The variety of current belay devices is remarkable. So are the differences between the individual devices. When buying the best belay device, it is essential to consider what you will mainly use it for or, more precisely, which main dangers you want to protect yourself against when climbing.
All belay devices are based on the same principle: They increase the braking force of the belayer. But without this braking force, i.e., when no hand controls the brake cable, a delicate situation can arise regardless of the device. Every belay device, therefore, requires a correct operation; otherwise, each of them harbors dangers. Nevertheless, there are differences in terms of both handling and the ideal area of application. To illustrate the differences, a belay device can be roughly divided into two categories.
The Different Variants of the Belay Devices
As mentioned at the beginning, only eight-8 and HMS belay devices were used initially. Climbers now have three different types of belay devices at their disposal. Dynamic and semi-automatic safety devices as well as the so-called autotubers. There are various products for each style. But how do the different types differ, and what options are offered for practical application?
Dynamic belay devices
With dynamic belay devices, you can belay without involving the body. In this way, in the event of a fall, you can avoid abrupt braking, and the enormous force can be absorbed by the brake as effectively as possible. The principle of dynamic securing makes it possible to ensure that the climbing ropes are functionally supplemented, and the effect of securing is also improved. In this way, the risk of injury is further prevented from adapting to the terrain accordingly and increase safety.
Semi-automatic belay devices
There is no possibility for dynamic backup with the semi-automatic variants, as the integrated semi-automatic unit has been supplemented by functional support for blockages. Should loads occur, a complete blockage of the rope is ensured, whereby a dynamic and flexibly adaptable output of the rope is no longer possible. Securing the belay at this point has to be much more physically intensive so that the climber can expect a soft and as painless fall as possible.
Autotuber enables a direct connection between braking hand and assisted braking effect. If the braking hand is in the correct position, the rope is completely blocked in this way. Compared to the classic tube, the autotubers develop the desired assisted braking force much more efficiently to absorb the fall as completely as possible. With classic tubers, the brake and guide cable’s angle usually has to be more than 90 degrees, while autotuber only needs a value of around 10 to 45 degrees.
Advantages and disadvantages belay devices
With the dynamic belay device, it always depends on the weight ratio of the climber and the belayer. However, belaying is much more complicated if there are significant differences and requires enormous effort in an emergency. Despite these limitations, the classic tube is still the most popular choice as a dynamic belay device and is used by around 58 percent of climbers.
The disadvantage of the dynamic versions is, at first glance, the decisive advantage for the semi-automatic versions. These compensate for human errors and enable a assisted braking with almost no manual effort. Despite these advantages, the semi-automatic versions have their flexibility, as the versions are not suitable for all projects. Therefore, dynamic execution is often the more accessible and more practical choice for backup.
With the autotubers, the quality of the security depends on the position of the braking hand. If this is by chance not in the right place, you can expect far-reaching problems up to and including a completely missing backup. Even if you need less manual force, the safety belay device is continuously dependent on assisted braking behavior, which is why the Autotuber is rarely used for professional climbing.
Brief Overview on Best Belay Devices in 2021
9 Best Belay Device Reviews
There are now belay devices like a dime a dozen. The ultimate model that works perfectly and intuitively in all situations does not (yet) exist. We’ll introduce you to the best belay device including their advantages and disadvantages!
Producer: Petzl GriGri
A good semi-automatic assisted belay device, insensitive to braking hand position errors and when releasing the brake cable. Very good with top rope operation, somewhat complicated when paying out the rope (lead-climbing protection), which can tempt you to let go of the brake rope to pay out the rope quickly. The lowering must be trained but should not be a problem, whether with thin or thick ropes. Positive: you can use the GriGri with any locking carabiner.
The Petzl GriGri with its assisted braking belay devices is the pioneer of all semi-automatic devices. Since the Petzl GriGri has been around for a long time, most people are very familiar with some of its flaws. When used correctly, the GriGri is an excellent and universal belay device with anti-panic handle.
PETZL Grigri Assisted Braking Belay Device
- Semi-automatic assisted braking (blocked when loaded)
- low rope wear
- Petzl GriGri is easy to use with anti panic handle
- Incorrect operation possible
An inexpensive and lightweight assisted braking device without a lot of mechanics. Good operation when paying out ropes. However, it does not block completely with smooth ropes! If the braking hand is “up” or “parked in front of the device,” a fall usually cannot be stopped. In falls with little rope friction and thin ropes, the assisted braking device did not stop the fall when the brake rope is released because the braking effect is too low.
Lowering is difficult to dose with thick ropes. Be careful when choosing a carabiner: It is essential to use HMS or oval carabiners, preferably those with “anti-twist protection.”
The Smart 2.0 is a relatively new semi-automatic assisted braking belay on the market, but it has become trendy quickly. The Smart is straightforward to use because the geometry dictates specific handling.
Mammut Smart 2.0
The rope is given out very well, as is the lowering. Only older or stiff ropes jerk a little. Although the Mammut Smart 2.0’s are semi-automatic assited braking devices, they thus allows for a specific dynamic backup.
- simple operation
- not mechanical
- no follow-up function
- not 100% blocking with thin ropes
Producer: Edelrid Mega Jul
This is one of the best belay devices that is also suitable for double ropes and belaying (plate). Paying out the rope is a bit strenuous with thicker ropes. When abseiling, dosing in “semi-automatic assisted braking” is laborious, in “tube mode,” it is possible. Be careful with braking hand-up errors.
Edelrid Megajul device reacts very sensitively and only brakes when the hand is pulled onto the device. When the braking hand is “parked” in front of the device, there is a long rope passage until the device brakes.
If you accidentally insert the brake cable the wrong way round, this will be immediately apparent when you try to pull the rope in because then the assisted braking will block. If you want to use the device in “tube mode intentionally,” the device stops very easily when the rope is pulled in with soft ropes and is therefore impractical.
EDELRID Mega Jul Belay Device
The Mega Jul is the classic, suitable for multi-pitch climbing as well as for sport climbing. The MegaJul is the big, wild brother for rock climbing. The main difference here is that the Mega jul is particularly suitable for half and twin ropes.
- Great for catching lead falls.
- light weight and versatile
- Very safe with assisted braking
- Ideal for multi pitch climbing
- lowering can be a bit jumpy
Very universal and “simple” – but not to be underestimated when it comes to incorrect operation. The pulling in of the rope, in particular, turns out to be very error-prone. Many users more or less often show the “forceps grip” when pulling in. Very high rope wear and kinking when lowering. More suitable for rock climbing. Less ideal for abseiling. Does not forgive any incorrect operation, except for braking hands up errors.
In the meantime, Edelrid has brought several versions of the Jul onto the market so that everyone can choose the best belay device that suits them best.
Climbing Technology Click Up Plus
This is by far one of the smoothest assisted braking devices for giving slacks and for lowering. The device is very easy to use and shouldnt take much time for a beginner to handle it correctly. Its quite durable
- Easy to use
- Ideal for multi pitch climbing
- Takes some time to give out slacks
There are many different tube style models on the market. We recommend those tube style devices with two braking levels, i.e., assisted braking devices that have “braking grooves” or “V-slots” and a “classic side.” Tubers are extremely dangerous with hand brake errors, regardless of whether they are at the top or completely released: such errors are fatal with the tube! Tube style Models with a hanging loop for securing the plate are very versatile. Be careful with thin, smooth ropes and low hand strength (light people). Here the assisted braking devices level should be increased by attaching two carabiners.
Black Diamond ATC-Guide
Black Diamond ATC guide are non-mechanical devices with a simple principle (puncture brake). For some years now, The black diamond atc guide have had brake-boosting slots and additional functions. Depending on the version, they can be used for top-roping, leading, and belaying (plate principle).
However, an extra eyelet is necessary for securing the steps. Black Diamond atc guide are particularly suitable for sport climbing. Those with a plate function, which are also suitable for the ascent, are also used in many alpine areas.
Black Diamond ATC are only conditionally suitable for abseiling. On the one hand, relatively high holding forces are necessary (especially with thin, impregnated twin ropes). Still, it is somewhat complicated to block a Black Diamond ATC , which is often necessary, especially in alpine terrain.
- simple operation
- dynamic backup
- static in the ascent
- not mechanical
- For ropes with a diameter of approx. 9.4 – 11 mm
- black diamond atc has high risk of error
For a long time, the figure-eight was considered the universal best belay device. The tubes style have now overtaken the eighth in the halls and sport climbing. Eights are very similar to tubes in terms of operation, here too, you must hold down the brake cable.
The quick payout of the rope is a bit more complicated with aft than with tubes. There is a universal device for alpine use that combines figure-of-eight and plate functions. This gives you the advantage that you have a figure eight when abseiling and belaying the lead climber and a plate for belaying.
ProClimb Rescue Figure 8 Descender
- not mechanical
- dynamic securing of the lead climber
- relatively easy to block (abseiling etc.)
- slight risk of loss if handled correctly
- high risk of error (holding direction braking hand)
- depending on the rope, high holding forces
The Cinch is also one of the a semi-automatic assisted braking device. Here too, there is a risk of incorrect operation. The output of rope works well with the Cinch; it is a bit smaller and lighter than the GriGri.
- automatic blocking function
- for semi-automatic small and light
- for ropes with a diameter of 9.4 – 11 mm
- Mishandling possibilities
- very specific operation
Type: Half-Mast Protection System (HMS)
Half-mast throwing is a universal belay method. The HMS has the highest braking force of the dynamic securing methods and can lead, follow-up, and top-rope climbing.
In some countries, it is taught to hold the brake cable down at the HMS. This is more convenient and has the advantage that you do not have to relearn when switching to a different method (belay device such as a tube style or figure eight).
The disadvantage is that the rope jams in this position, both when paying out the rope, especially when lowering it. If you hold the rope up, it is more uncomfortable, and you may have to move around.
Mad Rock Ultra Tech HMS Triple Lock Carabiner
- high braking forces
- little material required
- for all rope diameters
- tendency to curl
- high rope wear
- Knot difficult for beginners
What Makes a Good Belay Device?
How well does the device block in the event of a fall. We differentiate between “hard” (jerky) and “soft” (slow “sitting down” without jerking) falls . Some style devices block well in hard falls, but have weaknesses in soft falls (e.g. top rope or high rope friction).
Reserve how large is the safety buffer in the event of incorrect backup behavior ? How does a violation of the assisted braking devices principle (brake cable is always held on) affect safety? multi pitch devices like the GriGri have a larger reserve than a or a Click Up.
Operation dispensing rope
How quickly and easily can rope be dispensed . If a climber is secured in the lead, rope has to be given out quickly. The multi pitch brake cable must never be neglected (brake hand principle). Our tests have clearly shown that the best belay devices in terms of operation and handling here have large differences.
Operation of draining
How well can the draining speed be dosed and controlled – even for beginners?
A relatively common cause of accidents is too fast and uncontrolled drainage. Fortunately, many manufacturers have reacted to this and keep bringing improved models onto the market.
Carabiner & rope – compatibility
How versatile is the belay style device in terms of rope diameter and carabiner . Some multi pitch devices can only cope well with relatively thin ropes. Other multi pitch belay devices require their own carabiner. The more flexible and versatile, the better.
Belay Device: FAQs
What are semiautomatic machines? And what are autotubes? Semi-automatic tube style devices are safety devices with blocking support. Autotubes are a sub-group of semi-automatic style device, the handling of which is similar to securing with tubes. The braking function of the autotubes is generated by pinching the rope between the carabiner and the device, and it depends to a certain extent on the position of the braking hand.
Do you have to back-up when learning to belay with semi-automatic machines? Depending on the level of ability, a suitable form of supervision must be selected, which can range from securing under control (backup) to securing with supervision to securing without supervision. The higher requirements of the semi-automatic machines when draining must be taken into account.
What does the term “Movement Routine When Holding a Fall” mean? What is meant here is a technically correct movement pattern that has been consolidated through practice to hold a fall, which belayer can perform without hesitation even under disturbance influences (e.g. distraction) and in different securing situations. Two essential things belong to this movement pattern: 1. Most importantly, the braking hand grabs the brake cable immediately in the event of a fall and 2. assumes the basic position below the belay device. If this does not happen, the blocking mechanism can fail.
Finally, it should be pointed out that the belayer must of course master more than the selected belay device: quickly grasp, assess and react to changing securing situations, adequately communicate with each other in the rope team, etc. Good and regular training practice is therefore the most important building block for accident prevention.
- 1 The Different Variants of the Belay Devices
- 2 Brief Overview on Best Belay Devices in 2021
- 3 9 Best Belay Device Reviews
- 3.1 Producer: Petzl GriGri
- 3.2 PETZL Grigri Assisted Braking Belay Device
- 3.3 Type: Smart
- 3.4 Mammut Smart 2.0
- 3.5 Producer: Edelrid Mega Jul
- 3.6 EDELRID Mega Jul Belay Device
- 3.7 Producer: HMS
- 3.8 Climbing Technology Click Up Plus
- 3.9 Type: Tube
- 3.10 Black Diamond ATC-Guide
- 3.11 Type: Figure-eight
- 3.12 ProClimb Rescue Figure 8 Descender
- 3.13 Trango Cinch
- 3.14 Type: Half-Mast Protection System (HMS)
- 3.15 Mad Rock Ultra Tech HMS Triple Lock Carabiner
- 4 What Makes a Good Belay Device?
- 5 Belay Device: FAQs
- 6 Verdict