Gear You Ought to Know: A Review of the Mad Rock Lifeguard

Mad Rock Lifeguard front view

Lighter. Smaller. More affordable. After dominating the market for 25 years, Petzl’s assisted-braking GriGri finally has a true rival: Mad Rock’s new Lifeguard belay device.

Many devices have come to challenge the GriGri, but the Lifeguard stands apart with one truly unique feature: it’s used exactly like a tube style/ATC belay device—there isn’t a new hand position to learn, no unusual technique to familiarize yourself with, and most importantly, no safety system that must be overridden to quickly feed out slack. If you can use an ATC, you already know how to use the Lifeguard.

What is the Lifeguard?

How does the magic happen?

The trick lies in the action of the assisted-braking cam. The Lifeguard’s cam requires more force to engage than other devices’ cams, allowing the rope to feed through easily while paying out slack, but locking down tight when the rope is weighted. The device is made entirely of hot forged aluminum, with the exception of the stainless steel rope bearing surfaces for increased durability. It may be small, and incredibly lightweight, but the Lifeguard is built to last.

Mad Rock Lifeguard Review

Performance review

I’ve put the Lifeguard to the test on everything from gym climbing and single-pitch cragging to multi-pitch trad. I’ve rappelled on one strand, refreshed my top rope soloing skills, and taken more falls than I can count using the clip-drop technique, all to best evaluate the Lifeguard.

Belaying with Mad Rock LifeguardLet’s start with the most important aspect: while it’s essential to still use proper belay technique, the device catches falls effortlessly.

I’ve used the Lifeguard myself and handed it to belayers both new and experienced. It has caught all falls with ease, and it is especially confidence-inspiring in the hands of a new belayer due to its somewhat foolproof design. It feeds slack quickly for ropes up to about 10mm, but has a tendency to lock up while feeding slack on ropes larger than 10mm. Lowering, while not quite as smooth as a GriGri, is a breeze.

While top rope belaying or belaying a second from above, the cam does not bite as strongly as other devices. It locks up perfectly in the event of a fall, but when light tension is applied to the climber side of the rope, it has a tendency to let slack creep through until the tension is gone.

The most obvious strength of the device is its size; you have to hold it yourself to see how unbelievably compact and lightweight it is. The Lifeguard is the lightest camming belay device on the market and a full ounce lighter than the GriGri. If you have considered making the switch to ultralight cams, you should strongly consider the switch to this ultralight belay device.

Belay from above Mad Rock Lifeguard


The Lifeguard excels as an all-around workhorse belay device. There are, however, situations in which other devices may be preferred.

First, do not use the Lifeguard on thick ropes. The device is advertised to function with ropes up to 11mm, though I’d suggest staying below 10mm when possible. If you plan on top roping exclusively, the GriGri may still be the best option (top ropers should consider the upcoming GriGri+ which features different modes for leading and top roping). Finally, the Lifeguard does not perform well when used as a top rope solo device.


Do alpine routes dance through your dreams? Are you a new climber looking for your first belay device? Do you value simplicity and safety in climbing gear? Mad Rock designed the Lifeguard for you. It is my new belay device of choice. Once you try it, you won’t go back.

Madrock Lifeguard

Gear You Ought to Know is a series that showcases underrated, under-appreciated, or just plain innovative gear in a discussion-based format. If there’s a piece of gear you’d like to see featured, tell us.

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  • Ben Hoste

    Hi Free Love Joel. Okay, I get it, you like the device, but why spend 80 bones on a caming belay device when I can nab a tubular ATC for only 20? Which, I can also use to rappel with and open beers with. Does the Lifeguard open beer?

  • Joel Ryan

    Hi Ben,

    You’re certainly correct. You can nab an ATC for cheap (although I don’t know how to open beers with one). When it comes to belay devices, you get what you pay for. A camming device allows you to smoothly belay from above, makes belaying on a project very easy, and it doubles as an efficient progress capture device. It affords an extra margin of safety in the event the belayer cannot maintain control of the rope.

    Just as one can climb on a rack of nuts and hexes, one can belay with an ATC. Thankfully, we have better equipment that makes our lives easier.

    And as far as opening beers with a lifeguard, I think we should head to the bar next week and find out for ourselves!


  • Aristotle Georgiou

    Does this device work smoothly/well as an abseiling device?

    • Joel Ryan

      Hi Aristotle,

      This is not an ideal device for rappelling or abseiling. I’ve used a Trango Cinch and Petzl Grigri to rappel/abseil and both were slightly easier than the Lifeguard. I prefer to carry a lightweight tube style device to rappel/abseil with, though in a pinch the Lifeguard certainly works.

      This device does not have an anti-panic mode when lowering. Currently, only the devices that feature an anti-panic mode are the Edelrid Eddy and CAMP Matik. The upcoming GriGri+ is also reported to have an anti-panic mode, though it is not yet available.