We all need a helping hand here and there and, when it comes to belaying, an assisted-braking device (ABD) may just be the hand that saves your life. While classic tube-style devices remain a fan-favourite for their simple and intuitive design, ABDs have revolutionised climbing safety so that you can get that sweet, sweet adrenaline rush without the risks of conventional belay devices. In a nutshell, ABDs use either moving parts or carefully designed geometry to apply braking force to a rope – this means that the device will catch the rope if your belayer lets go of the dead end. These are by no means hands-free devices, but they can provide invaluable back-up if things go wrong.
There is a wide range of great ABDs to choose from, all of which operate slightly differently. We recently performed drop tests with a few of the most popular ABDs that we stock – here, we unpack the results so that you can find the best match for your perfect catch.
Distance dropped before catching: 1cm
As the original ABD, the Petzel GriGri remains one of the best options out there for a safe belay. As seen in our test, the device engages its camming mechanism with lightning speed once the rope gets going. Plus, the handled design of the GriGri makes it easy to control descent speed, whether you’re a beginner or a pro. If you find the original GriGri a bit too clunky, you can opt for the GriGri+ which is slightly more compact and lightweight.
Black Diamond Pilot
Distance dropped before catching: 2cm
Simple and elegant, the Black Diamond Pilot works similarly to their classic ATC, with some added geometry that locks the rope if it begins to slide through too quickly. The device has no moving parts and is made from highly durable steel, making for a smooth belaying experience all round.
Edelrid Mega Jul
Distance dropped before catching: 15cm
Like the BD Pilot, the Edelrid Megajul Works similarly to a conventional ATC, with a design that allows the belay carabiner to slide into a tight slot which locks the rope if it begins to feed too quickly. As can be seen from our drop test, the Mega Jul allows for slightly more rope to slide through than other braking devices, making for a softer catch that will still have you feeling extra safe. Made with solid stainless steel and featuring no bells and whistles, this is a highly versatile and lightweight device that’s perfectly suited for leading and abseiling.
Edelrid Giga Jul
Distance dropped before catching: 0cm
Another member of the Edelrid Jul range, the Giga Jul is the slightly more sophisticated sibling with an intelligent design that allows you to switch between conventional and assisted-braking belaying. Made from ultra-light aluminium and featuring a guide mode, the Giga Jul is a highly versatile and convenient device that is particularly well-suited to alpine adventuring.
Mammut Smart 2.0 (with Mammut Smarter)
Distance dropped before catching: 10cm
Building on the success of the original Mammut Smart, the Smart 2.0 offers a smooth and comfortable belaying experience for both lead and top-rope climbing. It functions similarly to a traditional tube device, with an intuitive and lightweight design. Bonus points go to Mammut for the new Smarter braking device, which can be attached to the Smart 2.0 to provide extra protection against beginner errors - in the event of a fall, the Smarter locks the rope, even if the belayer is holding the dead end in the wrong position.
Distance dropped before catching: 2cm
The Beal Birdie, like the GriGri, uses a camming mechanism to lock the rope in the event of a fall. However, the Birdie’s axis has been specially designed to prevent the rope from twisting when belaying. Plus, the Birdie is made from super-durable stainless steel and offers a compact, ergonomic design which is perfect for climbing inside and outside the gym.
Wild Country Revo
Distance dropped before catching: 40cm
While the incredibly short drop-before-catch distances of our other devices are stellar, they do mean that you are likely to experience a high-impact fall. If you prefer a softer catch, you may want to try out the Wild Country Revo, which allows about 40cm of rope to slide through before catching (if no hand is on the dead end of the rope). That’s because the Revo doesn’t function like a regular ABD per se - rather, it works similarly to a conventional tube device, with an extra automatic locking mechanism that kicks in if rope slides through the device faster than 4m/s. And, because it functions like a regular tube in most cases, paying out slack is easy as pie.