Edelrid Giga Jul Review
Cons: Slightly heavier than competitors, assisted braking mode requires learning a new belay technique
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Giga Jul was released in the spring of 2019, and is designed as the successor to the Edelrid Mega Jul. While the Mega Jul introduced several cool and unique features, the fact is that most people don't enjoy using it because it is too small and therefore has way too much friction from the rope unavoidably built into its use, making it effortful and annoying compared to the competition. The Giga Jul addressed these problems by being a bit bigger and allowing more space for ropes to run with slightly less friction and is, therefore, easier to use. It also eliminates much of the non-intuitive setup found in the Mega Jul; as long as you pay careful attention to the pictorial diagrams on the side of the device and be sure to load it correctly, the Giga Jul is easy and intuitive to use.
Switching between different belay modes, such as assisted braking or "manual," is performed simply by moving a central slider bar within the device to one side or the other, and then loading the rope correctly for that orientation. Once the rope is loaded, you cannot switch between types of belay style, which is to be expected. The device has two rope slots, making it usable with twin or double ropes, and ensuring that you can rappel double ropes. It is designed to be used with ropes in the range of 7.1mm-10mm and using fatter, thicker ropes can become problematic in assisted braking mode, as the angles are no longer correct to provide the assist, allowing for some rope slippage. While you can belay, lower, or rappel in either assisted or manual modes, we most often found ourselves lead belaying in assisted mode, belaying the second using the auto-block, and rappelling in manual with a prussik backup.
Since it has three different modes of usage, loading, and using this device correctly is potentially more confusing than with many others. Please be sure to carefully learn and practice before you head to the cliffs. Our advice here is intended to help you with your purchasing decision and is not intended as instruction. Here is a link to the instruction manual published by Edelrid, and here is a brief instructional video.
Catch and Bite
Lead or top-rope belaying with the Giga Jul can be done in either assisted braking or manual mode. A slider bar along the top of the device must be positioned all the way on either end, denoting either manual or assisted mode, and then the rope must be loaded into the device in the correct manner depending on the mode, which is different for each. Luckily, there are the standard hand and climber pictures on each side of the device to denote which way to load it properly.
In manual mode, the device functions just like a standard tube and has some added friction grooves that help you catch and hold a falling climber. Compared to assisted braking modes and devices, this way of belaying requires the most effort and sustained gripping of the brake strand.
In assisted braking mode, the rope is pinched between the carabiner and the device in much the same manner as almost every other passive assisted device. Although you must still hold onto the brake strand, the braking assist does most of the work, effectively locking the device when the climber falls, and easily holding their weight as they rest, requiring minimal sustained gripping or effort on the belayer's part. The ultimate "bite" depends on the rope and carabiner you pair the Giga Jul with. We found that round stock pear biners (HMS) work best, as they provide the least friction so you can easily pay out slack. That said, if paired with ropes that are fresh and slippery, it may be possible for a little bit of rope to slip through the device, simply requiring you to grip a little firmer.
Lowering and Rappelling
The performance of the Giga Jul for lowering and rappelling is once again dependent on which mode you are using. For rappelling, we preferred using manual mode with a prussik backup, as this is far and away the smoothest way to rappel, and feels just like any other tube-style device.
We most often lowered climbers in assist mode, because that is how we usually belayed them. Lowering a climber in assist mode requires keeping upward pressure on the thumb loop, or using a separate carabiner threaded through the release hole on the back for leverage, and takes a bit of effort and is also fairly jerky. We liked using the second carabiner best because it mimics the lowering handle found on most active assist devices. Rappelling in assist mode is similarly effortful and jerky, and we preferred not to do it. That said, we like it as an option in case we don't have a prussik for backup. All of the testers who used this device said that they agreed it was less jerky and "grabby" than the similar Mega Jul, which is a good thing.
Feeding slack in manual mode with the Giga Jul is exactly like with any other tube-style device and uses the same techniques. This is the smoothest way to feed slack, and also the least likely for a belayer to accidentally short rope their leader.
In brake assist mode, feeding slack requires learning a different technique. While it takes a few pitches to learn and get completely used to, soon enough, this technique becomes pretty simple. One must loop their thumb through a special thumb loop, and then hold this loop up and out, away from the carabiner, to prevent the device from locking and keep the rope feeding smoothly. With the other hand, the belayer pulls slack through the device. We like how the device is ambidextrous, so lefties can use it just as easily as righties. However, we did notice that when you pull some slack back in through the device, you take your thumb out of the loop to do so, and then must look down, away from your climber, to find the thumb loop once again. We also found that if we belayed with a carabiner that wasn't round, such as the I-beam stock Black Diamond Vaporlock Magnetron, there was way more friction and rope didn't pay out smoothly at all, so be sure to pair it with a round stock pear-shaped HMS carabiner.
Weight and Bulk
The Giga Jul weighs 4.3 ounces, which isn't too heavy but is almost double the weight of some other auto-block belay devices designed for multi-pitching. The added toggle switch adds a little bit of weight, but the main difference is in the stainless steel inserts in high wear areas, that ensure a longer life span for the Giga Jul. The lighter auto-block devices don't have that and are sure to wear out a bit quicker, so the added weight comes with the benefit of increased durability.
In terms of bulk, it is a little bit larger than other auto-block devices, but certainly not by much.
The Giga Jul has a specific metal carabiner loop so that it can be clipped directly to the anchor for belaying up a second in auto-block mode. Of note is that the slider bar must be slid into manual mode for this usage, and the thumb loop points toward the wall, which is the opposite of the orientation used by the Mega Jul, but is ultimately more intuitive. Everyone we know belays the second on multi-pitches using auto-block, so we can't imagine a functional multi-pitch device that doesn't allow this usage.
In terms of function, we found that while there is less friction that the belayer must overcome than with the Mega Jul, there is still a whole lot more than with active assist belay devices. Anytime two ropes are running over each other, as they are in this setup, there is going to be a lot of friction, adding fatigue to your shoulders and elbows as the day goes on.
The Giga Jul costs roughly the same as other passive assist belay devices, many of which do not allow for two ropes and are not ideal for multi-pitching. While it does cost a fair bit more than standard auto-block devices, we think the added expense is worth it, considering you also get assisted braking. Its increased durability also adds to the value. As a top pick with lots of versatility, we think it makes a great value purchase.
The Edelrid Giga Jul is a true "all in one" belay device. Being able to rappel double ropes and belay in auto-block mode is a necessity for any multi-pitch belay device, but also adding in assisted braking greatly increases its value. We know many people who commonly carry a tube and a GriGri up multi-pitch climbs, just for this same versatility. With the Giga Jul, this need disappears, and this level of versatility is what makes it an easy choice for our Top Pick award for Multi-Pitching.
— Andy Wellman