The Best Belay Device: Hanging in There

Best Belay Device
Daniel Carraway
Written by Daniel Carraway

Whether climbing an indoor rock wall or spending the day cragging, a belay device is a necessary piece of equipment.

They can be used as a braking system to keep climbers from tumbling to the ground when the inevitable slip happens, and can also keep your descent smooth and controlled when you’re ready to rappel back down to the bottom.

With so many different types of devices available, it is important to know what kind of climbing each is suited for, so you can safely choose which one of these is the best belay device for your favorite type of adventure.

Types of Belay Devices

Because the types of climbing vary in surface and difficulty, it only makes sense that belay devices do so as well.

Here is a list of the different types of devices, and what kind of climbing they are best suited for.

Tubular Belay Devices

Best suited for:

  • Multi-pitch traditional climbing
  • Sport climbing
  • Gym climbing

These are the most common belay devices available and can be used for pretty much any type of climbing.  They are designed to have the rope folded, pushed through the tuber and then attached to the belayer or an anchor using a carabiner.

Tubular Belay Devices

The rope in the device can be slowed or stopped altogether when there is friction, which can protect the climber in the event of a fall.

Some are also designed with ridges to create additional friction, and slow the rope’s passage through the device even more.

The tubers are also handy tools to have when it’s time to rappel.  Because of the dual slot design, these can be used to accomplish the proper rappelling technique which uses two strands of rope, for a smooth and controlled descent.

Assisted-Braking Belay Devices

Best suited for:

  • Gym climbing
  • Sport climbing
  • Multi-pitch traditional climbing

This type of device goes by a few other names, including self-locking, auto-locking, self-braking, or auto-blocking.  They are designed to help the belayer prevent a climber’s fall by locking down the instant any sudden force is applied to it.

There are two types of assisted-braking devices to choose from.  The first should be used when belaying a top-rope climber, a lead climber, or a follower on a multi-pitch climb.

Because these devices can usually be used with only one line, they cannot be used for traditional rappelling on two strands of rope.  They are also heavier than other types of belay devices.

There are also some types of assisted-brake devices that can pinch the rope between the belay device and an attached carabiner for a bit more braking power.

Assisted-Braking Belay Devices

These types are usually lighter and more versatile, since they can also be used to rappel properly on the necessary two rope strands, and can be used for any kind of climbing you choose.

Another type of assisted-braking belay device is similar to the tubular device, with the addition of a metal loop on the side that gives you the ability to attach it right to an anchor to be used in assisted-braking mode.

While having the same features, as well as the disadvantages, of regular tubers, these also allow you to belay up to two followers this way.  But just because it has that extra metal loop doesn’t mean you have to use it.

When you have to belay a lead climber, just use this belay device the same way you would use any other tubular design.

Figure Eight Belay Device

Best Suited For:

  • Rappelling
  • Search and Rescue
  • Caving

The Figure Eights get their name from their shape, which is essentially shaped like the number, with one loop larger than the other.  Though these are mostly suited for rappelling, these types of devices can be used to belay a top-rope or a lead climber.

To rappel with one of these, there should be one bend of rope pushed through the larger hole and looped around the outer side of the smaller hole until it is resting on the center point that joins the two holes.

Figure Eight Belay Device

You then clip the small hole to the harness’s belay loop.

The way to use these devices for belaying varies depending on the make of the device, so there is no one way to do it.

It is always best to read the included instructions to learn the proper way this should be done, to ensure there are no mistakes that could lead to accidents.

Top Belay Devices

Petzl GriGri 2 Belay Device

Petzl GriGri 2 Belay Device

Weight: 170 g

Dimensions: 20.3 x 12.7 x 5.1 cm

Specific Features: Aluminum side plates, stainless steel cam and friction plate, reinforced nylon handle

Best Use: Sport climbing

Description: This compact, lightweight Petzl GriGri 2 Belay Device can be used with any 8.9 to 11 mm CE certified ropes, and includes an assisted braking system that has been designed to pivot the cam if there is tension on the rope.

The rope is then pinched enough to halt the climber’s fall, so there is no risk of an unexpected descent to the bottom.  You can also grip the brake side of the rope to prevent any sliding.

The GriGri 2 is also geared for maximum control when rappelling back down, with the climber holding the rope with one hand while unlocking the cam with the other.

This allows for a slower release of the rope, giving the climbers an additional feeling of security when lowering themselves or their climbing partners.

For ease of use, this device also includes engraved diagrams on both the interior and the exterior for proper rope installation.  The GriGri 2 comes in three colors, and includes a non-instructional climbing DVD as an added bonus.

Related: Petzl has a few other belay devices that are lighter in weight than the GriGri2, and made of excellent materials, but though they are combo belay/rappel devices, none of them includes the assisted braking system, which could be essential in an emergency situation.

Black Diamond ATC-Guide Belay Device

Black Diamond ATC-Guide Belay Device

Weight: 88 g

Dimensions: 2 x 5 x 7 inches

Specific Features: Machined windows, anodized aluminum construction

Best Use: Sport climbing, multi-pitch climbing, indoor climbing

Description: This upgraded version of Black Diamond’s ATC-Guide has machined windows, which have decreased its weight significantly.

There is also a larger auto-block release hole which can be used with a small carabiner.

It has multiple friction modes that can be used for belaying and also give you the stopping power needed to rappel safely.  The sturdy cable will never lose its shape, and will never be trapped between the ropes when climbing.

This belay device can be used with ropes ranging from 7.7 to 11mm, and is perfect for ascending or descending with up to two seconding climbers using its guide mode.

This is the most versatile belay and rappel combo device that Black Diamond has produced, and is durable enough to last through years of use.  It comes in 5 colors, including black, dark denim, ruby, green and platinum.

Related: Black Diamond also has an ATC-XP belay device that is similar in make and materials to the ATC-Guide.

It has a high-friction mode that gives the climber amazing stopping power, and has a hot-forged construction, but it does not include the auto-block release hole, so it can’t be used with a carabiner, nor does it include the guide mode for multiple climbers, so for those who prefer to climb with friends, the ATC-Guide is the better option.

Petzl Reverso 4 Belay Device

Petzl Reverso 4 Belay Device

Weight: 59 g

Dimensions: 1.97 x 0.39 x 8.27 inches

Specific Features: Hot forged aluminum body

Best Use: Outdoor climbing, indoor climbing, multi-pitch climbing

Description: This ultra-light, yet high-quality, Petzl Reverso 4 Belay Device is versatile enough to be used with all rope types, including single ropes of 8.9 mm or larger and half and twin ropes of 8.9 mm or larger, though it is best not to go above 9.8 mm.

It is great for use when belaying a leader and up to 2 second climbers, and offers the ability for swapping leads with a quick and easy transition.

The V-shaped friction channels have asymmetrical side grooves, and together these offer higher braking on thinner ropes, and can even adapt the braking on larger ones.

There is a hole on one end designed to be used with a carabiner for an easy gradual release of the loaded device.  The design of this device keeps the ropes strands separate when belaying and rappelling, and will never twist them, no matter what mode you are using.  It is available in three colors.

Related: There is also a Verso available from Petzl that is similar to the Reverso 4.  It uses similar features for braking and rope design, and it is a tiny bit lighter.

The difference is that though it can be used along with a carabiner, it doesn’t give you the option of using just the carabiner for gradual lowering, which makes it a bit less versatile.

Trango Cinch

Trango Cinch

Weight: 182 g

Dimensions: 2 x 11 x 6 inches

Specific Features: Aluminum alloy and stainless steel materials

Best Use: Sport climbing, traditional climbing, indoor climbing, tree service, snow and ice climbing

Description: The Trango Cinch is best used by climbing experts who are familiar with the proper technique when using a device of this kind.  It is for use with single ropes from 9.4 to 11 mm, but can be used with smaller ropes by more cautious and experienced climbers.

Its dynamic ability helps to reduce shock and provide a softer catch when the climber begins to fall, catching them well before they hit the bottom.

When rappelling down, it lowers you easily and fluidly, with the security needed to keep you safe.

It is compact enough to fit in your hand, and though heavier than some other devices, it is still lightweight enough for easy use.  It comes in three stylish colors, and is great for use in all seasons and numerous types of climbing, whether solo or with a partner.

Related: There is another belay device that is referred to as an updated version of the Cinch.

This is the Vergo, which has a more ergonomic shape, but uses the same features, including the easy rope feeding to the lead climber and the flawless locking system.  It is a bit heavier though, and can’t handle a rope thicker than 10.7 mm.

Camp USA Matik Belay Device

Camp USA Matik Belay Device

Weight: 276 g

Dimensions: 2 x 5 x 9 inches

Specific Features: Hot-forged aluminum main body, stainless steel components

Best Use: Cragging, sport climbing, indoor climbing

Description: The Camp USA Matik Belay Device uses an innovative camming design that makes its braking system safer and easier to use for all climbers.  This system rotates the cam until it is in line with the rope before capturing it and halting the climber’s fall.

It also has an Anti-Panic system that will automatically block the rope if the climber begins to lose control of the speed of their descent by disengaging the brake lever.  This will then cause the cam to reengage automatically if you start to fall too quickly.

The Matik also features a double-hinged lever and a straight rope path.  Together these help to keep your rappel smoother and easily controlled.

A carabiner can be used with the wide attachment hole, which is large enough to allow it to rotate as needed, and if the device is not closed properly, the carabiner cannot be attached, preventing any possible failure of your belay device.

Related: Camp USA has a few other simpler belay devices, but none that compare with the easy use of the Matik, nor do they include the safety features, such as the Anti-Panic system or the refusal of the carabiner if the belay is improperly secured.

Though still useful, these other models are not as recommended as this one.

Edelrid Eddy Belay Device

Edelrid Eddy Belay Device

Weight: 360 g

Dimensions: 2 x 4 x 7 inches

Specific Features: Steel body, aluminum brake handle

Best Use: Sport climbing, indoor climbing

Description: Though a bit heavy, Edelrid Eddy Belay Device is one of the safest belay devices available, especially for beginners.  It is suited for single ropes with 9 to 11 mm diameters, which can be easily threaded using its logical rope design.

There will be no uncontrolled descent, thanks to the emergency brake system that eliminates the need for any “panic pulling.”  This will keep climbers safe from harm, as well as giving them the extra feeling of security that will help them to stay focused on climbing.

The Eddy is also cleverly designed in that it recognizes the difference between an uncontrolled fall and a quick payout, locking when needed, but allowing the line to flow smoothly when just feeding the rope through.

This safe and solid belay device is CE Certified, and comes in black with a green release handle.

Related: There are a few other belay devices offered by Edelrid, and though they are all lighter weight than the Eddy, none of them offer the safety and security features that you will find on this device, and are not necessarily as easy for beginners to use.

Black Diamond ATC-XP Belay Device

Black Diamond ATC-XP Belay Device

Weight: 64 g

Dimensions: 10 x 8 x 3 inches

Specific Features: Machined windows, anodized aluminum alloy construction

Best Use: Sport climbing, indoor climbing, snow and ice climbing, rock climbing

Description: The Black Diamond ATC-XP Belay Device is an updated version of the original, and is 30% lighter, thanks to its machined windows positioned throughout the device, for a more comfortable use.

It has a high-friction mode that uses the toothed notches for more control when lowering your partner or rappelling to the bottom, as well as a low-friction mode that utilizes the smoother opposite sides.

It also has a rigid keeper wire that will never get tangled in the rope and get sucked into your device, so it will always keep its shape.  The ATC-XP works with 7.7 to 11 mm ropes.

This belay device is great for beginners, or for those belaying partners who are heavier than themselves.  There are five colors to choose from, including blue, anthracite, mocha, orange and black.

Related: The ATC-XP is the upgraded version of the original Black Diamond ATC belay device, which is a bit smaller.

Though still useful for climbers, the classic version does not have the toothed notches that provide the added holding power needed when lowering those heavier than you, making the ATC-XP a safer choice that gives the belayer more control.

Petzl Ascension Ascender

Petzl Ascension Ascender

Weight: 165 g

Dimensions: 9 x 4 x 2 inches

Specific Features: Aluminum body, stainless steel and plastic components, rubber handgrip

Best Use: Big wall climbing, snow and ice climbing

Description: As its name suggests, the Petzl Ascension Ascender was designed for ascending a rope.  It has an ergonomic molded handle that gives you a secure, yet comfortable, grip.

The opening is wide enough to grasp the handle easily, even when wearing thicker gloves, and the upper section gives you the power needed when using both hands to pull.

The integrated safety catch prevents snagging, and the toothed cam has a self-cleaning slot, which is perfect for those climbing on dirty or icy ropes.

There is an upper hole for clipping a carabiner around the rope, and a wider hole at the base of the Ascension for an additional carabiner, a lanyard or a footloop to be attached.  This device has both black left-handed and yellow right-handed versions.

Related: Though Petzl has both chest and foot ascenders available, the Ascension is the only hand device of this kind made by this company.

Final Words

No matter what kind of climbing you prefer, safety is always the most important thing to consider before you even head out to your chosen spot, and the proper belay device can mean the difference between life and death.

Choose your best Belay Device

Choosing the right one, and learning how to use it properly should always be your first step.  Of course, there are numerous belay devices out there that are not on our list, so if you have a favorite you feel should have been included, please feel free to comment below.

Daniel Carraway
Daniel Carraway

Daniel Carraway joined our team last year. He is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.

  • Shanna Allain

    I really like Black Diamond because when it comes to climbing gear, you don’t have to worry about the product quality. It’s good and reliable gear. If you are looking for a versatile belay device (for both single pitch and mulit-pitch climbing applications) I highly recommend this product.

  • Daniel Carraway

    One of the best belay devices in the market and quite popular. You won’t go wrong with this easy to use gear. The high-friction mode is praise-worthy and has made a lot of climbers feel secure. It is very hardy and will last for many years. In the long run, it’s very cost-effective.

  • Ryan Freeman

    I’ve been climbing for a while now, during which time I have only ever used my Trango Cinch. Even when my last one needed replacing after a lot of use, I simply replaced it with another one. Didn’t even need to consider anything else. Perfect for self-belay, the Cinch feeds effortlessly. I’d recommend wearing gloves for better control whilst you should definitely read the instructions too! This is for more advanced climbers so you need to know how to use this effectively and safely.

  • Daniel Carraway

    Thanks for the tip Ryan and yup, the Trango Cinch is remarkably strong – yet, lightweight and comes in three attractive colors. This belay device is more suited for professionals indeed!