The Top 5 Things to Know When Choosing a Belay Device

  1. All forms of roped climbing require a belay device. Just as there are differences between ice climbing and indoor sport climbing, there are differences in the belay devices best used for them, we list some pros/cons below to help break them down.
  2. Buy a belay device to fit the type of climbing you do. There is no sense in struggling with features you hardly need or functions that do not make sense for your situation just because a friend or a pro climber recommends a certain model.
  3. It is unlikely a single device will solve all of your problems in one convenient package. It often makes sense to have different devices for different situations. Fortunately, you can start with 1 device, and 2 devices will cover the majority of climbing situations.
  4. Indoor climbing areas (gyms and university walls, for example) have their own rules and guidelines. Many gyms are now requiring devices with assisted braking, which we’ll cover a bit below.
  5. Every device (and every piece of climbing gear for that matter) requires knowledge to use it correctly and safely. Seek knowledgable people with climbing experience. Local guides and training courses aren’t always as expensive as you think, and could save your life.

The type of device we recommend largely has to do with the type of climbing situation you find yourself in. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of each type of belay device so you can find the exact one you need. We’ve sorted this guide from the most popular to least popular belay device styles used by climbers today.

Brake Assisted Tube Belay Devices

The past few years have seen an explosion of belay devices in this category from nearly all the manufacturers. The key feature of assisted braking provides relief from needing to hold constant tension on a weighted rope. This is very helpful for long belays when your climber is projecting or falling a lot while leading but it also helps keep a nice tight top rope. The way assisted braking devices grab the rope when it moves too quickly through the device means they also provide a little extra protection and peace of mind in case of emergency or misuse, something that makes them attractive to climbing gym operators. Thanks to their simple shapes and design, these devices are often on the cheaper side and they are easy to use.

One key place these devices struggle is with rappelling. Some can lock up easily and make for a jerky lower (often this gets better with practice). Most brake-assisted tube devices also don’t accommodate two strands of rope which is typically required when cleaning or rapping outdoor routes.

The Edelrid Jul, Black Diamond ATC Pilot and Mammut Smart 2.0 are a good place to start for brake-assisted tubular devices designed for using a single rope. They’re some of the most wanted/owned on WeighMyRack.

Double Rope Brake Assisted Tube Devices

If you’re looking for assisted braking belay device that can handle two strands of rope (say for rappelling), the Edelrid MegaJul or Edelrid GigaJul are great choices, although they are more technical and can take some practice before feeling smooth.


  • Inexpensive
  • Can function as emergency backup
  • Assistance holding climber weight
  • Allowed in gyms


  • Most are not very multifunction (the devices that hold only one strand of rope do not allow for simple rappelling or belaying from above)
  • Can take a little extra time to get used to lead belaying

Best Used For

  • Single-pitch Sport Climbing (indoor or outdoor)
  • Trad Climbing

Not Great For

  • Rappelling
  • Belaying from above

Mechanical Brake Assist Devices

These belay devices are the workhorses of the belaying world. They function extremely well in single pitch climbing situations and are also ok in multi-pitch climbing situations when used belaying from above or from the harness and there is a walk-off descent. The distinct difference between these and their tube cousins is in their moving parts, which actively grab onto the rope when the rope is pulled tight. This pinching movement makes them useful for a wide array of climbing situations other than belaying such as hauling and lowering heavy loads.

It is not uncommon to find these devices pre-fixed to ropes in climbing gyms as they are extremely easy to handle and somewhat fool-proof in a top-rope situation. As they often have handles to use for lowering, they are ideal for long belays and project climbing where lowering small distances to practice and redo moves is often necessary.

One downside to mechanical devices is that the active nature of the moving parts can require a bit of extra practice when paying out slack in a lead climbing belay. This has led to a few people actively avoiding this style of device because without practice they can lock up at unexpected times.

The Petzl GriGri is the most owned mechanical brake assist device by Weigh My Rack users and comes in a couple of models. The Madrock Lifeguard is liked for its compact size and similar features while the Trango Vergo features an ergonomic belaying design.

If you’re looking for something totally different, or are really into physics, the Wild Country Revo is the most unique device in this category. The Revo took years of fine-tuning to make it onto the market, check out the video here.


  • Great in many climbing situations
  • Assistance holding climber weight for projecting
  • Nice for hauling / lowering loads


  • They have moving parts which require care (less happy to be thrown in the sand/dirt)
  • Heaviest style of belay device
  • Most expensive options

Best Used For

  • Top roping
  • Single or Multi-pitch Climbing
  • Indoors or Outdoor use

Not Great For

  • Rappelling
  • Some struggle to belay from above

Guide Tube Belay Device (Two Slots, No Brake Assist)

This device type is essentially a standard tube device with some added “guide” features. They function well when used for single pitch climbing and really excel during multi-pitch climbs.

In addition to working like a normal tube belay device, guide tubes have an additional hole to attach and belay from the anchor rather than just from the belayer’s harness. This feature is essential for easy belaying while multi-pitch climbing and guiding where there are one or two followers. In “guide mode” they can be set up to have a locking function which holds onto the rope (similar to assisted braking) allowing for a tight and safe belay of the followers. They can also belay multiple ropes at the same time.

One down side is that the advanced “guide mode” functions require training/practice on the ground first. There are also very few devices that have a guide mode that also feature assisted braking, which makes them usually not allowed in most indoor situations.

The Petzl Reverso, DMM Pivot and Black Diamond ATC Guide are tube devices that can handle two ropes as well as the ability to belay from above your climber (guide mode). The Edelrid MegaJul and Edelrid GigaJul listed above under assisted braking also have the guide mode functions.


  • Simple, lightweight
  • Can handle multiple ropes for belaying or rappelling
  • Lead climber/belayer can have 2 followers


  • No longer allowed in most gyms (most require brake-assisted devices)
  • Require more training / due diligence than brake assisted devices (some folks describe this as a pro)
  • The advanced features of these devices can be tricky when first starting out.

Best Used For

  • Multi-pitch Sport/Trad Climbing
  • Aid climbing
  • Guiding
  • All Outdoor situations

Not Great For

  • Projecting outdoors (more tiring)
  • Indoor use (gym restrictions)

Standard Tube Belay Device (No Brake Assist, No Guide Mode)

Folks who started climbing in the 2000’s often bought these because they were (and still are) the cheapest option. These new climbers often upgraded later to a belay device with guide mode. Standard tubes are becoming less common now partly because their lack of assisted braking outlaws them in gyms. Another reason they’re less popular is that it takes more energy to hold a climber who is hanging on the rope, which is why they’re less ideal for long belays or when your climber is projecting (and falling and hanging a lot). 

Warning: Although they seem cheap, they might cost you more money in the end if your local gym doesn’t let you use them or if you want an easier time holding the weight of a climber for long periods.

The Black Diamond ATC, Camp Shell, and DMM Mantis are all cheap popular choices for standard tubes.


  • Light
  • Cheap
  • Can handle multiple ropes for belaying or rappelling


  • No longer allowed in most gyms (not brake-assist)
  • Not ideal for multi-pitch without guide mode

Best Used For

  • Single-pitch Sport or Trad Climbing
  • Rappelling/cleaning anchors

Not Great For

  • Long belays or projecting
  • Some gyms (not allowed)
  • Multi-pitch

Belay Plate Devices

When early climbers left behind the hip belay (where the rope was literally wrapped around the belayer) and began using a piece of metal to control rope feed, the first devices they used were belay plates. These devices are scarcely more than a flat piece of metal with a few holes or slots in them, but in the right hands they can perform nearly all the functions of a tube device or guide tube.

They are more common in the British Isles than North America though some guides and pros still find them useful. They are known for being finicky with rope size and twisting of lines and are not recommended for beginners. One type of climbing where they excel is in snow and ice, as their simplicity helps minimize frosty buildup from the ropes.

The Kong Gi-Gi, Grivel Scream and the Camp Ovo are some of the most simple yet versatile plate belay devices out there.


  • Extremely light
  • Cheap
  • Simple and durable
  • Can handle multiple ropes for belaying or rappelling


  • Rope handling can be tricky to get right
  • Advanced features need extra practice

Best Used For

  • Alpine and Ice
  • Multi-pitch Climbing
  • Half or Twin rope belaying

Not great for

  • Beginners
  • Gyms or projecting routes (no brake-assist)

Figure 8 Devices

Like their proto belay plate cousins, figure 8’s are simple, flat pieces of aluminum that have largely been replaced with more modern devices. They round out the bottom of this list because the above options tend to be more reliable and functional. The figure 8 has a place in canyoneering and rappelling (especially on wet or icy ropes) and like the plate can belay decently with proper training and practice. Their biggest downside is that they tend to cause twists in the rope.

The Climbing Technology Otto, Edelweiss D8 and the Kong Oka are all types of belay/rappel devices known as Figure 8’s. These devices are mostly recommended for rappelling and canyoneering.


  • Basic models are cheap
  • Simple and durable
  • Can handle multiple ropes for rappelling
  • Multifunctional


  • Rope handling can be tricky to get right at first
  • Require a lot of ground training
  • Prone to twisting ropes during use

Best Used For

  • Rappelling particularly large or small diameter ropes like when canyoneering

Not great for

  • Beginners
  • Gyms
  • Projecting routes
  • Most climbing situations have better options

Our Final Observation

When buying belay devices we generally see climbers go in this progression:

  1. Buy a brake assisted device (tube or mechanical) for indoor use, and continue to use outdoor at single pitch crags.
  2. Buy a second device that holds two strands of rope for routes and where rappelling is necessary and/or when moving to multi-pitch climbing.

Some climbers will accrue even more devices over the years as they want a particular specialty feature or as new designs come out. It can be helpful to test out a friends device for a “try before you buy” experience. Most small retailers do not do accept returns for climbing gear (because the gear has to be destroyed and there is no resale opportunity).

If you’re interested in seeing every option belay device out there, and want to filter on what features you care about most, head over to and find which models fit your needs best.