In the past 25 years, belay devices have become safer but more complex, with various designs, moving parts, and additional braking power. From climbing 14-pitch 5.12s in Wadi Rum, Jordan, to running toprope laps at the local gym, our testers deciphered the nuances of the following five belay devices, evaluating braking, ergonomics, lowering, loading, ease of use, and overall design.
The Game Changer
The Beginner’s Best Friend
The Safer Tuber
Light and Reliable
What does assisted braking mean?
In the past century, belay devices saw significant evolution from carabiners and Sticht plates to belay devices with moving parts. Assisted braking in belay devices works by using either moving parts (active) or the geometry of the device (passive) to add stopping power when catching a falling climbing, which increases the belayer’s control of the rope and reduces the strength needed to hold and lower a climber. Though these devices make belaying easier, each one requires its own specialized technique, with a specific list of dos and don’ts. With that comes a learning curve for everyone, so after consulting manufacturers’ guidelines for proper use, go out with two friends and have one climb an easy route he will not fall on, while the other gives you a backup belay. Practice until you’ve got it dialed.