Belay devices are experiencing a renaissance of sorts, with more innovative options on the market than ever. Here, we review and recommend the best assisted-braking belay devices for rock climbing.
An essential piece of every climber’s kit, belay devices are necessary to climb safely and handle rope. And best of all, there are a lot of options to choose from to meet your specific needs.
While there are minimal belay devices, like the classic Black Diamond ATC, we focused this review on more nuanced belay devices. Assisted-braking belay devices allow for superior holding power when catching and holding climbers. They’re a step up in climbing comfort when spending long days at the crag.
So whether you’re a climbing first-timer looking for the best option or a seasoned veteran belaying your partner’s project, read on for the best assisted-braking belay devices of 2018.
The Best Assisted-Braking Belay Devices for Rock Climbing
Petzl GRIGRI+: $150
Petzl’s GRIGRIi+ is the third iteration of the device that started it all. Proper technique must be mastered for this belay device. But afterward, feeding slack, belaying, and catching falls feels like — well — a GRIGRI.
The GRIGRI+ feels predictable and familiar. This model has the added security of an anti-panic handle. If the lever is pulled down too hard, it engages the assisted braking.
Another update: You can change the amount of friction required to cam the rope with a switch. This optimizes the GRIGRI+ for top rope or lead climbing.
The GRIGRI+ has evolved alongside modern, smaller-diameter ropes, with an ideal operating range of 8.9 to 10.5 mm. And it’s more comfortable in the hand, featuring a more ergonomic design and construction that prevents the rope wearing into the device.
The Edelrid Mega Jul Sport provides assisted-braking belays for both single and double/twin ropes (7.9 to 11 mm). The assist mechanism requires no moving parts, relying on grooves that engage with the belay carabiner to “lock” the rope.
Feeding slack on lead and lowering is done by pulling up on the generous thumb loop, which keeps the hands in the familiar tube-style position and orientation. It quickly felt normal.
Slack is dished out quickly and smoothly, but lowering the climber is not as silky as devices that utilize a cam. And tilting the device requires switching hand position.
At 3.10 ounces, it’s hard to beat the versatility and low weight of the Mega Jul Sport. Plus, its stainless steel construction promises longevity and shows Edelrid’s company-wide efforts to improve the sustainability of climbing gear.
Mammut Smart 2.0: $30
The Smart 2.0 is Mammut’s assisted belay device. It functions similar to tube-style belay devices but offers superior bite when the leader falls or hangs for a while on the rope.
We found the Smart 2.0 offered superior bite than other assisted belay devices, and belaying climbers was comfortable if they hung for extended periods of time. The belay device takes most of the weight, and a simple lift of the carabiner nose allows the belayer to feed slack again.
The only downside to this device was its ergonomics. Its rigid metal construction can dig into the hand a bit during use. But we quickly got used to this and were able to use the device with ease and fun.
Black Diamond Pilot: $45
The Black Diamond ATC Pilot was one of the best-feeling belay devices we tested. It feels great in the hand, and you can tell Black Diamond paid attention to where the hand instinctively grips belay devices.
The ATC Pilot is Black Diamond’s assisted belay device, introduced last year. It pays out rope smoothly but doesn’t bite down as strongly as other assisted belay devices on the market. Your brake hand will still need to hold a notable amount of the climber’s weight. That said, it’s still much less than an ATC Guide or standard ATC.
While the Pilot’s construction feels great in the hand, its plastic construction may also prove to be a downside. A large portion of the Pilot is made from plastic, and while it hasn’t chipped or broken, the possibility of dropping it at the crag leaves me concerned.
Wild Country Revo: $145
The Wild County Revo is hard to beat for feeding slack. It feeds slack out smoother and faster than most tube-style devices and is definitely smoother than any assisted-braking device we tested.
Instead of relying on rope-induced friction to engage the braking mechanism, rope speed is the determining factor. The speed-sensitive rope lock operates in both directions, making the unit impossible to thread in reverse.
The lock releases with a solid downward pull on the braking strand. The best way to view the Revo is that it operates as a standard tube-style belay device until something goes wrong.
When holding the climber in position on the route, you must engage your brake hand. This is a big difference compared to other assisted devices. The Revo is slightly larger than a GRIGRI and weighs in at 10 ounces.