What is a Belay Device?
A Belay Device is any device used to stop a rope. Some belay devices allow to belay the first climber, other are used to belay the second climber. Multipurpose belay devices allow to belay in both situations and to rappel.
In the last 20 years belay devices have evolved immensly, passing from simple tubers, like the one on the right, to assisted-breaking mechanical devices. In this article we will review the main categories of devices. If you need more information about specific devices you can search our news and posts.
Assisted-breaking Belay Devices
Mechanically Assisted Breaking Belay Devices, such a long name, climbers often call them ‘automatic’ but that is false and misleading. NO belay device on the market is 'automatic'. They help locking the rope in case of a fall, guaranteeing major security and limiting human error. That is it.
Assisted-breaking devices use diverse and very simple mechanical means to bite on the rope when it is rapidly pulled, similarly to what happens with our seat-belt. They have become very popular with the wide spreading of indoor and outdoor sport climbing as they can be safer and make it easier to hold climbers taking long rests on difficult routes.
The most famous assisted-breaking devices today are the GriGri 2 (by Petzl), the Vergo (by Trango) and the Matik (by Camp).
|Make||Model||Rope Diameter(mm)||Weight (g)||Price (€)||Rating Petzl||GriGri Plus||8.5 - 11||200||150||2017 Petzl||GriGri 2||8.9 - 11||185||65||★★★★ Wild Country||Revo||8.5 - 11||245||130||2017 Camp||Matik||8.6 - 10.2||276||199||★★★★★ Trango||Cinch||9.4 - 11||182||85||★★★ Trango||Vergo||8.9 - 10.7||190||99||2017 Edelrid||Eddy||9.0 - 11||360||120||★★★★ Madrock||Lifeguard||8.9 - 11||19||89||★★★★|
Although these devices seem to be safer than other non-mechanical devices, we’ll soon see that this is not a rule.
If on one hand devices such as the GriGri2 and the Cinch can help the belayer stopping the rope in case of fall, on the other hand their sudden locking generates a shock that is discharged to the last anchoring point, and partially to the climber. The tension provoked to the last anchoring point can easily be tolerated by new and well-fitted stainless-steel spits, but it unthinkable of using self-locking devices on old spits, multi-pitches or alpine-style (traditional) routes.
Furthermore, many climbers using assisted-breaking devices rely too much on their mechanism, not paying enough attention to basic safety guidelines. Absent-minded usage develops bad habits which become hard to eradicate and puts climbers at risk. Many belayers ignore how to properly use assisted- breaking belay devices and many more, although knowing the how-to, often use them improperly. The most occurring mistake is allowing slack by pressing with the thumb on the GriGri2 lever. Have you ever done it, or seen people doing it? Do you know what happens if the climber falls when the belayer does that?
It is very important to learn the proper use of each assisted-breaking belay device, and always pay attention not to fall back on bad habits. Our instructors at Climbing Sardinia teach the safest way to use these devices, but it is also possible to enrol on a course on your local climbing gym, or watch the instruction videos on Youtube. These are the instruction videos released by Petzl, Trango and Edelrid.
(Non-Mechanical) Assisted Breaking devices
In the beginning of 2013 a few manufacturers released -almost simultaneously- a new generation of hybrid belay devices. These new devices sit middle-way between the old tubers and the newer mechanical assisted breaking devices..
Assisted breaking devices help locking the rope even with slight pulling force, but should not be understood as ‘self-locking’ devices. As opposed to mechanical assisted-breaking devices, they have no locking mechanisms and no levers, relying on their shape to catch the rope. They require full control and constant attention from the belayer, who must always keep an hand on the feeding side of the rope to create that minimum resistance necessary for the device to move to a locking position.
The first generation of assisted breaking devices included the Click-Up by Climbing Technology, the MicroJul and MegaJul by Edelrid and the Smart and Smart-Alpine by Mammut. More recently Salewa released the Ergo (2015) and Black Diamond will release its new Pilot in 2017.
|Make||Model||Rope diameter (mm)||N.Ropes||Weight||Price(€) Climbing Technology||Click Up||8.6 - 10.5||1||115||65 Climbing Technology||Alpine Up||7.3 - 10.5||2||175||85 Edelrid||Jul2||8.9 - 11||1||105||35 Edelrid||MicroJul||6.9 - 8.5||2||62||35 Edelrid||MegaJul||7.8 - 10.5||2||65||35 Edelrid||MegaJul Sport||8 - 11||2||?||? Mammut||Smart||8.7 - 10.5||1||82||30 Mammut||Smart Alpine (small)||7.5 - 9.5||2||125||45 Mammut||Smart Alpine (large)||8.7 - 10.5||2||135||45 Salewa||Ergo||8.6 - 11||1||170||70 Black Diamond||Pilot||8.7 - 10.5||1||86||40|
Once these belay devices have reached their locking position it is very easy to keep them locked with very minimal aid. They have no excessive metal parts, no levers to be pushed or pulled, and thus much lighter than heavy belay devices such as the Eddy or the GriGri. Many instructors believe that the need for constant attention and the absence of possible obstructions to the mechanical locking system make these devices harder for the belayer but safer for the climber.
Some of these belay devices (Alpine Up,MicroJul,MegaJul and Smart Alpine) can also be used on multi pitch routes to belay the second climber.
A note must be made on the Edelrid Micro Jul and Mega Jul. These devices where developed by Edelrid to go with their thinnest double ropes. The Mega Jul is suitable for ropes with diameter between 7.8 and 10.5 mm, while the Micro Jul can work with thin double ropes with diameter between 6.9 to 8.5 mm. The Micro Jul was developed specifically and is sold together with the Flycatcher rope, of diameter 6.9mm.
Tubers - classic manual belay devices
Black Diamond released its first ATC (Air Traffic Controller) in 1998 and since then many brands have re-used the same design in slightly different variations. All manual belay devices use simple friction to stop the rope, allowing a bit of slack to a falling climber. This is a significant and positive feature of Tubers and other such dynamic devices. Just a couple of inches of slack can reduce the impact force a climber experiences at the end of a fall and the pressure exerted on the last anchoring point.
|Make||Model||Rope Diameter (mm)||Weight (g)||Price (€) Black Diamond||ATC||7.7 - 11||70||18 Camp||Shell||8 - 11||50||15 Climbing Technology||Doble-V Row||7.7 - 10.5||76||13 DMM||Mantis||7.3 - 11||45||18 Mad Rock||Wingman||8 - 12||70||12 Mammut||Crag Light||7.5 - 10.5||58||20 Ocun||Hurry||7.8 - 9.5||43||15 Petzl||Verso||7.5 - 11||57||20 Salewa||Mono Tuber||7.7 - 11||47||20 Wild Country||Pro Lite||7.7 - 11||58||22|
Regardless of the myriad of new mechanical and non-mechanical assisted breaking devices, tubers continue to be am essential item for all climbers. Instructors keep using them as basic device in teaching the basics of both belaying and abseiling. The most popular tuber is still Black Diamond’s ATC, followed by Petzl’s Verso. Many brands produce similar tuber-style devices and keep developing new models, with minor changes to increase friction or diminish weight.
Note: to use a tuber in complete security, every climber must learn the basics and pay extreme attention in giving and taking rope.
Guide Mode - The most versatile Belay Devices
Just by adding an extra loop at the back end of the device and a smaller one in front they become the most versatile tool a climber can dream of. The back ring can be attached to an anchoring point, converting the device in a self-locking belaying plate for the second climber. The smaller ring in front of the device helps releasing pressure on the rope when in locking position to give slack to a second climber.
The Guide plate has probably become THE essential climbing device. It can be used from belaying the leader and the second to abseiling and even ascending a rope. Proper training is required to use these devices.
The most popular guide devices are Petzl Reverso 4, Black Diamond ATC Guide and Wild Country Pro Guide Lite. The three of them are very similar in shape and features although the Reverso 4 seems to be appreciated by the most. There are of course many other similar devices, such as the new Pivot by DMM and the BeUp by Climbing Technology.
|Make||Model||Rope Diameter (mm)||Weight (g)||Price (€) Black Diamond||ATC Guide||7.7 - 11||88||30 Camp||Piu'2||8 - 11||80||23 Climbing Technology||Be Up||7.3 - 10.5||85||26 DMM||Pivot||7.3 - 11||72||35 Mad Rock||Aviator||8 - 11||99||16 Mammut||Bionic Alpine||7.5 - 10.5||80||40 Mammut||Bionic Alpine Wall||7.5 - 10.5||70||25 Ocun||Ferry||7.8 - 11||84||23 Petzl||Reverso 4||7.5 - 11||59||30 Salewa||Alpine Tuber||7.7 - 11||84||25 Wild Country||Pro Guide Lite||7.7 - 11||76||30|
PS: maybe you're wondering about that classic plate Gigi by Kong? Although being a great self-locking device, it could be only be used to belay the second climber and to abseil. It does not allow belaying the leading climber and thus it has become a redundant piece of equipment, substituted by modern and more versatile devices.