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Assisted-braking devices

Assisted-braking devices

Posted by Cally Bishop & Emily Wedepohl on 25th Mar 2021

For long-suffering belay slaves, the assisted-braking belay device has been one of the most welcome gear innovations of the last two decades. Unlike traditional tube-style devices, these gizmos actually help the belayer hold a falling or hanging climber. They either use moving parts (e.g. Petzl Grigri+) or the geometry of the device (e.g. Edelrid Mega Jul) to apply braking force to a rope; belay devices with moving parts, such as camming mechanisms, are known as active ABDs, while those that rely on geometry are known as passive ABDs. With an assisted-braking device, it’s less tiring to hold a climber when he hangs for the 37th time on his project. These devices also give you supreme control when lowering, and, when used properly, they can provide an extra margin of belaying safety.

Check out our team’s ABD drop-test to see how effective these devices can be.

Whichever device you buy, it’s critically important to learn the proper techniques for each device—they vary widely. If you don’t get these right, you not only won’t be able to feed slack quickly to a desperate leader, you also may endanger your partner. Because of this learning curve, we recommend you choose one assisted-braking device and stick with it. And, of course, no device is completely foolproof— the most important aspects of belaying with any device are (a) paying close attention to your partner and (b) always, ALWAYS having a hand on the dead end of the rope.

Let’s take a look at some well recommended assisted-braking devices for all climbing and budget types.

ACTIVE ABDs

Petzl Grigri

Quick Logistics:

GriGri

  • Rope compatibility: 8.5–11mm
  • Weight: 175g
  • Materials: Aluminum, stainless steel & reinforced nylon
  • Best for: Sport & multipitch (Note: you will need a second device for abseiling)

GriGri+

  • Rope compatibility: 8.5–11mm
  • Weight: 200g
  • Materials: Aluminum, stainless steel & reinforced nylon

Best for: Sport & multipitch (Note: you will need a second device for abseiling)

A powerhouse in the climbing industry for almost two decades. The GriGri is far and away the most popular active assisted-braking device on the market. Designed for all users, the GRIGRI+ is a belay device with assisted-braking for belaying both in the gym and at the crag. The cam-assisted blocking function makes belaying more convenient when a climber is working a route or when catching a fall. The design of the handled camming mechanism enables exceptional descent control. Compact and lightweight, it can be used with all single ropes from 8.5 to 11 mm.

The GriGri and the GriGri+ work according to the same fundamental principles; the GriGri+ simply has a few extra safety measures including:

  • A steel plate on the right-hand side which extends the lifetime on the device
  • An integrated anti-panic mode that locks the cam if the handle is pulled back too sharply
  • A dial that allows you to adjust the amount of force or friction needed to engage the cam; this is ideal for switching between lead and top-rope belaying.
Usage Instructions:
  1. Slide the GriGri open and load the rope with the climber’s and belayer’s ends in the correct position, according to the diagrams on the device.
  2. Close the GriGri and, with the handle on the left-hand side, load a carabiner through the attachment hole.
  3. Clip (and lock) the carabiner to the belay loop on your harness, ensuring that the GriGri handle is on the left-hand side.
  4. Perform a safety check by:
    • Ensuring that your harness is on correctly and all buckles are double-backed.
    • Performing a squeeze test on your belaying carabiner to ensure that it is securely locked.
    • Tugging both sides of the rope to ensure that the rope is loaded through the device AND the carabiner.
    • Sharply tugging on the live end of the rope to ensure that the assisted-braking functionality is working properly.
    • Performing a buddy check with your partner, and using the correct calls before climbing.
  5. Belay as you would with a tube-style device, ensuring that there is a hand on the dead end of the rope at all times.
  6. To lower your climber, bend the rope over the rounded edge on the right-hand side of the device, and slowly pull back the handle. Make sure to keep a hand on the dead end while lowering.

Beal Birdie

Quick Logistics:
  • Rope compatibility: 8.5–10.5mm
  • Weight: 210g
  • Materials: Stainless steel & other metals (all-metal construction)

Best for: Sport & multipitch (Note: you will need a second device for abseiling)

The Beal Birdie is an assisted-braking belay device with the cam and friction parts in stainless steel to increase durability. This device works much the same as a GriGri, assisting braking should the climber fall, and utilising a similar kind of handle to lower the climber. The axis ensures the rope doesn't twist when going in or coming out of the device.

Usage Instructions:
  1. Slide the Birdie open and load the rope with the climber’s and belayer’s ends in the correct position, according to the diagrams on the device.
  2. Close the Birdie and, with the handle on the left-hand side, load a carabiner through the attachment hole.
  3. Clip (and lock) the carabiner to the belay loop on your harness, ensuring that the device handle is on the left-hand side.
  4. Perform a safety check by:
    • Ensuring that your harness is on correctly and all buckles are double-backed.
    • Performing a squeeze test on your belaying carabiner to ensure that it is securely locked.
    • Tugging both sides of the rope to ensure that the rope is loaded through the device AND the carabiner.
    • Sharply tugging on the live end of the rope to ensure that the assisted-braking functionality is working properly.
    • Performing a buddy check with your partner, and using the correct calls before climbing.
  5. Belay as you would with a tube-style device, ensuring that there is a hand on the dead end of the rope at all times.
  6. To lower your climber, slowly pull back the handle, making sure to keep a hand on the dead end while lowering.

Wild Country Revo

Quick Logistics:
  • Rope compatibility: 8.5–11mm
  • Weight: 283g
  • Materials: Steel & aluminium

Best for: Sport

The primary downside of all ATC or tube-style belay devices is that a firm grip is required on the brake strand of the rope at all times. If the belayer is hit by a rock, slammed into the wall, or the rope somehow slips out of their grip, a falling climber will hit the deck in about one second. Enter the new Wild Country Revo, which solves this issue by adding an automatic locking mechanism that stops the rope if it moves through the device faster than 4m/s. It does so by using an out of balance flywheel on the inside that combines with centrifugal forces to trigger the locking mechanism above certain speeds. The brilliance is that the device functions exactly like a simple tube, and the belayer uses the same simple belay technique they were taught when they learned. The Revo does not in any way assist with braking but simply provides an emergency backup, the first device that we are aware of that works in this manner. Because of this great design, its advantages include the smoothest paying out of slack of any device we have ever tried. It is also designed in a way that it cannot be loaded backwards, so no need to continually check for little hand and climber icons.

Usage Instructions:
  1. Open the Revo by using the black catch on the side of the device.
  2. Feed the rope through the device so that it fully wraps around the internal wheel and both ends exit from the front of the device. The Revo is symmetrical, and thus the rope can be fed from either direction.
  3. Close the device and load a carabiner through the attachment hole.
  4. Clip (and lock) the carabiner to the belay loop on your harness.
  5. Perform a safety check by:
    • Ensuring that your harness is on correctly and all buckles are double-backed.
    • Performing a squeeze test on your belaying carabiner to ensure that it is securely locked.
    • Tugging both sides of the rope to ensure that the rope is loaded through the device AND the carabiner.
    • Sharply tugging on the live end of the rope to ensure that the assisted-braking functionality is working properly.
    • Performing a buddy check with your partner, and using the correct calls before climbing.
  6. Belay as you would with a tube-style device, ensuring that there is a hand on the dead end of the rope at all times.
  7. To lower your climber, allow the rope to slowly feed through the Revo as you would with a tube-style device, ensuring that your hand stays on the dead end of the rope.

Find out more about the WC Revo in our dedicated blog post.



PASSIVE ABDs

Mammut Smart 2.0

Quick Logistics:
  • Rope compatibility: 8.7–10.5mm
  • Weight: 80g
  • Materials: Aluminium alloy

Best for: Sport

The Mammut Smart 2.0 is very light, very compact and a real value. For a day at the gym or crags, this device is a great, assisted-braking belay device alternative. It is the same weight as most manual belay devices, meaning that you hardly notice it on the side of your harness.

Mammut recommends use of a HMS carabiner for the Smart 2.0. It is suitable for rope diameters from 8.7 to 10.5mm.

Usage Instructions:
  1. Load the rope as you would with any tube-style device, ensuring that the “nose” of the device is pointing away from you (i.e. bend the rope and insert into the device, with the climber’s and belayer’s ends in the correct position, according to the diagrams on the device).
  2. Clip a carabiner through the attachment hole, ensuring that the carabiner goes around both the device AND the rope.
  3. Clip (and lock) the carabiner to the belay loop on your harness.
  4. Perform a safety check by:
    • Ensuring that your harness is on correctly and all buckles are double-backed.
    • Performing a squeeze test on your belaying carabiner to ensure that it is securely locked.
    • Tugging both sides of the rope to ensure that the rope is loaded through the device AND the carabiner.
    • Sharply tugging on the live end of the rope to ensure that the assisted-braking functionality is working properly.
    • Performing a buddy check with your partner, and using the correct calls before climbing.
  5. Belay as you would with a tube-style device, ensuring that there is a hand on the dead end of the rope at all times. When giving out slack, place your thumb underneath the thumb loop, keeping your hand around the rope at all times.
  6. To lower your climber, place your thumb underneath the nose of the device and gently lift it upwards, allowing the rope to slowly feed through. Make sure to keep a hand on the dead end throughout lowering.  

Edelrid Jul

The Edelrid Jul range is a cleverly modified tube-style design, which allows the belay carabiner to slide into a slot when catching a fall. The Edelrid Juls are considered as "passive" assisted braking belay devices. Best used with a HMS carabiner. The Jul 2 is best suited to single pitch while for multipitch and trad climbing the guide mode on the Micro Jul, Mega Jul and Giga Jul devices will be your best option The Juls come in a variety of options:

Quick Logistics:

Edelrid Giga Jul

  • Rope compatibility: 7.1–10mm
  • Weight: 121g
  • Materials: Steel & aluminium
  • Best for: Sport & multipitch

The assisted braking function, which supports the braking force, can be activated or disabled by an intelligent mechanism for situation-dependent belaying.

Edelrid Micro Jul

  • Rope compatibility: 6.9–8.9mm
  • Weight: 62g
  • Materials: Steel & aluminium
  • Best for: Sport, trad & multipitch

Suitable for 6.9–8.0 mm double and twin ropes and single ropes up to 8.9 mm, this is a fantastic lightweight trad belay device.

Edelrid Mega Jul

  • Rope compatibility: 7.8–10.5mm
  • Weight: 65g
  • Materials: Steel & aluminium
  • Best for: Sport, trad & multipitch

Suitable for 7.8 - 10.5 mm ropes, this is a fantastic all-rounder no matter your preferred discipline.

Edelrid Jul 2

  • Rope compatibility: 8.9–11mm
  • Weight: 87g
  • Materials: Steel & aluminium
  • Best for: Sport

The Jul 2 is another great jack-of-all-trades that is ideal for thicker single ropes.

Usage Instructions (Giga Jul):
  1. Select your belay mode:
    • For ATC / guide mode, ensure that the guide mode and thumb loops are at the back of the device (facing towards you) and that the green slider is at the back of the device.
    • For ABD mode, ensure that the guide mode and thumb loops are at the front of the device (facing away from you) and that the green slider is at the back of the device.
  2. Load the rope as you would with any tube-style device, with the climber’s and belayer’s ends in the correct position, according to the diagrams on the device.
  3. Clip a carabiner through the attachment hole, ensuring that the carabiner goes around both the device AND the rope.
  4. Clip (and lock) the carabiner to the belay loop on your harness.
  5. Perform a safety check by:
    • Ensuring that your harness is on correctly and all buckles are double-backed.
    • Performing a squeeze test on your belaying carabiner to ensure that it is securely locked.
    • Tugging both sides of the rope to ensure that the rope is loaded through the device AND the carabiner.
    • Sharply tugging on the live end of the rope to ensure that the assisted-braking functionality is working properly.
    • Performing a buddy check with your partner, and using the correct calls before climbing.
  6. Belay as you would with a tube-style device, ensuring that there is a hand on the dead end of the rope at all times. When giving out slack, place your thumb underneath the thumb loop, keeping your hand around the rope at all times.
  7. To lower your climber, place your thumb in the thumb loop and gently lift upwards, allowing the rope to slowly feed through. Make sure to keep a hand on the dead end throughout lowering.
Usage Instructions (Mega Jul, Micro Jul and Jul 2):
  1. Ensure that the thumb loop is at the front of the device, and load the rope as you would with any tube-style device. Make sure that the climber’s and belayer’s ends are in the correct position, according to the diagrams on the device.
  2. Clip a carabiner through the attachment hole, ensuring that the carabiner goes around both the device AND the rope.
  3. Clip (and lock) the carabiner to the belay loop on your harness.
  4. Perform a safety check by:
    • Ensuring that your harness is on correctly and all buckles are double-backed.
    • Performing a squeeze test on your belaying carabiner to ensure that it is securely locked.
    • Tugging both sides of the rope to ensure that the rope is loaded through the device AND the carabiner.
    • Sharply tugging on the live end of the rope to ensure that the assisted-braking functionality is working properly.
    • Performing a buddy check with your partner, and using the correct calls before climbing.
  5. Belay as you would with a tube-style device, ensuring that there is a hand on the dead end of the rope at all times. When giving out slack, place your thumb underneath the thumb loop, keeping your hand around the rope at all times.
  6. To lower your climber, place your thumb in the thumb loop and gently lift upwards, allowing the rope to slowly feed through. Make sure to keep a hand on the dead end throughout lowering. 

Black Diamond Pilot

Quick Logistics:
  • Rope compatibility: 8.7–10.5mm
  • Weight: 92g
  • Materials: Steel

Best for: Sport

The Black Diamond ATC Pilot is a "geometry assisted" belay device for ropes in the 8.7 to 10.5 mm range. It provides the extra security of locking up all of the way and taking the pressure off your brake hand when compared to other tubular devices, though the manufacturer states that you should always keep your hand on the rope just in case. The ATC Pilot is best used single pitch top roping or lead climbing and lowering scenarios. This is a great option for single pitch sport crags and in climbing gyms that want the extra security of the auto-lock.

BD states that the Pilot should only be used with larger Type H or HMS carabiners, and always on the larger side to add that extra bite on a catch.

Usage Instructions:
  1. Load the rope as you would with any tube-style device, ensuring that the “nose” of the device is pointing away from you (i.e. bend the rope and insert into the device, with the climber’s and belayer’s ends in the correct position, according to the diagrams on the device).
  2. Clip a carabiner through the attachment hole, ensuring that the carabiner goes around both the device AND the rope.
  3. Clip (and lock) the carabiner to the belay loop on your harness.
  4. Perform a safety check by:
    • Ensuring that your harness is on correctly and all buckles are double-backed.
    • Performing a squeeze test on your belaying carabiner to ensure that it is securely locked.
    • Tugging both sides of the rope to ensure that the rope is loaded through the device AND the carabiner.
    • Sharply tugging on the live end of the rope to ensure that the assisted-braking functionality is working properly.
    • Performing a buddy check with your partner, and using the correct calls before climbing.
  5. Belay as you would with a tube-style device, ensuring that there is a hand on the dead end of the rope at all times. When giving out slack, place your thumb underneath the thumb loop, keeping your hand around the rope at all times.
  6. To lower your climber, place your thumb underneath the nose of the device and gently lift it upwards, allowing the rope to slowly feed through. Make sure to keep a hand on the dead end throughout lowering. 

Move into the 21st century with us and upgrade your belay device to an assisted -braking device. These innovative devices will soon be the only device of choice for lead climbing at CityROCK and we encourage you to start your journey into improved belay safety by testing any of our sample devices available in the gear shop in your next lead session at the gym before you settle on a purchase.

To read more about belaying and belay devices, check out Chris’ 2020 blog.