The Best Climbing Belay Device

We tested 13 top belay devices in the gym, up and down Yosemite’s walls and in our lab (our garage). We tested for efficiency in throwing rope fast to a leader, smoothly belaying a second, rappelling single or double ropes of varying diameter, and for overall durability. Then we selected the winners for each category/situation. The good news: they all work well for most cragging or gym situations. Where the differences came out was for specific applications such as auto-blocking the second and use with varying diameter ropes. Read below to see which devices scored the best for which applications.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab October 16, 2013

Top Ranked Belay Device Displaying 1 - 5 of 12 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Petzl GriGri 2
Petzl GriGri 2
Read the Review
Video video review
Black Diamond ATC Guide
Black Diamond ATC Guide
Read the Review
Trango Cinch
Trango Cinch
Read the Review
Video video review
Petzl Reverso 4
Petzl Reverso 4
Read the Review
Video video review
Wild Country VC Pro 2
Wild Country VC Pro 2
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award    Best Buy Award 
Street Price Varies $85 - $100
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Varies $24 - $30
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Varies $73 - $86
Compare at 5 sellers
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Compare at 8 sellers
Varies $15 - $16
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83% recommend it (10/12)
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100% recommend it (9/9)
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75% recommend it (6/8)
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75% recommend it (3/4)
Pros Smooth rope handling, auto-locking, works on ropes down to 8.9mm.Great for belay second on multi-pitch climbs, durable, pulls 10mm ropes smoothly, good valuelow bulk, rope range, usually feeds effortlesslyLightweight, easy to unlock, great for belaying two skinny ropesLight, compact, inexpensive, smooth handling.
Cons Heavy, expensive, product was recalled shortly after introduction.Heavier than the Reverso 4, otherwise nothing to complain aboutawkward lowering, not intuitive to useExpensive, not the most durable, not ideal with ropes thicker than 9.5mmNo major ones.
Best Uses Sport climbing, gym climbing, cragging, big wall climbing.multi pitch climbingsport climbing, trad climbing, big wall climbingMulti pitch traditional climbingSingle to multipitch cragging, alpine, ice, intro to climbing.
Date Reviewed Oct 02, 2013Oct 02, 2013Feb 16, 2010Oct 02, 2013Feb 08, 2010
Weighted Scores Petzl GriGri 2 Black Diamond ATC Guide Trango Cinch Petzl Reverso 4 Wild Country VC Pro 2
Lowering - 25%
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Sport Gym Belay - 30%
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Rappel 2 Ropes - 15%
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Lock Off - 15%
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Belaying The Second - 15%
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Product Specs Petzl GriGri 2 Black Diamond ATC Guide Trango Cinch Petzl Reverso 4 Wild Country VC Pro 2
Recommended Rope Diameter 8.9mm - 11mm 7.7 mm - 11 mm 9.4mm - 11mm 7.5mm -11mm 7.7mm -11mm
Weight 6.0 oz 3.1 oz/ 88 g 6.6 oz 2.8 oz 2.9 oz
Double Rope Rap? No Yes No Yes Yes
Belay off anchor? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Warranty 3 year 1 year 1 year 3 year 1 year

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Black Diamond ATC XP
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Wild Country VC Pro 2
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Black Diamond ATC Guide
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Trango Cinch
$70
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Metolius BRD
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Kong GiGi
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Petzl Reverso 4
$36
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Mad Rock Mad Lock
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Petzl Verso
$26
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Petzl Reverso 3
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DMM V Twin
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Black Diamond ATC
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Sport/Gym
The Petzl GriGri 2 was our favorite device for lead belaying and the Trango Cinch was a close second. There was less friction when paying out the rope with the Cinch but the GriGri 2 edged ahead because it had better lowering and better response in "short roping" situations. The Smart did not score as high because it did not pay out or take in rope as smoothly as most other devices.

While the locking assist devices (GriGri 2, Cinch, Smart) scored the highest, they were also the most prone to user error: dropping a leader, being put on incorrectly, etc. For quickly paying out rope to a leader, it is still hard to beat a basic manual or tube style device. All tube style devices scored well. The original Black Diamond ATC surprised us with how well it pays out rope to the leader. However, many people feel the ATC is not as safe to belay with when using lead lines under 9.5mm as with a device having teeth, such as the ATC XP, Verso or BRD. The BRD did not pay out rope quite as smoothly as most other devices but more than made up for this with its great lock off. We found we would gladly sacrifice a little smoothness for peace of mind. Overall, we liked the ATC XP the best of the tube style devices but it only narrowly edged ahead of the VC Pro II.

Belaying the Second on Multi-Pitch Climbs
The GriGri 2 is the smoothest device for a (single) second while multi- pitch climbing. The Trango Cinch worked equally well for belaying off the anchor, but was not as smooth when lowering the follower or single-line rappelling. Neither device allows for belaying two climbers so you will need to bring another belay device for rappelling or retreating. For that reason most climbers prefer to bring just one of the auto-blocking devices mentioned below that are both light and versatile.

The Black Diamond ATC Guide was the favorite auto-blocking devices for two ropes. It allows for two partners to follow at once while in auto-block mode, provides the ability to smoothly rappel two ropes and still maintains a low profile. The Petzl Reverso 4 is the former champion, but the guide edged ahead for being easier to use with thicker ropes. The Mad Rock Mad Lock worked much smoother than the Reverso 4 or ATC Guide for ropes thicker that 9.5mm. However, in order to use skinny ropes, you need to add in a friction bar. That requires using a dime or screwdriver, which is just not that practical. Also you must keep track of a pin.

Durability
It takes a lot of heavy use to wear out a belay device. Just about every device we tested scored high for durability. The only devices that showed lots of wear fast were the Petzl Reverso 4 and Petzl Verso. However, they will still last a while and most people who use these devices find the lack of durability is more than made up for by other features. Of the manual style devices, the BRD was the most durable. The GriGri 2 will eventually wear out and start to slip, but it will like take heavy use over 10 years to make this happen.

Lock Off
What device is best if your partner is dogging that toprope for an hour? The auto-locking devices scored the highest: GriGri 2, Smart and Cinch. The GriGri 2 locked off best on the skinny ropes. All the devices locked off about evenly on 10-11mm ropes.

Most standard tube style devices scored about the same for lock off. Devices with grooved teeth — the Black Diamond ATC XP, Petzl Verso and Wild Country VC PRO II — provided extra stopping control and had more friction control when rappelling thinner ropes than the ATC. That said, the BRD surprised us with the best lock off of all the tube style devices — and it doesn't have any teeth.
Click to enlarge
Credit: Chris Van Leuven
Weight/Size
The Verso was easily the lightest device and also the most compact. You hardly notice it on your harness. Second was the ATC. Most other devices after that weighed about the same (around three ounces). The Reverso 4 was the lightest auto-blocking device until we removed the pin on the Mad Lock and then that tied it for lightest. The Mammut Smart was by far the lightest auto-locking device and was also one of the lightest devices period. The Trango Cinch and GriGri 2 were by far the heaviest devices. Of the two, the Trango is noticeably lighter and, more importantly, is in a much more compact package so it swings around less on your harness.

Lowering and Rappelling
The GriGri 2 has a generous handle that makes it easy to lower a climber. Occasionally it will act a little weird if rappelling funky fixed ropes, but overall we would always reach for this if doing a single line rappelling or lowering. The Cinch was not quite as smooth — a smaller lever made it a little harder to control. Also, the lowering was almost too slow on really thick ropes in the gym when there is extra friction added at the anchor. The Smart lowering was okay at the gym but much harder to control when the ropes were skinny and we were outside. The Smart works, just not nearly as smoothly as the GriGri. None of the three devices mentioned above works for rappelling two ropes, so you will need an extra device if your descent involves rappels.

Among manualy belay devices there was one standout: the Metolius BRD. It had much more friction than any other device, which meant lowering on skinny ropes and rappelling was much easier on our hands. Most other devices with friction grooves handled about the same. The ATC XP seemed to work better on skinny ropes than most other devices.

The Bottom Line
Editors' Choice
We had two Editors' Choice awards: The Petzl GriGri 2 and Black Diamond ATC XP. The GriGri 2 is our top device for sport climbing, gym use, cragging and big walls. But because it is so heavy, expensive and you can't rappel two ropes with it, we felt we also needed to give an Editors' Choice to best all-around device. The ATC XP took the award, just narrowly beating the VC Pro II. We like the lowering with thin ropes more on the ATC XP, but otherwise the two devices are close competitors.

Best Buy
The Wild Country VC Pro scored very high and is among the least expensive devices: we gave it the Best Buy award. It is a great device, and arguable just as effective as the ATC XP. It comes down to personal preference on the very minor differences between the two.

Top Pick
The Black Diamond ATC Guide is our favorite device for multi-pitch climbing with thin ropes. If we had one more Editor Choice slot, we would have given it to that. It just narrowly dethrones the Petzl Reverso 4 which was last years Top Pick winner for belaying with two ropes. It's a close race. The Petzl is lighter but more expensive. The ATC Guide is a little better with thicker ropes and likely more durable. You will be happy with either one.

Those awards aside, just about every device excelled at a specific application. We even found that the old standby ATC still works great in most applications. If you have the money and can afford to buy the best device for each application, here is what we would get:

Favorite Devices for Each Application
If you are just starting to climb: VC Pro II
Sport Climbing and Gym Climbing: GriGri 2
Big Walls: Cinch or GriGri 2
Alpine climbing: Reverso 4 or Verso or ATC XP
Multi-Pitch with 8.5-10mm: Reverso 4 or ATC XP
Multi-Pitch with 10mm: ATC XP
Rapelling with two ropes: Metolius BRD
All Around: ATC XP or VC Pro II

Chris McNamara
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