The Mammut Smart Alpine is one of the more established models within the field of passive assisted locking, or "hybrid," belay devices. Although it doesn't look like it, the braking mechanism is based on the classic tube design but with some modifications to give it a stronger initial bite. In many belay situations, it can catch a fall by itself. Our testers complained, however, because a resting climber's weight would sometimes slowly pull (creep) rope through, requiring them to use extra hand strength that other assisted braking options didn't. We were not impressed with its auto-block friction, the most of any two strand device. Its handling in other areas, particularly rappelling, is subpar. Overall we consider the Smart Alpine an affordable, lightweight alternative to mechanical assisted braking models. It's worth checking out for those in the market for a double stranded passive assist belay device. However, we thought it performed lower than the competition, while also needing to learn new lead belay methods, as the others did.
Mammut Smart Alpine Review
Cons: Bulky, jerky when rappelling/lowering, lots of friction in auto-block mode
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Mammut Smart Alpine is a passive assisted braking belay device that also works in auto-block mode for belaying a second directly from an anchor. Like most passive assist braking devices, it has no moving parts, but provides extra catch and braking power by pinching the rope in between the device and the carabiner when weighted. The belay technique, especially when lead belaying, is a bit different than a standard tube-style device, and takes a little bit of effort to learn and get used to. Overall we like the function of the updated Mammut Smart 2.0 a bit better, but lament that it does not have auto-block mode or handle double ropes, like this one does.
The information we offer in this review is intended to help you make a purchasing decision, and is not actual instruction in the use of the device. Check out the Mammut Smart Alpine instructions here for recommended techniques by Mammut.
The Smart Alpine operates like a basic tube model but with an extra bit of braking force to catch falls largely by itself. It accomplishes this via a clever angled slot in the side of the modified tube that uses the pull of a fall to direct the belay biner towards the brake strand, pinching the rope. This creates cheap and simple braking assistance without the cams or complexity of active mechanical designs. Compared to those devices, the Smart Alpine provides a similar initial catch. However, when the climber stops falling and is hanging on the rope, the Smart doesn't fully lock and some grip strength is required to keep most ropes from slowly slipping through. For this reason, we preferred the sharper lock found on other passive assist devices. The Smart 2.0 has improved locking power compared to this device, and we didn't notice the same creep with it as we did with the Alpine. Hopefully those changes will migrate over and we'll soon see an Alpine 2.0 from Mammut.
The Smart Alpine's boxy design requires a large, wide, carabiner. Some users have noted that this design keeps the carabiner in a fixed position and can cause the rope to rub along only one section, shortening the lifespan of that carabiner. It's also hard to thread a bight into the device during rappels without unclipping it from the belay carabiner, increasing the chance of dropping it. To lower or rappel you have to lift up on the handle to prevent the device from locking up and keep rope sliding through. This engages your shoulder and can be tiring during long descents. Compared to some of the other passive devices we compared it against, the Smart Alpine is a little more jerky. Unlike many classic tube models, the Smart Alpine isn't reversible, which limits your friction options.
To feed slack to a leader with the Smart Alpine you have to pull up on the handle to keep it from locking while rope passes through. This is an extra motion compared to a basic tube, but not as complex as the various procedures required with different active assisted locking devices. Furthermore, our tests showed us that the Smart Alpine is not the smoothest slack feeder even among other passive assist devices.
At 4.5 ounces, the Smart Alpine is on the lighter side of assisted braking devices. This is, however, almost double the weight of its closest competitor. In addition, the Smart Alpine is bulky and takes up more space than many other devices.
Auto-block (resistance belaying a second)
High friction in auto-block mode plagued all the devices capable of double rope rappels, especially the Smart Alpine. We observed less resistance with some of the single strand devices, however, in our testing with a 9.5 mm Sterling rope and a Petzl Attache Carabiner, we found the resistance with the Smart Alpine to be significantly more than any other device that we tested. This largely negates most of the benefits of this device for multi-pitch climbing, and will certainly wear your arms out over time.
We do caution users to be careful when clipping the Smart Alpine directly to an anchor because its long handle can get pressed against obstacles (rock, slings, etc.) that can interfere with the assisted locking in auto-block mode. The setup can seem a bit complex as well, so be sure to study Mammut's recommended configuration. As with any device in any belay mode, you always need to keep a hand on the brake.
This device isn't a steal, but it's pretty affordable for assisted braking capability. The stainless steel used for components that contact the rope increases its durability and enhances overall value.
The potential performance benefits of passive assisted braking devices like the Smart Alpine excited our testers and buoyed the possibility of a revolution in belay devices. Assisted locking and two slots for double rope rappels, what more could we ask for? Unfortunately, these benefits are achieved with substantial compromises in the Smart Alpine. Although it can assist braking and rappel two ropes, it does both of these tasks poorly. In addition, it's bulky and creates some jerkiness when feeding slack. Nevertheless, we'll keep searching for single device that can the combine the pleasant handling and reliable catch of active assisted locking devices with the ability to rappel two strands smoothly.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Mammut Smart Alpine comes in two sizes: the 8.7 to 10.5mm version we tested and a smaller 7.5 to 9.5 mm model for skinny twin or half ropes. Another version known simply as the Smart 2.0 has only one friction channel for exclusive use with single ropes.
— Andy Wellman & Jack Cramer