At the confluence of rope and harness lays the humble belay device. It may just be the most important part of your climbing kit when it comes to climbing safely. The belay device, along with the belayer’s quick reflexes, acts as a brake for a climbing rope by applying friction to it.
There are many different belay devices on the market, but they generally fall into one of three categories: Tubular, assisted braking, and figure 8. These all have their own pros and cons, as well as types of climbing that they’re most suited to. Read on to learn more.
Tubular Style Belay Device
The classic. These are the types of belay devices that you’re most like to see around the crag. These belay devices feature 2 slots for your rope, allowing you to belay, rappel, or climb using a two-rope system.
This type of device also includes “guide-style” belay devices, such as the seminal Black Diamond ATC Guide or the Petzl Reverso, which can also act as assisted braking belay devices when belaying one or two followers directly off an anchor.
Suitable for most types of climbing, this type of belay device particularly shines on multipitch routes and when your rope may be wet or icy, as there is no camming mechanism that may get jammed in such conditions.
Assisted Braking Belay Device
These belay devices, like the Petzl GriGri, Trango Vergo, and Camp Matik hold some of the weight of the climber you’re belaying and also feature a camming mechanism within the device that auto-engages when it detects a fall. These types of devices, which are slightly heavier than traditional-style belay devices, are best suited for sport climbing, gym climbing, and single pitch routes, as they only allow for one strand of rope at a time.
Another type of assisted braking device offers a passive type of assistance, such as the Edelrid Microjul and Megajul, and work by pinching the rope against your locking carabiner to provide extra resistance when braking. These types of “hybrid” belay devices are lighter than camming action devices, and are also able to accommodate two strands of rope.
Figure 8 Belay Device
Including such devices as the Mammut Bionic Figure 8, Black Diamond Super 8, and Petzl Huit Figure 8, these are decidedly more of an “old-school” option. While they can be used to belay a lead climber or someone top-roping, they are more often used solely for rappel-heavy applications, as they have very little friction and a smooth and efficient rope feeding action.
Though these types of device are lightweight and will accommodate nearly any rope diameter, they are more technical in their use, and they require firm understanding of their unique instructions to belay with them. They will also require more of the belayer’s strength to hold and catch a climber and so can lead to more fatigue.