Belay devices are mechanical bits of equipment that enable belayers to hold a fall with minimal effort, so with the right device a smaller climber can safely hold a much bigger climbers fall safely. There are many types of belay devices around today and they all work on the same basic principle, they introduce friction into the system when needed to prevent more rope from being paid out to the climber, thus stopping them from hitting the ground.
The traditional stitch or through devices
These (pictured below) are the most simple of devices that just put a bend in the rope to create friction. Friction is by adding another bend into the on the way out of the device to hold a fall.
Advantages are that they are very light and can be used for many things like absailing. Disadvantages though is that they require a little bit of getting used to, to use safely and they don’t produce as much friction as other devices making it potentially harder to hold a fall.
Assisted locking devices
These work the same way as the traditional devices and look fairly similar, the difference is that they have ‘teeth’ on the device to create more friction on the rope and the system.
So the advantages of this is that it is even easier to hold a fall, it is still fairly light and also most can be used with the rope going the other way to make it into essentially a traditional device to reduce friction (sometimes useful for abseiling)(always check the devices manual). The disadvantages are the same however, it requires getting used to the device and a great deal of supervision is needed when first learning to use the device.
Multi function devices
These devices are similar to the assisted locking devices except they have another feature added on, They can be used as ‘magic plates’ (don’t worry if you don’t know what that is, it is a slightly more advanced technique that can be used in certain situations). So these devices provide the ultimate in versatility, being able to do pretty much anything you could want them to do.
Semi automatic devices
These devices are the easiest to use as they theoretically lock automatically when the rope is pulled sharply tight (like when a climber falls). Now this is a good thing because it further reduces the amount of effort required to hold a fall (creating less chance of the climber being dropped) BUT it also carries a false sense of security. Because it ‘locks automatically’ it is often wrongly believed to be completely safe and that you don’t need to hold onto the rope, this would be nice but as with everything mechanical, it is not 100% fool proof. Therefore care should be taken and the capabilities of the device should not be taken for granted.
That being said I think that devices like the Petzl GriGri (below) are great devices for beginners and groups to use.
The Figure of 8 is primarily an abseil device but it can be used for belaying very effectively also.
So I hope you now know more about all the Belay devices out there so you can make a decision on what you need to do what you want.
What do you recommend?
Wildcountry ATC PRO
This is not a tutorial on how to belay, simply a tutorial on the many different types if devices out there and what they are good for, Stay tuned for a belaying tutorial in the near future by following us on facebook, twitter, email, or google…or RSS