Deciding what belay device to choose can be somewhat tricky for the new climber, so we’ve helped clarify the differences and best options below. Additionally, you can feel confident that you’re getting the lowest prices with our price comparisons, updated regularly. Recommendations are unbiased and the buying links are affiliate links—purchases made from them support our free content.
This guide was last updated on July 5, 2016
Elements of a belay device
There exists some debate over which style of belay device is the best first purchase. While assisted breaking belay devices such as the GRIGRI 2 have a built-in mechanism to help catch in the event of a fall, many feel that ATC devices (which stands for Air Traffic Controller) are a better starting spot to to ensure appropriate belay technique. This is because with an ATC you have no assistance to catch a fall, so the belayer has no room for error and must practice perfect belay technique. GRIGRIs—while offering an assisted-braking security—can, at times, lead to less attentive belaying.
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Choosing the right belay device for you
Our recommendation is to learn from an expert or in an AMGA-certified course and try to get experience on both devices before making a decision. If the budget affords it, many climbers carry one of each device, because although a GRIGRI 2 is excellent for belaying, an ATC is typically required for rappels.
ATCs such as the Petzl REVERSO 4 (pictured below) also include a mode called Guide or Reverso mode. This is used when belaying a second climber, and if you foresee yourself to soon be climbing outdoors and lead climbing than we recommend a device with this capability.
Belay device overview
Black Diamond ATC (most basic belay device)
Black Diamond’s ATC Belay/Rappel Device brings climbers time-tested functionality with a simple and lightweight design. This tube-style device is able to handle a wide range of rope diameters (from 7.7mm to 11mm). The BD ATC handles smoothly whether you’re belaying or rappelling, and whether you’re halfway up El Cap or halfway done with your gym session, this belay device will get the job done.
Petzl REVERSO 4 (more versatile)
Climbing boils down to a few essential tasks: climbing, belaying, rappelling. Luckily, two-thirds of your climbing experience can be supplemented with Petzl’s REVERSO 4—a highly versatile ATC that we believe belongs on the harness of every climber.
First among the REVERSO 4’s extensive range of features are the V-shaped friction channels comprised of asymmetric grooves that add much-welcomed friction to the rope. When belaying, this added friction assists in catching your climbing partner’s falls and when rappelling, helps control the speed of your descent. Contrary to basic ATCs, the Reverso functionality of this belay device enables the belaying of a seconding climber straight from the anchor—an important function as you venture into multi-pitch climbs. At 59g, the Reverso is very light and also allows for the use of any rope type: half ropes, twin ropes, and standard single ropes of any size.
Petzl GRIGRI 2 (offers assisted braking)
The GRIGRI 2 is an assisted braking belay device that works by pinching the rope whenever it moves quickly through the device. During normal rope movement (think feeding or taking in slack), the internal cam isn’t engaged, allowing for smooth rope handling. But as soon as the rope begins moving quickly (think “falling!”), the cam engages, pinching the rope and helping to arrest the fall.
The GRIGRI 2 is great for either lead or top rope belaying— it combines a patented handle design that allows for very gradual release of the rope with strong braking action—providing the device with fantastic descent control for lowering. But remember, always keep your hands on the rope! Though the GRIGRI 2 offers assistance with braking, it can’t do it all. An attentive and skilled belayer is still required for the climber to be truly safe. The GRIGRI 2 is optimized for 9.4mm to 10.3mm rope diameters, though it can accommodate diameters as low as 8.9mm or as high as 11mm.
When used properly, Petzl’s GRIGRI 2 can make life as a belayer a little bit easier and a little bit safer. If you’re looking to upgrade your belay device to a compact, lightweight, and durable device that offers brake assistance, then the GRIGRI 2 is just what you need.