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All about belay devices

All about belay devices

Posted by Chris Marais and Allister Fenton on 22nd Oct 2020

Belay devices have a direct impact on your climbing experience. Not only on the belayer but also on the climber, having a belayer that has the correct device creates peace of mind and reassures the climber that they will be caught if a fall were to occur. Choosing the correct device can make the difference between enjoying a climb and having an experience that absolutely terrifies you. So, take the time to find something you feel comfortable with. Therefore, it’s important to answer the following questions before making a decision in the gear shop or when shopping online.

  1. What are your needs? – What rope will you be using, what type of climbing do you want it for and does the weight of the device matter?
  2. Does it have any additional safety or convenience benefits for your chosen purpose? Does the device have guide mode, an assisted braking feature or any other niche features?
  3. Will it enhance confidence and comfort for the climber and belayer?

Loading a Petzl GriGri

Belay device types from old school to new school

Body belay – the old old school method. Wrap the rope around your waist and hold on tight. Perfect for easy scrambles

Munter hitch – for when you’ve dropped your belay device.

Figure of eight – great for long abseils and old people belaying each other on 12’s.

Tube style devices – The most well-known is the ATC from Black Diamond. Cheap and versatile.

Assisted braking devices – these are divided into passive and active. Passive devices like the Mammut Smart or Edelrid Mega Jul use the shape of the device and the carabiner to pinch the rope. Active devices like the Petzl GriGri or Beal Birdie use a moving cam to pinch the rope within the device.

Belaying with a Black Diamond ATC

Climbing disciplines to keep in mind

Sport climbing – You’ll need a device that feeds smoothly and quickly, can take up slack fast and locks off well for big and unexpected falls. A belay device that locks off well like the Petzl GriGri helps when your climber needs to rest for a while on the rope, it’s much easier to let the device do the work instead of actively holding the climber like you’d have to with an ATC style belay device.

Trad climbing – A versatile device that has multiple functions for easily belaying a leader, a second and abseiling. A device with guide mode like the DMM Pivot makes belaying the second much more comfortable and a device that has assisted braking like the Edelrid Mega Jul gives the leader confidence, especially on long routes when the belayer is tired or multi-tasking. The Edelrid Giga Jul gives the best of both worlds with its adaptable mechanism, you can put it in assisted braking mode for catching leader falls or choose tube style and guide mode for belaying the second or abseiling.

Multi pitch sport – Similar to trad, you want a device that can do multiple tasks. Some people use a single rope device like the Grigri for easy belaying and carry a backup device for abseiling and emergency situations.

Free solo and bouldering – No belay device needed. But it could be useful to carry one with a bit of rope to help your camera man or brotographer get that gnarly shot for Instagram.

Using the DMM Pivot in guide mode

Additional factors that affect handling and safety in belay devices.

Carabiners

  • You will need a carabiner that works with your device. For most devices, an HMS shaped carabiner will be perfect as the rounded shape and bigger profile provide a good surface for the rope to run over and can hold two ropes with the device easily for trad and abseiling. Some devices like the GriGri don’t need the rope to run over a carabiner so an offset-D is suitable. A belay specific carabiner like the DMM Ceros Twistlock will have a mechanism to prevent cross loading (this is when the carabiner is loaded on the minor axis and is considerably weaker than the main axis).

"A carabiner loaded on the minor axis is weak: only 35% of the major axis strength" - useful info about cross loading from Petzl

Rope diameter and type

  • Which rope you use has a massive effect on how the device will handle. Each device is rated for a specific range of rope diameter. Some are quite well rounded like the DMM Pivot, which can be used on 7.3mm half ropes or 11mm single ropes and some are very specific, like Edelrid’s Micro Jul which is rated for 6.9mm twin or half ropes and only up to 8.9mm single ropes. Depending where your rope fits within the devices’ specification will determine how quickly and easily it slides through the device. Aim for the sweet spot in between the upper and lower limit to get the best feeding and catching performance.

This rating for the GriGri shows the sweet spot (8.9 - 10.5) and the lower and upper limits.


Weather and rope treatment

  • This will affect the smoothness of the feed. A dry rope will feed the best as there is no swelling when humid and wet as opposed to a non-treated rope that may swell in humid and wet conditions. 

My Recommended Combo’s

Mammut Smart and Ocun Condor carabiner

  • -Works best for sport climbing, the assisted braking feature is great for inspiring confidence and its intuitive handling is easy to learn. The Condor carabiner provides belay security with its anti-cross loading feature and pairs well with the Smart.

Petzl GriGri and DMM Ceros Screwgate carabiner

  • -A great combo for pro sport climbing, the GriGri is the king of sport climbing belay devices, it locks the rope really well for mammoth working sessions on hard projects and holds catches easily but is more expensive and heavier than other devices. The Rhino prevents cross loading and is designed to work with the GriGri.

DMM Pivot and Edelrid Strike HMS Safelock carabiner

  • -An excellent device for trad climbing that can take almost any rope with a light and quick to use auto-locking carabiner.

Edelrid Mega Jul and Edelrid Bullet Proof Trilock carabiner

  • -Perfect all-rounder combo that performs well in many disciplines and is very durable thanks to its steel components.

Belaying with an Edelrid Giga Jul

After identifying what device fits your needs, it is worth testing the device to see if it lives up to your expectations. In the gear shop we keep a large selection of devices that can be tested out during your session at the gym, just pop in and ask the team if they have a tester of the device you are thinking of buying. And always remember it doesn’t matter what belay device you use if your technique and safety precautions aren’t in place every time you or your partner leave the ground. So do your research, learn how to use the device and have fun. Wishing you safe and smooth belaying and happy climbing.

Chris – JHB Shop Manager

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