Belaying is the most important safety skill in climbing and understanding the ins and outs of it can help keep you and your climbing friends safe. If you want to be safe while climbing you and your climbing partner need to be proficient with belaying and it should feel like second nature.
This guide directs you to all of the resources that I’ve made to help become a proficient belayer and to help you choose the best belay device for the best belaying experience.
What is Belaying?
Belaying is a means of managing the rope while a person is climbing so if they fall, the rope will prevent them from hitting the ground. Belaying includes running one end of the rope through a metal device that helps control the speed of the rope running through the device using friction.
Some devices are as simple as a metal tube with two holes in it, which are called ATCs and other devices are more elaborate with camming mechanisms that block rope from moving through the device without the interference of the belayer.
In recent years, many climbing gyms around the world started requiring the use of devices with camming mechanisms known as auto-locking belay devices.
What Is The Safest Belay Device?
Your belay device is essential to the safety of the climber and even the belayer. With this being the case, you need to make sure that you get a belay device that will keep you as safe as possible. The safest belay devices, when used properly, are auto-locking belay devices. Auto-locking belay devices have a camming mechanism to stop the rope from running through the device if significant tension is applied to the rope.
This means that if the climber falls, and the rope starts running through the device quickly, the device will pinch the rope and stop the rope from moving any further through the device. This pinching process happens automatically, meaning that the belayer could even be unconscious, and still the rope would lock in place.
Basic belay devices such as ATCs require the belayer to be completely aware of what is going on to prevent the rope from running through the device. So if the belayer gets distracted by wildlife or if a rock hits them in the face and makes them lose consciousness, the climber is at risk of falling to the ground. This is not a risk that I would recommend taking!
My favorite overall auto-locking belay device is the Grigri. I spent a couple of years using an ATC and since then, I’ve tested almost every auto-locking device that’s on the market.
► Top 6 belay devices for beginners (Alternatives to the Grigri)
How To Belay
How To Set-Up A Belay Device
Prior to belaying, you must attach the rope through the belay device. To attach or load the rope into the device, generally, the rope will go through the belay device with the end of the rope that is furthest from the belayer’s body being attached to the climber and the rope that runs closest to the belayer will be toward the end of the rope that you’ll give out or take in as the climber goes up the wall.
Once the rope is loaded in the device correctly, the belayer will keep a hand on the end that is on the opposite side of the climber and this hand is called the safety hand.
If you are top-rope belaying, you will pull the rope from the climber’s side through the device as the climber goes up to keep the rope tight. If you are lead belaying, you will give the climber rope as they climb up and clip into each bolt.
Depending on the belay device that you are using, there may be slightly different techniques and considerations. For example, the way you set up a belay and manage to lower is different on an ATC than it is on an Auto-locking belay device such as a Grigri.
To ensure the safety of the climber and of the belayer, get professional training for belaying.
Top-rope belaying classes are often free at climbing gyms and learning to belay from a professional is important – don’t just assume your climbing friend knows how to teach belaying because they are proficient belayers. Being a proficient belayer doesn’t mean proficiency with teaching others how to safely belay.
Should you upgrade to an auto-locking device?
If you currently use an ATC or even a semi-locking belay device, then you’ve probably considered upgrading to an auto-locking belay device.
I used an ATC for a few years and felt like it worked perfectly fine. However, after a rock climbing accident, I realized that there are a number of reasons that auto-locking devices are ideal for belaying. Plus, it gives you an insane sense of peace of mind when it comes to climbing and your belayer is using an auto-locking device.
The History Of Belay Devices
Back when climbing was becoming a sport, safety devices such as a belt and rope were used to assist climbers if they were to fall. Since then, we’ve seen a huge change in the technology behind the belay device. The first belay devices functioned similarly to ATC’s in that they typically had two loops and used friction with the device to control the rope speed. Today, many climbers prefer the updated technology that includes camming mechanisms like the ones found in the Grigri