Review: the Moon Board

A Vertical Life review by Steve Kelly

‘It’s easy when you’re strong.’ Ben Moon

Oli Grounsell getting strong on the Moonboard. Image by Stefan Evan Niedermeyer

Oli Grounsell making it easy for himself by getting well strong on the Moonboard. Image by Stefan Evan Niedermeyer

So, you’ve decided to build a Moon Board, or perhaps you don’t know what one is but have heard about it. For those that haven’t seen or used one, the bare bones of it are this: the Moon Board is a 40 degree overhanging ‘woody’, built to spec. The angle, T-nut spacing and hold alignment are mapped according to the Moon Board specifications available for download from the Moon website ( Three sets of holds are available, the Schoolroom Originals, Hold Set A and Hold Set B (a new set is due out soon). Your budget will dictate as to whether you order one, two or all three sets. The framework for building the actual board is relatively inexpensive, but it is the holds that will seriously dent your wallet. Building the Moon Board is covered in detail via their website, so this review only deals with the pros and cons of using the end product.

First up, for anyone that has not bouldered on a home woody, this setup may obviously seem a little alien. Building something from scratch in your shed and pasting a bunch of holds on is one thing, but tediously measuring every angle and spacing to ensure an optimum match to ‘the motherboard’ somewhere in the UK is another. Nevertheless, once built (and you’ve ordered in and placed the holds), you will have a unique training tool at your disposal, as it is by no means your standard home wall.

The Moon Board in situ. Image Steve Kelly

The Moon Board in situ. Image Steve Kelly

The important thing to mention here is that this is just one training tool in a long list of others that will make you a stronger climber. It is not a standalone miracle worker. Being a training tool, its benefits heavily depend on what you are training for. At a basic level, the board was designed with outdoor climbing in mind. Now you may beg to differ, particularly when you are trying to maintain tension on a ‘benchmark’ 7a+ (V6) whilst dynamically catching a three-finger crimp at full stretch, but if in doubt you should look into the history books and seek out where the originator spent his formative years.

Moon’s climbing resume is well documented, but it is the rock type and holds of his home crags that are what contributed to his legendary finger strength. Peak District limestone is polished, crimpy, and steep, and what better way to train for an outdoor project on such terrain than on a home woody (seepage optional)?

Steve testing his Moon Board, which has a mix of Moon and random holds. Image Steve Kelly collection

Steve testing his Moon Board, which has a mix of Moon and random holds. Image Steve Kelly collection

The Moon Board’s ancestor began in a dark and musty cellar, under the floor of a house in Sheffield, England, in the early 1980s. Bouldering mats hadn’t been invented so pieces of carpet and the odd rotting mattress became its friends. One day, sick of the constant darkness, it went in search of a new home – and found it in an unused schoolroom.

The Schoolroom board was used and abused by some of the best climbers of the day, and was so efficient at building ‘power’ that it was joined by other similarly brutal torture devices such as the campus board and, ultimately, the first Moon Board.

The board in its current format has been in existence for at least 10 years, but it’s only recently that its popularity has taken off tremendously, in part due to the introduction of the accompanying app, a funky LED light system for the holds (optional), as well as the press received via some high profile climbers getting in on the action. It has become so popular in fact, that the current waiting period on hold sets (in Australia) is four to six weeks. Instagram and YouTube have heavily influenced climbers and gyms to install one, and with the latest release of a freestanding version, as well as the promise of new hold sets and a 25 degree relative – it is set to be on the scene for some time.

If you’ve never used one then here is some sort of cautionary notice: all problems track, meaning – your feet follow your hands. There are no big holds, and by big holds I mean four-finger, two-joint depth holds. If you want to warm up, then you are best doing so in an alternative environment. Problems start at Font 6b+ (V4), but even seasoned Moon Board users admit that Moon grading is somewhat slanted, as in ‘brick ‘ard’. If you’ve just visited the Grampians and shredded a few V6s – don’t expect to return home and walk up the 7a circuit…

Now this could be because you’ve spent the last three years going to a gym whose only hold type is a volume and the steepest angle is 30 degrees. It could be because you’re awesome on slopers but fade into insignificance when it comes to half-pad edges. Or it could just be that the grades are indeed – sandbagged.

Time will tell, but don’t let this dissuade you. The purpose of the board is to make you stronger, and if most of the reasons above are what’s holding you back, then you should probably build one. The grading as always is just a ‘measure of intensity’, and that together with the app, the logbook capability, the shared lists and the benchmarks allow you to plan and execute a ‘board session’ unlike one you’ve ever had before. Then there are the users.

Arguably one of the most positive aspects of using a Moon Board is the community. At last count just using the School Original hold set opens you up to 210 listed problems ranging from 6b+ (V4) to 8b+ (V14). Tack on another set of holds (say – Hold Set Up A) and you have 1074 problems. The full three sets give you no less than 8770 problems, created by users worldwide. Should you have the ability, you can choose to try a problem created in Brazil, Germany or Australia.

Adding to this you are forever kept out of the rut of setting problems for yourself that quite often speak to your strengths, and are therefore forced into trying new things. The board also shrugs off the trickery and funkiness of more modern day gym sets in favour of simple pull-down raw power, which as someone once said – we could all use more of.

This isn’t to say you can’t set your own problems – with the app you can create your own, but more importantly should you just have one or two of the Moon hold sets – you’ll have space to add whatever other holds you like. Sure, you can’t log them as you would a standard Moon problem, however this variety will enrich your board and offer a greater scope for easier problems (see warm ups), which you otherwise would not have had.

Another benefit of the board is one that many home woody users would be familiar with: long term projects. Its static nature allows you to plan and train for projects that remain on your board for as long as you want. By the same token, it also allows you to create circuits – useful for building power-endurance on problems that you have completed.

If, however, you really want to test some real power against the big guns, then best of luck to you. Your options are endless, but your approach may be to try the benchmark problems for their grade first, before moving onto Alex Megos’s V11 ‘One Move Wonder’, or Daniel Woods’ V13 ‘Black Beauty’.

Finally, if like me, you’re naturally weak and cutting loose off a half-pad three-finger crimp is going to be a long term project in its own right, it’s probably worth taking note of an advertisement campaign from Ben Moon’s previous company S7, which simply stated this:

‘These fingers didn’t get strong pulling on big holds.’

For more information visit: Moon board introduction and How to build your Moon Board


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