Types of Playground Surfaces for Safe and Fun Play

Children adore playing and being active, especially when they have access to engaging playgrounds. Whether it's a school or community playground, utmost care must be taken to ensure their safety.

An essential aspect of designing a functional playground is incorporating suitable surfacing options. These options enhance play value and minimize serious injuries or potential accidents caused by slips, trips, and falls.

This article delves into the various types of other playground surfacing options available in the market today, empowering you to make informed choices for your upcoming project.

Playground Surface Options

Playground surfaces come in two main types: unitary and loose-fill surfaces. All playground surfaces must undergo testing and meet the standards set by ASTM F1292 for impact attenuation.

Let us delve into each category, exploring their respective advantages and disadvantages.


Pea gravel, sand, loose rill rubber (LFR), and engineered wood fiber (EWF) are loose-fill surfacing materials commonly used for various applications. These natural playground surfacing materials, except loose rill rubber LFR, do not contain chemicals or binders.

A 12-inch thickness is generally recommended due to natural compaction and scattering to ensure proper installation and low maintenance costs.

Loose-Fill Playground Surfaces Pros:

  • Typically budget-friendly.

  • Simple to install.

  • Provides effective drainage.

  • Provide outstanding fall protection.

Loose-fill materials like engineered wood fiber (EWF) seamlessly integrate with natural surroundings and enhance eco-friendly playgrounds. EWF pathways and ground spaces in a playground surrounded by trees create a picturesque setting.

Unlike landscaping rubber mulch or landscaping mulch, engineered wood fiber (EWF) is made from virgin wood chips, ensuring cleanliness and safety.

Loose-Fill Playground Surfaces Cons: 

  • Increase maintenance costs. Frequently used areas often result in more maintenance for objects commonly kicked away. 

Different Types of Loose-Fill Playground Surface Materials

Pea gravel 

One of our loose fill options is pea gravel, a type of small stone commonly found near water. It has a smooth surface due to weathering and comes in various natural colors.

It is eco-friendly and does not contain synthetic chemicals or dyes. This versatile material is used for driveways, water drains, paths, patios, filling spaces between pavers, and even in playgrounds.

Pea Gravel Playground Surfaces Pros:

  • A layer of nine inches deep pea gravel can significantly reduce the impact of a fall, providing safety benefits. However, beyond this, pea gravel surfaces offer no additional advantages.

  • Pea gravel is an affordable loose-fill material that offers cost-effective solutions.

  • Pea gravel prevents weed growth, retains moisture, and does not decompose like grass or mulch.

  • Installing pea gravel is a simple process. It is readily available at most hardware stores.

Pea Gravel  Playground Surfaces Cons:

  • Using playground equipment at great heights can pose challenges and potential issues.

  • The costs of pea gravel material may seem low initially, but with frequent replacements and maintenance, these expenses can accumulate over time.

  • Pea gravel tends to break down into smaller particles, another factor influenced by changing seasons.

  • Pea gravel's compression and high maintenance may require frequent reinstallation, which can be a downside.


Playground sand evokes fond childhood memories with its natural aesthetic. Smooth and soft to the touch, sand is a loose granular substance formed through the erosion or weathering of rocks and minerals.

Its composition, colors, and sources can vary, ranging from pale yellow to pink, and it can be found on beaches, riverbeds, deserts, and playgrounds. However, not all sand is suitable for use in playgrounds.

Sand Playground Surfaces Pros:

  • Similar to gravel, sand is also a cost-effective option.

  • Easy to install.

  • Offers excellent cushioning.

Sand Playground Surfaces Pros:

  • On the other hand, it can hide sharp objects, animal waste, and debris.

  • Children playing with sand may be tempted to eat or throw it, and can also bring it home on their clothes and shoes.

  • Constant maintenance and raking are necessary to replenish levels and check for hidden objects or pests.


Playground flooring made of Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) consists of finely ground wood fibers that are sometimes processed to create a cohesive level surface. This loose-fill material, also called "engineered wood chips," is commonly used to provide a safe and resilient playground surface.

EWF Playground Surfaces Pros:

  • Highly water-absorbent.

  • Affordable Installation Costs.

  • Natural look

  • EWF offers easy installation options for your convenience.

EWF Playground Surfaces Cons:

  • Proper maintenance is necessary to ensure the EWF remains in optimal condition.

Unitary Surface

Unitary surfaces like rubber tiles, artificial turf, and poured-in-place rubber are versatile and durable flooring options. These rubber surfaces can be made from recycled tires, nylon, or other synthetic materials, offering a sustainable choice for various applications.

Unitary Playground Surfaces Pros:

  • Low-maintenance and desirable for those with ample budgets but limited maintenance personnel.

  • Longer warranties are generally provided, except for high-use areas.

  • Unitary surfaces come in various colors, allowing you to create unique themes in your playground.

Unitary Playground Surfaces Cons: 

  • Always verify test results or certification papers to ensure the children's safety in the play area.

Different Types of Unitary Playground Surfacing Options

Rubber Tiles

Rubber tiles, made of bonded rubber, come in 2-by-2-foot squares with interlocking sides. These tiles are placed on the ground, forming a pattern with interlocking sides that securely join them together.

Rubber Tiles Playground Surfaces Pros:

  • It is highly accessible, providing a level and seamless surface for children of all abilities, including those in wheelchairs, to navigate easily.

  • Rubber tiles are available in various thicknesses to match the fall height requirements of different play equipment, ensuring safety and impact absorption.

  • Rubber tiles offer a wide range of colors and the opportunity to create playful and vibrant patterns.

Rubber Tiles Playground Surfaces Cons:

  • Rubber tiles can curl and create tripping hazards over time, while dirt accumulation between cracks is also a concern. Regular sweeping and cleaning are necessary for all unitary surfaces.

Synthetic turf or artificial grass 

Synthetic turf, also known as artificial grass, is a low-maintenance alternative to natural grass in commercial playgrounds and surfaces. Made from synthetic fibers like polypropylene or polyethylene, it resembles the look and feel of real grass.

Often used on sports fields, synthetic turf is increasingly being used on playgrounds. It typically consists of multiple layers, including backing, cushioning, drainage layers, and infill made from recycled rubber tires or natural cork.

Synthetic Turf Playground Surfaces Pros:

  • Low maintenance and hassle-free.

  • No need to worry about losing objects in the grass.

  • Accessible playground surface material.

Synthetic Turf Playground Surfaces Cons:

  • Professional installation is necessary.

  • Static electricity can accumulate on synthetic turf surfaces.

Why not choose natural grass instead?

Natural grass is not recommended as a playground surface for children. It lacks adequate shock absorption properties, increasing the risk of severe injuries compared to rubber or synthetic turf.

Grass also requires extensive and frequent maintenance and can develop tripping hazards. Its uneven surface limits accessibility. Investing in a safer and more economical playground surface is advisable.


Poured-In-Place, also known as poured rubber or PIP, is a seamless rubber layer evenly poured to cover the entire surface. It consists of a two-layer system: a shock-absorbing layer made of rubber buffings, topped with a layer of granular particles mixed with binder.

This combination creates a consistently smooth surface that withstands the test of time. 

PIP Playground Surfaces Pros:

  • It allows for easy access and reduces impact effectively.

  • Provides a safe and versatile covering for children, suitable for various activities.

  • Poured rubber is a durable and resilient material with long-lasting properties.

  • Minimal maintenance is required.

  • Poured rubber offers customizable options to match any playground's colors and style.

Playground Surfaces Cons:

  • Often one of the priciest playground surfacing options.

Selecting the Right Playground Surface

When selecting a surface for your playground, thorough research and consultation with experts are crucial. Your playground has unique requirements, and a surfacing specialist can assist you in identifying the surfacing type that best meets your site's and its visitors' specific needs.

Whether you are choosing a playground surface for a school, community park, or early childhood playground, the optimal surfacing solution depends on various factors:

  • Initial purchase cost

  • Installation cost

  • Ongoing maintenance cost

  • Long-term durability

  • Visual aesthetics

  • Safety considerations like tripping hazard

  • ADA compliance level

Questions to Ask When Choosing a Playground Surface:

  • Does the surfacing provide sufficient softness and thickness to effectively reduce the impact of a child's fall?

  • Which age group(s) is the playground intended for?

  • Could the surfacing material pose a risk of choking?

  • What is the desired aesthetic and ambience you aim to create? Will the surfacing align seamlessly with your design theme?

  • What is the extent of your resources, in terms of both time and money, that you can allocate towards the ongoing maintenance and care?

  • What is the total amount you can allocate for initial and ongoing expenses?

  • Does the surfacing meet ADA compliance standards?

Partner With Simplified Playground for Safety Surfaces

When selecting the ideal surface for a playground, it's essential to make a significant decision that ensures the safety and enjoyment of children for years to come. Two main types of surfaces are commonly used: unitary and loose-fill. 

Unitary surfaces, such as rubber tile or poured-in-place (PIP) offer a seamless and cushioned surface that reduces the risk of injuries from falls. On the other hand, loose-fill surfaces, like traditional wood chips or engineered wood fiber, provide a natural and shock-absorbing layer that adds an extra layer of safety.

At Simplified Playground, we specialize in crafting secure and enjoyable play areas by providing a wide range of options for safety surfacing. Our team understands the importance of minimizing fall-related injuries and creating inviting play spaces that children love.

Whether you need assistance choosing a suitable safe playground surface or require professional installation of entire playground itself, we are here to help. Reach out to us today to discuss your specific playground surface needs, and let us create a safe and fun environment for children to play and thrive.