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. It retails for only $20 less than the GriGri ($90 vs. $110), so you won't get much of a cost savings from the Lifeguard either. 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.
Mad Rock Lifeguard Review
Compare prices at 3 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
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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.
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 Lifeguard did not lower as smoothly at the Black Diamond ATC XP or Guide, 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 GriGri's plastic handle — not that we've ever had one break on us though!
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), 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, with our brake thumb depressing the cam (and the rest of our hand still wrapped around the rope), but the action there wasn't as smooth as the GriGri either.
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.
Here is one area where the Lifeguard beats out the GriGri+. It's not that much lighter, but it is certainly more compact.
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 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.
The next time we head out on a multi-pitch route we're taking the Lifeguard with us and not the GriGri. But for sport cragging purposes it didn't blow us away enough to make us reconsider our Editors' Choice pick.
The Lifeguard retails for $90, which is $20 cheaper than the GriGri and significantly less than the GirGri+. While we didn't find ourselves instantly reaching for this device over the GriGri 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.
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