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Belay Device | Buying Guide

We know that there is a vast amount of belay devices available on the market, so we thought it may be helpful to outline the different types of belay devices on offer and give a brief summary of the individual belay devices that we stock. Hopefully this will give you a better understanding when either choosing your first belay device, or deciding you want to try a different type.

1. Traditional Belay Devices

Based on the original “stitcht-plate” and “sprung stitcht-plate” designs, these units are the staple devices used by most climbers. While, active climbers may use one of the other devices listed in this article, chances are they will also still own some form or other of this simple and effective design.

As with all belay devices the stitch-plate premise revolves around creating friction; the rope is fed in a loop through one or both (if using double/half ropes) of the slots (towards the climber) and clipped into a HMS style screwgate carabiner. The breaking rope is generally on the right if you’re right handed and left if you’re left handed, with the live end of the rope (to the climber) coming out of the top of the device away from you – the belayer. If the climber then falls or needs to be held, the S shaped kink in the rope, created by the device, creates resistance allowing the belayer to hold the weight of the climber relatively easily. As anyone who has experience untangling a rope knows, creating friction is easy enough, but releasing said friction can be the hard bit. This is why the key to a good device is not only its ability to lock when hold a fall or static weight, but also to release that lock equally efficiently, this can be said to be an axiom for all devices. Below shows a list of the traditional belay devices we stock (also often known as an ATC), with a small description about each.

belay devices

2. Guide Mode Belay Devices

The belay devices mentioned below offer 'guide mode'. These devices extend the use of the aforementioned traditional devices by adding a carabiner hole on one side and a cord hole beneath the jaws, making them more versatile. These units can be used similarly to a standard device, and can additionally be used when belaying up to two second climbers from above. The user can clip the unit to an anchor sling with a carabiner passed through the carabiner hole, belaying in an autostop mode. Jammed devices can be released by passing a cord through the cord eye and pulling on the cord. This system is often used in multi-pitch environments. For more information on using belay devices in guide mode, see this video.

Guide Mode Belay Devices

3. Semi-Automatic Devices

Sometimes referred (wrongly!) to hands-off belay devices, these units use a varied spectrum of mechanisms to achieve an extra level of locking safety – i.e. less actual force from the belayer is required to lock the device, in the event of a leader fall. Most of these devices use a ‘lever box’ mechanism (enclosed with internal moving parts), whilst others use a more familiar, rigid caming system. These are generally for single rope use only, and especially popular for use at climbing walls or on bolted crags. One of the criticisms of automatic belay devices is that they can lead to a false sense of security. The automatic functionality may result in the belayer being less attentive to the climber than with a more traditional belay device. However, like any tool, proper training is required for proper use.

Note: never take your hand(s) off the break hand, even on semi-automatic devices.

The most popular is the Petzl Grigri, because of this, we felt a longer description was required: As with most ‘lever box’ devices, the Grigri works by locking when sudden acceleration occurs to the rope (like in a fall), therefore making it a semi-automatic belay device, unlike traditional belay devices, such as the stitch-through devices mentioned above. The device acts like an automobile seat belt, if you move the rope slowly you can run the rope through the Grigri without it locking but a shock load locks the device so rope won't run. The GriGri is suitable for 8.9mm to 11mm ropes. The Grigri is designed to only be used for top/bottom roping climbers, the Petzl GRIGRI+ has been designed to offer both top/bottom roping and lead climbing, as well as offering an anti-panic handle.

  • Beal Birdie: Works the same as the Grigri. Offers the cam and friction parts in stainless steel to increase durability.
  • Black Diamond ATC Pilot: Easy to use and identical belaying technique to a standard ATC.
  • Camp Matik: Smooth belaying technique with anti-panic lowering mechanism.
  • Climbing Technology Click Up: Great for beginners. Ensures effective belaying even if the rope is incorrectly inserted.
  • Climbing Technology Click Up Plus: Similar to the original Click Up, but can be used with all single dynamic ropes.
  • Edelrid Eddy: Offers emergency break system and can be used top roping or lead climbing.
  • Edelrid Jul 2: Single rope device, due to the shape, when under tension (a fall) the rope jams in the device.
  • Mammut Smart 2.0: Brake inserts interact with the belay carabiner to help lock the rope in the event of a fall.
  • Trango Vergo: Clear visual indicators to minimise loading it incorrectly. Easy to play out rope for lead climber.
  • Wild Country REVO: Easy to use, especially for beginners. Can be loaded either way and will be correct.

Auto Assisted Belay Devices

4. Other Belaying Options

  • Figure of eight: Historically used as a belay device in many parts of mainland Europe, this device is less commonly used for belaying these days. Although, it is used a lot in abseiling and group abseils in single pitch environments.
  • Italian hitch: Belaying on an Italian hitch (or munter hitch) is often used by experienced climbers. Often used to save weight in alpine environments. The downside is the rope can get very twisted if used a lot. Shaking the rope will sort this.

For more information

If you are still unsure on what belay device is best for you, don't hesitate to get in touch by email: info@rockrun.co.uk or give us a call on 01539564540.

For all belay devices, click here.