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.
Make sure that you carefully read and follow the Mammut Smart Alpine manual. Proper use can be confusing, and it is important to be extra careful with the Mammut Smart Alpine when belaying off an anchor. Although it's our favorite passive device in auto-block mode, we found the long handle can get pressed against features and disable its locking function.
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 like the Petzl GriGri 2. 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 of the Edelrid Mega Jul. 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.
Passive assisted braking devices like the Mammut Smart use an angled channel on the side of the tube to direct the belay biner towards the brake strand and pinch the rope. Be sure to carefully read the manufacturer's instructions for any belay device.
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 the Edelrid Mega Jul, the Smart Alpine is a little more jerky. Unlike that device and many classic tube models, the Smart Alpine isn't reversible, which limits your friction options.
Rappelling with the Mammut Smart Alpine requires a bit of upward pressure on the release handle. This can exhaust your shoulder during long descents.
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. Although slack is fed through the Edelrid Mega Jul with an identical motion, that device fed smoother than the Smart Alpine in our tests.
Auto-block (resistance belaying a second)
High friction in auto-block mode plagued all the devices capable of double rope rappels except the Smart Alpine. We did observe less resistance with some of the single strand devices, however, the Smart Alpine produced just a third of the resistance of the second best two-strand device, the Black Diamond ATC Guide. This advantage is sure to save you lots of energy and elbow pain by the top of a long multi-pitch route.
The Mammut Smart Alpine had the lowest friction of any of the tube designs when belaying directly off an anchor. Just be sure to rig it correctly, as it can be confusing, and thus it is crucial that you carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions.
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.
At 4.4 ounces, the Smart Alpine is on the lighter side of assisted braking devices. This is, however, almost double the weight of its closest competitor, the Edelrid Mega Jul. In addition, the Smart Alpine is bulky and takes up more space than many other devices. Another option to consider for assisted braking on multi-pitch routes is the Mad Rock Lifeguard, which is similar in design to the GriGri but more compact. You might still need a tube-style device for a two-strand rappel though.
The size difference between the two assisted braking tube-style devices is substantial. The Edelrid Mega Jul is on the left, the Mammut Smart Alpine on the right.
We were impressed with the Smart Alpine's durability. The surfaces subjected to rope friction are stainless steel and designed to spin in place to further reduce wear. The edges of the aluminum components though are right-angled and can become sharp if the rope is allowed to run sideways across them. Nonetheless, when used properly, the Smart Alpine is one of the most durable belay devices we tested.
The Smart Alpine is best for experienced belayers that can adapt to its nuances and understand its limitations. Rock guides will likely appreciate the elbow pain prevented by dramatically lower auto-block resistance.
The unique design of the Mammut Smart Alpine makes it prone to unique problems. Here we see how the rope can jam if the bight shifts into the wrong slot. This is why we only recommend it for experienced users who will be able to anticipate and correct any issues. Be sure to carefully read the manual.
$49.95 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. It still deserves to be complimented though for its durability and low friction in auto-block mode. 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 8.9 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.