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There are few items more important to a climber’s safety than a good strong belay device.
While almost any belay device you purchase that is intended for use while climbing will be able to hold the weight you put on it, not all belay devices are made equal.
We’ve looked at many different belay device reviews and have sifted out the noise to find you the best belay device on the market.
Our Reviews Of The Best Belay Device
Petzl Grigri 2 Belay Device
Black Diamond Atc-Xp Belay/Rappel Device
The Black Diamond atc belaying device is lightweight and strong enough to hold up even a heavy climber.
It can hold a handful of different rope thicknesses and keep you and your friends safe while you’re climbing or rappelling.
Black Diamond ATC-Guide Belay Device
The Black Diamond ATC-Guide Belay Device, is a useful piece of belay equipment and will be strong and safe enough to belay anyone up the wall.
EDELRID Mega Jul Belay Device – Slate
The EDELRID Mega Jul Belay Device is a long lasting workhorse of a belay device.
It will keep your ropes looking healthy and resist the wear and tear that most other belay devices succumb to easily.
Black Diamond ATC Belay
The Black Diamond ATC Belay device has been around since the early 90s.
This belay device made its name then and it has held its place in the rock climbing community since then, and for good reason.
Belay Device FAQ
While most belay devices do come with two slots, or holes, some do not.
Variations on the belay device, for instance the figure 8 belay device have two holes but in a very different orientation.
There are also some belay devices with only one hole for the rope to pass through. Most of the time, when you’re using your belay device, you’ll be using only one of the holes.
The only instances where you would use both would be if you were rappelling and wanted to double up the ropes you use to rappel with.
Or perhaps you might use both holes if you’re belaying a climber who wanted to use two ropes instead of just one.
Some models of belay device are not symmetrical with their two holes. In some of these cases one hole is designed for left handed belaying and the other designed for right hand belaying.
Otherwise some asymmetrical belay devices have different channels at the bottom for different stoppage.
One would bite into the rope quicker stopping the climber’s fall very quickly, the other would bite down on the rope more slowly letting the climber fall for a little while longer.
These different types of descent can mean a smooth if longer fall for the climber, or a short and jerky one.
The choice between these two sides of the belay device should be discussed with the climber you’re belaying.
You should take into consideration any injuries they have that would be flared up by an abrupt fall. Some belay devices have symmetrical holes with no channels to grip the rope.
The channels are largely unnecessary as the angle the rope is held at and the strength of the grip on the rope should hold the rope in place just fine.
In these instances, it is likely that they’re designed for the above mentioned reasons, i.e. two-rope rappelling, or the ability to cater to left handers and right handers.
What does ATC stand for belay device?
An ATC or Air Traffic Controller belay device is a household name in the climbing and rappelling community.
The Air Traffic Controller device uses a tubular design to control climbing ropes.
This design means that when tension is put into the system, the rope is held around the carabiner an inch or sometimes half an inch away from the entrance to the belay device.
This means that the rope can be gently fed through the system even if under tension.
It started as one of the first tubular belay devices in the early 1990s and the technology became so well accepted that the name has now been extended to almost any belay device that uses the tubular technique.
Similar to how hook and loop fasteners are all called Velcro nowadays.
How do you pass a belay test?
In many climbing gyms you’ll be required to pass a belay test to prove that you understand everything you need to, to be safe while climbing or belaying.
This includes knowing the ins and outs of your harness, both types of belay devices: Grigri and ATC, and lastly you should know how to tie the figure 8 knot.
Harnesses have changed over the years to being much less complicated.
It used to be that you had to fasten your leg loops and your waist belt by threading a bit if webbing through a buckle and doubling back.
Most harnesses nowadays are permanently closed at the waist and leg loops with adjustable sections rather than them sitting wide open.
Still it’s good to understand how to work even older harnesses in case you find yourself in possession of one.
Before learning how to tighten, you should know what the different parts of a climbing harness are:
- Tie-In Points – These are two loops, one on the waist belt and one connecting your two leg loops through which you’ll tie yourself to the climbing rope.
- Belay Loop – This is a loop that connects your tie in points and holds them together. When belaying you’ll clip your belay device to this loop with a carabiner.
- Waist Belt – This one should be obvious, the waistbelt is the part of the harness that wraps around your waist.
- Leg Loops – These are the two loops at the bottom. You pass your legs through these like you were putting on a pair of pants, and cinch them tight.
It’s important to know what a good fitting harness feels and looks like. A properly fitting harness should sit either above the hips on the waist, or should be firmly around your hips.
In either position, you should be able to fit a couple fingers between the waist belt and your waist.
Looser and the harness will not hold steady on the climber and begin to sag; any tighter and the harness will be uncomfortable while climbing.
Threading The Belay Device
The Air Traffic Controller belay device is one of the most common belay devices.
Understanding how to properly thread and control a belay device is the most important part of passing a belay test.
You can know everything else, but if you don’t know this, there’s no point in taking the test.
- Begin by bending the rope at the point you would like to insert into the belay device. Make sure that the climber’s end is on top when inserting this loop into the belay device.
- Insert the loop into the belay device. The rope should then line up with the steel wire attached to the belay device.
- Clip your carabiner through this loop, and pull the break end until the belay device cinches tight and the rope stops moving.
Grigri Auto Lock
This type of belay device takes some of the guesswork out of belaying.
Many rock climbing gyms require for safety reason that these belay devices be used instead of the ATC belay devices we just covered.
To thread this type of belay device, first look on the outside for the diagram.
A grigri auto lock belay device will, when not clipped into a carabiner, slide open to allow you to thread the rope into the system.
When you’ve ensured that the rope is going through the right direction, slide the mechanism closed and clip your carabiner through the provided hole.
Doing this should lock the system closed so that the rope cannot come out.
You can double check that the system has been loaded correctly by tugging on the climber’s end of the rope, if it locks in place you’ve done it correctly.
There are two different types of belaying you might need to do during your test: Top rope belaying and lead belaying.
Top Rope Belaying
- Start with your right hand holding the bottom of the rope by your hip with six inches to a foot of rope between your hand and the belay device; and your left hand holding the section of the rope going up to the climber, ready to help guide the rope through the belay device.
- When the climber goes higher, the slack will build up in the rope. Lift the rope in your right (bottom) hand up above the belay device, this essentially unlocks the system so the rope can move smoothly through the device.
- In one fluid movement, pull the slack out of the rope by raising your right arm up, pulling the rope forward and then down and lower your bottom hand back below the belay device locking the system up again.
- Lastly, reposition your hands to the starting position.
- To begin, hold your left (top) hand on the rope leading up to the climber about six inches to a foot from the belay device.
- Your right (bottom) arm will be holding the rope as far down as they can comfortably while still keeping a little bit of tension on the lower half of the belay device.
- When you’re ready to give slack, the climber will often announce when they’re moving so you can give them enough slack, begin by lifting your right arm, taking tension out of the system.
- Use your left hand to pull the rope through, keeping your right hand on the underside of the rope.
- When your right hand gets close enough to the belay device, usually no less than six inches, you return your right hand to your hip, below the device locking the system again.
- Only when the system is in the locked position do you shift your hands down their respective lines and prepare for the next time you’ll need to give slack to the climber.
- Remember to always return to the beginning position when you’re done feeding slack through. You may need to feed a lot of slack through all at once.
Tying in with the Figure-8 Knot
Most people find this to be the most difficult part of passing their belay test, but it’s also one of the most important. To tie into your harness:
- Start by holding the end of the rope in your fist and hold your arm out straight to your side. Use your other hand to measure the length of rope to your opposite shoulder. Pinch the rope at that length and let the end of the rope fall.
- Twist the bight 180 degrees so that one end of the rope lays over the other end. Continue twisting another 180 degrees and feed the end of the rope through the back of the loop you just made. Do not over tighten the knot at this stage. You’ll want a little bit of looseness in the coming steps.
- At this stage, you’ll thread the working end of the rope through the tie in points in your harness.
- Now comes the most intuitive part of tying the Figure 8 knot: you feed the end of the rope back through the knot, keeping parallel with the rope you’re following.
- Finish the knot with an added hitch by taking the working end of the rope and laying it over the standing end. Bring it around and behind both bits of rope and pass the end through the loop you just made. Pull tightly away from the figure 8 knot and you’re done.
If Tied Correctly, you should be able to count five parallel lines, one from the loop going around your harness, three from the knot itself, and one more where the working and standing ends of the rope go off together.
How To Belay With A Figure 8?
Rappelling with a figure 8 belay device is maybe a little more complicated if you’re used to the classic ATC or Grigri belay devices.
But once you understand the method behind this belay device, you’ll realize it’s surprisingly intuitive.
A figure 8 belay device is so called because it has two metal loops, a large loop and a small, connected by a sturdy length of the same material, usually only a couple inches in length.
- Start by removing the figure 8 belay device from the carabiner on your harness.
- Bight or bend the climbing rope and pass it through the larger of the two holes in the figure 8.
- Pull the rope up and over the smaller hole, so what you should have now, holding the figure 8 flat with the smaller hole pointing toward you, is the rope comes from the left, passes under the device, comes up through the large hole, it then bends back around and under the connecting bar, up and through the large loop again and down.
- Lastly, clip the carabiner through the smaller of the two loops and you have your system all set and ready to go.
If done correctly, you should not be able to release the rope from the figure 8 belay device without again unclipping the carabiner from the smaller loop.
This method of belaying is slightly more dangerous, so you’ll want to be sure not to get your fingers too close to the system.
Try and keep them a minimum of six inches away from the mechanism to save your fingers.
Belay devices are incredibly useful to anyone who is interested in climbing and rappelling.
The techniques are fairly simple and when done correctly, the belay device takes the whole brunt of a falling climber’s impact.
Climbing and rappelling are very dangerous sports, but thanks to belay devices, they’ve become a little less dangerous over the years.
We’ve looked at a couple of the best belay devices on the market, including the auto braking Petzl Grigri 2, all the way down to the classic ATC belay device by Black Diamond which has lasted close to thirty years on the market.
Whatever belay device you choose to work with, make sure you understand the technique and know what a properly tied figure 8 knot looks like and you’ll be just fine.
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