One of the most common questions I hear when working with beginners is “What type of belay device is best to buy?” Buying your first belay device can seem a little confusing, with many different types to choose from. A simple understanding of how they work will help you make your choice. Here is a brief outline of the the different types available and their common uses.
Standard Friction Device
These are the most common belay devices used by climbers. Whilst they all look a little different, and have some different features, they essentially work in the same way. The belayer will control the rate of descent of a falling or descending climber, by pulling the “dead” rope tight, this causes friction on the rope by forcing it into a tight bend. Almost all standard belay devices can also be used to abseil with.
- These are the best devices for beginners and experienced climbers alike. Good for all climbing disciplines. Some of these devices, like the Black Diamond XP have small grooves that increase the friction on the rope and can be a good choice if your partner is considerably heavier than you.
Assisted Breaking Devices
These are devices that assist the belayer in arresting a falling climber by locking when the rope moves through them at a certain speed. Often incorrectly referred to as Automatic or Auto-Locking. Many indoor gyms are requiring ABDs these days.
- These devices always require a vigilant and experienced belayer. Less versatile than a standard device, as almost all of them can only be used with one rope. Often used by sport climbers when working a route, and also favoured by big wall climbers.
Sometimes known as “magic plates”, these devices generally work in the same way as a standard device, but can also be used in guide mode by instructors to bring up two clients. In guide mode they will lock in the event that one or both of the clients fall onto the rope.
Used by instructors and mountaineers, these devices are a little heavier than standard devices and generally more expensive. These are the most versatile of belay devices, sharing most of the characteristics of both assisted and standard devices. Almost always capable of single or double rope use.
Single and Double Rope Devices
Most standard belay devices will work with either a single or double rope, but there are some available that are for single ropes only, like the Climbing Technology Click-Up. Virtually all assisted devices only work with one rope. If you intend to climb outside in any way, then it almost always makes sense to buy a device that can handle two ropes.
Most new climbers will buy the device that they used when learning how to belay.
All belay devices have different characteristics. Some will be better suited to smaller diameter ropes, some have grooves on one side to aid braking, and some don’t. If you require any further help with choosing your belay device, then please feel free to email us and we are happy to answer any questions!