allows head setters to plan the set and gym distribution of climbs, and once they are up, they are populated into the KAYA app for users to interact with, logging ascents and sharing beta. “At our core, we understand routesetting deeply,” says John Oungst, Director of Partnerships. “Several members of our team have been in the role of head routesetter or routesetter. This insight and knowledge, coupled with ongoing feedback from our partners, enables us to continue to build a product built by routesetters for routesetters.”
As climbing and the needs of climbers and setters evolve, KAYA has been adapting as well. The KAYA team consists of ten die-hard rock climbers with diverse experience who have worked to expand the app to fit gym users’ myriad needs, including venturing into the realm of outdoor guidebooks. They now offer access to over 30 verified guidebooks in the KAYA PRO option, and it’s in the works to soon launch an exciting partnership with the Access Fund in the U.S.
“Great customer-facing platform, simple-to-use routesetting management platform, amazing competition hosting,” says Evan Small of Blocworks. “What’s not to love?”
“Super user-friendly and intuitive, pairs great with the climber’s side app on Kaya,” adds Nicholas Rauch of Rock Fitness.
Favorite Homewall Volumes
There is perhaps no better way to shake up a homewall set than with a new selection of volumes. sToKed volumes returned to the top of the Favorite Homewall Volumes category, marking the third time in four years. As homewalls continue to be a popular training option for climbers, homewallers continue to seek out professionally made volumes in addition to homemade ones, and sToKed is there to meet the demand.
sToKed is a team operation run by Travis and Kimberly Williams (the big T and K in sToKed). One of the core tenets of their operation is their connection to the customers. “I think more than design, it’s the interaction with the homewallers that motivates them to support us,” says Travis. “They know their dollars are supporting a small fam right here in the States. Secondly, they see and climb on them in commercial setting/comps and need to nab a small one or two for themselves.”
sToKed is known for their quality, unique designs and reasonable price point, with a large selection of smaller volumes that work well on the tighter confines of homewalls. Outside of the homewall market, sToKed also has a strong presence in commercial gyms, and their designs are born from industry experience. “We work closely with many routesetters in the industry who set on the regular for USAC and IFSC,” says Travis. “It is key to have a product that a gym can use commercially and for comps. It’s not easily seen, but a lot of our shapes have subtle transitions and edges that are shaped before texturing in certain ways to allow them to be a bit more versatile when setting comps.”
“Homewalls are rarely very big, so you won’t be able to use huge volumes,” says Mikkel Andreason. “sToKed makes small but nice volumes.” Ethan Smalley of Mesa Rim adds, “Great variety of shapes, excellent texture, and all-around great people.”
Favorite Homewall App
STŌKT has once again won the Favorite Homewall App award by a large margin, claiming 44% of the vote in a crowded field. The app’s functionality is simple: homewallers (and spray wall users at gyms) just take a photo of their wall and it becomes uploaded into the app, allowing users to create and share climbs, log ascents, track progress, and connect with other app users.
STŌKT understands that every climbing wall is as unique as the climbers who made them. “We know that a climbing app can’t be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach,” says co-owner and co-founder Nicolas De Pontaud. “Each photo sent to us is processed manually to best work with the STŌKT interface. This means that every gym and climber will get the best experience while training, tailored to their specific wall.”
Since its founding in 2017, STŌKT has grown and evolved, adding members to the team, growing the STŌKT community, and seeing the number of walls in its system rise into the thousands. “We have helped athletes train for the Olympics, seen the rise of DIY homewalls, helped people send their outdoor projects, and watched the popularity of spray walls at gyms grow over the last few years,” says De Pontaud. STŌKT is still expanding, with the introduction of STŌKT Pro. “STŌKT Pro is a premium service for gyms,” he says, “that introduces features like custom lists, benchmark climbs, in-app competitions, and integration with our new LED kits.”
“Hands down the best app on the market for spray walls,” says Tommy Krauss of Beta Park Bouldering in Australia. Other users comment on its “easy-to-use” interface and “interactive” features. “It’s just made for homewalls, and has everything you might need,” adds Vladyslav Ieliashevskyi.
CBJ Grip Showcase
EP & PUSHER
The best way to experience different hold brands is to chalk up and pull on. The CBJ Grip Showcase series allows setters and climbers to do that in a one-stop-setting-shop competition, where hold brands submit a specific hold set, and setters get to create a single boulder per brand and let climbers come in and rate the experience. These events are always paired with a large-scale industry event, and this year CBJ expanded the concept into a series of three events:
- May 18 in Pittsburgh: Held at Iron City Boulders during the official CWA Summit afterparty. Voting took place online for both onsite and virtual attendees.
- June 24 in Salt Lake City: Held at The Front during the Setter Summit. Voting took place onsite using Pebble.
- December 15 in Chattanooga: To be held at Synergy Climbing & Ninja during the official Indoor Climbing Expo afterparty. Voting will take place online for both onsite and virtual attendees.
At the time of this writing, two of the three showcase events have occurred, and the winners have been announced:
Pittsburgh Showcase Winner: EP Climbing
At this year’s CWA Summit in Pittsburgh, the Grip Showcase was the largest to date, with 28 brands contributing holds for the setters to craft epic, beautiful boulders. EP Climbing took home the crown, with their fan-favorite, dual-tex wood volumes, fiberglass macros and PU holds.
It’s rare to find a brand that offers volumes, macros and holds—especially a brand that is an official producer of all three grip varieties for the IFSC. EP, or Entre-Prises, goes beyond this distinction, as one of the leading wall manufacturers in the world, and one of the oldest brands in the game. The idea for EP started in 1985 when François Savigny made his indoor climbing hold, and then 1990 with his first climbing wall, which led to the company that is now EP. Those passionate roots for climbing are still present in the company today. “At EP Climbing, our strength lies in the remarkable individuals who form the backbone of our brand,” says Amberly Ransom. “Our team is composed of passionate climbers and dedicated professionals who share a common love for the sport and an unwavering commitment to quality.” One recent member to the team is veteran U.S. setter and hold shaper Joey Jannsen, the Hold and Volume Sales Manager at EP. “Joey’s comprehensive knowledge spans the various facets of climbing wall operations and management, making him an invaluable resource for climbing project owners,” Ransom says.
In terms of new offerings, EP fans should keep their eyes peeled for two new sets of dual-tex volumes—the Pulse and the Bones—and for the Orbs, a new fiberglass macro series.
Salt Lake City Showcase Winner: Pusher
Pusher, a classic brand based out of Salt Lake City, has been creating unique and well-loved shapes for the climbing industry for decades. Many setters still remember the iconic Boss macro, as well as the classic Font series and shaped granite holds. But just as climbing has evolved since the 90s, so has Pusher, which demonstrated that adaptability by winning the Grip Showcase in SLC with their new fiberglass macros, the Opus series.
“The Opus series was designed to be big and flashy in the gym,” says Jared Roth, owner and shaper at Pusher. “When I shaped them, I was trying to make some very easy, large, open-handed-type slopey jugs that would make for fun power problems on steeper terrain, or for ‘comp-looking’ problems on slabbier terrain that anyone at the gym could enjoy.”
Pusher continues to sell many of their classic lines, some of which Roth has updated to fit the modern gym and manufacturing demands of the industry. The past few years have seen dual-tex fiberglass grips added to the lineup, as well as innovation in their distribution, manufacturing, and product fulfillment. “Big thanks to the guys at Kastline for producing our Opus Series that won this Grip Showcase,” says Roth. On the brand side, Roth has taken on some young guns in SLC to be part of the team, including Sean Bailey, Chris Cosser, Zach Galla and Ben Hanna, and helps support them through promotion. “It makes me happy and inspires me to make Pusher work even better when I get to see these guys out there doing their thing,” says Roth. “We also try to encourage them to be creative, and if they want to make some shirts or shape some holds, we highly encourage that. We also try to give them advice on dealing with their other sponsors, and try to be there for them if they have any questions or if they need any help.”
“From old-school to new, they have been pushed at the edges of hold design for a long time,” says Zach Fletcher of Adventure Fit Dojo.
“The texture is awesome, not too abrasive. The shapes are very aesthetic and radiate a ‘no-BS’ vibe that is very cool to set with,” says Trym Karlsen of NTNUI Tinegruppa. “Cool that they are bringing back their old, classic shapes, which are some of the best holds ever made.”
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 2023 Grip List awards!
SETTER’S CHOICE HOLDS
#1 (Grand Prize): flathold
ALL-TIME FAVORITE HOLDS
Honorable Mention: Kilter, Decoy, Teknik, Cheeta
FAVORITE WOOD VOLUMES
Honorable Mention: Dimension, Banana, Cheeta, sToKed
FAVORITE FIBERGLASS MACROS
Honorable Mention: Bluepill, Cheeta, XCULT
FAVORITE BOARD SYSTEM
Honorable Mention: Tension, Moon, Decoy, Beastmaker
FAVORITE ROUTESETTING APP
Honorable Mention: STŌKT, Vertical-Life, TopLogger, Kilter, Pebble
PEOPLE’S CHOICE HOLDS
Honorable Mention: Kilter, Decoy, Cheeta, Teknik
FAVORITE HOMEWALL HOLDS
Honorable Mention: Teknik, Kilter, Escape, Beastmaker
FAVORITE HOMEWALL VOLUMES
Honorable Mention: homemade, Blocz, Banana
FAVORITE HOMEWALL BOARD SYSTEM
Honorable Mention: Moon, Tension, Decoy, Beastmaker
FAVORITE HOMEWALL APP
Honorable Mention: Retro Flash, Kilter
GRIP SHOWCASE PITTSBURGH
Winner: EP Climbing
Honorable Mention: Trickit, Grizzly, Decoy, Kilter
GRIP SHOWCASE SALT LAKE CITY
Honorable Mention: eXpression, Megalith, XCULT, Kilter, Grizzly, Bluepill
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.