Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Learn proper techniques for smooth and safe belaying
The release of the Petzl Grigri in 1991 marked a major step in the evolution of belay devices: Here was a device that assisted significantly in catching a fall, and also allowed a belayer to hold and lower his partner with little effort. Belay slaves rejoiced, but incorrect use of this newfangled device began to result in accidents. Petzl has made an effort to educate users, but the bad habits of devotees are difficult to break, and with the release of the Grigri 2 in 2011, it’s more important than ever to learn (and teach) proper techniques for this ubiquitous device.
How it Works
A cam inside (plus part of the body) rotates to give the Grigri its holding power. When the rope moves quickly through the device (as in a fall), the cam is engaged and pinches the rope to keep it from moving (A).
How to Use
Primary belaying position. In basic use, the Grigri should be used like a tube-style device. The brake hand should never leave the rope. As the climber moves up, feed slack a little at a time (or take in when belaying a toprope). If the climber falls, lock off with the rope down and in front of you. The Grigri’s cam will hold most or all of the weight, but your brake hand is an essential backup. Pulling the brake end down also helps the cam to engage rapidly.
Feeding slack quickly. If you try to give a lot of rope at once, the cam may engage, preventing rope from moving through. This can be annoying when your leader is pulling up rope quickly to clip. Anticipate the leader’s clipping and begin feeding rope before she yanks on it. With thicker ropes or hasty clips, you can transition temporarily to another hand position. While keeping three fingers of your brake hand wrapped around the rope, put your thumb over the back edge of the black handle and wedge your pointer finger under the lip on the right side. Press down with your thumb and push up with your pointer to hold the cam down, momentarily disabling the locking mechanism while you pull out slack with your left hand. As soon as you’re done paying out rope, go back to the primary belaying position. If the leader falls when your brake hand is on the Grigri, immediately slide your brake hand away from the device and on to the rope to lock it off.
Lowering. With the rope locked off in your brake hand, slowly unfold the black handle. As you start to feel resistance, keep pulling back slightly. Don’t lift the handle all the way, as it will disengage the camming mechanism and could cause you to lose control, especially if the climber is heavier than you. If the climber gets out of control while lowering, let go of the handle and lock off with the brake end.
Loading the Grigri backward. Follow the diagram printed on the side that shows correct orientation. Tug on the climber’s end of the rope to test whether the device locks properly.
Holding onto the device. A basic instinct when you’re surprised is to grip an object tightly, and if you’re gripping the Grigri, you might accidentally lock it open.
Grabbing the climber’s rope in a fall. This reduces the pull on the device and prevents it from fully engaging.
Failing to keep your hand on the brake end. The Grigri is not hands-free; it’s assisted-braking. A Grigri’s cam might not engage fully in at least four situations: 1) with super-skinny ropes; 2) an extremely light climber; 3) routes with bulges or significant rope drag that reduce the forces of a fall; and 4) hanging on the rope (versus falling) mid-route. To help the cam engage, the belayer sometimes may need to step back or sit down as he locks off with his brake hand.
Heavy use, dirt, and sand can damage the device, just like other gear. Retire the Grigri if sharp edges develop or the cam does not operate smoothly.