With the vast number of belay devices now available on the market, we thought it may be helpful for us to outline each device that we stock and give a brief summary of what each unit is designed for, how it works and what it is and is not suitable for.
Traditional Stitch-Through Devices
Based on the original “stitcht-plate” and “sprung stitcht-plate” (picture inset) designs, these units are the staple devices used by most climbers. While, active climbers may use one of the other devices listed in this article, chances are they will also still own some form or other of this simple and effective design.
As with all belay devices the stitch-plate premise revolves around creating friction; the rope/s is fed in a loop through one or both (if using double ropes) of the slots (towards the climber) and clipped into a HMS style screwgate carabiner. The breaking rope is generally on the right if you’re right handed and left if you’re left handed, with the live end of the rope (to the climber) coming out of the top of the device away from you – the belayer. If the climber then falls or needs to be held, the s-kink in the rope, created by the device, creates resistance allowing the belayer to hold the weight of the climber relatively easily. As anyone who has experience untangling a rope knows, creating friction is easy enough, but releasing said friction can be the hard bit. This is why the key to a good device is not only it’s ability to lock when hold a fall or static weight, but also to release that lock equally efficiently, this can be said to be an axiom for all devices.
The Bug is a classic belay device, happiest handling ropes from 9 to 11mm. It's hot forged, rumbled and anodised to give kind rope bearing surfaces and has a hard wearing nylon coated wire to stop it escaping.
The Bugette is a device for skinny (7.5 to 9mm) half and/or twin ropes, it has been designed to have a gentle rope radius that does not kink ropes and allows the rope to be paid out smoothly and locked off easily.
Wild Country VC
Originally designed primarily for Trad climbing the VC's ability to deal with thin ropes well, whether belaying or abseiling, have made it a firm favourite. The Variable Controller was one of the first devices to move belay plates onto another level. Its wedge shaped design - which gave the VC its name - was able to be used in two performance modes to give more stopping power or less friction depending on circumstance - trad or sport climbing perhaps. This combined the best attributes of ‘flat’ plates with the best of the ‘deep’ plates meaning that when belaying rope could be fed quickly, but when abseiling more friction could be applied.
Black Diamond ATC
Possibly the most popular modern device available, the original ATC - Air Traffic Controller - is a lightweight, simple and often copied smooth-feeding design, which is also easy to operate and, when used correctly, won’t kink your rope. WARNING: whilst this is a supeb device it can feel pretty slick - which is good for paying out rope on sport climbs - and is therefore not a good device for someone belaying a much heavier partner. Easily handles ropes from 8 to 11 mm.
The Metolius BRD Belay Rappel Device's notched ends increase rope friction during a fall to allow for an easy catch, no matter how big a whipper your partner takes. This extra friction makes the Metolius BRD a solid choice for use on skinny ropes, and it works on any ropes from 8-11mm diameter. Metolius also added a thumb press to help you release tension and provide a smooth lower or rappel when time comes to go down.
Assisted Locking Devices
These units generally operate in the same way as the ‘Traditional Stitch-Through Devices’, however they are further assisted, in terms of breaking a fall, by a line of blunted ridges or “teeth” on one side of the device.
Black Diamond ATC Sport
Essentially a ATC XP with a single slot, specifically designed for sport climbing, and ideal for climbing partners with vastly opposing weights.
Black Diamond ATC XP
A true variable-friction device, the ATC-XP maintains the silky-smooth feeding of the ATC but ups the braking power thanks to it's grooved rope slots. This makes a good option for ATC fan looking for more breaking power. Works well with all styles of climbing ropes - 7.7 to 11 mm. Petzl Verso Another variable-friction device. Small and compact. Suitable for single ropes 8.9mm+ and Half/Twin Ropes 7.5mm+, so a good option for those climbing on super skinny half ropes.
Wild Country VC Pro2
The VC Pro 2 with has be re-modeled to give its 'V' grooves even more belaying ‘bite’ to deal with the even thinner cords arriving on the scene. And internally it has also been re-radiused to make a smoother payout on fatter ropes. The design is based on the principles so effectively demonstrated in the original VC, that any all-around device needs to do the three essentials well: paying out quickly, holding falls securely and abseiling safely. The VC Pro takes this one step further by doing this brilliantly across a wider more modern range of rope sizes. The current VC Pro 2 will now deal with single Ropes from 9mm upwards and double ropes from 7.7mm upwards.
Multi-Use Belay Devices
These devices extend the use of the aforementioned assisted locking devices by adding a carabiner hole on one side and a cord hole beneath the jaws, making them more versatile. These units can be used similarly to a standard device, and can additionally be used when belaying up to two second climber from above. The user can clip the unit to an anchor sling with a carabiner passed through the carabiner hole, belaying in an autostop mode. Jammed devices can be released by passing a cord through the cord eye and pulling on the cord.
Petzl Reverso 3
Whether you're running a single rope on a sport route or taking thin twin lines into the alps, the Reverso 3 provides a solid break with deep V-shaped notches. Petzl also designed this belay device to lock automatically when you're belaying a second from the anchor, so you can multi-task at the belay without putting your partner/s at risk. The Reverso's quick-release loop lets you release tension on a fallen climber with a simple pull.
Black Diamond ATC Guide Version 2
Very similar to the Reverso 3 in terms of design spec and function, however the ATC Guide is slightly larger and has its anchor point at a differing angle to the Reverso - upright rather than horizontal to the device. The Version 2 has holes to reduce weight and the release hole works better with a smaller carabiner.
Sometimes referred (wrongly!) to hands-off belay devices, these units use a varied spectrum of mechanisms to achieve an extra level of locking safety – i.e. less actual force from the belayer is required to lock the device, in the event of a leader fall. Most of these devices use a ‘lever box’ mechanism (enclosed with internal moving parts), whilst others use a more familiar, rigid caming system. These are generally for single rope use only, and especially popular for use at climbing walls or on bolted crags.
Petzl GriGri 2
As with most ‘lever box’ devices, the Grigri works by locking when sudden acceleration occurs to the rope (like in a fall), therefore making it a semi-automatic belay device, unlike traditional belay devices, such as the stitch-through devices mentioned above. The device acts like an automobile seat belt, if you move the rope slowly you can run the rope through the Grigri without it locking but a shock load locks the device so rope won't run. One of the criticisms of automatic belay devices is that they can lead to a false sense of security. The automatic functionality may result in the belayer being less attentive to the climber than with a more traditional belay device. However, like any tool, proper training is required for proper use. The GriGri 2 is more compact than the original and can cope with skinnier ropes. The GriGri 2 is suitable for 8.9mm to 11mm ropes.
The Cinch Belay Device from Trango functions logically, modulates fluidly, and locks off quickly on 9.4 - 11 mm ropes in the event of a fall. One thing that is noticeable is that his unit is a slightly more complex device than a Grigri or Eddy, and it's well worth honing your technique (see video) before taking it to the crag or wall. Like the Grigri, the Cinch provides an autolocking feature that is useful as a backup, however the Cinch is much smaller and lighter than the Grigri. UPDATE: Read a review of the Trango Cinch here.
The Eddy consists of four major components: the body, the rotating cam, a cover plate, and an actuating lever assembly. The Eddy is the perfect belaying device for sport climbing for either novice or the experienced climber - easy to thread, the rope follows logically the rope flow. A controlled descent with an emergency break system eliminates the "panic pull" syndrome which can lead to serious accidents.
Wild Country SRC
The Wild Country SRC - Single Rope Controller - is loaded by inserting a 'bight' into the right side of the controller, and clipping a HMS carabiner through the slots and the bight. The HMS is anchored appropriately. Rope is fed by turning the Controller horizontally. During a fall, the Controller is pulled and forces the HMS carabiner to one side, wedging the rope between the carabiner and the two lower pins, enabling the fall to be held.
Figure of Eight
Historically used as a belay device in many parts of mainland Europe, this device is less commonly used for belaying these days.