We stock a broad range of devices designed for belaying, abseiling or ascending ropes. They all work by applying friction or ‘grabbing’ the rope with ridged or spiked cams. There are various pros and cons to these fancy pieces of kit and the manufacturers regularly come up with useful innovations and refinements.
If you’re not sure which devices will suit you best then read on! And even if you are sure, have a scan through, you might spot something new worthy of your attention.
A small but vital piece of kit. Once upon a time the ubiquitous Sticht Plate
was the standard item to be seen hanging from all climbers harnesses. These days there are a number of different designs suited to different disciplines, from indoor to sport, trad, winter or alpine.
Standard/Tube belay devices
These were the immediate successor to the old school Sticht plates and they remain popular to this day. Simple and effective, they work well on both medium width trad ropes and fatter sport ropes (such as the type you might find on the top rope section of your local indoor climbing wall). Classic examples are the Black Diamond ATC
and the DMM Bug
. Even if you only sport climb the double rope slots can be useful if you ever need to do a retrievable abseil on double ropes.
Variable friction performance
The next logical step in design was to introduce variable friction performance – the idea being that you can use the device across a broader range of rope types. This is important as the trend in rope manufacture in recent years has been towards skinnier ropes. At the basic end of the spectrum you have the Wild Country VC
which has a fat and a thin side, the latter giving more grab or bite on a thin rope. More recently ribbed groove styles have become popular. Check out the Black Diamond ATC XP
for a good example of a modern device.
Auto locking belay devices
AKA: Magic Plates – these clever devices are popular with Mountain Guides as they allow you to belay two people at once and they will automatically lock off if one of them falls off.
The only major drawback is that you will need to employ some trickery to unlock the device once it is loaded with a fallen climber – this can be awkward if the climber is hanging in space or is marooned on a blank section of rock unable to climb up. Check out Andy Kirkpatrick’s website
for a breakdown of the possible escape methods – and make sure you practice this before you go to the crag!
Check out the Petzl Reverso 4
for a good example of this style of device.
Single rope belay devices
If you do a lot of sport climbing, particularly the involved redpoint type where time is spent hanging on the rope working moves and lots of falls are taken, then an assisted braking device is a good idea, especially if you weigh less than your partner. The industry standard is the hugely popular Petzl Gri Gri 2
These devices do take a bit of getting used to as they work in a completely different way to the standard belay devices, but once you’ve got the knack they do make a belayer’s life a lot easier. The main drawbacks are that you can’t use them with skinny/dual trad ropes and they are quite heavy.
There are a few non mechanical single rope belay devices, for example the Edelrid Jul
. These are much lighter than a Gri Gri and considerably cheaper.
Which locking krab to use with a belay device?
Obviously a locking gate design is essential, but there are many different styles available – so which is best? Traditionally the recommended krab to use with a belay device has been an HMS locking gate design. It is true that these work well with an Italian Hitch (and are good for setting up belays) but when used with a standard belay device they do have a tendency to flip and allow cross loading of the krab (not good!).
There are a few extra safe, belaying specific krabs available now. Check out the DMM Belay Master 2
or the Black Diamond Gridlock
– both of these are designed to stop the krab flipping out of position.
Weight conscious climbers may want to go for a smaller locking krab – while not quite as safe as the Belay master/Gridlock style krabs they are less likely to flip than a larger HMS krab.
Dropped/lost or just forgotten your belay device?
If you should find yourself on the crag without a belay device there are a number of improvised alternatives. None of these options are as easy to do or as safe as a standard device but they may get you out of a tight spot.
The Italian or Munter Hitch
is a very useful knot – make sure you learn it and be sure to practice it every now and then to refresh your memory. The main drawbacks of it are that it is a single rope operation and has a tendency to introduce kinks into the rope. Also, if you use it for descending you can expect significant wear and tear on your rope.
A medium/large hex can be used as a crude tube style belay device – just make sure your belay krab can’t actually pass through it and that there are no sharp edges which might rip the sheath on the rope.
The good old fashioned Waist Belay is another option, but this needs practice to get right and holding a fall can be painful. Again, make sure you practice the technique occasionally.
There are a number of options – if you intend doing a significant amount of rope jumaring then a large hand grip design, such as the Petzl Handled Ascension
, plus a chest ascender such as the Petzl Croll
ascender is best.
Sooner or later most climbers will likely end up using rope ascenders in an emergency or self rescue situation. You can use good old fashioned Prusik
loops, but for a smoother operation there are several lightweight metal designs which make life easier. Check out the Petzl Tibloc
or the Wild Country Rope Man MK III
. Having one of these, plus a prussic loop, attached to your harness at all times is a good idea – you never know when it might come in handy!
Although it is possible to abseil with a belay device there are devices designed specifically for this function. Certainly if you do a lot of abseiling it is worth considering devices such as the DMM Cardiac Arrester
. They absorb the heat generated in an abseil much better and give a smoother ride, particularly on thicker ropes.
It is always worth having a safety back up when you are abseiling. You will need something to hold you should be knocked unconscious by a falling rock (normally dislodged by your own rope!). The safety back up will also provide you with extra friction – something you might appreciate when you’re halfway down a 60m free hanging abseil on a pair of skinny ropes!
This can be a Prusik loop attached to the rope, but there are mechanical devices which offer an even greater degree of safety. The Petzl Shunt
is the most popular design – it can also be used for ascending ropes.
Practice makes perfect
Just a final reminder to practice using any new device at home before you head out to the crags. All belay, abseil or rope ascending devices behave differently and will respond best to subtle shifts in technique – be sure to master these before you are called upon to use them in a real situation!