Best belay devices
If you’re getting into climbing or just starting your foray into top rope or lead climbing, you get the need for a great belay device. The belay device is what keeps you or your partner safe while you’re up on the wall and take a fall, so other than a great harness I’d say that a great belay device is the second most important piece of gear you can own and learn to use well.
But what should you get, and how much should you expect to spend?
First, let’s talk about the different types of belay devices and then we’ll get into the best brake assisted belay devices and the best ATC belay devices, as well as their pros and cons and pricing.
Brake Assisted belay devices
Brake assisted belay devices are the safest type of belay device on the market. This type of device is set up to help you belay effectively and safely. Brake assisted belay devices, like the Petzl GriGri 2, feed the rope through the device which then automatically takes (remember: never take your hands off the rope when belaying) and stops your climber partner from falling. No additional rope goes through the device and your partner stops. Many brake assisted belay devices also still allow your rope to slide through so you can give slack while your partner lead climbs.
Brake assisted belay devices are more expensive and heavier than traditional ATC devices, but they are safer when you know how to use them properly!
Best brake assisted belay devices
These are the best brake assisted belay devices.
The Petzl GriGri 2 is the most recommended brake assisted belay device on the market, and for good reason. Designed for experienced climbers, the GRIGRI 2 belay device with assisted braking is designed to facilitate belay maneuvers. Both compact and lightweight, it is used with dynamic single 9.4 to 10.3 mm diameter ropes (possible with 8.9 mm to 11 mm diameters). The assisted braking improves belay comfort when working a route and when arresting a fall. Weighing in at just 170 grams, the GriGri 2 isn’t too heavy to use every day.
The GriGri 2 retails for around $99.
The Camp USA Matik belay device is a good second option, but to be honest I’m not really sure why someone would choose this over the GriGri 2 unless it was on sale.
The Matik is an intuitive device that has many of the same features of the GriGri – autolocking when belaying, relatively fluid lowering (though not as smooth as the GriGri), and safety features that don’t allow a carabiner to be attached if the device is not closed.
Coming in at $199.95 retail and weighing 276 g (9.7 oz), the Matik is a good choice if you don’t care about price.
ATC (tubular) belay devices
Most climbers learn to belay on an ATC device. ATCs are cheap and last forever, making them ideal for those without big budgets. ATCs commonly have two rope holes, making them ideal for self-belaying as well when necessary. I own both a GriGri and an ATC, and love both for different reasons. To be honest, I usually use my ATC at the climbing gym because it is more likely to be able to fit the thick gym ropes.
Some ATCs, such as the Black Diamond ATC Guide, have a directional interface that includes grooves to help with lowering the climber when you are belaying. This is especially helpful when belaying from above when multipitch climbing or simply when the climber weighs more than you!
Best ATC belay devices
These are our picks, in order, for the best ATC belay devices available.
The Black Diamond ATC Guide (MSRP: $29.95) is their most versatile belay and rappel device. It has multiple friction modes to let you determine your needs when belaying different climbers. It also has a guide mode that lets you belay two climbers at once.
The Petzl Reverso 4 is the ATC belay device that my wife uses and has used for a few years now. The ultra-light Petzl Reverso 4 (MSRP $29.95) is 25% lighter than the previous version. V-shaped friction channels with asymmetrical lateral grooves adapt the friction to the type of rope for better control. ARC technology: braking control for twin, half and single dynamic ropes.
The Black Diamond ATC (MSRP: $17.99)is the classic of the classic. It’s often been copied but never equaled. I’ve been using this belay device for the last decade and it is still going strong. It doesn’t have any belay assistance or friction areas to help with slowing down the belay speed, but it gets the job done. It also does not have a guide mode, so if you plan to lead friends up a multi pitch you should get one of the above devices. But if it’s just you and your partner at the gym, this is a great option.