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Belay device review – No 223 – August 2003

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A dependable belay device can make the difference between a safe retreat and desperate defeat.Greg Von Doersten

Belay device review - No 223 - August 2003

12 models to catch the fly

Figure 8? Been there. Belay plate? Done that. Tube-style belay devices are my tool of choice. I still remember the first time I tried one: My partner, tired of my figure 8 putting infinite numbers of rope-snarling spirals into his cord, offered up his battered but serviceable Lowe Tuber. One pitch, belaying and


, and I was hooked — feeding out rope was smooth (especially compared to using the small hole of the figure 8, plate-style) and I had much better speed control while descending. My figure 8 has languished unused for a decade.

While tube-style belay devices come in varying designs and constructions, they all have one thing in common — the tube, of course. The innards of this simple shape provide a long rope-bearing surface that keeps rope wear to a minimum, and the linear movement of the rope through the device eliminates the twisting and kinking dished out by figure 8s.

Each manufacturer has its own twist on the tube. Some go long and thin, others go short and stout. Ideally, the unit should have thick walls for reducing heat, improving durability, and rope-friendliness.

A thin-walled unit will wear out quickly and may develop sharp edges that can damage the sheath of your rope, not to mention coat your cord in a slimy veneer of aluminum-oxide “rope gack.”

You should also consider what kind of rope setup you usually climb with. Some models handle skinny and double ropes very well, but don’t accommodate thick ropes. Many manufacturers are now building in friction-varying features — typically deep grooves or slots — which can help you increase or decrease the amount of pressure you apply to the rope. Variable friction is great for lowering and rappelling, and gives a device more versatility in terms of rope size.

All but one of the units in the test featured a “keeper” loop (most often a wire cable), which prevents the device from sliding up the rope (the Omega Pacific SBG II features a solid-metal stem). The wire cables vary in thickness and flexibility, which can greatly affect durability. Some cables are easily bent and tweaked — when that happens, it’s time to retire the unit. A durable keeper loop is key to getting the most from your small, but important, investment.

Your belay device is a crucial link in the safety chain. Take care when making your selection — the life you save might be your partner’s, or your own.

Belay device review - No 223 - August 2003

Click Here to see the review of the

Petzl Reverso

belay device from

Just Out, Climbing

#209, page 99.

by Dave Sheldon

The test results Click on the manufacturers listed below for the review

Advanced Basecamp Black Diamond C.A.M.P Cassin/Climb Axe DMM/Excalibur Hugh Banner/Climb High Metolius Omega Pacific Trango Wild Country/Excalibur