How to Choose Belay Device

how to choose a belay device

Alright, so check it out—this thing called a belay device is like your sidekick in climbing. Picture it as the ultimate rope brake; it adds some sweet friction to that climbing rope. Team it up with the belayer's slick "braking hand" that locks down the loose end of the rope, and bam! You got tension and protection for the climber on the other end. It's like the superhero of climbing safety, no joke.

Now, when you're in the market for a belay device, you have three main types on the menu:

  1. Tubular
  2. Assisted braking
  3. Figure 8

The choice of climbing gear depends on the type of climbing experience you want to have.

Tubular belay Device from fusion

Tubular Belay Devices

These tubular belay devices are like the all-around champs, fitting into any climbing scene. You fold that rope, slide it through the device, and lock it up with a carabiner either to the belayer or straight to the anchor. Friction kicks in as the bent rope meets the belay device, putting the brakes on and shielding the climber. Some tubular ones even rock ridges or "teeth" for that extra grip action.

When it's time to rappel, those dual slots on almost every tubular device welcome two rope strands for your standard rappelling moves.

Here's a cool twist—some tubular devices can switch up to assist in belaying one or two followers during a multi-pitch climb. Check out the assisted-braking belay devices section in this article for the lowdown.

Now, the pros of these tubular heroes:

  • Compact, light, and a breeze to use.
  • Team up with various rope diameters, handling single or double ropes like a pro.
  • No rope drama—no twists or kinks.
  • Two-strand rappelling? Tubular's got your back.

But, you know, every hero has its kryptonite. The downside of tubular belay devices:

  • Gives the belayer less backup in handling the climber's weight/impact.
  • The belayer might get tired, making tubulars not the go-to for projecting and route-setting.

Ideal for: Tackling multi-pitch trad climbing, rocking it in sport climbing, and owning the gym climbing scene.


Assisted Braking Belay Devices

Meet the multitaskers, also dubbed auto-blocking, auto-locking, self-braking, or self-locking devices—assisted braking belay devices that step up to lock down on the rope, ensuring the belayer catches and secures a fallen climber. Now, there are two flavors in town: passive and active, not to be confused with how much elbow grease the belayer needs but rather whether the device boasts moving parts or not.

Let's dive into the passive side of things. These auto-belay wizards look tubular but work their magic by pinching the rope between the device and the carabiner to halt its movement. Quick note, though—you still got to be on your game as a belayer when rocking a passive device. "Passive" might sound like a hands-free vacation, but nah, it just means this assisted braking belay device doesn't do the moving parts dance.

Now, there are a couple of flavors in the assisted-braking world:

    • Some are all-around players, offering assisted braking for lead climbing, top-rope scenarios, or when belaying followers on a multipitch adventure.
    • Others specialize in assisted-braking mode solely for belaying one or two followers. These devices usually look like tubular belay devices with an extra metal loop for direct attachment to an anchor.

    Ideal for: Sport climbing, gym climbing, multi-pitch trad climbing


    figure 8 belay

    Figure 8 Belays

    Figure 8 devices are mainly deployed for rappelling, but get this—they can also be set up for belaying a leader or a top-rope climber. These bad boys are shaped like the number eight, sporting one larger hole and one smaller hole. Now, when you're in rappel mode, you slide a bight (that's a bend) of the rope through the big hole and loop it around the outside of the small one until it chills on the "neck" of the figure 8. Clip the small hole onto your belay loop on the harness, and you're golden. These figure 8s are in the spotlight for search and rescue, caving, and, of course, rappelling adventures.

    But hold up, when it comes to belaying, different devices have their own script for rigging the rope through. Check the manual that comes with your figure 8—it's like the holy grail for setting it up the right way. Safety first, my friend.

    Let's dive into the perks of assisted-braking devices:

    • Budget-friendly option
    • Smooth and speedy rope action during rappelling
    • Fits a variety of rope diameters

    Alright, let's lay it down straight with the drawbacks:

    • Not the best call for newbie belayers
    • Rope glides swiftly during belaying
    • Belayer needs more force and attention compared to other devices
    • Throws in a twist to the rope

    Ideal for:  Search and rescue, caving, rappelling

    When choosing a belay device, consider that what works for you might differ from your climbing partner's preference. Test different types through rentals or borrowing before purchasing, especially if you engage in diverse climbing scenarios. Owning more than one belay device can be practical for versatility.

    Ensure proper training to use the device confidently and consistently. Never release the rope with your brake hand, even with assisted braking. Follow manufacturer instructions, watch tutorials, or seek guidance at your local gym. Store the device away from sunlight, avoid leaving it in your car, and inspect it before each climb.

    Unlike soft gear, there's no standardized industry guideline for replacing belay devices. Regularly check its condition, considering usage frequency, and retire it responsibly based on its wear and tear.