You don’t need to be an expert climber to see that it comes with risks. However, as with most things, there are ways to minimize them so your experience can be both exhilarating and as safe as possible.
One of the most critical aspects to consider is belaying. Clearly, whether you’re either responsible for the safety of the climber above, or are relying on your belayer below, you need to ensure the proper equipment is being used, and this is equally true of the belay device you’re considering.
This article will go over a variety of belay device types, pointing out their pros and cons, so you’ll be able to make an informed decision based on your situation and level of experience. Let’s dive in!
Figure Eight Belay Device
If you have a passion for rappelling, this is one of the best belay devices because its bulkiness ensures heat will dissipate swiftly which, in turn, makes for a smooth descent. However, it can be used purely for belaying too.
As its name suggests, the device (which is among the simplest around) consists of two different sized holes in a figure-eight shape. The rope feeds through the larger top hole, which then loops around the outside of the smaller one, before being fastened to the belay loop on the harness.
They’re also lightweight, simple to set up, and affordable (a popular choice such as the Black Diamond Super 8 will only set you back around $15). So far, so good.
The biggest drawback of this device is it asks a lot of the belayer and so should really only be used for that purpose by belayers with lots of experience. That’s because the reduced friction demands extra attention from the belayer, as well as plenty of strength in case of a larger fall.
And there’s a twist – literally. Using a figure-eight belay device necessitates a twist in the rope, making for trickier handling.
Tubular Belay Devices
There’s a reason these types of belay devices are so popular – their diversity, You name it, and there’s probably a climbing environment that calls for a tubular belay device.
Traditional rock climber? This has you covered. Into gym climbing? This is the device for you. Attempting either a single or multi-pitch climb? You’re good with one of these.
They’re also compact, can be used with several types of rope, and don’t require a rope twist. Tubular belay devices have two slots – a bent rope bight is fed through one of them, while a carabiner is clipped through the loop.
Finally the carabiner is attached to your harness’s belay loop. It then uses the friction created by the bent rope against the device to help with stopping the rope. Et voila – a great all-rounder,
Cost-wise, you can expect to pay around $25 for a tubular belay device.
Active Assisted Braking Belay Devices
Belay devices of this type are the most technologically advanced on the market, offering advantages that leave it far away from the humble figure-eight belay device described earlier.
Still, it can’t be used for rappelling, so the figure-eight has at least one advantage over it. That really is about all, though.
That’s because active assisted braking devices help take some of the weight off for the belayer by gripping the rope when the climber falls or hangs on the rope. They’re also used from bringing up second climbers on multi-pitch climbs.
They are costly (the Petzi GriGri 2, for example, will cost upwards of $100), but if taking some of the legwork from the belayer combined with added safety are priorities, it’ll be a worthwhile investment.
Passive Assisted Braking Belay Devices
These types of belay devices take us into high-end territory, cost-wise, with price tags around the $90 mark.
However, for that extra you get a device that they will assist in stopping the rope’s movement (hence the name passive). So, rather than just the belayer having to hold the rope, this will take some of the strain away by pinching the rope between it and the carabiner.
Like the tubular belay devices, they’re also good for most types of climbing, and they’re lightweight too, so those advantages combined with it taking some of the workload means you definitely get what you pay for.
These are essentially tubular belay devices cranked up to the next level. They work in a similar way but have added versatility for those undertaking multi-pitch climbs, operating in the same way as the previous device when belaying the lead climber before coming into its own when bringing up the second.
Another great feature of the guide plate is its assisted braking, which can be invaluable when bringing a climber down.
These particular belay device types are a little pricier than the previous ones (starting at around the $35 mark) but for the added functionality and peace of mind they bring, they’re well worth paying a little extra for.
The Munter Hitch
Before rounding up which device is best for your situation, it’s worth mentioning the munter hitch. Not a device at all, the munter hitch is an adjustable knot. However, it can be used as a makeshift belay appliance in the event that your belay device of choice is lost on a climb.
All you need is a locking carabiner, then you simply tie your munter hitch knot and continue. Yes, it will lead to more bends in the rope than is ideal, and true, rope twists are also likely to occur when employing this knot, but when needs must it will do the job until such time as you can use proper belay devices again.
Choosing The Right Belay Device Type
Of course, your individual budget is likely to be a factor, but I wouldn’t advise compromising on price if it means using a belay device that you’re not entirely happy with – after all, belaying is not a trivial issue and safety should be a priority.
Instead, try to consider both your level of experience, as well as the type of climbs you’ll be involved with, and help that determine the best belay device types for you. For example, if you tend to prefer hard sport routes for your climb, an active assisted braking belay device will likely work best.
However, for those taking on more multi-pitch climbs, where bringing up a second is a consideration, guide plates are probably as good an option as any,
If you’re really struggling to work out the best device for your experience level and situation, you won’t go far wrong with some kind of tubular belay device, as these tend to be good for most types of climb.
Better still, and particularly if you are interested in more than one type of climb, having several different types of belay devices is never a bad idea.
Sometimes, you just have to try different things out until you settle on one particular device (and brand) you’re comfortable with. Hopefully this guide can bring you a step closer to working out which one that might be.
Oh, and, don’t forget, you still have your trusty munter hitch to fall back on if all else fails!