Belay & Abseil

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A belay device in some form is pretty much always the the first bit of climbing hardware that a new climber will buy as it is essential for roped climbing.  There are numerous types and variations available the most commonly used are a tubular design or an assisted braking or auto-block.

Tubular Belay Devices
Works using friction caused by the rope bending round the tight angles of the device and a carabiner which slows and then stops the rope, the belayer can lock-off the 'dead' rope to their side.   Available with one slot (for sport climbing and indoor wall use) or more commonly with two slots (suitable for single rope, half ropes and abseiling)
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Easy to use
  • Work with a good range of rope diameters
  • Best for single and multi-pitch trad climbing
Guide belay devices (also known as Guide Plates) are tubular belay devices with extra bits that enable extra function.   They can be used the same way as a normal belay device and also allow the lead climber can bring up the second climber with the belay device in guide mode - directly attached to the anchors in a 'direct' belay.  Lowering a climber while using guide mode is more time consuming and has more steps - worth practice on the ground...

  Advantages to this set-up include;
  • The ability to bring up two climbers at the same time (on two different ropes)
  • Not being attached to belay device its easier to detach from the system in an emergency
  • If the climber that is coming up falls the weight isn't on the leaders harness - a much more comfortable belay
  • Even better for multi-pitch climbing

Assisted Braking Belay Devices
There is a wide range of designs that fit into the assisted braking belay device category, they all function roughly the same way -  when a sudden force is applied (eg. a climber falling) it will lock down helping the belayer to 'catch' and hold a fall.   Guide belay devices (mentioned above) offer assisted braking when set up in guide mode (only when the leader is belaying second/third climbers). 

Belay devices such as the Petzl GriGri2 ( and Petzl GriGri+) have an internal camming mechanism which pinches onto the rope when a climber falls.  Constructed to take only a single rope they are generally only used for sport climbing - particularly working routes, single rope trad climbing and indoor climbing sessions.  Its worth checking the manufacturers specifications as they don't work with all diameters of rope and they are usually heavier than other designs.

There are other assisted braking belay devices that don't have moving parts and are more passive in their operation.  With similarities to tubular belay devices - they are lightweight, simple to use, can have two rope slots for two ropes and are a good bit cheaper than active belay devices but they take a bit of getting used to to stop the carabiner 'locking' when paying out. 

Advantages of assisted braking belay devices include;
  • The device will help the belayer to stop the climbers fall
  • The rope feeds out smoother
  • Active assisted braking belay devices allow easier controllable lowering