With the Birdie, Beal delivers a compact and aggressively priced assisted-braking belay device.
Assisted-braking belay devices are commonplace at crags and gyms. The Petzl GRIGRI is the undisputed winner of the popular vote among actively camming units. And for good reason: The GRIGRI was the first assisted-braking device and carries a proven track record.
Although the leader, the GRIGRI does have nuances that rub some the wrong way.
There’s a somewhat tricky technique to keep the unit from camming while quickly paying out slack with the brake hand still in control of the rope. And the weight and size of the unit are concerns for some. Finally, the MSRP of $110 makes it one of the more expensive belay devices.
Beal joins the assisted-braking fray this month, releasing the Birdie. We tested the unit during a day of sport cragging for this first look review.
Beal Birdie Belay Device Specs
- Weight: 7.4 oz.
- All-metal construction
- CE certified
- UIAA certified
- Rope capacity: 8.5-10.5 mm (single dynamic)
- MSRP: $75
Beal Birdie: Out-of-Box Impressions
The most obvious physical attribute of the Beal Birdie is the compact size. The Birdie is quite a bit smaller than a GRIGRI. The unit feels very solid, and the all-metal construction bolsters this feel. Additionally, the Birdie weighs over an ounce more than the GRIGRI, again adding to the dense in-hand feel.
The device looks very much like a GRIGRI internally; a small cam under spring tension rotates with rope friction to pinch the cord. The metal release lever also visually functions like the GRIGRI, providing the leverage to overcome the camming action for lowering.
Similarities to the GRIGRI during use were undeniable. The camming action of the Birdie feels very similar to that of the GRIGRI, both to the belayer and the climber. The Birdie also lowers the climber with the familiar mechanics and feel of the GRIGRI.
The Beal Birdie is designed to eliminate the kink in the rope required for proper slack payout and lowering on a GRIGRI. The intended method to pay out slack with a Birdie is identical to that of a tuber; the brake hand pushes the rope into the device while the other hand pulls the slack out.
Positioning the brake strand of the rope parallel to the climber strand reduces friction further to facilitate a quick rope feed. This tuber-style method does require the belayer to preemptively feed slack to the climber in order to prevent the need for a super-quick rope feed.
The tuber-style slack feed worked in many cases. But when the climber was clipping bolts close to the ground, or clipping overhead, I preferred to introduce slack into the system at the very last possible moment. In these cases, or when addressing a short roping incident, I resorted to the GRIGRI “thumbing” method of holding the cam down to feed rope super quickly to the leader.
For me, this was about half of the time. With more time, I’m certain I would become more adept at feeding slack quickly with the Bridie using the tuber method.
Lowering was pleasant with the Birdie; the disengagement point didn’t feel vague, and the solid metal handle felt reassuring. And, as designed, lowering didn’t require a kink in the rope, reducing rope twisting.
The Beal Birdie is a serious contender in the assisted-braking belay device wars. The device functions similarly to a Petzl GRIGRI, which is familiar to a lot of climbers. The Birdie does feed slack without special techniques, but for super quick rope feeds, the GRIGRI thumbing method is effective.
For those adept at this technique, the Birdie suffers no operational disadvantages. The all-metal construction feels robust and promises durability, and it does weigh more but is more compact. Finally, the MSRP of $75 is a real attention-getter.