If you’re going climbing, you’ll need a belay system, also known as a belay device or descender. We’ll help you choose!
A descender is essential for toproping, lead climbing, belaying one or two climbers, ascending cliffs, and climbing indoors. The type of descender you need depends on where, how, and with whom you climb. We’ll help you find what you need.
You’ll quickly develop personal preferences for one system over another based on your experience and where you climb. Not surprisingly, climbers tend to find out what suits them best while they’re out climbing.
You’ll need a conventional descender
Conventional descenders are the simplest type of belay system. They’re not necessarily the most advanced, but conventional descenders are easy to handle and less likely to be used incorrectly.
Even the simplest systems are designed to make your life easier!
The Karo features a groove on the side that lets you lock the rope in place so that if your climber wants to rest in the middle of a route, you can take a break too.
The tubik: a special case
Want to learn how to rappel? The Tubik is a good option if you’re learning to climb with a double rope.
Keep in mind, however, that the Tubik is not equipped with a belay station anchor ring, so it can’t be used to belay a second climber from a belay station. You would need a supplementary belay plate.
The atc pilot
For an even more secure belay, the ATC Pilot offers reinforced braking while maintaining smooth rope payout.
There are also assisted-braking belay devices. Suitable for both lead belaying and toproping, these have to be used carefully to ensure that the system triggers correctly, but they provide added safety when used properly. One example is the Petzl Grigri, which needs no introduction. Newcomers on the market include the Birdie, made by Beal.
Multi-pitch routes often require a double rope, so you’ll need a belay with two grooves and an anchor ring for the belay station. More versatile belay systems require a certain level of belaying experience. They’re suitable for a range of climbing disciplines (multi-pitch climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, etc.).
Practice is key to improving your belay skills. Start by reading the instructions that come with your belay device. You’ll find it contains important information. Then, practise setting up the system until it becomes second nature.
That way, you’ll feel safer and more at ease at the start of your climb. You can also try backup belaying: practising alongside a second, experienced belayer until you’re ready to go solo.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of your belay device, don’t change it unless you have to. If you switch to a different model, you’ll have to learn to use it all over again.
And of course . . . Always remember to double-check your belay system and rope knot before setting off on your route!