By Dave Westlake
The evolution of the humble belay device shows no sign of slowing down, as the number of different kinds of device available seems to keep growing year on year. Gone are the days when stepping up for belay duty meant reaching for either a stitch plate or a figure of 8. We now have a wide range of devices to choose from – so much so that deciding on which one to get is increasingly taxing.
Many of the newer devices feature some form of assisted locking functionality, from the familiar security of the classic Petzl Grigri, to the simple elegance of devices such as the Edelrid Mega Jul or Black Diamond ATC Pilot. The Wild Country REVO is a newcomer to this crowd, and it takes the technology up a level. On first glance, the REVO promises a lot. It claims to offer tube like handling with a sophisticated and reliable safety back up, and an ease of use to match. I’ve been getting familiar with the REVO over the last few months to see how much it lives up to the hype.
What is the REVO?
The REVO is billed as the world’s first bi-directional assisted breaking device. This sounds like hyperbole, but unlike most other belay devices on the market, which tend to be variations on a theme, the REVO is a genuinely new concept. It boasts some snazzy engineering to bring it to life, and several key features make the REVO stand out:
Assisted locking back up
Rather than relying on friction, the REVO uses an inertia reel assisted locking mechanism to provide a safety back up. This only kicks in when the rope passes through the device at speeds above 2 metres per second, so if you belay correctly - keeping at least one hand on the dead rope - it feels pretty much like a normal tube style device. Once the lock is engaged, it’s very easy to free up the device by pulling down on the dead rope.
Intuitive feel and smooth action
The REVO is designed to mimic the feel of a standard tube style device, meaning that it’s great for beginners to learn on. Its intuitive feel will also suit more experienced users, and the belaying action will feel reassuringly familiar. The rope runs smoothly in both directions, assisted by the wheel in the centre of the device. This is a real bonus point, as a common criticism of some assisted braking devices is that they are less smooth to pay rope in and out of.
Setting up the device is straightforward and difficult to get wrong, which adds to its credentials as a safe and reliable piece of gear. Unlike some devices, the REVO works equally well in either direction, so it doesn’t matter how you set it up. Simply thread the rope into the device, and as long as it passes round the wheel and the top catch is shut it can be clipped to your harness with either end going to the climber.
The REVO gives the impression of a product that is built to last. It’s mainly constructed of hot forged aluminium, but the high wear areas are made of steel. A few injection moulded components – such as the opening lever – finish it off. When opening and closing the device there is a reassuring ‘click’ so you know everything is in order before running through your pre-climb safety checks. The design of the groove in the central wheel accommodates ropes between 8.5 and 11mm, and Wild Country say that the device is equally capable across this range.
What’s it like in practice?
The REVO feels very well made and sturdy, if rather heavy at 285 grams. Two things struck me when I first started using the device. The first was the apparent absence of any assisted locking. Of course, the assisted lock is always there, but unless you let go of the rope, or pay out very quickly, it doesn’t come into play so you don’t notice it. This means you don’t necessarily feel like you’re using an assisted locking device. This leads us on to the second thing that struck me on first using the device, which is how smooth and easy it was to pay out slack using the REVO. It feels very smooth and tube like when belaying and works well for people who are familiar with devices such as the Black Diamond ATC or the Petzl Reverso. In fact, the assistance of the rotating wheel means that it may actually feed slack out more smoothly than many non-assisted braking devices.
This underlined to me the fact this aspect of the REVO is designed as a back-up rather than a feature you might be more aware of. On a GriGri, for instance, you find yourself holding the locking mechanism down to pay out slack, whereas on the REVO you pay out like you would on a tube device. The fact Wild Country have managed to produce a device that combines such easy handling with a safety back up is remarkable.
This said, in practice I found the REVO took a while to get used to. Engaging the lock when the climber wants to rest (or when working a route) isn’t difficult but does require a bit of a knack and this aspect felt less intuitive to me. Lowering also requires a bit of care, with a slow descent being the thing to aim for, and with some ropes I found it to cause a clicking sound as the mechanism fed the rope through. This was most noticeable when using the thicker in-situ top toping lines in the wall but even with my 9.8mm rope lowering was less smooth until I got used to the device. Another slight drawback is that the lock is somewhat ‘all or nothing’. This means its less easy to control than some other devices, particularly when your climber is working a route and wanting small height adjustments, for instance.
Having said that, the REVO is a great device for those who want a user-friendly belaying experience with an extra layer of safety. I’ve often felt nervous being belayed by beginners on an ATC but have always found teaching novices to use a GriGri straight out of the gate somewhat tricky. The REVO is much easier to pay rope out from, but also has the reassuring back up in case things go pear shaped. The safety aspect of the REVO is particularly impressive, as it will lock even if the belayer is holding down the steel ‘jaws’ that spring up when the lock is engaged. I anticipate this kind of fail-safe feature to trickle into climbing gear more and more, so in that respect the REVO is a real trailblazer.
Its weight and the fact it can’t accommodate half ropes mean the REVO is best for single pitch climbing, but this is the main scenario it was designed for anyway.
The REVO is a truly innovative attempt to enhance the two most important aspects of belaying: ease of use and safety. Paying rope in and out of the device is exceptionally smooth, and its easy to forget that you are using a device that stands ready to spring into action the moment something goes wrong. Experienced climbers will obviously need to weigh up the safety advantages against the drawbacks of the relatively high weight and the more limited usage compared to standard tube devices (single rather than half ropes). Nonetheless, for single pitch climbing the REVO is well worth consideration.
- Slick belaying action with smooth pay out and intuitive operation that’s suitable for novices and experienced belayers
- Super safe design, with features to avoid set up mistakes and a latent assisted braking feature that only kicks in when its needed
- Not as versatile as some devices, being relatively heavy, harder to moderate auto locking, and no capacity for half ropes