Petzl GriGri Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Easy catch and hold, feeds slack smoothly, smooth lowering, handles ropes down to 8.5mm
Cons: A bit clunky, can only use one rope, takes time to master techniques
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Walk around any popular climbing crag and gym, and the majority of the belayers you see will be using a GriGri. This is due in large part to the fact that this device basically invented the active assisted braking market, and captured most of the share long before many other alternatives entered the ring. That said, as countless spin-offs from other companies have tried to improve on the GriGri, it keeps getting better, and this newest version is no exception. It is honestly hard to detach our experiences with the GriGri from the over 20 years that we have spent using one.
Each of the testers who used it shared the same experience. It has become like an extension of our bodies when belaying, and there is no thought needed to manipulate it in the correct way. This is a good thing and a plausible argument in itself for purchasing a GriGri if you are on the fence. Because almost everyone else uses one, it is easier to find good teachers, to check each other's belays for safety, and also wise to know how to use one if you or your partner forgets their belay device for the day. For all of these reasons, and because they really do function at a high level, this is the active assist braking device that we recommend before any other!
Learn How to Use Your GriGri Correctly! For instructions and video, click here . Please don't mistake our discussion of the ins and outs of this device for actual instruction, and refer to the instruction manual, downloadable as a PDF here, for pictorial representation of proper use.
The original was called simply the GriGri. But now, the third iteration is also called the GriGri, causing confusion for some. Rest assured, this is a newly updated model of the GriGri 2. There are a few main differences. The biggest one is that it can use ropes down to 8.5mm safely, whereas the 2 was rated only down to 8.9mm ropes. The camming spring is also a bit tighter, so it is easier to feed out slack in traditional belay mode, without needing to use the thumb to block the cam all of the time. There is a minor difference in the design at the back, so the rope doesn't run over an aluminum edge, making it sharp over time as it wears. The thumb catch where one locks out the cam is slightly smaller and lower profile. There is also a spot to write your name, and a hole through the aluminum face plate, a convenient place to tie a keeper cord without needing to drill a hole (some people like to do this for self-belaying). Lastly, there is some added springy play in the lowering handle that makes it slightly easier to lower in a comfortably brisk pace, without accidentally opening the cam up all the way. In our opinion, all of these changes make for an improved GriGri.
There are two main differences between the GriGri and the +, and a number of smaller ones. The + has an anti-panic feature on the lowering bar, so if you pull it too far back, opening the cam too far, it clicks over and stops lowering. The + also has the toggle switch between top-rope and lead modes, which changes the tightness of the cam spring. The GriGri is always in lead mode, which still works fine for top-roping if you keep your hand on the brake strand. The + has a stainless steel insert where the rope runs to improve longevity in this spot that commonly wears out, while the GriGri does not. The GriGri, on the other hand, is quite a bit cheaper, and weighs almost one ounce less.
Catch and Bite
The GriGri is one of the most reliable catchers among all belay devices. It is designed so the rope runs over a spring-loaded cam inside the device. When upward tension is placed on the rope, the friction rotates the cam that pinches the rope. Only the tiniest amount of grip on the brake hand is required to assist with the tension needed to lock up the cam, and once the rope is locked almost no grip strength is needed to keep the cam locked, marking the main advantage to a device like this compared to a standard tube-style belay device, where lots of effort must be put into continually gripping the rope and keeping it locked off. Along with the GriGri+, this newest version is the only active assist belay device that can accommodate ropes down to 8.5mm, allowing for use with virtually the whole range of single ropes in production today.
Lowering and Rappelling
In order to lower or rappel with the GriGri, one bends back a retractable plastic handle and uses it as a lever arm to open the cam that is pinching the rope. It is critical to keep a hand on the brake end of the rope during this time, which controls the speed at which one lowers. Depending on the thickness and the newness of the rope you are using, it can be hard to find the sweet spot for the smoothest lowering. It's easy to toggle between too far open and fast, versus the cam suddenly catching the rope and halting the lowering. When it comes to rappelling, the versatility of this device is limited a bit by only being able to handle one rope.
It is slightly different than the previous GriGri 2 in that there is a small spring in the handle that makes the sweet spot for smooth lowering a little wider, or so it seems. However, it requires more vigilance than the safer panic mode levers found on some of the other active assist belay devices. Standard tube-style belay devices offer the smoothest lowering action, and are the most common for rappelling as well.
The GriGri is a very easy device to use, except when it comes to feeding slack. It is worth learning the tricks from a veteran climber, and especially watching the video that Petzl puts out, linked above. This newest version allows one to feed slack in the same manner as one would with a tube-style device far more easily without the cam locking up. However, when you want to feed out a lot of slack very quickly, the method that Petzl teaches is to hold the brake end of the rope in the right hand, and at the same time use it to depress the cam with the thumb, pulling out an armload of slack with the left. If a climber was to fall with the cam depressed, they could conceivably fall further than desired, which is why it's important to keep the brake rope in hand at all times.
Learning how to quickly and easily pay out slack to a leading climber with a GriGri takes time and repetitions, as well as a patient leader who doesn't mind being short roped as you learn. Soon enough, though, the process becomes ingrained, and muscle memory takes over, similar to how one doesn't really need to think about how to drive. As they are when rappelling, the tube-style devices, such as the Black Diamond ATC XP or Petzl Verso are the easiest to quickly feed slack smoothly without locking up.
Weight and Bulk
The new GriGri weighs 6.3 ounces, which is around 0.2 ounces heavier than the last version, which may simply be due to variances in the scale, and is negligible. While GriGris are pretty bulky compared to tube-style devices, they are around average or even a little smaller than most of the other active assist devices.
This version is about an ounce lighter than the +. On the other hand, it is way lighter and smaller than some of the other active assist devices made by other companies.
Due to its locking action, the GriGri can be used to belay off the anchor like an auto-blocking tube-style device. However, one must redirect the brake end of the rope in order to lower someone. When pulling in slack as the second climbs, keeping a hand on the brake end is enough to ensure it will lock if a fall is taken. But when lowering, the brake rope needs to go up (as opposed to down, since the device is hanging off the anchor upside down), to provide adequate braking power. This complicates an anchor slightly and is not as simple as the auto-block methods employed by auto-blocking tube-style devices.
In our comparative testing, the GriGri and GriGri+ were the two best performers in terms of minimizing friction in auto-block mode. The rope runs through them the easiest, meaning it takes the least amount of muscle power to conduct a belay in this fashion. The only downside to these devices is they can only use one rope.
This device is not exactly cheap but is about 50% cheaper than the +. Since we find it to be the most useful and also highest functioning of all belay devices available today, we think this presents a pretty solid value. For those who climb intermittently, it will likely last many years. For those who climb a lot in the desert or outside all the time, there are parts of this device that can wear out relatively quick. Most of our full-time climbing reviewers say they get around five years of usage before they decide to replace their devices.
The Petzl GriGri is the best and most popular active assist braking device on the market today. If you are looking to add a little bit of security to your belaying beyond the simple tube, this is the device we would recommend before any other.
— Andy Wellman & Jack Cramer