Which belay devices are best?
When partaking in a sport like climbing that’s equally exhilarating and dangerous, safety precautions take priority. Armed with a good braking hand, harness and rope, the other essential equipment you need is a belay device.
The best high-quality devices, like the Petzl GriGri 2 Belay Device, apply friction to the rope, acting as a brake that catches a climber in case of a fall.
What to know before you buy a belay device
Belay device types
There are four main types of belay devices, but they all serve the same purpose — to prevent the climber from falling.
Tube devices, commonly referred to as ATC, are the most lightweight, budget-friendly and simple to use, making them the beginner belay device of choice. Unlike most belaying devices, tube types allow two ropes for rappelling, making them much more versatile.
The second type is similar to the tube style, with the only difference being the metal attachment point. The auto-block tube belay device uses the attachment to belay from an anchor. Auto-blocking prevents climbers from falling when situations call for top-belaying.
Active brake-assisting devices offer mechanical help when catching falls. They’re typically the most expensive and heaviest belaying devices, but they’re also some of the most popular.
As a side note, mechanical assistance is not a replacement for your hands. You must take care to keep your hand on the rope and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Passive braking devices use applied pressure and device design rather than mechanical parts to catch a climber. The lack of moving parts makes passive braking devices much cheaper than active braking versions, but they’re equally as effective.
Lost belay devices
Even if you’ve never lost a belay device, freezing temperatures can make rope manipulation a pressing issue. Fortunately, there’s no need to stress about being stuck on the side of a cliff, hanging on for dear life.
In order to prepare for such situations, it’s best to practice the Munter Hitch. One way you’ll know you’ve mastered the skill is if you don’t twist the rope. The counterintuitive process makes the Munter Hitch better suited as an emergency belay rather than one to make your go-to.
Like the best climbing harnesses, even the most durable belay devices require a minimal amount of care and maintenance to keep them safe and make them last. The numerous knocks it takes against rocks can take a toll over time, leading to buildup and even sharp edges.
The last thing you want is for a sharp nick to start wearing down your rope without even knowing it. The best way to maintain your belay device is a thorough wash with warm water, soap, a quick brush and WD-40, if required.
What to look for in a quality belay device
If you enjoy or plan on rappelling or climbing with a larger party, you’ll require a device that can accommodate two ropes. Most tube belay devices allow for two ropes, while the majority of assisted-braking belay devices come with single rope slots.
Depending on your route, the weight of a belay device will play a critical role. Because the tube types are much lighter, you’ll notice a significant difference on long multi-pitch routes. On the other hand, the heavier weight of assisted-braking belay devices won’t make too much difference on a single pitch route or at the gym.
Most belay devices can accommodate a wide range of rope diameters beyond their optimal range. However, it’s not recommended, and it can become dangerous. For example, some belay devices can accommodate 8.9-11 millimeters, but they’re optimized for 9.4-10.3 millimeters.
Additionally, it pays to double-check the diameter of the ropes you currently possess and plan on using with your new belay device. Because double ropes are meant for two-rope systems, they tend to be thinner than single ropes.
How much you can expect to spend on a belay device
Depending on the style, you can expect to spend $25-$120 on a high-quality belay device.
Belay device FAQ
Can I use my belay device for rappelling?
A. The majority of belay devices can be used for rappelling. The best ones are compatible with single and double rope rappels. However, you may have to make slight modifications depending on the device you use. For example, if you have a GriGri belay device, you can’t rappel with two strands of rope. Instead, you require a single strand with a knot on the locking carabiner that blocks the rappel ring.
What’s the typical lifespan of a belay device?
A. Belay devices are built to last, and even with regular use a few times a month, they’re good for at least a year. If you belay once or twice a month, you can expect your device to last around 5 years, and if belaying is an annual activity, you can expect it to last around 7 years.
What’s the best belay device to buy?
Top belay device
What you need to know: The GriGri 2 is an intuitive belay device and one of the most popular among climbers for its durability and additional features.
What you’ll love: This active assisted braking device uses an intuitive approach of using one hand to hold the rope and the other to unlock the cam. Additionally, its design allows the user to experience a safe, gradual release. The GriGri 2 features a new control system that’s smaller and lighter than its predecessors and can accommodate ropes 8.9 to 11 millimeters.
What you should consider: It’s on the expensive end and may take a few attempts to fully master.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top belay device for the money
What you need to know: When safety is priority number one, it’s always best to go with a trusted brand when on a budget constraint.
What you’ll love: Black Diamond is a reputable brand that’s been manufacturing reliable gear for climbers for decades, and the ATC-XP belay device is no exception. While it may cost significantly less than its competitors, it’s a belay device that’s durable enough to last for several years. Its design to hold heavier climbers with minimal force makes it beneficial on climbing expeditions when you’re much lighter than your partner.
What you should consider: It provides a smoother rappelling experience than belaying.
Worth checking out
What you need to know: The Trango Vergo is an ergonomic alternative for GriGri fans.
What you’ll love: In most aspects, it’s very similar to a GriGri. The ergonomic design makes the process of paying out slack and holding falls much easier and safer. It also provides the same amount of bite as you would find in a GriGri.
What you should consider: It’s a heavier belay device, weighing in at 7.1 ounces.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Christopher Lee writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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