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Mad Rock Lifeguard Review

Good choice for climbers with smaller hands, those looking to save a few dollars over the GriGri, or who want something smaller for long climbs
Mad Rock Lifeguard
Photo: Mad Rock
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Price:  $90 List | $89.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  More compact than a GriGri and slightly lighter
Cons:  Not as smooth for belaying or lowering, smaller size might not work for larger hands
Manufacturer:   Mad Rock
By Andy Wellman & Cam McKenzie Ring  ⋅  Feb 21, 2020
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64
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#11 of 16
  • Catch and Bite - 30% 7
  • Lowering and Rappelling - 30% 6
  • Feeding Slack - 20% 5
  • Weight and Bulk - 10% 6
  • Auto Block - 10% 9

Our Verdict

The Mad Rock Lifeguard is an active assisted braking device that is a good option for those looking for a smaller version of a Petzl GriGri. While it's more compact than the GriGris, at 5.4 ounces, it's not that much lighter than the 7.1-ounce GriGri+ or 6.3-ounce GriGri. It saves on size by eliminating the bottom track that the rope runs through, but this decreases the smoothness when feeding out slack or lowering. However, we know lots of climbers that insist on multi-pitch climbing with a GriGri for the added safety when compared to a tube-style device (and they also carry one of those for rappelling). If that sounds like you, then the Lifeguard could be just what you are looking for.

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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros More compact than a GriGri and slightly lighterEasy catch and hold, feeds slack smoothly, smooth lowering, handles ropes down to 8.5mmGreat for belaying seconds on multi-pitch climbs, durable, good valueThree belay modes in on device, affordable, stainless steel inserts for greater longevityCompact, safe and ergonomic way to pay out slack, a bit less expensive than GriGri
Cons Not as smooth for belaying or lowering, smaller size might not work for larger handsA bit clunky, can only use one rope, takes time to master techniquesHeavier than the ReversoSlightly heavier than competitors, assisted braking mode requires learning a new belay techniqueMethod of clipping to harness is counter-intuitive, unlocking device under tension takes some practice, easy to lower too quickly
Bottom Line A good option for longer routes where you want something more compact than a GriGriBy far the most popular belay device in the world is also one of the very bestSimple, durable, and optimal value for multi pitch climbsA Top Pick because of its unique combination of three different belay modes in one small and convenient deviceWith a little practice this device quickly became one we enjoy using, with few, if any, downsides
Rating Categories Mad Rock Lifeguard Petzl GriGri Black Diamond ATC Guide Edelrid Giga Jul Trango Vergo
Catch And Bite (30%)
7
9
5
8
8
Lowering And Rappelling (30%)
6
7
9
8
7
Feeding Slack (20%)
5
7
9
7
8
Weight And Bulk (10%)
6
5
8
7
5
Auto Block (10%)
9
9
5
4
7
Specs Mad Rock Lifeguard Petzl GriGri Black Diamond ATC... Edelrid Giga Jul Trango Vergo
Style Active assisted braking Active assisted braking Auto-block tube Passive assisted braking Passive assisted braking
Recommended Rope Diameter 8.9 mm - 11 mm 8.5 mm - 11 mm 7.7 mm - 11 mm 7.8 mm - 10.0 mm 8.9 mm - 10.7 mm
Weight (oz) 5.4 oz. 6.3 oz. 2.8 oz. 4.3 oz. 7.1 oz.
Double Rope Rap? No No Yes Yes No
Belay off anchor? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Assisted Braking? Yes, active Yes, active No Yes, passive Yes, passive
Warranty Limited lifetime warranty 3 year 1 year 1 year 1 year

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Mad Rock Lifeguard is made entirely of aircraft-grade hot-forged aluminum and stainless steel. No plastic on this one! It can accommodate ropes from 8.9 to 11mm in diameter.

Know How To Use Your Belay Device
The information provided in this review is designed to help you make a purchasing decision, and should not be used as instruction. For recommended usage, check out this short video made by MadRock.

Performance Comparison


It's like a mini GriGri! The compact Lifeguard will feel familiar to...
It's like a mini GriGri! The compact Lifeguard will feel familiar to longtime GriGri users, though it might feel a little small in the hand.
Photo: Cam McKenzie Ring

Catch/Bite


We felt like this device mostly acted like other assisted braking devices in the catch department (locking off quickly and not needing as much force to hold on to the rope as you do with a tube-style device). We knocked it down a few points though because while the catch is similar, the "bite" is not. This unit worked well when top roping most adults over 100 pounds, but when we tried belaying children with it the cam would not engage fully. There's no minimum rating (to our knowledge) for cam engagement in belay devices — usually it's the breaking force we are worried about — but in this case, we were concerned with the lack of camming action. This might also be an issue for lighter adults in situations where there is a lot of rope drag that reduces the weight of the climber being held by the device.

The camming mechanism on the Lifeguard in action. In most...
The camming mechanism on the Lifeguard in action. In most situations, it engaged just fine, but we did have some issues when belaying a child with significant rope drag.
Photo: Scott Ring

Lowering/Rappelling


The Lifeguard did not lower as smoothly as some of the tube-style devices we have reviewed, and it felt jerkier than the other assisted braking devices as well. Some might appreciate the metal handle though, which inspires slightly more confidence than the plastic handles found on competitors — not that we've ever had one break on us though!

Feeding Slack


When it comes to feeding slack, we weren't that impressed with the action on the Lifeguard. Mad Rock recommends the classic tuber-style lead belay (one hand pulling the rope up out of the device and the brake hand pushing the rope in, shown in the video linked above), and this works for paying out small amounts of slack. When your partner goes to clip and you need two large arm-lengths, it did tend to lock up on us though. For those situations, we preferred to use the typical GriGri belay style, but the action there wasn't as smooth as the GriGri either.

When it came to feeding slack we think the lack of a bottom track...
When it came to feeding slack we think the lack of a bottom track influenced the smoothness of the pull.
Photo: Scott Ring

We think the difference is because the rope is enclosed inside the GriGri and the track helps it feed smoothly, whereas there is no bottom track for the rope in the Lifeguard. Also note that some of our big-handed male testers found this device uncomfortably small to use, but those with smaller hands might prefer it over the larger GriGri.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Weight/Bulk


Here is one area where the Lifeguard beats out the GriGri. It's not that much lighter, but it is certainly more compact.

Which one would you rather have hanging off your harness when...
Which one would you rather have hanging off your harness when multi-pitch climbing? The Lifeguard (right) is a compact unit compared to the GriGri+ (left).
Photo: Cam McKenzie Ring

Auto Block (resistance belaying a second)


The Lifeguard provided more resistance in auto-block mode (when belaying off the anchor) than the GriGri, but not as much as the auto-blocking tube-style devices. This concurs with our findings about pulling slack through the device; it is just not as smooth a pull as the GriGri.

Value


The Lifeguard retails for a little bit cheaper than the GriGri and significantly less than the GirGri+. While we didn't find ourselves instantly reaching for this device when given a chance, if you are looking for an upgrade to your tube-style device but haven't been a fan of Petzl's assisted braking devices, this might be what you are looking for.

Conclusion


The Mad Rock Lifeguard is a compact belay device that does fill a niche need for those who prefer to belay with an assisted braking device no matter the situation but want something a little smaller for long routes.

Andy Wellman & Cam McKenzie Ring