Words by Alkis Tsapanidis, Ollie Ross, Astrid Southam and Ryan Timms, all media by Matt Greenwell 

In December 2019, Alkis Tsapanidis, Matt Greenwell, Ollie Ross, Astrid Southam and Ryan Timms ventured to Man, in Western Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) to establish the country’s first ever traditional climbs and bouldering problems, and to introduce the sport to the local community. However, with no climbing shops in or even near the country, they were presented with a logistical challenge: how could they even hope to achieve these goals without any climbing equipment? Read below to learn how they managed to take 5 full-size bouldering pads to remote West Africa without having to pay extortionate additional airline fees, and keep an eye out for their feature-length film coming out later this year documenting their adventures.

Airlines often have restrictive dimensions for luggage which, historically, could put exploratory climbing trips in jeopardy. Specifically, the airline we used defines the allowed hold luggage dimensions by a sum of 158cm. The Psychi Dual Fold pads that we wanted to take with us measure 60cm by 90cm by 25cm, resulting in a sum of 175cm and a volume of 0.135m³. At the most basic level, this measurement by the airline (which shall remain nameless, but this practice is pretty much the same across the industry) penalises odd shaped items. A suitcase measuring 58cm by 50cm by 50cm would have a sum of 158cm but a volume of 0.145m³. With this in mind, we hypothesised that  it should be possible to make a full-size bouldering pad fit within the allowed dimensions by reshaping it to be more cubic.

In order to achieve this, we first have to look at the anatomy of a Psychi pad. They are made of a hard wearing cover stuffed with two pieces of low density foam (LDF) and two pieces of high density  foam (HDF). The LDF is soft and can be manipulated easily without damage while the HDF cannot be folded too aggressively. To bind, wrap, and protect the foam we decided to use packing clingfilm. This is inexpensive, and available from any good local hardware shop.

A neat bonus of this method is that since the LDF folds with a large radius, it leaves a conveniently sized void between the two pieces and the HDF. That void can be stuffed full of any climbing gear or any other heavy equipment. For reference, we managed to stuff nearly two entire trad racks across the five packed pads.

Step-by-step guide: How to take your Psychi bouldering pad with you for free* around the world

Note that some manufacturers use zips rather than velcro, and may come in a taco design, but the following steps should be easily adaptable to your pad.
*Free if you have already paid for hold luggage!

Step 1

As the name suggests, Psychi dual fold pads come in two halves. Taking one half of the pad at a time, access the HDF and LDF by tearing open the velcro of the outer protective fabric.

Step 2

Once you can see inside the pad, gently bend the layer of LDF inside by about 70º. This should allow you to pull out the HDF strip by reaching in and grabbing its side. Now that the HDF is removed, it should be easy to remove the LDF, but be careful not to rip it. Repeat the same for the other side of the pad. You should now have 2 pieces of HDF and LDF, and the pad’s outer cover (which we recommend in pink!). Note that this step can be quite fiddly if the foam has never been removed from that particular pad before.

Pink pads – because who would want a beige one?

Step 3

Peel some fresh cling film wrap onto a work-surface, ready to wrap around a foam strip. Fold a LDF strip in half, lay it on the bed of cling film, and roll the foam with the clingfilm to keep it folded in position (see photo below). Repeat for the other LDF strip. This step may require help from a friend!

Alkis with the critical cling film roll over the low density foam (LDF)

Step 4

Place the two LDF pieces (which should now be encased in cling film) on top of each other, such that the spine of the folds are facing the same direction. Wrap more cling film around these folds to hold them in position and to slightly compress the foam. Then, encase these LDF strips with the remaining two HDF pieces. Finish by wrapping yet more cling film around these HDF strips such that they’re connected to the LDF folds.

Step 5

Fill the pad with any heavy equipment, such as trad gear, by stuffing it into the hole between the two spines of the LDF. Be careful not to damage the LDF at this (or any other) stage, or you risk damaging the integrity of your pad, pride and knees.

A pad re-assembling party, complete with all of the trad gear which we managed to stash into our sushi rolls.

Step 6

Seal the Psychizushi (Psychi-sushi) completely with several layers of cling film to contain the filling and protect the foam.

Step 7 (Optional)

A handle can be created using gaffer tape by wrapping it around the pad, sticking some tape onto itself on one side.

Step 8

The pads can be checked in at no extra cost, and will go into oversized luggage. With any luck you will be greeted with some extra-large sushi rolls in the arrivals lounge at your destination. All that’s left is for you to re-assemble them!

This blog focussed specifically on getting Psychi dual fold pads halfway around the world, but we think that with minimal extra thought our method could be generalised across all pad manufacturers. We hope that this blog and accompanying video will serve as a useful guide for any other climbers hoping to achieve a similar goal to ours in the future.