Once into the world of climbing, you’ll be using a lot of new gear. Which is why, it’s important to know what does what and how each different item benefits you. There are plenty of awesome brands and it really depends on your needs and comfort for which one you choose. I’ll touch on some of my favorites further down in this post.
While there is a lot of gear to think of when climbing, one of the mot important things to have is a belaying device. When you’re the belayer, it helps you keep your climber safe while they climb. They’re counting on you to keep them safe, so count on this equipment and choose the best belay device for your needs.
What are belay devices used for?
You can’t climb with a partner without a belay device, which will help you control the rope for the climber as they ascend. It also helps you catch them if they should fall, and you can easily lower them down from the crag or climbing wall when they’re finished. Belay devices are also used for rappelling down a cliff, something you may do from time to time. It’s one of the most important pieces of safety equipment for without it, there would be more serious injuries in the sport, and more deaths.
Your life depends on a belay device just as your partner’s does too. There are many different devices. Some have more safety features added in while others are simpler to use. Depending on the type of climb, you will likely opt to use a different belay device at the gym than you would on a multi-pitch for example. No matter which belay device you use though, you should never take your brake hand off the rope while belaying. Practice of this is critical and something I’d spent literally hours and hours on until it was like second nature for me to check. I did that with every piece of climbing equipment honestly. It helps you form good safety habits, so you can focus on everything around you while not fumbling around when belaying.
You’ll find belay devices available in all price ranges, but don’t let price be your deciding factor. Consider all the features they each offer and then make your decision. It helps if you do your homework on belay devices. Luckily, I’ve thought that out for you so all you have to do is keep reading on to discover everything you need to know about the different belay devices you can use. You’re welcome! 😊
The Munter Hitch
Ok, this isn’t exactly a belay device, but this knot is an essential as an added safety measure. I have gotten in the habit of carrying locking carabiners (like the Mad Rock Ultra Tech HMS Triple Lock Carabiner (Amazon link) for extra security) with me at all times thanks to a horror story I heard at the gym when I was first starting out.
There were two guys running beta that helped me out a lot, and afterward, we went out to lunch. Friends since childhood, this sport was something they’d both gotten into together long after their days of soccer practice ended. They told me about one time they were out on a crag when Scott, who had been the belayer at the time, dropped his belay device. It could have been a much worse situation, but thankfully there were a bunch of other climbers on the crag who helped them get back safely. That was when they themselves were new to the sport. What they learned from one of the pros out there that day was to always be ready to use the Munter Hitch.
By choosing a locking carabiner that has a 3-lock system, it adds extra security should you drop your belay device. You can use these to tie a Minter Hitch and then belay or even rappel using only that carabiner. I mention this because if you saw my other post about belay safety tips, then you know how strongly I feel about good safety. Not just for me but for you too. Climbing is awesome but it can become a horrible experience if you overlook even the smallest safety details.
I don’t want you to simply rely on the Munter Hitch as a belay device, but I want you to take those locking carabiners with you every time just in case you ever need an alternative to get you guys down safely.
Figure Eight Belay Device
The Figure Eight is most widely used in Europe and also for rappelling. It’s a very, very simple type of belay device. The search and rescue guys always use them so they’re definitely reliable. It features two holes – one larger and one small. You feed your bight through the larger hole and loop it to the outside of the small hole, then clip it to your belay loop located on your harness.
It works fairly well and will certainly get the job done, though I’m less of a fan in most scenarios. I’ll tell you why. It has a decreased amount of friction which means it’s not great for catching a fall. You can still do it but that’s a lot more work for you when you’re belaying. Additionally, the way you tie it creates a twist in the rope and that just make things more difficult. I love it for rappelling though, but it’s not something I got used to using until I became more experienced. For these reasons, I want to encourage you that if you’re new to climbing, you use something else. You need to master so many techniques at the beginning and using a Figure Eight while you’re still trying to get the hang of everything is a lot to take on.
If you’re more experienced, you’ll find it’s the lightest belay device around and can be very smooth to work with, if you know what you’re doing. Because there are no moving pieces, many experienced climbers consider the figure 8 belay device a perfect tool. They often weigh very little too, like the Black Diamond Super 8 (for about $15 on Amazon), for example.
For multi-pitch climbing, guide plates are an advanced and wise choice. It’s a tubular device with a large attachment point on one end and a smaller at the opposite end. You can use this baby to belay up a second climber while supporting the lead climber. So, there’s much versatility to be had with guide plates.
Yes, you could use a standard tuber device when belaying your lead climber, but this one is super-handy for adding another climber up. You can use it with just you and your lead or add another person in. This makes it a versatile belay device.
Again, newbies will likely not want to try multi-pitch climbs at this point, but you may find this type of belay device to be easy to use and the fact that it gives you options when you’re more capable at climbing later on means you’ll get a lot of use out of it. It’s just a more advanced form of the tubular belay device which is good for any type of climb (more on that in just a second). For those of you that are already doing multi-pitch climbs, you might want to check out guide plates, like the Black Diamond ATC-XP which is fairly inexpensive on Amazon.
Tubular Belay Devices
Of all belay devices Tubular are the most common. This is likely what you started with your first time at the climbing gym, and they’re incredibly versatile, just like the guide plates, the only major difference being that guide plates can help you belay more than one person.
Tubular belay devices are perfect for any type of climb, anywhere, which is why everyone from beginners to the big-time pros have these. You simply insert a bent rope bight into one slot and clip a carabiner through the loop to attach the carabiner to your belay loop on your harness. The bent rope on the belay device is what gives you friction to help you stop the rope.
There are tons of tubular belay devices. The more advanced ones feature grooves that give you extra friction. You can even use it for rappelling if you insert both rope strands through the slots. It’s a compact belay device and you can use it with a variety of ropes or even double or single ropes. Because the ropes don’t get twisted, it makes rappelling easy.
Needless to say, I have a few favorite tubular belay devices that I’ve used and love like Black Diamond ATC-XP and Petzl Reverso 4. However, it all goes back to have good, locking carabiners to go with it just in case.
Passive Assisted Braking Belay Devices
It’s kind of a funny term simply because there’s nothing passive about climbing. But the passive in this belay device simply refers to the fact that it doesn’t have any moving parts. This belay device has a pinching mechanism between the carabiner and the device to help it stop the rope.
Don’t think for a second this means it’s hands-free. It’s not but it is quite helpful for controlling the rope. I love that these are really light and they can be used in any type of climbing situation, even for rappelling. What’s great about these is that while you need to be in charge of the rope, it’s like having an assistant along on the climb. This is a huge help when you’re on the crag and you’re trying to balance while belaying your partner. It’s added assurance that you can keep control of the rope to keep your partner safe.
If your partner falls, it locks rope against the carabiner so that you can catch them more easily. I really like this type of belay device. It’s helped me catch partners on multiple occasions even when I was precariously-perched way up high. The Mammut Smart 2.0 and the Edelrid Mega Jul (Amazon links) are a couple standouts for me. I like the ease of use for each and the added help it provided while I was belaying.
Active Assisted Braking Belay Devices
And now, you’re looking at the name and probably guessing that these are a bit opposite of the passive ones. And you’re right! Not that I don’t love the passive belay devices, but the active assisted braking belay devices are THE most advanced available today. This type of belay device pinches the rope in the middle of a camming mechanism that’s within the device. These are perfect for single strands of rope, so the one downside is that you can’t rappel with it, but if you remembered what I said at the beginning, if you take that Munter Hitch tip with you always, it won’t be a problem.
What else can it do? It’s practically perfect in every way in that you can belay on single pitch routes. It takes some of the weight off of you when you’re belaying by providing a firm grip for your partner when they hang on the rope, or during a fall. It’s also good for multi-pitch climbs because you can bring up another climber.
One thing that’s a total drag though is these guys are much heavier thanks to the camming mechanism. Petzl is one brand that’s been around since the 70s and has continually perfected the art of making climbing gear. The Petzl GriGri 2 is my all time favorite and immediately comes to mind whenever I hear assisted breaking device. I’ve used it on many multi-pitch and sports routes and the Camp USA Matik is another solid choice for almost the same price.
Again, I can’t stress how important a good belay device is. As you can see, there are many high-quality brands . You should always check the ratings of them though and compare. You don’t have to buy the oldest climbing brand but if you’re going to go with something else, check out the safety ratings or some of the ones I recommended in this article.
As for types of belay devices, it’s your call. I recommend trying them out to see what feels most comfortable. If you have a friend with an active assisted braking belay system for example, before you invest in one yourself, see if you can try it out. It gives you a chance to feel what it’s like and see if it jives with your preferences. The best choice for you is what you feel you can handle in any climbing situation. If you’re new, try out the tubers and go from there, and always take lots of locking carabiners along to any climb.