Playground Surface Options

When shopping for your backyard play structures, your intended play surface has a lot to do with not only what you purchase, but also where in the yard it can be placed. Children, despite our best efforts to prevent it, will fall; slipping off a slide onto a hard surface can be painful, while a major tumble can cause a potentially serious injury.

Appropriate Play Surfaces:

Image: Arvind Balaraman /

Wood Mulch
Wood mulch is a good surface to place under a swing set or other structure. It is soft enough to adequately cushion your landing. It should measure 9-12 inches in depth; it needs to be measured twice per year to be safe. The drawback to mulch is that it blows in the wind, and may need to be raked frequently to remain deep enough. On the plus side, wood mulch is generally a cheap cover-surface, and is aesthetically pleasing as well as biodegradable.

Sand is an acceptable option as a playground cover. Like wood mulch, it is a natural option and is a fairly inexpensive choice. One disadvantage is that it also has to be measured semi-annually, and replaced as needed to ensure the proper depth.

Pea gravel
Gravel is a suitable, inexpensive choice for surfacing a play area. Like any natural surface, it has to be measured regularly to ensure that its depth is maintained and replaced as needed. One disadvantage of using gravel is that it may get packed too hard under well-trodden areas, and may need to be broken up occasionally.

Foam rubber is a great option as it also meets playground safety standards. It is soft to land on, whether jumping down to dismount from the swing set or falling off a jungle gym. It is available in mats, poured form, or as mulch. An additional benefit of mat or poured foam surfacing is that it provides a smooth surface for wheel chairs, unlike all the other options.

One disadvantage is that foam can be a costly option, but on the plus side it needs to be replaced much less often than other materials. It can also be repaired in small sections. Foam is available in a variety of colors including neutral ones that blend in with natural surroundings.

Inappropriate Surfaces:

Hard Ground
If the ground surface at your home or facility is not naturally sandy, this is not an appropriate playground cover since it doesn’t properly break a fall or lessen the risk of injury.

Concrete or Asphalt
Concrete or asphalt should not be used under any play equipment. Not only is it uncomfortable to land on, it can easily cause scrapes and even broken bones.

Take into consideration the cost and frequency of filling or resurfacing, as well as eye appeal to your backyard and children (colors, shapes, etc). Keep in mind that a little more cost may buy you a lot more peace of mind. Weighing all these factors will ensure you make the safest and best choice for maximum enjoyment.

Image: Rosen Georgiev /

Alice McCoy has six children, and is a part time blogger and the daughter of a long-haul trucker. Although she stays at home with her kids now, she still stays involved with her Dad’s business by keeping an eye out for truck driving jobs and writes about specific trucking topics like semi truck insurance.

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