Are you thinking about buying an active assisted braking belay device but aren't super enamored with the GriGri? We recommend you check out the Trango Vergo, a device with similar advantages to the GriGri but that doesn't require locking out the spring-loaded cam in order to feed slack, making it a bit safer while at the same time a bit more ergonomic. The Vergo actually doesn't use any springs at all, and the way that you feed slack is dependent on the angle of the rope running through the device and the tension on the rope. Holding the device in the designed way, with the thumb on the conveniently labeled thumb pad, and the forefinger in the obvious groove on the back, while pulling out slack to the side instead of straight up keeps the device correctly oriented for ideal rope management. After a few pitches of practice, we actually preferred this method to that of the GriGri. As a great alternative, with few if any downsides, we think the Vergo is a device that is well worth checking out!
Trango Vergo Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Compact, safe and ergonomic way to pay out slack, a bit less expensive than GriGri
Cons: Method of clipping to harness is counter-intuitive, unlocking device under tension takes some practice, easy to lower too quickly
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Trango Vergo is an updated model of the old Trango Cinch, which is no longer in production, and performs in much the same way. It is fine-tuned, however, with a smaller design that is more compact, and also features much easier to interpret markings on the outside of the device to make sure you load the device correctly, clip in into the harness in the correct direction, and hold the device in the proper manner, which is critical for properly feeding slack. One of the nicest aspects of the Vergo is that it doesn't bend the rope around an entire cam like either the Petzl GriGri or Camp Matik, so there is far less friction inherent in the device when you are trying to feed out slack. With less resistance, and the fact that you feed out slack to the side rather than straight up, the Vergo allows one to not only feed out larger amounts of slack quickly with fewer arm motions, but do so with less effort. Check out this video for instructions on how the Vergo works and how to belay with it correctly. While it does take a little bit of practice to get the new style of belaying ingrained, we found that compared to a lot of devices, including the GriGri, this one was quicker and easier to learn.
Catch and Bite
Like all active assist braking devices, the Vergo works by using friction created by the rope to rotate a cam inside the device that pinches the rope, holding it firmly in place. We found this action to work extremely effectively. Unlike the Petzl GriGris, it does not have a spring inside the cam that works against the rope friction, so if anything, the Vergo is a bit grabbier and slightly quicker to lock up when pulled tight. For this same reason, it doesn't take virtually any time or give any slip when locking up, as the Camp Matik does (by design), which makes for a slightly more dynamic catch.
One drawback of the Vergo compared to the new versions of the GriGris is that it can only be used with ropes down to 8.9mm, which may seem really thin, but is not as thin as the 8.5mm Beal Opera, currently the thinnest single rope on the market. Also, the device needs to be clipped to the harness in a manner that seems backwards compared to the GriGri, with the brake hand on top and the climber end on the bottom, and is then rotated sideways for use while belaying. This orientation ensures maximum friction due to angles of pull when a climber falls, but if you clip it to your harness the wrong way (easy for those not acquainted with the device to do), there is less friction and skinny ropes may slip through without a firm grip on the brake hand.
Lowering and Rappelling
Lowering a climber with the Vergo, or rappelling a single strand rope, is really quite easy. It uses a by now very familiar design of the retractable plastic handle. Simply pull the handle back with the other hand firmly on the brake strand to open the cam and allow rope to slip through the device. Like most belay devices, this handle is on the left side, so is oriented backwards for left-handed climbers.
Unlike the Edelrid Eddy, Camp Matik, or GriGri+, there is no anti-panic feature on the lowering lever. This means that it is easy to open the cam up too much, allowing the rope to slip through very fast if unchecked by the brake hand, something to be aware of (keep brake hand on the rope at all times!). Like all active assist devices, this one can only be used with one strand of rope, and is therefore not as versatile for multi-pitch climbing or rappelling as a standard tube-style device, like the Black Diamond ATC Guide.
Feeding slack with this device is really a cinch, and one of the main perks of choosing the Vergo over the GriGri. There is no special confusing technique to learn. Simply hold the device correctly in the right hand, with the thumb and forefinger in the correctly shown places and the brake rope running through the palm of the hand, and pull rope through off to the side on the left. This is very easy to master, and is the only way to use this device, there is no option to feed rope through using two hands like one would a standard belay device. There is also no need to use the thumb to block the cam to allow slack to pass through, the orientation of the device is all that is needed.
When a climber falls, the rope is pulled upward, locking the device. Since the direction of pull on the rope decides whether the device is locked or not, it can take a bit of effort to unlock it while still under tension. To do so, one slides the left hand down the rope to the device, and pulls forcefully back while continuing to hold the device with the right hand. This takes more force than simply pressing down the cam with the thumb on a GriGri, but the technique comes quickly once you know what to do. While traditional devices, like the Petzl Reverso, are still a bit smoother and easier to manage, this one is the easiest to feed slack of all the active assist devices we have tested.
Weight and Bulk
The Vergo weighs 7.1 ounces, the same as the GriGri+, but a bit heavier than a standard GriGri. That said, it is far lighter than either the Matik or the Eddy. While it is not the lightest device, it is one of the most compact active assist devices, a bit smaller than a GriGri.
While it doesn't work in the exact same manner as a traditional auto-block device such as our favorite Black Diamond ATC Guide, the Vergo can be used to belay a second climber off the anchor in the same manner as all the other active assist devices. It can only accommodate one rope, but has a pretty smooth action with little resistance compared to some auto-block devices such as the Edelrid MegaJul, which saves the elbows and shoulders on a long route.
Worth noting is that while belaying the second up with the device clipped upside down directly to the anchor is okay as long as you keep the brake strand in your grip, to lower a climber you will need to redirect the brake line upwards, in the opposite direction from the climber, to maintain the ideal friction and rope control. To do this, run the brake line up and clip it to a carabiner higher in the anchor, doubling it back so you can comfortably hold it at your stance while manipulating the brake lever with the other hand.
The Vergo is best used for single pitch cragging outdoors, or at the gym. It can be used with ropes of 8.9mm-11mm diameter. It can also be used on multi-pitch climbs, although one must be aware of the limitations, and be sure to carry a standard belay device as well in case of retreat.
This device retails for $100, making it the least expensive active assisted braking device you can buy, with the exception of the Madrock Lifeguard, which retails for $90. It is slightly less expensive than a GriGri, but performs nearly as well. Since we like it so much and think it is worth recommending, we think it presents solid value at the price.
The Trango Vergo is a cool active assist braking device that uses a different method for paying out slack to a leading climber that doesn't involve having to manually block the cam, as the other devices in this review do. Because of this, we actually find it the most enjoyable device for belaying a leader. It has few downsides and is relatively easy to learn how to use, and think that those who are curious about active assisted devices but aren't sold on a GriGri should certainly check it out.
— Andy Wellman