How to choose a belay system?

If you’re going climbing, you’ll need a belay system, also known as a belay device or descender. We’ll help you choose!

belay system for indoor climbing

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.

Belaying a single pitch using a single rope

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!

assisted-braking belay device

Assisted-braking systems

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 climbing or using a double rope

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.).

double rope system

For your comfort and safety, wear gloves when belaying to protect your hands from rubbing against the rope and prevent the risk of injury.

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!

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