The Best Climbing Belay Device

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What is the best belay device for rock climbing? Over a six month test we took ten of the top products on the market up and down rock, ice, and snow, from the storied granite walls of Yosemite Valley to the ephemeral colored routes at our local climbing gyms. Throughout the process we tried to consider each design's ability to catch falls, feed slack, lower partners, and rappel. We even got the hanging scale out to systematically measure auto-block resistance. The good news: they all work well for most cragging or gym situations. Where the differences came out was for specific applications such as belaying a second and use with varying rope diameters. In the end we settled on an overall Editors' Choice winner and selections for multi-pitch climbing and the best value. Read on to see which were our favorites or check out our Buying Advice article for specific recommendations tailored to different disciplines and experiences levels.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 10 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Rank #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product
Petzl GriGri 2
Petzl GriGri 2
Read the Review
Black Diamond ATC Guide
Black Diamond ATC Guide
Read the Review
Camp Matik
Camp Matik
Read the Review
Black Diamond ATC XP
Black Diamond ATC XP
Read the Review
Petzl Reverso 4
Petzl Reverso 4
Read the Review
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award   
Price $100 List | $75 - $100 online
Compare at 6 sellers
$30 List | $22 - $30 online
Compare at 6 sellers
$200 List | $160 - $200 online
Compare at 4 sellers
$22 List | $18 - $22 online
Compare at 5 sellers
$30 List | $22 - $30 online
Compare at 6 sellers
Overall Score 
100
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79
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75
100
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75
100
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71
100
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71
Star Rating
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Pros Smooth rope handling, assisted braking, works on ropes down to 8.9mmGreat for belaying seconds on multi-pitch climbs, durable, good valueGradual camming action, anti-panic lowering handle, easier for leftiesGood friction control when rappelling and lowering, smooth paying out ropeLightweight, easy to unlock, great for belaying two skinny ropes
Cons Heavy-ish, expensive, single strand onlyHeavier than the Reverso 4, otherwise nothing to complain aboutExpensive! Heavy, not quite as smooth as a GriGriHeavier than VersoSofter aluminum seems less durable, not ideal with ropes thicker than 9.5mm
Ratings by Category Petzl GriGri 2 Black Diamond ATC Guide Camp Matik Black Diamond ATC XP Petzl Reverso 4
Catch Bite - 30%
10
0
9
10
0
6
10
0
10
10
0
6
10
0
5
Lowering Rappelling - 30%
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
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9
10
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9
Feeding Slack - 15%
10
0
7
10
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9
10
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6
10
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9
10
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9
Auto Block (resistance Belaying A Second) - 10%
10
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9
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5
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3
Weight Bulk - 10%
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8
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3
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9
10
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9
Durability - 5%
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0
7
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7
10
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10
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7
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6
Specs Petzl GriGri 2 Black Diamond ATC Guide Camp Matik Black Diamond ATC XP Petzl Reverso 4
Style active assisted braking auto-block tube active assisted braking tube style auto-block tube
Recommended Rope Diameter 8.9 mm - 11 mm 7.7 mm - 11 mm 8.6 mm - 10.2 mm 7.7 mm - 11 mm 7.5 mm - 11 mm
Weight (oz) 6.1 3.2 9.7 2.2 2.2

Analysis and Award Winners



Review by:
and Chris McNamara

Last Updated:
Sunday

Gone are the days of hip belays and the adage "the leader must not fall". Along with dynamic ropes, the reliability of modern belay devices has transformed climbing from a borderline suicidal endeavor to a boring choice for a kid's birthday party. If you climb enough though, you'll eventually wonder which device offers the best friction in the lightest, most affordable, package?

Follow the Manufacturer's Instructions Carefully
Belay devices are important pieces of climbing life-safety equipment, but can be confusing to master. This is one piece of gear where learning exactly how to properly use it is crucial. Improper use of a belay device may result in death or serious injury. It is very important that you read and carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions. We encourage you to visit the manufacturer's website and make sure you have their latest documentation for your particular belay device, as manufacturer's recommendations sometimes change over time as new safety guidelines are developed. Climbing is dangerous. Climb at your own risk.

Types of Belay Devices


Tubes


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The body and wire loop on the Black Diamond ATC XP (left) are both larger than the Petzl Verso (right). The difference wasn't large enough to have a significant impact on our scoring.
The most basic type of belay device we will cover in this review is the tube. Modern versions of these devices continue to look less and less like an actual tube, but they're all based on the concept of a tube-shaped slot to pass a bight of rope through. You clip a carabiner to this bight and the bend it creates produces the friction and braking power. One of the more popular early models was the Black Diamond ATC ("Air Traffic Controller") and this acronym is sometimes used to refer to the entire category. Although the original ATC is still available, many of today's best performing tubes are asymmetrically shaped to give stronger braking force. They include a toothed groove on one side that 'bites' the rope better when catching lead falls. Most tubes include two slots to enable you to belay with half and twin ropes and rappel on two strands. We reviewed four devices in this category: the Black Diamond ATC XP, Petzl Verso, Black Diamond ATC Guide, and Petzl Reverso 4, but there are many, many more available. In addition to the basic tube design, the ATC Guide and Reverso also feature auto-block capability.

Auto-block


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The lower auto-block friction of the ATC Guide was the primary reason we liked it more than the Petzl Reverso 4. This type of configuration, in which you use the belay device connected to an anchor to belay a second climber can be confusing. Be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
Auto-block devices, sometimes called 'guide' devices, are tube derivatives that include an extra hole to clip the device into an anchor. This allows you to belay a climber directly off said anchor with an assisted locking mechanism. These are ideal for multi-pitch routes or belaying two followers at once. The extra automatic braking frees up a hand too, letting a belayer snack, rehydrate, or snap photos at the same time. But, never take your braking hand off the rope or ropes under any circumstances. The drawbacks to auto-blocking tubes are higher weight, cost, and complexity. Belayers also need to be experienced enough to handle the sometimes involved procedures to lower a hanging partner in auto-block mode.

Assisted Braking: Passive vs. Active


The next step up in sophistication is assisted braking devices. These devices, also called 'assisted locking', use a variety of mechanisms to pinch the rope and automatically catch a fall. The automation and reliability of this catch, however, is not fool-proof so we will refrain from using the popular, but incorrect term, 'auto-locking'. No matter the belay device, always keep your braking hand on the rope(s).

Assisted braking devices are great because they reduce the grip strength required to hold a hanging partner, letting you save your energy for climbing instead of belaying. Their safety benefits though are more dubious. If you let their automatic braking capability encourage bad belay techniques, they can become just as dangerous as any other type. Their function also requires more complicated hand motions that can create their own accidents or inhibit precise rope management, which is especially important for near-ground clips. Therefore, we suggest only experienced belayers use assisted braking devices for lead belays.

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The different lowering handles on the four active assisted locking devices. Clockwise from the upper left: the Edelrid Eddy, Camp Matik, Trango Cinch, and Petzl GriGri 2. Notice how the Cinch's handle is oriented in the opposite direction and pulls away from a belayer during lowering/rappelling. We think this design is easier for lefties.

Passive
We will separate today's assisted braking options into two categories: passive and active. Passive assisted braking devices generate their braking power by pinching the rope between the device and a carabiner and are dependent on the position of the brake hand (classified under UIAA En 15151-2, "Manual braking devices"). These devices are lighter and less expensive than their active counterparts, and are usually capable of double strand rappels. However, their performance is highly dependent on the carabiner used and they offer less braking power. We examined the Mammut Smart Alpine and Edelrid Mega Jul in this category.

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Passive assisted braking devices like the Mammut Smart use an angled channel on the side of the tube to direct the belay biner towards the brake strand and pinch the rope. Be sure to carefully read the manufacturer's instructions for any belay device.

Active
Active assisted braking devices generate their braking power via a variety of mechanisms inside the device itself. They're not dependent on the position of the brake hand or the carabiner used (classified under UIAA EN 15151-1, "braking devices with manually assisted locking"). Examples we tested include the Petzl GriGri 2, Edelrid Eddy, Camp Matik, and Trango Cinch. These devices are the most expensive but provide the greatest braking power, handle smoothly, and are our favorites for most belays.

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It's crucial to always keep a hand on the brake when feeding slack with the GriGri 2 or any other belay device.

Criteria for Evaluation


Catch/Bite


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Although the author never falls normally, he was willing to take a few to test the bite of different belay devices.
This category tries to measure the strength of the catch across all disciplines from sport to trad, winter ascents with half frozen ropes, to summer big walls and their marathon belays. We also considered the hand strength required to hold a hanging climber in place, what we'll be calling 'lock-off' in the individual product reviews. Predictably we found the assisted braking devices outperformed the basic models in both aspects.

We think it's important to emphasize the difference between the passive assisted braking of the Smart Alpine and Edelrid Mega Jul versus the active assisted locking on devices like the GriGri 2, Trango Cinch, Edelrid Eddy and Camp Matik. In the GriGri et al. braking is created by a pinching mechanism inside the device itself; the passive assisted braking models rely on a pinch between the carabiner and the device. The Smart Alpine and Mega Jul are thus dependent on this carabiner and its shape and size can have a significant impact on performance (up to 35% differences in our tests).

Furthermore, passive models do not generate the same braking force as active devices. The German Alpine Club conducted tests measuring the braking force without a hand on the rope for several models and found the Smart and Mega Jul could only handle 0.6 kN and 0.5 kN, respectively. Active assisted locking devices like the GriGri 2 and Camp Matik each withstood more than 2.0 kN. Contrary to what we've seen on the internet, the Smart and Mega Jul cannot be expected to catch even small falls without a brake hand on the rope. To say it another way, if your belayer gets knocked unconscious by rockfall, these passive assisted braking devices are unlikely to catch your fall.

Lowering/Rappelling


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When you're tired or conditions are bad it's even more important to back up rappels and descend with extra care.
Catching a falling climber is only half the duty of a belay device; getting that climber safely back to the ground is the other. That's where lowering and rappelling come in. Six of the devices we tested began with an automatic advantage in this category—the ability to rappel two strands. Rather than include that difference in our numerical scoring though, we chose to separate it as a simple 'yes or no' double strand question in our comparison matrix. Shoppers should recognize that the none of the active assisted locking devices can rappel a doubled rope. Consider these models only for single-pitch routes or multi-pitches in combination with a two strand device.

The difference in lowering/rappelling scores came down to the smoothness of the action and the range it was good for. We saw the most consistently good performance from the tube devices. Although the assisted braking models all provide the ability to lock the device and rest hands free, they also exhibited narrow ranges and jerkiness. No matter which device you choose, it's important to tie a knot in the end of the rope—rappelling and lowering accidents are two of the most common types and are often easily preventable.

Feeding Slack


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The Pistol-Grip Position: to feed slack with the Camp Matik you use your index finger and thumb to squeeze this black trigger on the bottom. Be sure to read the Camp Matik manual carefully to learn how to properly belay with it.
Feeding slack is a category we included to measure each device's usefulness for belaying a lead climber. A lead climbing belay requires more attentiveness and rope management skill than a top-roping belay. The ability to take and give slack quickly and precisely is important to ensure a good belay—especially when close to ground. Tube devices require the simplest motion to take or feed slack and received the best scores in this category because of it. Passive assisted braking devices, like the Edelrid Mega Jul and Mammut Smart Alpine, are the next step up in complexity and feature similar movements to tubes but with upward pressure on a handle or loop to disable the device's locking mechanisim. Finally, active assisted braking devices are the most complex and each feature a different method for giving slack quickly.

Our favorite of the active locking devices was the Petzl GriGri 2, however, one study showed that even with this popular and longstanding device, up to a quarter of all users pay out slack improperly, momentarily taking their brake hand off the rope (we've said it before, but it bears repeating, never take your braking hand off the rope!). Therefore, no matter which device you choose we urge you to find out how to use it correctly. And that's especially true for the more complicated techniques required on active assisted braking models.

Auto-block (resistance belaying a second)


Belaying a second directly off the anchor is a convenient way to ensure a reliable catch and a comfortable belay while multi-pitch climbing (be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions carefully, as this type of belay configuration is more complex and mistakes can result in death). All the devices we tried, except the Black Diamond ATC XP and Petzl Verso, feature some way to do so. Unfortunately though, many of these devices create substantial friction that can exhaust a belayer's shoulders and elbows. We were inspired by Blake Herrington at Cascade Climbers to run a test on the resistance of each device in auto-block mode. Our full procedures are explained in the How We Test section, but the important thing to know is that the actual numerical value (in lbs) is not very meaningful. Rather the relative performance of each device compared to the others is what you should focus on. Lower scores are better and indicate less energy required for auto-block belays. The 1-10 scores we awarded for this category assume each device is capable of properly locking and only reflect the relative resistance.

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The results from our auto-block friction test. We rigged each belay device in auto-block mode from a hanging scale and recorded the weight (in lbs) when we pulled rope through. We tested 2 different ropes and used the same round Petzl Attache carabiner for all devices. Lower numbers are better.

Weight/Bulk


Like all climbing gear these days, belay devices are getting lighter and smaller. Devices ranged from 2.0 to 13.0 ounces. Three or more of the smallest, the Petzl Verso, could likely fit inside the volume of the massive Edelrid Eddy. This category is obviously not crucial to device function but we decided to include it because it's important to alpine and multi-pitch climbers. In the end we summarized both components into this one rating and it represents ten percent of the overall score.

Durability


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The center pin on the Cinch is our primary durability concern. Although stainless steel, it's a fairly small surface subjected to a lot of rope friction.
You can expect all the products we reviewed to last for a couple years of heavy use. Different climbers, though, might decide to retire the same device at different levels of wear. So instead of guessing about lifespans, we tried to objectively determine relative durability between all the devices by considering materials and design. Stainless steel was the clear winner and devices that used it for their friction surfaces, like the Camp Matik and Edelrid Mega Jul, received some of the best scores. Petzl and Black Diamond both use aluminum for their tube designs but the hardness is different. We believe the BD stuff will last longer. Ultimately durability only represents five percent of overall score. If you ever suspect your device is worn out or no longer working properly, you should retire it immediately.

Accessories


It's impossible to belay without a climbing rope and unpleasant without a pair of gloves. See our picks for the best in each category in The Best Rock Climbing Rope Review and The Best Climbing, Belay, and Rappel Gloves.

Editors' Choice Award: Petzl GriGri 2


Editors' Choice Award
Petzl GriGri 2
Price:   Varies from $75 - $100
Compare prices at 6 resellers


Read the review

Petzl released the first batch of GriGris in 1991 and they quickly became a favorite of both sport climbers and big wallers. The original design was updated in 2011 with the GriGri 2 and today that design remains the most popular assisted braking device in the world. We like it for many reasons, including its low weight, strong catch, and smooth handling. Other companies have introduced their own assisted braking models that might surpass the GriGri in a few narrow areas. None, however, have been able to combine good performance across a range of applications into a single package like the GriGri 2 does. For this reason it remains our Editors' Choice and the gold standard for belay devices.

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The trust between you and your belay device is as important as the trust between you and your partner.

Best Buy Award: Black Diamond ATC XP


Best Buy Award
Black Diamond ATC XP
Price:   Varies from $18 - $22
Compare prices at 5 resellers


Read the review

Although the GriGri 2 is our favorite device for experienced climbers and single-pitch cragging, we think the Black Diamond ATC XP is the best for new climbers or anyone on a budget. It's designed in the classic tube shape with two friction channels to enable double strand rappels. It's one of the easiest to learn and includes a toothed groove on one side of the tube for superior braking strength when catching lead falls. Compared to it's closest challenger, the Petzl Verso, we preferred the ATC XP because it's slightly more durable and has stronger lock-off friction. They're both great devices though, so look for deals and consider whichever one is on sale.

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An ATC XP basking in the sun overlooking the entrance to Yosemite Valley.

Top Pick for Multi-Pitch Climbing: Black Diamond ATC Guide


Top Pick Award
Black Diamond ATC Guide
Price:   Varies from $22 - $30
Compare prices at 6 resellers


Read the review

For climbers that like to do it all, our recommendation is the Black Diamond ATC Guide. This device offers the same ideal characteristics as the ATC XP for standard belays while also providing auto-block capability for bringing up followers directly on an anchor. The GriGri 2 is only able to belay a single strand and that limitation classifies it as a luxury in our eyes. Most climbers will also need a two strand device for rappels and the ATC Guide is our favorite. The Petzl Reverso 4 put up stiff competition by offering similar features at an ounce less weight. However, the ATC Guide's superior durability and lower auto-block resistance are the reasons we ultimately chose it as our Top Pick for multi-pitch climbing.

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The ATC Guide did better in our tests rappelling with ropes of two different diameters than the passive assisted locking devices.
Jack Cramer and Chris McNamara
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Unbiased.