We loved this review found in the ClimbZA forum, so we’ve posted it here for you to enjoy!
Review by Fabian Humphry and Andrè le Roux
Myself and buddy Andre were comparing some of the new devices, and saw others had the same questions – so we put together a little comparison to help out. We are relative novices and don’t have a mountaineering/trad background, so this is more geared at other newbies looking at getting an auto-lock device for the first time. We have never “written up” anything before so don’t judge us too hard!
Assisted Braking Belay Device Test
Ah, the good old (bug, tube, etc) – it’s classic, dependable, and totally prone to error. Gambling Casinos tell us that “winners know when to stop”, and when you hit your mid-twenties, assisted braking devices start to look like a good idea.
With the new Edelrid Mega Jul there are now three tubular assisted devices to choose from at the CityRock gear shop, so what better time could there be to do a roundup. Wanting to be as informed as possible we asked if we could try all the new devices that the CityRock gear shop sold. These devices were the; Edelrid Mega Jul, Black Diamond ATC Pilot, Mammut Smart and we also tried the auto-locking Beal Birdie.
We have been climbing for about 2 years so we are relative newbies – we are mainly focused on outdoor sport climbing. We currently use a Black Diamond ATC Guide, so we are comfortable with tubular devices. We both have a Mammut 10mm rope, a classic workhorse.
Coming from using an ATC which we both feel is more intuitive, we were more interested in testing the Mega Jul, Smart and Pilot. The Birdie seemed to be very similar to the classic auto-locking Gri-Gri which has been around for 30 years without much competition. That being said, the Birdie is cheaper and performed really well. We don’t have much experience with Gri-gri belaying as we controversially believe it isn’t intuitive, so we omitted the Birdie from our process. Instead, we focused on the devices that followed the classic tubular style.
The Mammut Smart: Weight 80 Grams
The Safe Option
What we like:
This is by far the cheapest of the three devices. It also felt like the safest for beginners with a fairly aggressive assisted-lock. While safety is all about how you use it – it just felt almost impossible to drop a climber regardless of technique or experience. Lowering a climber felt effortless and totally controlled – mainly due to the long thumb lever where one can really tweak the angle with precision.
What we don’t like:
The safety element comes with a trade-off – it doesn’t feed slack to the climber very well and when we pulled out slack quickly it had a tendency to lock-up, hindering the climbing process. This can probably be fixed with gaining comfort with the device, but we feel there are better choices if lead climbing is your focus. The rope also slipped out of the sheath more easily than the other two devices. If your rope is even a little twisted, this compounds the issue.
Unlike the other two devices, you have to use the thumb lever at all times when feeding slack. There is nothing wrong with this, but if you are used to balancing the effort of feeding slack with two-handed motion then this feels limiting and tiring. The other devices allow one to feed the slack much more like a traditional tubular device, and only when you are really feeding quickly you do not need to use the thumb lever to prevent it auto-locking.
The device has a very distinctive clicking noise when in use and can be heard from across the gym or crag, it’s not a big deal but can get a little annoying.
Their product slogan says “It’s Catchy” – but perhaps too catchy for us and requires a lot more practice. It’s fool proof, cheap and would excel on a top rope setup. But if you are lead climbing, it can be a hindrance.
Edelrid Mega Jul – Weight: 65 grams
The new kid on the block.
What we like:
We felt like this was the closest feel to an ATC and it looks it too. This device is super light and can accommodate two ropes and is multi-pitch enabled. Belaying with it was fluid and did not hinder the climber at any point. Giving out a lot of slack felt smooth and instinctual. The recommended way of using the device is with your thumb in the thumb catch but we found it wasn’t necessary most of the time, which allows one to use a traditional two-handed motion to reduce fatigue.
What we don’t like:
When there was a need to use the thumb catch, it was tricky to find without looking down. This would certainly improve with practice, but the other devices definitely win here.
Lowering was unpleasant and the device lost the most points here. The open thumb catch means that the rope slides against your thumb and forefinger – potentially exposing your skin to rope burn on thicker ropes (we both experienced this). Edelrid probably eliminated the thumb shield to keep the weight down and keep the design simple, but we feel a minimalist thumb shield would have gone a long way to making lowering more pleasant. There are a few other methods of lowering where this can be avoided and are probably deemed “correct”, but it’s just not instinctive. The other devices do not have this problem.
We also found that the rope had the potential to slide around and twist into odd positions – probably no worse than a conventional tube, but the other devices were superior in this regard, especially the Black Diamond ATC Pilot.
A great, lightweight and fluid device. Trad dads – this one is probably for you. Who needs skin anyway.
Black Diamond ATC Pilot – Weight: 92 grams
What we like:
We enjoyed the simple robust construction and the no frills belaying that came with that. The plastic part is.. well.. plastic.. but it seems sturdy. There was nothing to worry about while belaying as the device felt incredibly intuitive and the smoothest in feeding slack, which for us is important. There was no fighting with it as the leader. The thumb catch was easy to get to and the only reason to look down at it was to see how much slack was in the system.
The device was the most comfortable to use.
We found the thumb catch, much like the Mega Jul, only necessary on rare occasions, but incredibly easy to find.
What we don’t like:
If sport climbing is your main gig, then it’s pretty flawless. It can only accommodate a single rope, but that’s hardly a con and rather a design decision. The lowering did not involve any lost skin, but was a little jerky at times. We felt confident that with some practice this would not be an issue.
A comfortable easy to use device.
All devices were fall-tested and performed equally, as one would expect and hope. We did not feel that any would not catch the climber. Weight of a few grams didn’t bother us much, so this was fairly low on our priority list. We were really looking for the most pleasant experience for sport climbing.
The Winner: The Black Diamond ATC Pilot was the most pleasant to use, and immediately felt instinctive. As sport climbers, our most important criteria was for quick and smooth lead belaying so this was our winner.
Best all-rounder: The Mega Jul was a very close second. The dual rope and multipitch capability is a real pro, and the weight is a bonus. If it weren’t for the open design causing painful lowering and occasional twisting then this would have won.
Best value: The Mammut Smart is great if you are a beginner and mostly top roping. It’s an inexpensive and safe option, good value, and has fantastic control for lowering. However the friction is higher than the others, and we do not recommend this for hard sport climbing where quick slack is needed for clipping.
We can now rest assured that we have done the work in our pursuit for an assisted-braking device. Thank you CityROCK for the opportunity for us to voice our relatively inexperienced voices. As always be safe out there.