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Searching for the best climbing belay device? Over the past 12 years, we've tested over 26 different individual models, with 17 choices highlighted in our updated review. Belay devices come in three different categories — active assisted braking, passive assisted braking, and traditional tube — and our expert climbing testers have put in hundreds of hours belaying and testing all three kinds. We rate each device for critical performance elements such as how smoothly it feeds slack, how effective it is rappelling and lowering, and how aggressively it bites the rope when catching falls. The result is a comprehensive comparison tested review, and some excellent recommendations regardless of whether you are new or seasoned, and climb in the gym, or on the largest faces and peaks in the world.
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Editor's Note: We updated our belay device article on November 15, 2022, sharing additional info on our metric scoring process.
Weight: 6.3 ounces | Type: Active assisted braking
REASONS TO BUY
Handles rope smoothly
Good for ropes as small as 8.5mm
REASONS TO AVOID
A bit heavy
Feeding slack quickly requires defeating the assisted braking mechanism
Can only handle one strand of rope
The latest rendition of the Petzl GriGri features a few minor tweaks that help it retain its status as the most popular assisted braking device. The cam doesn't engage as quickly, making it easier to pay out slack. The lowering lever now has a bit more resistance, making it slightly harder to open fully. Best of all, this device now accommodates ropes down to 8.5mm, keeping pace with the skinniest single rope on the market. It is relatively easy to learn the proper belay technique, and the device can be used easily for lead belaying, top-rope belaying and belaying the follower directly off the anchor.
While the GriGri is far and away the most popular active assisted braking device on the market, it still comes with the notable downside that the user is tempted to hold the braking cam in an open position to quickly feed slack to a leader. This temptation has led to many belay accidents and has inspired the invention of other devices that don't require breaking the rules to feed out slack quickly. It is relatively easy to "push" rope through the device in the same way slack is fed with a tube-style device, although the cam must still be overridden to feed out an armload or two in a hurry. Still, it isn't that hard to master the GriGri's technique, and for experienced users and regular climbers, this device is still our top choice.
Weight: 7.1 ounces | Type: Active assisted braking
REASONS TO BUY
Anti-panic handle prevents dropping while lowering
Customize the amount of cam spring tension with lead and top-rope modes
Handles ropes from 8.5mm — 11 mm
Stainless steel wear plate insert for added durability
REASONS TO AVOID
Switching modes is difficult and an easy step to forget
Unit locks up easily on lowers if not used slowly
First released in 2017, the GriGri+ is very similar to the standard GriGri, but boasts several safety features not found on that model in an effort to reduce the risk of belayer error accidents. The first is that the handle has an anti-panic feature. When lowering a climber, the belayer uses a lever to release the grip on the rope. If the lever is opened too far, the GriGri+ handle automatically disengages, releasing the tension on the cam and stopping the lower. The sweet spot for a smooth, not-too-slow lower can be hard to find at first, but it's much harder to drop a climber while lowering with a properly loaded GriGri+ than with other devices. The second feature is a toggle switch between lead and top-rope modes, which adjusts the spring tension on the cam inside the device. In top-rope mode, the cam grips far more tightly, while in lead mode, it allows for an easier time paying out slack.
While significantly safer than a standard GriGri, the features found on the + can be annoying to work around if you are so used to using a GriGri that it has become an extension of your mind and body. In particular, it is easy to forget to switch from top-rope to lead, resulting in a frustrated leader as they get continually short-roped. The new features also don't eliminate the need to lock out the cam while feeding out slack to a leader, a potentially dangerous moment, especially close to the ground. This model is also heavier and more expensive than the standard model. We believe that all types of climbers can benefit from knowing how to use a GriGri, and recommend the + for users who want added security, or newer climbers still mastering the technique.
Ideal for belaying your second on multi-pitch climbs
REASONS TO AVOID
Not as light as the Reverso
No braking assist
For climbers on a budget, and especially those who participate in a wide variety of climbing disciplines, our recommendation is the Black Diamond ATC Guide. This device offers the same functions as simple tube devices for standard belays, while also providing auto-block capability for belaying followers directly from an anchor. This device allows one to use the simplest, easiest to learn, and most commonly taught belay style for paying out slack while lead belaying, negating the need to learn a new style based on the belay device. It also easily accommodates two strands of rope, making it ideal for rappelling. While it isn't as inexpensive as the tube-style devices that don't have auto-block capabilities, we think that the extra couple of bucks for auto-blocking capability greatly enhances the value if you ever intend to do any multi-pitching.
The only real downside to the ATC Guide is that it doesn't include any form of braking assistance. Assisted braking devices (ABDs) reduce the likelihood of dropping a lead climber and also make it much easier to lock off and hold someone for long periods of time. Some passive assist devices are barely any more expensive, making them a compelling option instead. The ATC Guide is also slightly heavier than its closest and most popular competition, the Petzl Reverso, but we think the extra durability is worth adding a couple tenths of an ounce. If you want a versatile option at a fantastic price, this is the one we recommend.
Weight: 7.1 ounces | Type: Active Assisted braking
REASONS TO BUY
Pays out slack easily and safely
Holds falls with ease
REASONS TO AVOID
Learning curve for proper usage
The Trango Vergo is very similar to the Petzl GriGri, with some important differences. First, with the Vergo, there is no temptation to override the rope grabbing component when feeding out slack. And second, the Vergo features an ergonomic and comfortable orientation that makes paying out slack a breeze. It has as much rope-grabbing bite as the GriGri and GriGri+ and lowers in a similar manner. Our testers found themselves reaching for this device more than any other when belaying leaders and when packing up for a day at the sport-climbing crag where leading is the norm.
The Vergo also has some downsides, compared to the GriGri. First, there is more friction when pulling slack back through the Vergo, which makes it less pleasant to use when top rope belaying or belaying a follower directly off an anchor. Second, it is less widely used than the GriGri, and in many instances, our testers received comments from the public expressing a lack of trust in the device. While these comments were usually based on ignorance regarding the Vergo, it is worth noting that there are plenty of climbers (and gym employees) who will initially mistrust the Vergo simply because it is not a GriGri. The additional friction when top rope belaying is enough to make us reach for the GriGri when top roping is expected at least 50% of the time.
Weight: 2.5 ounces | Type: Passive Assisted braking with Auto-block
REASONS TO BUY
Brake assist, manual, and auto-block modes all in one device
Stainless steel for greater durability
REASONS TO AVOID
Lowering and rappelling more tiring than standard tube style
Non-intuitive and specific technique for use in auto-block mode
The Edelrid Mega Jul combines the security and bite of an active ABD with the reduced weight and versatility of a tube-style auto-blocking device. The result is the most versatile device in our review, and also one of the best values. The device can be used for lead belaying, top-rope belaying, and rappelling, all with the added security of a brake assist in case the climber is compromised by rock or icefall, a medical emergency, or burnt hands. And, it provides this brake assist with minimal adjustments to the standard belaying and rappelling technique that climbers are taught as beginners. And, it can belay follower(s) directly off an anchor in auto-block configuration.
On the downside, paying out slack to a leader and rappelling in assist mode both require pulling up gently on a green loop that prevents the device from biting the rope. This motion is relatively easy but can get tiring over time since it requires the user to pull up and away from the body, and to hold it there when rappelling or lowering. Also, the correct configuration for belaying a single follower is different from other auto-blocking devices and requires a separate learning curve. It isn't difficult, but you can't just hand the device off to your partner if they don't know how to use it correctly. Still, this device combines the functionality of ABDs with the light weight and versatility of auto-blocking tube devices, making it a great choice for difficult multi pitch and alpine climbs. It also provides a fantastic value for anyone who wants these advanced functions.
Weight: 10.1 ounces | Type: Tube Style with Emergency Backup
REASONS TO BUY
Same belay technique as with tube-style devices
Emergency backup locks device if rope slips too fast
Cannot be loaded backward
Smoothest slack payout of any device
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy and bulky
Very expensive compared to ATC
Only compatible with single ropes
Tube-style belay devices are easy to operate with a traditional belay technique. Their primary downside is that a firm grip is required on the brake strand of the rope at all times. If the belayer is hit by a rock, slammed into the wall, or the rope somehow slips out of their grip, a falling climber will hit the deck and potentially sustain injury. Enter the new Wild Country Revo, which solves this issue by adding an automatic locking mechanism that stops the rope if it moves through the device faster than 4m/s. It does so by using an out-of-balance flywheel on the inside that combines with centrifugal forces to trigger the locking mechanism above certain speeds. The brilliance is that the device functions exactly like a simple tube, and the belayer uses the same simple belay technique. The Revo does not in any way assist with braking but simply provides an emergency backup, the first device that we are aware of that works in this manner. Because of this great design, its advantages include the smoothest paying out of slack of any device that adds redundancy to the belay. It is also designed in a way that it cannot be loaded backward, so there is no need to continually check for little hand and climber icons.
The principal downside to this device is that it can only be used with a single rope, much like most active assist devices such as the GriGri, somewhat limiting its versatility for multi-pitching. We would not use it to belay a second off the anchor from above. Compared to most devices, it is heavy and on the larger side, further reducing its use for multi-pitch climbing. It also comes with a price tag that you would expect from a complicated piece of engineering. Negatives aside, the emergency backup performed perfectly in all of our testing and every climber who used it was amazed at its ease and simplicity to learn. We expect to see this device become significantly more popular in the near future, especially for gym climbing and single-pitch cragging.
Every pitch climbed requires a belay device, and since our testers are climbing addicts and mountain professionals, belay device testing is happening continuously. We stay up to date on the newest product releases, purchasing them and putting them through a vigorous testing process. Each device tested for this review was thoroughly researched before being put into use, and this often involves watching YouTube and demonstration videos to grasp the proper technique for belaying with newfangled devices. We then practice our techniques before hitting the crag and belaying a minimum of 30 pitches with each device (but usually way more) before publishing our findings. We also teach other climbers and partners how to use each device and watch them learn and belay in order to notice problems, flaws, or benefits that we may have missed. The result is expert tested reviews and recommendations, rather than just a listing of a product's stats that anyone can glean off the internet.
Our belay device testing is divided across five different metrics:
Catch and Bite (30% of overall score weighting)
Lowering and Rappelling (30% weighting)
Feeding Slack (20% weighting)
Weight and Bulk (10% weighting)
Auto Block (10% weighting)
This review is led by Andy Wellman, a Senior Reviewer at OutdoorGearLab since 2014. Andy is a lifelong climber with over 24 years of experience in all disciplines. Like most of us, his passion was kindled in the climbing gym but soon carried him outside after beholding the mighty Diamond on Longs Peak and deciding he needed to climb it. He has climbed large alpine routes and big walls all around the world, from Peru to Alaska to Mexico to the Alps. He has also spent countless days perfecting his rock craft at classic sport and traditional areas such as Eldorado Canyon, Rifle, Smith Rock, and Yosemite while authoring and publishing numerous guidebooks along the way. He bases himself out of Ouray, Colorado. He was assisted on many of these reviews by Jeff Dobronyi, IFMGA Mountain Guide, and Exum Mountain Guide in Jackson, WY, and Cam Ring, another lifelong climber, and former Yosemite Search and Rescue Member.
Analysis and Test Results
We begin the testing process by using each device for months in the field, and then finish up by comparative testing each device side-by-side, rating them on five metrics (catch and bite, feeding slack, rappelling and lowering, weight and bulk, and auto block) based upon how they perform compared to the competition. The devices featured here are of three main styles: active assist braking, passive assist braking, and tube-style, so be sure to identify your own needs to help you narrow down the selection.
Follow the Manufacturer's Instructions Carefully
Belay devices are important pieces of climbing safety equipment, but it can be difficult to master them all. Learning exactly how to use your device properly is crucial. Improper use of a belay device may result in death or serious injury. It is very important that you read and carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions. We encourage you to visit the manufacturer's website and make sure you have the latest documentation for your particular device, as manufacturer recommendations sometimes change over time as new safety guidelines are developed.
Belay device prices range from dirt cheap to surprisingly expensive. The low end of the price range is populated by tube-style devices, whereas the more expensive models are the active assisted braking devices. If you're looking for the best value out there, we've picked out a few that we consider exceptional. To begin, the Black Diamond ATC XP can't be beaten on price and is a solid and reliable option, although we recommend the Black Diamond ATC Guide as another great budget buy because it is far more versatile with an auto-block function at only a tiny increase in cost. Although they are expensive, high scorers like the GriGri and Trango Vergo offer a great value due to their incredible performance catching leader falls.
Catch and Bite
This category rates how easy it is to catch a fall with a belay device. Of course, every belay device here will catch a fall by arresting the rope provided they are used with proper technique, but due to their unique designs, the assisted braking devices tend to do this with more reliability and far less effort than a standard tube-style device. For instance, to catch a fall with a tube-style device, the belayer must hold the rope down by their hip while also gripping tightly to the rope to keep it from slipping. With an assisted braking device, whether passive or active, the slightest amount of gripping pressure on the brake rope will provide the tension and friction required to lock up the device, holding the climber in place. This brings up another important consideration in this category: how easy it is to hold a climber locked off. Obviously, the assisted braking devices are supreme once again, and the ability to easily hold a climber for an unlimited amount of time with little to no effort is the number one argument for using one of these devices while climbing.
The final consideration for this metric is the range of rope diameters that a belay device is capable of gripping. Ropes on the narrow side can slip through some belay devices that don't take narrow ropes into consideration. As the quality of rope manufacturing has increased, climbers are far more frequently using thinner ropes, with 8.9mm-9.2mm being much more common, and 9.5mm now being considered a reasonably fat "workhorse." The thinnest single ropes on the market today are only 8.5mm, so having a belay device that can handle these thin ropes certainly adds value. On the upper end of the scale, ropes over 9.8mm (especially ones that are a bit worn and fuzzy) create extra friction that can make it hard to force them through a belay device quickly and easily. As more and more climbers transition to thinner ropes, this is becoming slightly less of an issue, but once again, added versatility in regard to rope sizes only increases the value of a belay device.
The active-assisted belay devices that employ a spring-loaded cam to pinch the rope when it is under tension provide the easiest and most reliable catch. Due to their cam, they even allow a small amount of rope (a couple of inches at most) to slip through the device as they lock, which increases the dynamic aspect of a catch, reducing the forces on the climber, rope, and gear slightly. The devices that reliably catch like this are the Camp Matik, GriGri and GriGri+, and Trango Vergo. Both of the GriGris are also now capable of handling ropes down to 8.5mm.
Second best here are most of the "passive" assisted braking devices, like the Edelrid Mega Jul, Mammut Smart 2.0, and Black Diamond ATC Pilot. In "active" models, braking is created by a pinching mechanism inside the device itself; "passive" models rely on a pinch between the carabiner and the device to hold the rope. Passive models are thus dependent on this carabiner, and its shape and size can have a significant impact on performance (up to 35% differences in our tests). Always use these devices with the manufacturer-recommended carabiner whenever possible (usually an HMS type), and expect that any deviance (along with changes in rope diameter) will affect its performance.
The standard tube-style devices, like the Black Diamond ATC models, the DMM Pivot, and the Petzl Verso and Reverso, scored the lowest compared to the rest of the field. These devices require substantial strength on the brake hand when catching a fall and continued lock-off when top rope belaying or belay your second.
Catching a falling climber is only half the duty of a belay device; getting that climber safely back to the ground is the other. That's where lowering and rappelling come in. Some of the devices we tested began with an automatic advantage in this category — the ability to rappel two strands. Those models are the ATC XP, ATC Guide, Verso, Reverso, DMM Pivot, and Edelrid Giga and Mega Juls. Shoppers should recognize that none of the active ABDs can rappel on two strands of rope, nor can the passive ClickUp+, Black Diamond ATC Pilot, or Mammut Smart 2.0. Consider these models only for single-pitch routes or multi-pitches in combination with a two-strand device.
The difference in lowering performance comes down to the smoothness of the action and the range it is good for. We saw the most consistent lowering performance from the tube devices, as well as the Wild Country Revo. Although the assisted braking models all provide the ability to lock the device and rest hands-free, they often exhibit narrow ranges and jerkiness when lowering.
The standout performance of assisted braking devices comes from the GriGri. It lowers smoothly and jerk-free, largely due to the absence of an anti-panic mechanism. The GriGri+, Camp Matik, and Edelrid Eddy all have anti-panic levers. If you pull back too far on the lever, the unit locks up. While this is to prevent someone from accidentally dropping themselves or their partner, it creates a narrow window between lowering and locking up. The Matik and Eddy locked up more than the GriGri+, but all require a deft hand that does improve with practice. These devices are unquestionably safer for lowering partners but can also be perceived as more annoying to use.
The passive assisted devices have some of the poorest lowering action. We often find them jerky when compared to tube devices. However, because you need to push and pull on them quite a bit to lower your partner, they are quite safe to use and lock up as soon as you let go.
No matter which device you choose, it's important to tie a knot in the ends of the rope. Rappelling and lowering accidents are two of the most common types of accidents and are often easily preventable.
Feeding slack is a category we include to measure each device's usefulness for belaying a lead climber. A lead climbing belay requires more attentiveness and rope management skill than a top-rope belay. The ability to take and give slack quickly and precisely is important to ensure a good belay —- especially when close to the ground. The most important thing to consider is how easily and safely you can feed slack without the device locking up. Devices that lock up on a hair trigger are very difficult to master and are the cause of many lead climbers' frustrations as they are continuously short-roped by their belayer. A secondary consideration, since we are all guilty of making mistakes, is how easy the device is to release once locked up so that slack can be fed quickly again. When a climber is yanking for rope, desperate to make a clip before falling, and the device locks up, being able to quickly release it can make a difference between success or an extra-long fall.
Tube devices require the simplest motion to take or feed slack and receive the best scores in this category because of it. They are also the easiest to learn how to use and are most climbers' introduction to belaying. While not technically a tube, the Wild Country Revo functions just like one and is by far the best at smoothly paying out slack. This is due to the wheel that the rope runs over, which greatly minimizes friction. It doesn't include any breaking assist that might accidentally lock, but it does have an emergency lock-up feature that we were never able to trigger while simply feeding out slack.
Results were a bit mixed with the passive and active-assisted braking devices. Among the passive devices, we like the Edelrid Mega Jul and the Mammut Smart 2.0 the best. They use similar movements to tubes but require upward pressure on a handle or loop to disable the device's locking mechanism when feeding out slack quickly. The Smart 2.0 needs only a little upward pressure to prevent it from locking, whereas the Black Diamond ATC Pilot requires substantial and continuous pressure. The Climbing Technology ClickUp+ requires using a tube-style method of feeding out slack but is very quick to lock up and difficult to unlock quickly compared to others.
The active assisted braking devices have some of the more complex methods for giving slack quickly, and each features a different method. The Trango Vergo has the most ergonomic and smooth feeding design of any of these devices and does not require overriding the camming system to feed out slack, a nice safety feature. The Petzl GriGri and GriGri+ feed slack well with little friction, but can sometimes encourage a technique that can reduce the device's safety, especially if the climber is close to the ground. These devices can also be hard to master for people with small hands, which may include children. The Edelrid Eddy and Mad Rock Lifeguard have more friction, making it challenging to pay rope out quickly. The Camp Matik uses a unique "pistol" grip design, which does take some getting used to if you've belayed differently for years.
Weight and Bulk
Like all climbing gear these days, belay devices are getting lighter and smaller. Weights range from 2.0 to 13.0 ounces. Whether the weight is a critical component for you depends on a few things: whether or not you are climbing with your device on your harness, and whether or not you appreciate the "training" weight in your backpack.
When it comes to something you're likely to carry on your harness, the Edelrid Mega Jul, Petzl Verso and Reverso, and the Black Diamond ATC XP are the lightest options. The BD ATC Guide adds another ounce to your harness but not much more bulk. Among the active assist braking devices, the Mad Rock Lifeguard is a decent alternative for those that like to multi-pitch climb with a GriGri. It's only a little bit lighter but a lot more compact. Some of the highest-performing devices, such as the Wild Country Revo and Edelrid Giga Jul, are also a bit heavier than their closest competitors, forcing one to choose whether saving an extra ounce or two is worth compromised performance, or whether ideal functionality is worth a small penalty in weight.
Belaying a second directly off the anchor is a convenient way to ensure a reliable catch and a comfortable belay during multi-pitch climbing (be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions carefully, as this type of belay configuration is more complex and mistakes can result in death). Most of the devices we have tested offer some way to do so, and we have noted this in the specs table in the chart at the top of this article. Unfortunately, though, belaying in this manner can create substantial friction with many of the device designs that can exhaust a belayer's shoulders and elbows, and in extreme usage, like for mountain guides, can lead to tendonitis.
Our grading for this metric considers whether a device is capable of being used this way or not and whether it is easy to set up or very confusing and challenging. Some of the devices require being set up in a way that is not at all intuitive. Secondly, we assess for versatility, scoring models that can accommodate two ropes a bit higher. Lastly, we took into consideration the amount of friction in the system, which affects the amount of energy it takes to belay in this manner, with the smoother devices being preferred.
When assessing for friction, we noticed how each device felt while out on multi-pitch climbs, but also wanted some more concrete results, so we compared one device after another on a mock anchor, noticing the differences in the amount of friction we had to overcome to feed the rope through the auto-blocked device. Both of the GriGri models performed especially well in this regard, as did the Camp Matik. In our comparative testing, many of the most popular and commonly used auto-block tubes also had some of the highest amounts of friction to overcome, which is slightly disappointing. The ATC Guide and Petzl Reverso have quite a bit more friction than the GriGris, but even worse is the Edelrid Giga Jul, and worse still is the Mammut Smart 2.0.
Choosing a belay device is not an easy task, but the first step we recommend is assessing your own needs. Next, consider what techniques you already know and what techniques or resources you have for learning a new belay style. Answering these questions will help you determine if the investment in an active assist device is worth it, or whether you might prefer a passive assist device instead. Be sure to pick up a tube-style device if you plan to rappel or multi-pitch climb. We hope the information provided has been helpful in your search.
After analyzing over 45 harnesses, we bought the best 15...
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