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Choosing a Belay Device for Rock Climbing

Choosing a Belay Device for Rock Climbing

Belaying plays a huge part in the sport of climbing and choosing the right one for you will improve safety and confidence on the climb.

However, there are a few different options to look at when choosing which belay device to buy.

So we’ve put together this guide to help make the decision easier for you.

As with most climbing gear, determining what type of climbing you intend to do is essential to which type of gear will be most suitable for you.

There are three main types of devices for belaying:

– Manual / Standard / Tube Device

– Auto Locking / Automatic Locking / Automatic Assist / Self Locking Device

– Auto Blocking / Guide’s style Device

 Let’s look at the differences between each style:

Manual / Standard / Tube Device 

Black diamond ATC

These are the basic belay devices that most climbers will have from when they first start out. They are easy to use, relatively low-cost, durable and perfect for traditional belaying and rappelling techniques. You should pick one of these up regardless of the type of climbing you do.

Most models are usually good for rappelling with two ropes as well, which other styles of belay device such as self-locking will not accommodate.

The downside to the traditional belaying method is that it can get quite tiring on your brake hand if you are climbing on long or multi-pitch climbs and need to keep the tension on the rope.

Most varieties of this style will work the same way and the cost of certain models depends on weight, size and any extra features.

Auto Blocking / Guide’s style Device

Petzl Reverso

Petzl Reverso

If you climb a lot of Multi-pitch climbs then an Auto Blocking device is one way to make the belaying process much easier and is an excellent way to save energy on long climbs.

This versatile device style works by belaying off an anchor which means that you can escape the belay and put less weight onto the body. Because of this, Auto Blocking devices have full strength clip-in points which is how you can recognise them from standard devices.

Auto Locking / Automatic Locking / Automatic Assist / Self Locking Device 

Petzl gri gri

Petzl gri gri

Self locking belay devices only take a single rope and each device will only take rope that fit within certain diameters. (e.g, between 8mm – 10.5mm)

These devices will basically take the weight of the climber off the belay partner and will automatically lock if the climber falls. This eliminates the need for the belay partner to constantly keep tension on the rope as with a standard belay device. This is perfect for those groups who regularly climb big walls or for when the climber is hanging a lot on the rope.

Self locking devices are generally more expensive and heavier than most standard devices and are mostly a lot more complex too.

Other factors you should look at:


Durability isn’t a huge factor as most belay devices will last for years with the correct maintenance and moderate use. Look to other characteristics such as handling before looking at durability.

Rope Size

As mentioned, most self locking belay devices are specified for use with diameters of rope within a certain range so be sure to buy a device that will fit the rope you own, or vice-versa. Some devices will also work a lot smoother with certain diameters of rope than others. For example, rope on the thicker side may not be work as smoothly as a thinner rope. Look into this when choosing a belay device but bear this in mind when choosing rope also.

Also check out our review on some of the best Belay devices on the market.

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