Jim B., owner of Synrock climbing holds, is not shy about his claim of climbing hold material superiority. A prominent section of the Synrock website is dedicated to blasting plastic holds, the dominant material used in the industry today–polyurethane usually. Whether you agree with him or not, his conviction is notable and it does translate into quality products.
So what are the Synrock holds made of that makes them superior? I have no idea, but it seems like they are probably a secret recipe of high-strength, kiln-fired clay–a distant and more impressive cousin to the ashtray masterpiece you cranked out in 11th grade ceramics class. If correct, the name Synrock (synthetic rock), is really quite fitting.
I received a big package of Synrock holds about a year ago and had ambitions to post about them earlier, but they are so different than anything else on my wall that I wanted to put some miles on them before sharing my opinion. Here is the short of it:
Everyone who climbs my wall comments about them because they stand out immediately as being something different. The first thing climbers notice is that they are cool to the touch. Initially this didn’t sound like an advertisable climbing hold benefit to me, but climbers at my home wall, after thrashing their hands during a long climbing session, will literally go put both hands on a large Synthrock hold just to feel the soothing cold. There is something more natural about the thermodynamics of these holds than their plastic competitors. They are definitely a crowd favorite at my place.
Somehow they are both smooth and grippy simultaneously. Put a smooth round sandstone in the refrigerator for 20 minutes and you’ll have a good idea of how these feel. Also, the Synrock design and manufacturing process allows for some great contrasting textures. Everything from as smooth-as-glass to rough sandstone… all on a single hold. The shapes I received are pretty large and ergonomic for the hands (smooth curves) and the material they are made of allows for some extremely thin edges for feet.
Home climbing wall owners are notoriously on a tight budget and Synrock prices are some of the lowest. Even the shipping ends up favorable thanks to a USPS option they offer which allows them to jam as many holds as will fit in the flat rate boxes.
The holds seriously resist spinning even on my smooth plywood wall. The density of the material is so high that when you tighten the bolt down the pressure is distributed across the entire back of the hold, as opposed to just around the bolt area which creates a pivot point with more flexible hold materials. This distribution of force creates loads of friction and pretty much eliminates the need of a set screw unless you are using a very wide hold as a foot. My climbing gym is in a detached shop that fluctuates in temperature greatly causing the plywood to expand and contract behind my holds. The poly holds, especially large ones, need frequent tightening because of these temp swings, but the Synrock holds have been 99% spin proof over the past year without extra attention.
The bad. They are a heavier and more prone to chipping than most holds of similar sizes. One of mine was chipped in transit. I fixed it with some two-part epoxy and it has held fine. I have no experience with running a commercial gym and suspect that these two issues would cause more problems in those situations than they do for a home gym owner. For home gyms that are primarily bouldering these are largely non-issues. Once on the wall the risk of chipping them is over and as long as you don’t set and reset your wall recklessly it isn’t hard to keep them in good shape. Some might also take issue with the lack of color options that this “more natural” process is capable of–though the black ones are sweet!
I can sum up my experience by saying that I definitely want more Synrock holds on my personal wall. I also, after a lot of time on them, recommend them to home wall builders looking for affordable holds, like a more natural “cooler” feel, and appreciate the handcrafted style.