How to Choose a Belay Device for Climbing

Belay devices are a fundamental element for our security. There are different types, depending on the need. In the following article we’ll explain them to you.

Belay devicees are essential for the practice of climbing. Photo: Juan Korkuera, Barrabes

Whether we are climbers or mountaineers, we need help that allows us to stop our partner from hitting the ground in the event of a fall.

Until a few decades ago, a fall had to be arrested with the help of one''s own body using redirection and friction. This also applied to rappelling, with systems in which the rope was wound through your trunk and legs.

Little by little, friction and braking devices were created that helped catch a fall and greatly increased the safety of rock climbing, until reaching the current situation, in which we will mainly find two types of belay devices: those with assisted braking and so-called “plate” or “tube” style devices.

Since the mission of belay devices is to arrest our partner’s fall, it is vital that we know both their operation and the different types and their uses.

The Belay

Something very important to keep in mind is that belay devices help us belay, but regardless of whether they have assisted braking (the wrongly called “automatic” or “semi-automatic”) or not, we are the ones who perform the maneuver.

This means that we must know how to use the device, but also the belay techniques. Which, mainly, have to do with dynamism.

Belaying with the GriGri. Photo: Petzl
Climbing ropes elongate. They are dynamic. By stretching, they avoid suffering very strong sharp blows that would break them and thus also help to protect the rest of the safety chain, releasing the shock force received by both the belays or belays and the climber himself. A large impact force would cause serious injuries. About this we recommend you read the final appendix of this article .

But, especially when the length of rope between belayer and climber is not long, and when the belays are not as strong as one might expect (especially in mountaineering and trad climbing), the belayer must provide part of the dynamism, either by cushioning with your own body when braking, or with the device. That is why its choice is so important; one with a rope lock (assisted braking) will give us less dynamism than a tube device, and therefore whoever belays must be careful with their dynamic braking technique.

On our blog is a series of videos on proper belay technique. We recommend you watch this one particularly: How to belay dynamically. Chris Sharma responds. In it you can see the American climber’s system to make braking as dynamic as possible.

Safety Warning

It is very important to check the manufacturer''s safety instructions for the diameter of ropes allowed by each belay device.

We will find that not only will the device not fulfill its function with some, but there are limit diameters in which it will depend on factors such as the weight of the belayed person.

Types of Belay Devices

The division is usually made according to the braking system. But we find it confusing and dangerous for those who begin. So we are going to do it according to activity, (1 or 2 ropes), and within each section we will explain the different systems.

Belay Devices for Single Ropes

These are belay devices designed to be used in sport climbing.

In this style of climbing the routes are only one pitch, so it is not necessary to rappel. Furthermore, the rope indicated for these routes is single. So the devices that were designed for this discipline only allow use with one rope and were manufactured with belaying a lead climber or top rope in mind.

Why do we say that they were designed, and not that they serve? Basically because, on well-bolted long routes, these systems are also widely used today, always taking into account that the climbing allows it (without double rappelling, etc.) and always taking into account that their design and use is intended for sport climbing.

And, in matters of safety, we must always remember that it is essential to read the manufacturers'' instructions for use thoroughly, and follow them strictly. This includes uses, accepted rope diameters, and anything else indicated.

Grigri+, latest model of the Grigri
The first, the most famous and the most used is the GriGri by Petzl.

When it came out in 1991, it generated a revolution and a very important leap forward in climbing safety. The brand called it an “automatic belay” as it pinches the rope in the event of a fall. Because this name can be misleading, especially to those who are starting out, making them think that it is not necessary to learn how to belay, at this time the brand, with very good judgment, calls it an “assisted braking device.”

Advantages

  • Assisted braking provides enormous safety, especially for beginners
  • They allow good control of the climber''s descent, when it is necessary to lower him / her to the ground

Disadvantages

  • They weigh more than the rest of the systems. Being intended for sport climbing, it is a very minor problem
  • Pinching the rope reduces braking dynamism, so the impact force is greater.
  • A device like the GriGri, according to the brand''s instructions, is only intended to belay in lead or top rope. Anyone who uses it in any other way does not use it in an approved manner.
  • They are not suitable for rappelling on double ropes.

In reality, of all these drawbacks, if we take into account that these devices are intended for sport climbing, the only real one is the second one, and we will talk about it now.

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Eddy from Edelrid, single rope belay device
Regarding the rest, weight does not matter, and in sport climbing the routes are one pitch long, and we do not have to rappel or belay a follower. More than inconveniences, they simply tell us that these belay devices are not intended primarily for mountaineering, trad climbing, or multi-pitch climbing.
Trango Vergo, belayer for a single rope

Dynamic Belay Technique – How to Belay With a Tube Device for Sport Climbing

We once again recommend that you watch the video of Chris Sharma explaining his dynamic belay techniques that we published together with Petzl. But, in general, what happens is that when belaying a lead climber with an assisted braking device, which pinches the rope, the dynamism decreases, so it is recommended that the belayer compensate for this.
Chris Sharma rises up the wall while breaking a fall. Photo: Petzl
It is usually done with movement: the belayer takes quick steps towards the wall, or rises a few meters up it, to soften the braking. In the Petzl videos you can see Chris Sharma performing this maneuver.

What happens is that, because this adds complexity, there are those who prefer to use devices without assisted braking to first insure in sports. They are the type that we will see below, for two ropes, and are used in mountaineering, multi-pitch climbing, rappelling, etc.

Camp Più 2.0
In this case we can manage the dynamism with the belay device, since it does not completely block the rope, but this comes with a price, especially for those who are starting out: we receive a lot of help, but the braking remains in our hands.

This use of “tubes” or “baskets” to belay a leader in sport climbing, with a single rope, has even led one brand, Salewa, to create one for a single rope, instead of two, as is usual. It is the Salewa Mono Tuber. <

Salewa Monkey Tuber
Some brands go further and modify the design of this type of belayer, creating devices to belay with a single rope that, without having a total rope lock like others, do assist more in braking than a traditional tube-style device. The Singing Rock Rama is a good example of them.
Singing Rock Rama

Belay Devices for Double Ropes

In mountaineering, trad climbing, ice climbing, etc., double ropes are usually used. So the belayers for this type of activities have a two slots that allows you to use both ropes at the same time. They can also be used, as we have already said, with a simple rope, using only one of the slots.

The first models that emerged were a belay plate. Now practically all of them are of the type commonly called tubes.

There are two types: with or without a metal hooking hole. And it is very important to differentiate between these two, because those that incorporate the ring become assisted braking devices when we belay a follower in guide mode, while those that do not have the loop lose this capacity. These, in reality, only serve to secure a second by means of a redirect.

The essential thing is not to confuse this metal hole with the metal cable that both types have. That, if we imagine that this type of belay decives resemble a basket, it would be the handle. We can see it clearly in the following photo: on the left, Petzl Reverso, with a hole for guide mode, and to the right, Petzl Verso, without the guide mode hole.

With a Metal Guide Hole

They are the ones we recommend. To belay a lead climber, one or two followers, and to rappel. The first to hit the market, and the best known, was the Reverso, by Petzl.

Uses

  • In the case of belaying a lead climber, as we have said, they allow a dynamic belay.
  • By belaying for one or two followers, hanging from the metal hole of the belay, they become an assisted braking device, pinching the rope.

Since there is no hard catch when belaying a follower as occurs when belaying a lead climber, the reduced dynamism is unimportant.

Wild Country Pro Guide Lite

Without Metal Guide Hole

They are mainly used for sport climbing (especially by gyms), or as a rappel device. To belay a leader, or to rappel, they work exactly the same as devices with guide mode. But they do not allow its use to belay a follower in guide mode, except through a redirect, in which case they do not lock off and so are not as safe.
Camp Shell Belay Kit

Do these devices without a hole make sense?

The truth is that, unless the person buying it is very clear that they will never do anything other than single-pitch sport climbing, it may make more sense to choose a device with guide mode.

If we buy a belay device with guide mode we will use it exactly the same in the case of sport climbing, rappelling, or belaying a lead, but when we move on to a long route, it will allow us to belay one or two followers with assisted braking.

Web store: www.barrabes.com

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