Best Hangboard of 2020
The Trango Rock Prodigy is designed by well-known climbing coaches Michael and Mark Anderson, authors of the famed book The Rock Climber's Training Manual. Their board offers various pockets and edges that are the most systematic in its progression of difficulty of any board we tested. Many of the edges are tapered, becoming progressively shallower as you move across and down the board. This design makes it easier to be more systematic in your fingerboard training (something that will help you get stronger more efficiently) and makes it easy to focus on and see subtle improvements in strength. This board also offers among the largest selection of grips of any model in our review, including several holds designed to be used in multiple ways. Our testers also love its two-part design that allows you to mount the two halves the perfect distance apart to match your body size and shape. This facilitates better alignment, encourages better form, and leads to reduced stress on your shoulders and elbows. The Rock Prodigy is super versatile from a difficulty perspective. It works well for just about anyone, from people just getting into fingerboard training to those working on intensive 5.13 projects.
Unfortunately, the sheer size and two-part, spaced design of this model requires much effort to mount it to the wall. It's easily the most challenging board to mount and - depending on your home - takes up a fair amount of real estate. The Rock Prodigy is also a more substantial investment than many of the other options we tested. But if you are stoked to get the best training tool out there, the Trango Rock Prodigy is our top recommendation at a price we think is well worth the payout.
Read review: Trango Rock Prodigy Training Center
The Metolius 3D Simulator is mega-popular, and with good reason. This model has been through several iterations and updates over the years, with each new version steadily improving on the last. The most recent Simulator makes enormous strides in overall ergonomics while offering a more well thought out progression of holds. These are some of the reasons it remains a stand-out and versatile model, even with more and more competition on the market every year. Once again, the 3D Simulator easily is the best hangboard for your money - although a better description might be an incredible board that happens to be exceptionally affordable. The Simulator offers a plethora of edges and pockets that provide one of the better progressions of grips from a difficulty perspective of any of the models we tested. It also offers one of the most ergonomic designs that encourages good form while reducing stress in your elbows and shoulders.
Though it may not be the best choice for top-end climbers, it's ideal for folks whose projects are in the 5.11-5.13a range, which is most of the community. It also isn't the most compact model, but still offers an impressive amount of edges and pockets while striking a nice balance of being small enough to fit above most doorways with average height ceilings (8ft). Don't let its lower price tag fool you; this board has what most climbers need to make progress and push to the next climbing grade.
Read review: Metolius 3D Simulator
The Metolius Project is currently one of the lowest-priced options available and offers reasonable performance for its cost. Though it's not the best board we tested, for those considering getting a hangboard but who don't want to spend a lot of money, its low expense makes it a good option. The Project is among the most compact models we tested and fits nearly anywhere that you could consider mounting a hangboard, including several places you couldn't squeeze the larger, more expensive boards. Without a ton of holds, there is still a nice progression to help build strength.
Those compact dimensions do come at the cost of some functionality - mainly, it has fewer holds. While it has a reasonable selection of grips for its size, we prefer models with just a few more grip options. The other main disadvantage of the Project is that most of the holds climbers habitually use are in the board's center. This centered placement makes them less comfortable to use and harder on your shoulders. It's not the perfect training board, but it's our top recommendation in this price range.
Read review: Metolius Project
The Metolius Wood Grips Compact II is one of the best-priced wooden models on the market. Wood boards tend to be gentler on your skin and are more aesthetically pleasing if you need to mount it in a prominent room in your home. This board is also relatively compact, so finding a place it will fit is easier than a full-sized version. This board can be mounted above doorways with below-average-height ceilings, squeezed into basements or other areas where a full-sized model would not.
While small, our testing team feels that the Compact II still offers enough hold options to be used for consistent, long-term training, but only barely. As with many smaller models, there are simply fewer holds available on this board. Still, this model is hard to top if you are in search of a compact, wooden model that is kind on the wallet and easy on the eyes.
Read review: Metolius Wood Grips Compact II
Breaking away from what most fingerboards offer, the Iron Palm more than lives up to its name. Whereas most boards tend to focus on finger strength on crimpers, the Iron Palm instead has exceptional slopers and pinches that are among the best in the game. Its two huge balls in the top two corners are the first thing you'll notice on this model. These rounded features are flatter on top while gently sloping off to the sides, allowing you to adapt your workout as you improve your grip strength easily. While we tend to think of fingerboard training taking place on flat-topped edges, our minds were opened by these softball shaped holds. The Iron Palm also has the best pinches of any board we have ever seen. It has two separate sets of pinches that can be used separately or mixed to create three different pinch sets to help improve your ability to squeeze juice from a novel. The unique slopers and pinch grips on this board are great for fine-tuning these specific skills, as well as general strength building through a variety of possible uses.
An overall unique board, the Iron Palm also has only four board-wide edges and no pockets in the traditional sense. The idea is that you can use any number of fingers on its four uniquely shaped edges. This has the added benefit of feeling more difficult because you can't "cheat" by using friction on the sides of the pocket. The board also has a nice progression of edges, but we wish it had one that was slightly smaller. It also has limited mounting options due to its large size. However, if you have the space for it, these wider-than-average dimensions encourage better form and are generally easier on your shoulders and elbows. Overall, this is a great choice for those looking for a board with more options than most.
Read review: So iLL Iron Palm
For strong climbers looking to take their climbing to the next level, we highly recommend the fully-featured and burly Atomik Yaniro Powerboard. With its impressive number of challenging holds, no other model we tested could compare. Furthermore, the attention to detail in each grip's shape and depth offers a seemingly perfect incremental ladder of difficulty. Despite being made of polyester resin, this model is extremely kind on the skin and has some of the best texture in our review, even when compared to some wood models.
As the choice for stronger climbers, it isn't that 5.10 climbers can't use this board, but folks already sending 5.11b/c or harder will get the most out of it. As the largest model we tested, the wider-than-average design encourages good ergonomics, making it more shoulder and elbow friendly. Due to its large size and wide design, mounting options may be more limited, but we found it can still fit above most doorways with average height ceilings (8ft). Nonetheless, this is an incredible training board to help push you to upper grades.
Read review: Atomik Yaniro Power
For those who might be unsure if they want to commit to hangboard training or a more expensive option, the Get Out! Doorway is one of the lowest-priced hangboards available. Manufactured of a near-identical appearing material as Metolius's line of polyester resin boards, the Get Out is geared towards 5.10 and 5.11 climbers. We found its texture to be very similar to Metolius, and its smaller-than-average size makes it easy to find a place to mount.
The relatively low number of holds and their respective depths is this model's primary downside. Most climbers who buy this board will spend a lot of time using the 4-finger edges, and with this board, two of its three 4-finger holds offer the same depth; one is just at a diagonal. Additionally, there is only a single option for both a 2 and 3-finger pocket. They are designed to be nice depths for 5.10-5.11 climbers, but overall we didn't think this model offered as good a progression of difficulty as most other models, even more-priced focused ones. Folks who are or want to get serious about their training would be better off with a board that offers a better progression of holds from a difficulty perspective. However, we think this board is an okay option for those looking to get into hangboard training or as a warm-up board for a steep home wall.
Read review: Get Out! Doorway
Why You Should Trust Us
All of these boards were tested by a strong crew of climbers. While this was a group effort, longtime GearLab Editor and UIAGM/IFMGA guide Ian Nicholson led the charge. Ian is an exceptionally avid climber who is passionate about training and incremental improvement. He has been climbing for over 20 years and working as an IFMGA/UIAGM guide for 15. He loves every facet of climbing, from bouldering and hard sport-climbing to El-Cap-in-a-day pushes and remote alpine first ascents. Basing in the damp Pacific Northwest, he is hardly blessed with being able to train outside for much of the year and instead turns to the climbing gym and his personal collection of hangboards to stay strong. Ian's passion for detail and thorough enjoyment of the training-for-climbing process helps him convey each board's pros and cons and analyze their benefits for certain types of users, from budding climbers to hard-sending veterans.
With the help of some friends, our testing team performed at least eight extended workouts on each board during our testing cycle. We pinched, crimped, and hung-on open-handed on each board. We wore a weight vest to increase power but also to truly decipher differences in texture and friction. After all of our extensive testing, we learned insight as to which models were better at certain training aspects or excelled at different types of training regimes or user abilities. Guided by the results of our unbiased testing procedures, we hope to give you the straight-up best advice possible on the best hangboards currently on the market.
How to Choose the Right Hangboard
Hangboards (AKA fingerboards or training boards) have long been part of climbing training regimes and with good reason. It's hard to find a better way to target pure finger strength than with a hangboard. If you have never used one, it is hard not to be amazed, and with a good training plan, you will notice impressive improvements after just a few weeks. That may sound like an infomercial, but it's true. For not a ton of money, you can get a lot of climbing-specific finger strength in a short amount of time. For the price of one month's premium gym membership, you can train two to four days a week in your spare time for years.
Will it help you?
Jonathan Siegrist: "In the business of grabbing rock, our fingers can never be too strong."
Tony Yaniro: "If you can't hold the holds, then there's nothing to endure."
No climber ever complained that their fingers were too strong for a given route, and to Tony Yaniro's point, if you can't hold the holds to begin with, then endurance doesn't even play a factor. These dedicated training boards are the ticket to boosting finger strength tremendously, and in reality, hangboard workouts don't even take that much time to perform.
A lot of people climb easy routes at the gym over and over. While this is no doubt fun and great for the ego, in reality, climbing is a power-based sport, and climbing one route that you barely make it to the top of (or don't make it to the top of) does far more for you than climbing a route that is super easy for you 5-10 times. This couldn't be exemplified more than Yuji Hirayama, who trained for his Nose speed record attempt by climbing an approximately fifteen move V14 boulder problem. Seem crazy? There are countless examples of this, and hangboarding is the epitome of this power-improving focus. It has the potential to help many aspects of your climbing, from pushing harder grades to giving you more confidence for that long, all-day route.
Related: Best Rock Climbing Ropes of 2020
What to Look For
The ideal hangboard for you should have several holds you can barely grip, and a few you can't yet manage hanging onto. Despite how many folks you might see cranking them out at the gym, a fingerboard's primary purpose isn't for doing pull-ups. If you can hold onto the holds forever (or even like 20-30 seconds), you're not building any power, you're just inefficiently building endurance, and you should be hanging off smaller edges.
Hangboards are built for enhancing finger power and maximum crimping and grip strength. Pick a board with at least a few holds you fall off of after 7-10 seconds and others that you'll at least get tired and will struggle on after 3-5 sets of 7-10 seconds. Finally, there should also be a few holds you can't yet hang at all from without a foot dab (bouldering term there). A few jugs and slopers are nice to warm up on and for use toward the end of your workout when your open-handed crimp strength is fried. However, you'll be best served if the rest is all business. Put your ego aside, crimp until you fail, and fail quickly, then take solace in knowing that you're getting stronger, even if you feel like you're abysmal because you can only hang on for a few seconds.
There are three materials commonly used: wood, polyurethane, and polyester resin, each with subtle advantages and disadvantages. For perspective, polyurethane and polyester are what nearly all climbing holds are made from, and the two share most but not all the same characteristics.Wood
Wood's primary advantage is its low friction, meaning it's far easier on your skin than most resin polyurethane or polyurethane models. Besides just being easier on your skin, the low friction also makes holding on subtly harder, which is a small bonus while training. When using wood boards, try not to use too much chalk (with almost none being best). Early on, a little chalk is fine, but excessive chalk use over time covers the wood's pores, creating an undesired gummy and slick feeling. Be sure to wipe it down occasionally with a warm, wet rag and allow it to dry completely.
The disadvantage of wood is that its shapes tend to be a little more limited and don't have the variety of holds compared to resin boards; for example, wood boards rarely have pinches or anything other than a linear ramp for a sloper. Wood boards do tend to have comfortable pockets and edges and slippery slopers. Wood is lower weight than resin, and while this makes mounting easier, once your board is up, this doesn't really matter. Wood is also a good choice for climbers who have to mount their board in a common area for no other reason than it looks nicer hanging on your wall. Lastly, in warm climates or hot attics, wood will hang onto heat a lot longer than resin resulting in potentially poorer friction or a warmer feeling workout.
Polyester resin is the same material that many climbing holds are made of. However, in recent years, this material has slowly been replaced with polyurethane because it's lighter and slightly more durable to resist cracking if a route setter happens to over-tighten them. Polyester resin's primary advantage is that it can be formed in almost any shape imaginable, and most resin boards have more diverse and interesting hold options than their wooden counterparts. Resin boards tend to feature more interesting slopers and cool arrays of pinches and rounded edges. Lastly, unlike with wood, feel free to use as much chalk as you'd like with it, though it's still not a bad idea to clean it now and again.
The main downside of resin is that more-often-than-not the texture tends to be harder on people's skin. How much harder depends a lot on the manufacturer and the finish they use. Additionally, it is worth noting that it is rare that two models have exactly equal texture even when directly comparing two models under the same brand. Resin has the advantage that it will never splinter, but it can chip. Resin won't conduct heat as much as wood and thus won't feel as warm to the touch after extended sessions or workouts in hotter spaces.Polyurethane
Times are changing, and now more and more climbing holds are being made out of polyurethane than polyester resin because it's lower weight and less likely to chip while mounting, storing, etc. Polyurethane shares most of the same user interface characteristics with resin, providing unique shapes and a more diverse array of holds than wood. Polyurethane also shares the biggest downside in most people's eyes of non-wooden models in that typically, they are more textured than wood and thus harsher on your skin. Technology is improving, though, and manufacturers are trying harder to produce polyurethane models with a smoother texture, with some models now being very similar or equal to wood.
Another major difference is that polyurethane breaks down quicker than resin when exposed to weather and is a poor choice for a board that will be mounted outside. Polyurethane also polishes slightly quicker after repeated use compared to polyester resin, which is an interesting note because it is otherwise more durable when it comes to resisting chipping or cracking. While Polyurethane does polish faster, few people will use their hangboard so much that they will wear it out in a non-commercial setting. We think this is true even if you share your home board with five or more roommates, with the main "wearing out" quickly issue more of a problem for climbing gyms. Polyurethane is the material primarily used by hangboards produced by So iLL, Trango, and the Detroit Rock Company (DRC). Metolius and Atomik recently released a line of climbing holds made of polyurethane, but as of now, their fingerboards are still resin.
Variety of Holds
More holds don't necessarily make a given model better than another, but a good selection is obviously important. What you should seek out the most is a nice progression of edges and pockets that are mostly too hard for you to help you get stronger and ideally grow with you as they improve, at least for a while. Ideally, there are 2-3 hold options of incremental changes in depth across the board. In general, our testers like pockets and edges that decreased by around 1/4" increments once a hold gets smaller than one inch. We also like to have 2-3 depth options for a given width (for example, 2-3 different 4 finger pockets, all with depths incrementally spaced between .25"-.5"). It's always worth remembering it's okay to put 3-fingers in a 4-finger pocket. However, it's nearly impossible to adjust the depth. For example, it can be harder to position your fingers 1/2-inch deep in a 3/4-inch pocket.
Nearly all of our testers appreciated having at least one set of jugs and one or two sets of slopers in which to warm upon. We think pinches are nice, and they can be useful for certain route-specific training, building whole-hand power, and offer a way to mix it up, but flat-ish edges are by far and away more important. While other holds' shapes can be fun and may offer unique benefits, the bulk of grips should focus on shallow, fairly flat-topped edges and pockets.
Edges and Crimps
Edges and crimps are the bread and butter of fingerboard training and what most climbers should focus their decisions around when purchasing a board and spend most of their time hanging from while training. Don't be afraid of the smallest looking edges. The depth might seem impossibly difficult at first, but give yourself a month, and you'll be surprised by what you can hang onto. It's pretty awesome.
Our review team overwhelmingly prefers at least three non-incut/positive edges (we prefer flat edges) with widths around 1", 3/4", and 1/2". We also like when edges are slightly rounded at the entrance because it is generally less harsh feeling on your fingers (pads). This design also encourages a more open-handed crimp, which not only is better for training overall, but it is also safer than a curled over crimp in regards to a reduced risk of injury.
Pockets are great because they force you (or provide the opportunity) to isolate one, two, or three fingers on your board. This is an excellent training technique because it significantly increases the stress (typically your bodyweight) across fewer fingers, resulting in more efficient power gains. Like edges, having a solid progression of pocket pairings is more important than some flashy pinches or jugs, as they will facilitate a better workout.
Some climbers believe it's better to perform isolated finger workouts on broad edges rather than in specifically sized pockets (like the So iLL Iron Palm) because inevitably, your fingers come into contact with the sides of the pocket and give you more surface area, thus slightly increased holding power. They would argue that, while subtle, this is somewhat "cheating you" of your power workout. We'll let you be the judge there. We are fine with both but slightly prefer having individual pockets to train as they certainly "inspire" progression.Slopers
Slopers are great for helping you warm-up, finishing your workout when your fingertips are trashed, and working on whole-hand strength, but you shouldn't put too much focus on them as this is only a small part of your workout. It's also worth remembering that most of the slopers featured on models we tested don't feel too crushing on their own. However, 20 minutes into a fingerboard workout, and those same slopers can cause annihilating forearm fatigue. We like at least one set of slopers, but two is nice if only to mix it up.
All but one of the boards we reviewed features at least one pair of jugs. While they don't do a ton for making your fingers stronger, they are key for warming up, working on lock-offs (don't underestimate the benefits of these), or just cranking out pull-ups, weighted, assisted, or straight-up. We don't feel that any board needs more than one set of jugs, and they should be big enough that you could hang on them for more than a minute to work on the exercises mentioned above as to build arm, back, and core strength while not straining your fingers or tendons.
While pinches aren't a 100% necessary design feature, nor are they generally a large part of anyone's training regimen, they do add some variety and can be great for some route-specific training. This is especially true for people who frequent roofy crags or projects that are steep and blocky. We do think most of the models we tested offer mediocre pinches. They are often a normal hold that you can engage your thumb. While this is nice, we encourage people to look for a board with dedicated pinches rather than trying to make a pinch out of an existing hold as, generally speaking, it just makes the hold easier. For those looking for a pinch-specific board, it is pretty tough to beat the So iLL Iron Palm.
Level of Difficulty
Many climbers don't understand that there is a pretty broad range in difficulty between different models. For example, an intermediate climber won't get nearly as much out of a burly board, like the Atomik Yaniro Power Board, as something like the Metolius 3D Simulator, which is a more intermediate board. In our review, we tried to pick models that would work for the biggest population of climbers interested in a dedicated training board, around 5.10 to mid-5.13. Some products we tested would be best for climbers above or below that difficulty range, but that range still guided the selection process for our review.
For the most part, when considering different models, the difficulty range starts pretty high, and there are no truly "easy" boards. At the easiest, they are aimed at hard 5.10+ climbers to low 5.11 climbers and go up from there. If you aren't quite climbing 5.10+ in the gym, fear not, you'll certainly get there, but a hangboard might not be the best tool for you to get stronger YET. At this stage in your climbing, you'll get more benefits from just continuing to climb rather than adding fingerboard work to your training.
If you're not climbing at least 5.10 on top-rope in the gym, there is also a risk that you could injure yourself on any training board because your fingers and tendons aren't quite strong enough for the intense pressure they'll see while training on one.
We think it's best to look for a board where you can only hang onto 35-50% of the holds with two hands. It is okay if you can hang onto 75% or more of the holds, but that means you are someone who should consider using a weight vest and or do more one-armed hangs. Don't buy a model where you can't already hang onto at least 1/3 of the holds using two hands. If you can't do this, it means the board is too difficult for you, and it likely won't offer as many options to help you progress.
Hangboards vary wildly in size, dimensions, and mounting patterns. Having a bigger board typically means a greater array of holds, which is nice, but fear not, it is not a requirement. A compact board can still be very beneficial with an open mind and the drive to suffer on it if that is all you have room for.
For most climbers, mounting boards to anything that is not open framing (just framing, no drywall, which is obviously easier) means at least considering mounting the board to a pre-cut 3/4"-1" thick piece of plywood first. Then drilling that into the wall to make sure you are drilling into studs to get the strength necessary, so you don't pull the board right out of the drywall. For a few more dollars, you can make it less of an eyesore with plywood that has one side finished (or you can finish it yourself). A handful of manufacturers, like Metolius, sell pre-finished plywood boards that are appropriately sized appropriately and look excellent in a communal area.
It's possible to "mount" a hangboard on a pull-up bar if you live in any kind of rental home, apartment, or simply don't want to drill holes in your wall. Our favorite option for this comes from Blank Slate Climbing, which offers expensive but super-effective systems.
Fingerboards are awesome training tools that take very little time to get an extremely productive workout right without even having to leave your home. These workouts are short but should be intense. Fingerboard workouts are pretty much like running wind-sprints or powerlifting for your fingers. Many incredibly strong and famous climbers like Adam Ondra, Tommy Caldwell, Alex Puccio, Jonathan Siegrist, Alex Honnold, Margo Hayes, Sonnie Trotter, and Daniel Woods use and have used hangboards extensively at different points during their training cycle. Sonnie Trotter, over a winter working a full-time construction job, once trained almost exclusively on hangboards, rarely visiting a climbing gym while preparing for his ascent of Necessary Evil (5.14c) in the Virgin River Gorge. He claims there was no doubt in his mind that this is what helped propel him to the next level.
The key to this type of training is to hang off of BAD holds and those that are extremely challenging for you (once warmed up, of course). Every rep doesn't have to be super severe, but it should rarely be easy, and most of the time, it should be a battle to hang-on (think you are TRYING and can't wait for the 7-seconds to be over). This is the key to effectively building power. After you are thoroughly warmed up (minimum of 10-15 minutes), you should be training on grips that you will hold onto for less than 10 seconds, and some training resources suggest even less than 7. You don't need to fail in those early sets of 7-10 seconds, but it should be a slight battle for you to stay on. Later in your workout, there should be reps where you are fighting 100% for those seven seconds, which will feel like an eternity, and you are dabbing (putting your foot down) and or at times, only able to hang on for 2-4 seconds.
Most training regimes involve 5-8 hangs for 7-10 seconds and then a 3-4 minute rests, equaling one set. Your goal is to perform 5-8 total sets, ideally really struggling or failing towards the end of those sets. It's okay to spot yourself by putting your foot down or by grabbing a bigger hold with one hand. If it's too easy, try hanging with just one hand for a power boost, or by hanging a weight off your harness or wearing a 15-lb backpack. There are plenty of great videos of suggested workout regimens available for free online.
It's important to note that this type of training will greatly increase your finger power and, to a lesser extent, your contact strength (ability to latch onto a hold dynamically), both of which will enable you to hang onto progressively smaller holds. While finger increased finger strength will undoubtedly help any climber, for most people, these workouts should just be part of their training regimen that also involves the continued development of technique and skill via climbing of some form.
Adding resistance, similar to power-weightlifting, will boost your top-end finger and crimp strength. However, like any ultra-strenuous exercise, you need to be extra careful not to injure yourself. After effectively being able to hang off of all, or nearly all of the holds on your board, add a little weight (10-20 lbs.) and start with some of your board's larger grips before progressively working down in the hold size again.
Consider doing more one-armed hangs as you continue to progress, or one arm with a little assistance with your second hand lightly hanging onto a nearby sling or large hold. All of these methods will continue to build finger strength quickly. It's a good idea to do some weighted sessions with two hands before committing to one-armed hangs on smaller holds because it will surprise you how much more difficult this is.
Read up on Training
Read up before diving headfirst into your first session. Nearly all Training For Climbing type books include a comprehensive fingerboard section. Some of our review team's favorites include The Rock Climber's Training Manual: A Comprehensive Program for Continuous Climbing Improvement by Mike Anderson and Mark Anderson, Training for Climbing by Eric Horst, and The Self Coached Climber by Dan Hague and Douglas Hunter. While those are some of our favorites, there are unquestionable other useful resources out there.
Training on a hangboard is an excellent way to increase finger strength and improve your climbing regardless of the style of climbing you prefer. They are an affordable training tool that should last for years and hopefully offer some inspiration to train when you might have less than half an hour to spare. This is a review we are quite passionate about; we love climbing, training for climbing, and seeing people get better. We honestly hope that this review can help you decide between the different materials, types of holds, and difficulty levels to ultimately select the most appropriate product for you.
— Ian Nicholson