Across the spectrum of belay devices, there are many design features that help belayers catch falling climbers. Brake assist, or “assisted braking” is one of those features. Brake assisted devices are designed to take the load off the brake hand of the belayer. They can help stop and hold a falling climber. (You still have to keep your hand on the brake rope.)

Within the past 10 years nearly every manufacturer has debuted at least one belay device with assisted braking. Virtually all new climbers (and many seasoned climbers) now prefer a belay device with break assist. And many climbing gyms have begun enforcing policies where assisted braking devices are the only devices allowed to be used.

So why is brake assist so popular? Is this something that everyone should have? Let’s get into how it functions across different devices and look at the pros and cons of this feature.

Adding Safety with Assisted Braking

Brake assist was made to act like a safety net in case something goes wrong while belaying (a loud distraction, a falling rock, a trip over a pack, etc). Instead of the belayer losing control, the device reacts by slowing down or stopping the rope from feeding. When activated, it can also support the climber’s weight.

While it is difficult to quantify ‘safety’ and anecdotal ‘near-misses’ to say that assisted braking is safer than traditional devices, the highly regarded German Alpine Club (DAV) has conducted climbing gym studies that found belaying with a brake assist device showed less incidences and lowered the number of belaying errors during use.

The Two Flavors of Assisted Braking

There are two versions of this grabbing ‘Brake Assist’ action which we categorize as Mechanical (because it utilizes moving parts) and Tube (because it exists on devices that operate otherwise as a tube style belay device.) The former has a moving cam that physically pinches the rope to stop its movement, while the latter reorients on the rope under tension and effectively makes rope movement impossible.

The GriGri pinching a rope
A Petzl GriGri feeding rope (left) and with the assisted braking cam activated (right). Note the device has the cover plate open to show operation and should not be operated in this manner.
The Black Diamond ATC Pilot in action
Black Diamond ATC Pilot in belay mode (left) and in brake assist mode (right). Note the interaction of the rope, carabiner, and belay device.

It is important to note that every manufacturer states this functionality is for backup only, and to remember that the assisted function can easily be disabled, so always keep your hand on the brake rope. Though the belayer should always be paying attention, it goes without saying that there can be unforeseen circumstances that may interfere while belaying and this backup does offer a bit of peace of mind.

Indoor Climbing Requirements

In recent years many gyms the world over have begun requiring break assist devices specifically because they add safety to belaying. It is also very common that any instruction you find at a gym in the US will only use assisted braking devices. In some cases, this decision is based on the above mentioned study by the DAV and has even shown reductions in incidents in some gyms even though the number of new climbers is still on the rise. This may also explain the increase in quick adoption to assisted devices, as most new climbers today begin their skills in the gym.

Assisted Braking Benefits in Practice

Brake assist pays off massively when toprope belaying, especially if you’re belaying a climber who may take more time to climb, need more breaks on the wall, and/or is projecting a route. Actively holding your partner’s weight for over 30 minutes as they take breaks and shake out on a route can take a lot of energy and forearm stamina that you will want to have when it’s your turn to climb. With a brake assist device taking the majority of the climbers weight, you save strength and energy and your climber can stay focused on the climb for as long as they need.

Similarly, assisted braking helps hold the weight when belaying for someone projecting a route where falling and hanging over and over can take its toll. The days of getting forearm and wrist fatigue from spending hours continually catching and holding your buddy off the ground are now in the past.

WMR-AssistedBraking-2 1
Holding a climber without brake assist. Note how the brake hand is keeping the rope taught and the belayer has to actively apply tension to hold the climber's weight.
WMR-AssistedBraking-1 2
Holding a climber with brake assist. Note how the brake hand is relaxed but still holding the brake rope. The belay device is holding all of the climber's weight.

Mechanical brake assisted belay devices have handles for lowering that some climbers find to offer a more controlled lower. When the climber is significantly heavier than the belayer, this control may be harder to dial in.

The Argument Against Brake Assist

The most common complaint of assisted braking belay devices come from climbers who have learned to belay using a non-braking device like a tuber or a plate. The main complaints are

  1. Don’t want to learn (or buy) a new belay device themselves / struggle learning this new style. Being forced to buy gear sucks, like when a gym doesn’t accept the method you’ve been using for decades. Even experienced belayers will find a brake assist device can lock up at an undesired time, such as when paying out slack, resulting in a poor belay. It can also take some time to learn to lower a climber smoothly with a brake assist device.
  2. Want all climbers to be proficient in tube style belay techniques. A tube style device is considered essential for outdoor climbing, particularly when rappelling / multi-pitch climbing.
  3. Feel the only reason brake assist devices exist is because of a lack of proper training. This is a crusty take. When used correctly, either belay device style is safe, proper training is always valuable. Incidents outside the belayers control may still happen that no amount of readiness or training can prevent. While tubes and plates definitely have their own benefits in weight and price, it is quite easy to make the opposite argument: With proper training, assisted devices can do what plates and tubes can, with the added benefits listed in this article.

Our Take

Regardless of where you fall on the the spectrum from ‘new to climbing’ to ‘seasoned alpinist’, we believe that devices with assisted braking are worth adding to most racks because of the safety measure alone. The exact model to buy depends on a handful of factors (price, weight, climbing style, etc.) that we cover more in depth in our comprehensive breakdown of belay device types.

If you want to add brake assist to your setup, or if you just want to see all of the options that are available out there, you can go to to see all the devices with or without brake assist and compare them all side by side.

Want to See All The Belay Devices (over 125)?

At WeighMyRack, we list every single belay device and give you filters for type (like tube or brake assist), guide mode, and other features. You can also filter by on sale belay devices with discounts >20%.

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Belay Device Reviews & Overviews

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff currently lives in the Midwest and spends most of his free time answering questions nobody asked. When not plugging gear on moderate warmups and calling it a day, he can be found whining about whipping on bolts in the gym or at the local pub waxing poetic about climbing saving humanity and the planet.

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