Hangboards, sometimes called fingerboards, have been part of a climbers training regime for years. There is possibly no better way to target improving pure finger strength. They also aren't that expensive for what you'll get; for the price of one month's gym membership you can train three to four days a week in your spare time for years to come. Fingerboards and hangboards range in difficulty like routes at a gym. We targeted boards that were good for most climbers in the hard 5.10 to the mid or hard 5.13 realm and picked our five favorite models from dozens that are on the market today. We liked each of these boards for different reasons and reported below.
This our favorite hangboard as long as you have a space big enough to mount it. It's a larger resin hangboard and sprayed with holds, with a review high of 19 different pairs of grip options. Metolius did a sweet job of creating a broad with an excellent progression of holds similar to the Trango Prodigy. With the Contact, you can easily dial in a training program and see signs of progress. The Contact is large: standing 11" tall and 32.5" wide. It is still designed to fit in nearly all standard sized doorways, but depending on your space, you won't have a ton of head clearance for pull-ups and won't fit as well in tighter spaces and below lower ceilinged door frames. At $95 it's also a good deal on a bigger hangboard being less expensive and offering more options than either of our other non-wood award winners. What sets the Contact apart is its massive variety of edge sizes and depths offering up to five rows of grip options, from friendly to heinous. It also has separate (though sometimes unnecessary) 2, 3, and 4-finger pocket holds in many of these depth options letting the user truly fine tune their workout even as much as the Trango Prodigy. The Contact features a few easier than average slopers, but a pair of fantastic variable width pinches that were ideal for warming up and driving home a pump. We fell like Metolius is using a better texture on the Contact than they have with their previous hangboard models that were overall above average among non-wood boards and our favorite of these styles.
Many hold options
Beginner and advanced holds
This board is compact, but has just enough edges and holds to keep most climbers happy. It fits anywhere you could think of hanging a board and is only $70. You do have to be a little more creative and use different finger groupings on the Compact's range of edges, but it has enough variety that it works. The finely sanded wood is the perfect balance of not being too slippery while retaining its ultra-skin friend texture. The Compact's large central sloper is broad enough to work holding onto it in different zones to increase or lessen the difficulty. It's also a good looking board and could mount in your living room without being an eyesore. If you have space and want a little more variety, we also really like the slightly bigger version of the Compact, the Deluxe version, which adds another row of 6 holds and is just under 2" taller and 4" wider and $19 more at $89.
More slippery than resin
Not many hand options
The Beastmaker 1000 and its much Beastmaker 2000 are both awesome wood training boards made in the UK. The Beastmaster 1000 was also nearly are Editors' Choice overall and was only barely beat by the Metolius Contact for its wider range of edges and hold types, but we love the texture, range of edges, and small profile of the Beastmaker.
The Beastmaker 1000 has a surprising number of edges for its diminutive dimensions and can offer up a wide range of ability levels, from 5.10 to 5.14. Like most wood boards the Beastmaker doesn't offer much in the way of pinches but has a stellar array of edge and pocket, widths, and depths. It's edge depths all complement each other amazingly well, giving its users good warm-ups to heinously thin crimps. The Beastmaker has two rad sets of slopers, one easy, one pretty hard. One of our favorite features of the Beastmaker is the lowest level of edges is offset inward, so our fingers didn't catch on the lower pockets when on the higher grips. Our main dislike: both sets of three finger pockets in the middle of the board are a little too close together, and our hands bump up against one other while using them. The same can be said about the central sloper, it's big enough to get both hands on, but isn't as comfortable for your thumb knuckles and shoulders. Considering the Beastmaker 2000? Know that it's a MUCH more challenging hangboard, with no jugs and not many "good" holds, making it best for 5.12-5.15 climbers.
The Rock Prodigy Training Center is exactly that, a training center. It's the perfect board for the most calculated and systematic users, who will want to track and be thoughtful about their progress. It stands out at first because it's unique in that it's the only model we tested that is split in half, in theory, to account for people with different shoulder widths. While this is a neat idea, it does take more effort to mount. The highlight of the Rock Prodigy is the immense variety of holds on it has to offer. It features edges that change in depth as they move across the board with marker bumps to help you stay lined up. It also features a few holds with offset pockets to further give the users options. One of only a few downsides of the Rock Prodigy is the price, at $120, it's one of the most expensive options out there. But we feel for the price you get a LOT. The only other downside is most of our testers felt there was almost a little too much texture and during long sessions or working the board on, or near climbing days felt like it was harder on our fingers than other boards.
Many hold options
More involved mounting
The Iron Palm is made out of urethane and not resin, but it feels similar. Designed by Jason Kehl, might not have a lot of pockets, but it has four very different edges to choose from that you can easily work different finger combinations on. We liked the two giant ball slopers offering variable difficulty and the two different pinches that give the users three grip options. At $99 it's average among boards for its size, but more expensive than the more hold-rich Metolius Contact. The Iron Palm feels much bigger than its 27" x 11.5" x 4" in dimensions, and it fits above doorways and in low-ceilinged apartments fantastically. Its downfall is its warm-up jugs were a little too close together, making it less ideal, especially for folks with shoulder problems. If space is really tight, So iLL also makes a smaller version of this model, appropriately named the Mini Palm for $79.
Fits in many locations
Warm up jugs too close
Analysis and Test Results
Tony Yaniro: "If you can't hold the holds, then there's nothing to endure."
Jonathan Siegrist: "In the business of grabbing rock, our fingers can never be too strong. "
Fingerboards are awesome training tools that when mounted in your home, take very little time to get an extremely productive workout. The workouts are short but intense and are pretty much like running wind-sprints or powerlifting for your fingers. Many incredibly strong and famous climbers like Tommy Caldwell, Jonathan Siegrist, Sonnie Trotter, and Daniel Woods have used hangboards extensively at some point 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 with this type of training is to hang off of holds that are bad and straight-up difficult for you. Every rep doesn't have to be super severe, but it should rarely be easy. This is the key to effectively building power. After you are thoroughly warmed up you should be training on grips that you will hold onto for less than 10 seconds, and some training books 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. Most training regimes involve 5-8 hangs for 7-10 seconds and then a 3-4 minute rest, 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 super power boost, by hanging weight off your harness, or wearing a 15 lb backpack. Here is a great 1 minute video on some work-outs by Daniel Woods.
Adding resistance like powerlifting will only add more power, but you do need to be extra careful not to injure yourself. After starting off by working both hands at the same time, and effectively being able to hang off of all, or nearly all of the holds on your board, add a little weight (10-15 lbs. to start) while hanging on your board's larger grips. As you continue to progress, consider doing more one-armed hangs 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 quickly build finger strength. 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 head first into your first session. Nearly all training for climbing books include a fingerboard section. Some of our favorite training for climbing books include Training for Climbing by Eric Horst and The Self Coached climber by Dan Hague and Douglas Hunter, and The Rock Climber's Training Manual: A Comprehensive Program for Continuous Climbing Improvement by Mike Anderson and Mark Anderson.
What to Look For
You should pick a product that has several holds you can barely grip onto and possibly a few you can't even hang from. Contrary to popular belief fingerboards aren't for doing pull-ups, despite how many climbers you might see doing them at the gym. If you can hold onto the holds forever, you're not building any power (you're inefficiently building endurance) and you should be hanging off of smaller edges. Again, hangboards are for building pure finger power. Pick a board with at least a few holds you'll 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. A few jugs and slopers are nice to warm up on and toward the end of your workout when your open-handed crimp strength is fried, but then the rest should be all business.
How to Choose the Best Product
The three materials most commonly used are wood, polyurethane and polyester resin. Polyurethane and polyester are what nearly all climbing holds are made from, and the two share many characteristics. However, all three of these materials offer some distinct advantages and disadvantages.
Wood's primary advantage is its low friction; resulting in increased difficulty and being much easier on your skin than even the best resin models. Remember on wood, try not to use chalk because over time they will get greaser as the chalk covers the pores of the wood. The disadvantage of wood is that its shapes will be more limited and they don't tend to have the same variety of holds compared to resin boards, and rarely have good pinches. Wood boards do tend to have fantastic pockets and edges, and decent but slippery slopers. Wood is lighter weight than resin and while this makes mounting easier, once your board is up, it doesn't matter. Wood is also the choice for climbers who have to mount their board in a common area because it looks nicer hanging on your wall. Lastly, in warm climates or hot attics, wood will hang onto heat more than resin resulting in even potentially poorer friction.
Polyester resin is the same material that some climbing holds are made off though in recent years it has been replaced more with polyurethane because of weight and durability issues with over-tightening. Polyester resin's primary advantage is that it can be created into almost any shape imaginable and most resin boards have more diverse hold options than their wooden counterparts. This is the most noticeable with resin boards boosting more interesting slopers and arrays of pinches. Resin will never splinter, but it can chip and unlike wood you can and should use chalk with it. The main downside of resin is that the texture tends to be harder on your skin. How much harder depends a lot on the manufacturer and it's rare that even two manufacturers are exactly equal. Resin won't conduct heat as much as wood and thus won't feel as warm to the touch after longer sessions or workouts in hotter spaces.
Times have changed and now more climbing holds are made out of Polyurethane than polyester resin both because it's lighter weight and less likely to chip while mounting. Polyurethane shares most of the same user interface characteristics with resin providing unique shapes and thus a more diverse array of holds. Polyurethane also has the main downside of resin in that it typically has a fair amount more texture compared to wood. 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 quicker after repeated use compared to resin, but with 1-4 people this will take a while. Polyurethane is the material primary used by So iLL.
Level of Difficulty
A lot of climbers don't understand that there can be a large range of difficulty difference among models. For example, an intermediate climber won't get much out of a super burly board, like the Beastmaster 2000 (a very difficult board) as something like the Metolius Contact or project boards (very intermediate boards). In our review we tried to pick boards that would work for the biggest population of climbers: around 5.11a to easy-to-mid 5.13. Some products we tested would be good for climbers above that difficulty range, but that range was still our goal when choosing the best boards for this review.
For the most part, when considering difficulty the range starts pretty high, 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+/5.11a in the gym, not to fear, but it maybe isn't the best tool for you yet, and you'll get more benefit from just continuing to climb. If you're not climbing at that level, you're also more likely to hurt yourself because your fingers and tendons aren't quite strong enough.
Hangboards vary wildly in overall size and mounting pattern. Having a bigger board that likely offers a greater array of holds might be nicer, but it is far from a must, and a compact board can still be very beneficial with an open mind. For most climbers mounting boards on drywall or anything that is not open framing ((which is obviously easier), mounting the board to a pre-cut 3/4"-1" thick piece of plywood is the best option. If you want your set up to look nicer, for a few more dollars you can buy plywood with one side finished making it less of an eye-sore in shared living areas.
It's possible to mount a hangboard on a pull-up bar if you live in an apartment or just don't want to drill holes in your wall. Our favorite options for this is the The Blank Slate ($115), an expensive but super effective system that fits boards up to its 29.5" x 8" dimensions. They also make a bigger version the Blank Slate Vertical which is 29.5" x 18" ($140) that can fit two hangboards or a board and some holds.
Criteria for Evaluation
We tested each of the products both side-by-side and during individual sessions and collected feedback and thoughts from over a dozen other climbers including climbing coaches and trainers.
Variety of Holds
It's not just pure variety that folks should be shopping for. A good design should also feature a variety of depth options as well as at least one set of slopers and jugs to warm up on. Pinches are nice and help build power and mix it up, but the bulk of surface area should focus on shallow flat-topped edges and pockets, often designed to fit a limited number of fingers.
All the boards we reviewed have jugs. These are key for warming up, working on lock offs, or just cranking out pull-ups, weighted, assisted or simply 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 aforementioned things to not strain your fingers or tendons.
Edges and crimps are the bread and butter, and these features are what most climbers should focus on. Ideally, there are edges that you could put any number of fingers on from 1-4. If you have good edges, you don't even really need pockets, because on the same edge you can hang off of 1-3 fingers as you could 4. Ideally, your board has at least 3, ideally 4 different depth edges. We consider any "edge" to be 3-fingers or bigger. The smallest depth edge might seem impossibly difficult at first but give yourself a month and you'll be surprised and what you can hang onto.
We like at least three non-incut/positive edges with widths around, 1", 3/4" and 1/2". If they are incut, then they should be even smaller. We liked edges that rounded off at the entrance. This encouraged a more open-handed crimp and made it less likely to unexpectedly slip off of a hold. The two boards with the greatest variety in edge depth were the Metolius Contact and the Trango Rock Prodigy. The Metolius Contact had a more traditional approach with a ridiculous number of edge widths and depths to choose from. The Trango Rock Prodigy was also a top scorer in this category because it not only featured a lot of edge sizes to choose from but also several of these edges change in depth as they move across the board letting the user fine-tune their training. On top of that there are little bumps to help folks correctly line up their hands and track their progress.
Pockets are great because they force you to isolate one, two or three fingers on your board which is an excellent training technique. While nice, we put less emphasis on pockets because you can do any of the same isolated finger hangs on a flat edge. There are also some climbers who believe it's better to perform isolated finger work outs on edges rather than pockets because inevitably your fingers come into contact with the side of the pocket and give you more surface area and holding power, thus slightly "cheating you" of your power work out. The other argument is that you'll be climbing on pockets in the gym and outside, so it's better preparation for that. Regardless you can look for pockets, but don't make it a top priority.
Slopers are great for helping you warm-up and can be nice to work while alternating with edges and crimps. A lot of the slopers don't feel too crushing on their own, but 20 minutes into a fingerboard workout the slopers can be the cause of exploding forearms. We like at least one set of slopers, but ideally two, to mix it up. By far our favorite slopers in our review were the Iron Palm:" featuring two large "balls" that you could adjust the difficulty on and were just plain rad. The Beastmaker 1000 also has two sets of slopers with the steeper set feeling slippery and somewhat crushing before the board is truly broken in.
Only about half of the products we tested had pinches and a only a few had more than one. We think pinches, especially with weight is a killer way to build open handed strength. Part of it is because pinches take a lot of molding and its hard to make good pinches on wood boards. We like boards that have 1 or 2 good open handed pinches. A lot of boards, like the Metolius Contact have one longer pinch that gets progressively bigger so you can work different sections of it to increase, or decrease difficulty. The So iLL Iron Palm had the best pinches in our review, offering two sets that could be used in three different ways. The Trango Rock Prodigy Training Center also had a similar set up that we enjoyed.
Ease of mounting
We rated each board on how easy it was to mount, obviously every house, apartment, garage and doorway is different but some boards took more effort to hang than others. This is typically based on the number and the spacing of their screw holes along with the overall size of the board. As we talked about earlier: you can mount any hangboard onto 1" or 3/4" plywood to help best fit your framing so we weighted the "Ease of Mounting" score the least.
Earlier we talked about how fingerboard workouts were like winds sprints for your fingers; well training on boards with too much texture is like performing those same sprints with bad blisters. Sure your still training, but it hurts a lot more. Wood tends to have the least friction resulting in the least harmful impact on your skin. That said, not all resin boards are bad, and there is a large range between manufacturers and even models. The Metolius Contact uses a fairly fine finish that felt like an improvement over their older models and is among the best-textured resin boards, but still wasn't as smooth as wood. So iLL isn't too far behind the Metolius Contact but was slightly more abrasive. One of our Top scorers the, Trango Prodigy for all its awesome features and variety of holds was very grippy and had the most negative impact on our fingers among boards in this review. We know people who liked the board and just sanded it down slightly to make it smoother.
Training on a hangboard is an excellent way to improve finger strength. It is an affordable option that lasts for years. We hope that this review can help you decide between the different materials, types of holds, and difficulty levels to select the appropriate board for your home.
— Ian Nicholson