Updated — October 2017
We keep this review up-to-date with the most intriguing models available. Petzl's release of the GriGri+ made some noise in the Summer of 2017. We bought and sent it to our experienced climbing testers to see if it was worth the hype. Our verdict: Yes, it is. This belay device takes over as our new Editors' Choice winner. If you prefer the GriGri 2, though, don't worry. It remains excellent and in production along with the GriGri+ for the foreseeable future.
New anti-panic feature
Lead and top rope modes
Handles diverse range of rope diameters
Mode-switching creates extra step
First, there was the GriGri
in 1991. The GriGri 2
came 20 years later to accommodate a broader range of rope diameters. In 2017, we welcomed the GriGri+
with anticipation and speculation. After plenty of field use, we are stoked to say the latest iteration in this popular line of devices is the best out there. It pays out slack and auto-blocks on the same plane as the GriGri 2
, which we love. What sets the GriGri+
apart are its features. A new anti-panic handle adds a layer of safety when lowering a climber or single-strand rappelling, which has the potential to reduce accidents. It has top rope and lead modes to adjust to the climbing style at hand. This model also handles the widest rope diameter range of all GriGri's to date. Petzl also increased the durability of the GriGri+
by adding a stainless steel wear plate. It is $50 more than its predecessor, yet the more robust design, versatility of modes, and anti-panic feature make the GriGri+
worth it. Say hello to your new best belayfriend and winner of our Editors' Choice Award.
Read review: Petzl GriGri+
Best Buy for an Active Assisted Braking Device
Petzl GriGri 2
Handles rope smoothly
Good for ropes as small as 8.9mm
A bit heavy
Can only handle one strand of rope
The GriGri 2
remains the most popular assisted braking device in the world. We like it for many reasons, including its low weight, strong catch, and smooth handling. Other companies have introduced their own assisted braking models that might surpass the GriGri
in a few narrow areas. None, however, have been able to combine good performance across a range of applications into a single package like this device does. In 2017, the GriGri+
took over the Editors' Choice Award with its enhanced features. The GriGri 2
is still an excellent product, and anyone who is comfortable and capable with a GriGri
will appreciate saving significant cash by opting for this model. Once our top choice overall, this model is now our favorite active assisted braking model under $100. Despite the release of the GriGri+
, this model will remain in production.
Read review: Petzl GriGri 2
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond ATC XP
Excellent friction control when lowering/rappelling
Pays out rope smoothly
The Black Diamond ATC XP
is the best for new climbers or anyone on a budget. It's designed in the classic tube shape with two friction channels to enable double strand rappels. It's one of the easiest to learn and includes a toothed groove on one side of the tube for superior braking strength when catching lead falls. Compared to it's closest challenger, the Petzl Verso
, we preferred the ATC XP
because it's slightly more durable and has stronger lock-off friction. They're both great devices though, so look for deals and consider whichever one is on sale.
Read review: Black Diamond ATC XP
Top Pick for Multi-Pitch Climbing
Black Diamond ATC Guide
Ideal for belaying seconds on multi-pitch climbs
Not as light as the Reverso 4
For climbers that like to do it all, our recommendation is the Black Diamond ATC Guide
. This device offers the same ideal characteristics as the ATC XP
for standard belays while also providing auto-block capability for bringing up followers directly on an anchor. The GriGri
's are only able to belay a single strand, and that limitation classifies it as a luxury in our eyes. Most climbers will also need a two strand device for rappels, and the ATC Guide
is our favorite. The Petzl Reverso 4
put up stiff competition by offering similar features at an ounce less weight. However, the ATC Guide
's superior durability and lower auto-block resistance are the reasons we chose it as our Top Pick for multi-pitch climbing.
Read review: Black Diamond ATC Guide
Analysis and Test Results
Gone are the days of hip belays and the adage "the leader must not fall." Along with dynamic ropes, the reliability of modern belay devices has transformed climbing from a borderline suicidal endeavor to a boring choice for a kid's birthday party. If you climb enough, though, you eventually wonder which device offers the best friction in the lightest, most affordable package.
Follow the Manufacturer's Instructions Carefully
Belay devices are important pieces of climbing life-safety equipment but can be confusing to master. This is one piece of gear where learning exactly how to use it 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 their latest documentation for your particular device, as manufacturer's recommendations sometimes change over time as new safety guidelines are developed. Climbing is dangerous. Climb at your own risk.
Types of Belay Devices
The body and wire loop on the Black Diamond ATC XP (left) are both larger than the Petzl Verso (right). The difference wasn't large enough to have a significant impact on our scoring.
The most basic type of belay device covered in this review is the tube. Modern versions of these devices continue to look less and less like an actual tube, but they're all based on the concept of a tube-shaped slot to pass a bight of rope through. You clip a carabiner to this bight, and the bend it creates produces the friction and braking power. One of the more popular early models was the Black Diamond ATC
("Air Traffic Controller"), and this acronym is sometimes used to refer to the entire category. Although the original ATC
is still available, many of today's best performing tubes are asymmetrically shaped to give stronger braking force. They include a toothed groove on one side that 'bites' the rope better when catching lead falls. Most tubes include two slots to enable you to belay with half and twin ropes and rappel on two strands. We reviewed four devices in this category: the Black Diamond ATC XP
, Petzl Verso
, Black Diamond ATC Guide
, and Petzl Reverso 4
, but there are many, many more available. In addition to the basic tube design, the ATC Guide
also feature auto-block capability.
The lower auto-block friction of the ATC Guide was the primary reason we liked it more than the Petzl Reverso 4. This type of configuration, in which you use the belay device connected to an anchor to belay a second climber can be confusing. Be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
Auto-block devices, sometimes called 'guide' devices, are tube derivatives that include an extra hole to clip the device into an anchor. This allows you to belay a climber directly off said anchor with an assisted locking mechanism. These are ideal for multi-pitch routes or belaying two followers at once. The extra automatic braking frees up a hand too, letting a belayer snack, rehydrate, or snap photos at the same time. But, never take your braking hand off the rope or ropes under any circumstances.
The drawbacks to auto-blocking tubes are higher weight, cost, and complexity. Belayers also need to be experienced enough to handle the sometimes involved procedures to lower a hanging partner in auto-block mode.
Assisted Braking: Passive vs. Active
The next step up in sophistication is assisted braking devices. These devices, also called 'assisted locking,' use a variety of mechanisms to pinch the rope and automatically catch a fall. The automation and reliability of this catch, however, is not fool-proof so we refrain from using the popular, but incorrect term, 'auto-locking.' No matter the belay device, always keep your braking hand on the rope(s).
Assisted braking devices are great because they reduce the grip strength required to hold a hanging partner, letting you save your energy for climbing instead of belaying. Their safety benefits though are more dubious. If you let their automatic braking capability encourage bad belay techniques, they can become as dangerous as any other type. Their function also requires more complicated hand motions that can create their own accidents or inhibit precise rope management, which is especially crucial for near-ground clips. Therefore, we suggest only experienced belayers use assisted braking devices for lead belays.
The different lowering handles on the four active assisted locking devices. Clockwise from the upper left: the Edelrid Eddy, Camp Matik, Trango Cinch (now discontinued), and Petzl GriGri 2. Notice how the Cinch's handle is oriented in the opposite direction and pulls away from a belayer during lowering/rappelling. We think this design is easier for lefties.
We separate today's assisted braking options into two categories: passive and active. Passive assisted braking devices generate their braking power by pinching the rope between the device and a carabiner and are dependent on the position of the brake hand (classified under UIAA En 15151-2, "Manual braking devices"). These devices are lighter and less expensive than their active counterparts and are usually capable of double-strand rappels. However, their performance is highly dependent on the carabiner used, and they offer less braking power. We examined the Mammut Smart Alpine
and Edelrid Mega Jul
in this category.
Passive assisted braking devices like the Mammut Smart use an angled channel on the side of the tube to direct the belay biner towards the brake strand and pinch the rope. Be sure to carefully read the manufacturer's instructions for any belay device.
Active assisted braking devices generate their braking power via a variety of mechanisms inside the device itself. They're not dependent on the position of the brake hand or the carabiner used (classified under UIAA EN 15151-1, "braking devices with manually assisted locking"). Examples we tested include the Petzl GriGri+
, Petzl GriGri 2
, Edelrid Eddy
, and Camp Matik
. These devices are the most expensive but provide the greatest braking power, handle smoothly, and are our favorites for most belays.
It's crucial to always keep a hand on the brake when feeding slack with the GriGri 2 or any other belay device.
Criteria for Evaluation
This category tries to measure the strength of the catch across all disciplines from sport to trad, winter ascents with half frozen ropes, to summer big walls and their marathon belays. We also considered the hand strength required to hold a hanging climber in place, what we'll be calling 'lock-off' in the individual product reviews. The assisted braking devices outperformed the basic models in both aspects.
It's important to emphasize the difference between the passive assisted braking of the Smart Alpine
and Edelrid Mega Jul
versus the active assisted locking on devices like the GriGri+
, GriGri 2
, Edelrid Eddy
, and Camp Matik
. In the GriGri
et al. braking is created by a pinching mechanism inside the device itself; the passive assisted braking models rely on a pinch between the carabiner and the device. The Smart Alpine
and Mega Jul
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).
Furthermore, passive models do not generate the same braking force as active devices. The German Alpine Club conducted tests
measuring the braking force without
a hand on the rope for several models and found the Smart and Mega Jul could only handle 0.6 kN and 0.5 kN, respectively. Active assisted locking devices like the GriGri 2
and Camp Matik
each withstood more than 2.0 kN
. Contrary to what we've seen on the internet, the Smart
and Mega Jul
cannot be expected to catch even small falls without a brake hand on the rope. To say it another way, if your belayer gets knocked unconscious by rockfall, these passive assisted braking devices are unlikely to catch your fall.
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. Six 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
, Reverso 4
, Smart Alpine
, and Mega Jul
. Rather than include that difference in our numerical scoring, we chose to separate it as a simple 'yes or no' double strand question in our comparison matrix. Shoppers should recognize that the none of the active assisted locking devices can rappel a doubled rope. Consider these models only for single-pitch routes or multi-pitches in combination with a two strand device.
The difference in lowering/rappelling scores came down to the smoothness of the action and the range it was good for. We saw the most consistently good performance from the tube devices. Although the assisted braking models all provide the ability to lock the device and rest hands-free, they also exhibited narrow ranges and jerkiness. The tube style belay devices offered the smoothest lowering and rappelling of all models reviewed. The standout performance from assisted braking devices came from the GriGri+
. It accommodates rope diameters 8.5 mm to 11 mm (largest range among devices of its kind) and features an anti-panic handle. Unlike the previous GriGri
models, if the belayer incorrectly
pulls back all the way on the handle when lowering the climber, the device locks the cam and stops rope from feeding through the device. The Camp Matik
and Edelrid Eddy
also have an anti-panic mechanism.
Lower a climber safely and smoothly to the ground with the anti-panic handle of the GriGri+.
No matter which device you choose, it's important to tie a knot in both ends of the rope. Rappelling and lowering accidents are two of the most common types and are often easily preventable.
The Pistol-Grip Position: to feed slack with the Camp Matik you use your index finger and thumb to squeeze this black trigger on the bottom. Be sure to read the Camp Matik manual carefully to learn how to properly belay with it.
Feeding slack is a category we included 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-roping belay. The ability to take and give slack quickly and precisely is important to ensure a good belay—especially when close to the ground. Tube devices require the simplest motion to take or feed slack and received the best scores in this category because of it. Passive assisted braking devices, like the Edelrid Mega Jul
and Mammut Smart Alpine
, are the next step up in complexity and feature similar movements to tubes but with upward pressure on a handle or loop to disable the device's locking mechanism. Finally, active assisted braking devices are the most complex and each feature a different method for giving slack quickly.
line from Petzl feed slack well once the belayer learns the proper technique. There is a learning curve, though. One published study
showed that even with this popular and longstanding device, up to a quarter of all users pay out slack improperly, momentarily taking their brake hand off the rope (we've said it before, but it bears repeating, never take your braking hand off the rope
!). Therefore, no matter which device you choose, find out how to use it correctly. And that's especially true for the more complicated techniques required on active assisted braking models.
Auto Block (Resistance Belaying a Second)
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). All the devices we tried, except the Black Diamond ATC XP
and Petzl Verso
, feature some way to do so. Unfortunately, though, many of these devices create substantial friction that can exhaust a belayer's shoulders and elbows.
We were inspired by Blake Herrington at Cascade Climbers
to run a test on the resistance of each device in auto-block mode. Our full procedures are explained in the How We Test
section, but the important thing to know is that the actual numerical value (in lbs) is not very meaningful. Rather, focus on the relative performance of each device compared to the others. Lower scores are better and indicate less energy required for auto-block belays. The 1-10 scores we awarded for this category assume each device is capable of properly locking and only reflect the relative resistance. Both GriGri
models scored top marks in this metric, while the Mega Jul
fell to the bottom.
The results from our auto-block friction test. We rigged each belay device in auto-block mode from a hanging scale and recorded the weight (in lbs) when we pulled rope through. We tested 2 different ropes and used the same round Petzl Attache carabiner for all devices. Lower numbers are better.
Like all climbing gear these days, belay devices are getting lighter and smaller. Devices ranged from 2.0 to 13.0 ounces. Three or more of the smallest, the Petzl Verso
, could likely fit inside the volume of the massive Edelrid Eddy
. This category is obviously not crucial to device function, but we decided to include it because it's important to alpine and multi-pitch climbers. We summarized both components into this one rating, representing ten percent of the overall score.
The center pin on the Cinch (now discontinued) is our primary durability concern. Although stainless steel, it's a fairly small surface subjected to a lot of rope friction.
Expect all the products we reviewed to last for a couple of years of heavy use. Different climbers, though, might decide to retire the same device at different levels of wear. So instead of estimating lifespans, we tried to objectively determine relative durability between all the devices by considering materials and design. Stainless steel was the clear winner and devices that used it for their friction surfaces, like the Camp Matik
and Edelrid Mega Jul
, received some of the best scores. Petzl
and Black Diamond
both use aluminum for their tube designs but the hardness is different. We believe the BD
stuff lasts longer. Durability represents five percent of overall score. If you ever suspect your device is worn out or no longer working properly, retire it immediately.
The sun setting on central Oregon and our 2016 belay device review.
Purchasing a belay device can be confusing with the more evolved and specialized options on the market today. It is important to identify the type of climbing you intend to do to select the appropriate device for your climbing needs. Read through our Buying Advice
article for specific recommendations tailored to different disciplines and experience levels.