Every climber needs a belayer, and every belayer needs a belay device. Without one, it’s not possible to rope climb safely, and you may be forced to resort to plan B — aka bouldering.
In short, climbers use belay devices to manage slack in the rope, catch their partner in case of a fall, and lower them safely to the ground. When entering the sport, a belay device is one of the first pieces of gear that new climbers should purchase.
There are lots of great options on the market, and deciding which one to buy can be confusing. On this list, we have compiled our recommendations for the best belay devices of 2021.
We’ve sorted our recommendations into specific categories to make it easy for you to identify the belay device that best meets your needs.
At the end of this list, we have included a comprehensive belay device buyer’s guide where you will find all of the information required to make an informed purchase. In this guide, we describe various common styles of belay devices and also explain how they are best used.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:
The Best Climbing Belay Devices of 2021
Best Overall: Petzl GriGri
The first iteration of the Petzl GriGri ($22) debuted in 1991. Since then, this versatile device has been widely considered the world standard for belay devices.
Many other manufacturers have based their belay device designs on the GriGri. But after 30 years of existence, the GriGri continues to shine.
For gym climbing and single-pitch trad and sport cragging, the GriGri can do everything you need it to. When it was introduced, the GriGri ($100) was one of the first assisted-braking belay devices on the market. Its effective design has only slightly changed in the years since.
The GriGri uses an internal mechanism to pinch the climbing rope anytime the rope is pulled too quickly through the device. For example, in the case of a lead fall, the rope pulls upward on the GriGri and grabs the rope, which arrests the fall. Following the GriGri’s lead, many other assisted-braking devices now utilize a similar design.
There have been four versions of the GriGri to date. In 2019, Petzl released the newest version, and we think it is the best overall belay device available in 2021. The device is compatible with ropes measuring 8.5-11 mm.
The GriGri is especially known for its comfort during prolonged sessions of projecting single-pitch climbing routes. A climber can hang on the rope for long periods, and the belayer can wait comfortably without having to actively squeeze the rope or create tension.
Compared to manual tube-style devices like the Black Diamond ATC-XP, the GriGri is a far more comfortable option for lengthy belays and projecting.
Like with many assisted-braking belay devices, a climber can’t load the GriGri with two strands of rope at once, which limits its rappelling capabilities. The GriGri works well for belaying the following climber from above. However, it has limited application for multipitch climbing due to its single-strand design.
While the GriGri is by far the most common belay device of today, it is not the easiest to learn how to use. Climbers must learn how to use their GriGris from a qualified instructor. No matter their experience level, all climbers can learn how to use a GriGri — but they must be willing to put in the time required to master safe practices.
Currently, Petzl offers two GriGri styles. Our pick for best overall is the 2019 version of the GriGri, which retails for $100. Petzl also continues to sell the GriGri+ ($130), which was introduced in 2017 and features wear-resistant components and an anti-panic feature.
Many climbers find the anti-panic features to be excessive and inconvenient. Both options are good, but we prefer the newest GriGri.
- Weight: 6.1 oz.
- Great for single-pitch projecting
- Effective for top-managed belaying
- Highly durable
- Smooth lowering
- Handles a wide range of rope diameters
- More expensive than other options
- Not compatible with double-rope rappels
Best Budget Belay Device: Black Diamond ATC-XP
This simple belay device is a variation of the standard tube-style device that climbers have been using for many decades. While it isn’t the absolute cheapest belay device option on the market, we think it offers great value as a relatively affordable option.
The main feature that sets the ATC-XP apart from standard manual tube-style devices is the set of toothed grooves inside both of its tubes. These grooves increase friction on the rope while in use, which makes it slightly easier to control speed while lowering a climber or rappelling. Thanks to these grooves, a belayer can lock off the device and hold a resting climbing with significantly less effort.
While the ATC-XP is our pick for the best budget belay device, it is also a good choice for learning the basics of belaying as a new climber. Thanks to its simple and durable construction, this device tends to last for many years, even with regular use.
Many people still belay with nonassisted-braking devices like the ATC-XP. However, the climbing world is slowly phasing out this style of belay device, much like figure-8 belay devices.
Many climbing gyms now require that all belayers use an assisted-braking device, which rules out ATC belay devices. We still recommend this device for its time-tested strengths, but buyers should know that these devices are not accepted everywhere.
Ropes measuring 7.7-11 mm can be used with the ATC-XP, and it can handle single- and double-rope rappels with ease. In the affordable and basic manual tube-style belay device category, the ATC-XP is our favorite.
- Weight: 2.3 oz.
- Good friction control thanks to built-in teeth
- Easy to learn how to use
- No assisted-braking feature
- Some climbing gyms do not allow the ATC-XP
- Uncomfortable to use during long belays when the climber is weighting the rope
Best for Multipitch Climbing: DMM Pivot
For multipitch climbs, you’ll want an auto-blocking belay device that will allow you to belay your follower directly off of an anchor. Of the many auto-blocking belay devices on the market, the DMM Pivot ($35) is our favorite thanks to a handful of excellent traits and features.
An auto-blocking belay device is in guide mode when it is clipped directly to the anchor and used to belay a following climber. For guide mode to work, the device must have a separate metal loop that can clip directly to the anchor.
On the DMM Pivot, this clip-in point can swivel (or pivot), which is very helpful in certain multipitch scenarios. Ropes measuring 7.5-11 mm work with the Pivot.
As your follower climbs a pitch, they may fall off and want to lower partway back down the pitch and give the troublesome section of climbing another attempt. When using most auto-blocking belay devices in guide mode, lowering your follower requires a handful of tricky and potentially dangerous steps.
With the Pivot, the swiveling clip-in point allows you to easily change the angle of the device and lower your climber safely. This feature can also be useful in a rescue or emergency.
Other belay devices, like the Petzl GriGri, can also lower a follower with ease. However, the Pivot is a tube-style device that can be used for double-rope repelling. The GriGri belay device can only be used to rappel a single strand. For this reason, the Pivot has an advantage over similar devices like the ATC Guide and is especially handy in a multipitch setting.
- Weight: 2.5 oz.
- Innovative design provides meaningful benefit
- Easy to use
- Feeds rope smoothly
- More expensive than similar devices
- Lacks assisted-braking mode for optimal lead belaying
Best Do-It-All Belay Device: Edelrid Giga Jul
This highly versatile belay device is a true “quiver of one.” The Giga Jul combines manual tube-style simplicity with assisted braking, top-managed belaying, and double-rope rappelling. Whether you’re at the gym, the crag, or three pitches up on an all-day adventure route, the Giga Jul ($53) will have you covered.
A sliding mechanism on the Giga Jul allows users to switch back and forth between assisted-braking and manual-braking modes. This means that the device can be used for lead belaying with the benefit of assisted braking, but it can also be used for frustration-free rappelling.
This combination of features is especially valuable in a multipitch setting. The Giga Jul eliminates the need to bring an extra tube-style device up a multipitch route to use strictly for rappelling. In Edelrid’s words, “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Steel inserts within the tubes of the Giga Jul resist wear from the rope and increase the lifespan of the device. This dual-material construction allows the device to combine the lightweight quality of aluminum with the abrasion resistance of steel.
Operating the slider of the Giga Jul does take some getting used to, especially when transitioning between belaying a follower from above and belaying a leader via your harness.
The Giga Jul requires more steps to make this transition than the Petzl GriGri. Still, the Giga Jul has the added benefit of double-rope rappelling when the time comes to descend.
Edelrid is known for its innovative climbing gear, and the Giga Jul lives up to this reputation. Thanks to its assisted braking, all climbing gyms will allow you to use this device. The Giga Jul’s versatility is unmatched.
- Weight: 4.3 oz.
- Abrasion-resistant and durable thanks to steel inserts
- Affordable relative to other assisted-braking devices
- Handles a wide range of ropes from 7.8-10 mm
- Slider system requires a learning curve
- Slightly heavier than similar devices
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Belay Device
There are all kinds of belay devices on the market, and it isn’t easy to figure out which one to buy. On this list, we have compiled our favorite devices available in 2021. Our selections represent many hours spent handling all kinds of belay devices and using them in a wide range of climbing scenarios.
Although there are at least 25 different belay devices manufactured today, climbers should be aware of three major categories: active assisted braking, passive assisted braking, and manual tube-style braking.
In this guide, we thoroughly cover all three categories, and much more. This guide contains all of the information that you need to identify which belay device is right for you.
Types of Belay Devices
Active Assisted Braking
Active assisted-braking belay devices contain moving parts that engage under load to arrest a fall. These devices tend to be the heaviest and most expensive type of belay devices, but they also have many benefits and are highly popular.
For single-pitch belaying (especially during long projecting sessions), active assisted belay devices are great because they require very little effort from the belayer while the climber is hanging on the rope.
Although these devices assist you in holding and catching a climber, you must always maintain control of the braking strand of the rope, just like with any other belay device. On this list, the GriGri is an example of an active assisted-braking belay device.
Passive Assisted Braking
Passive assisted-braking devices utilize specific geometry in their design to automatically catch a climber in case of a fall. These devices generally do not have any moving parts, but they can be equally effective for maximizing belayer comfort during long projecting sessions.
Due to their simple designs, they tend to be lighter and cheaper than active assisted-braking devices. On this list, the Edelrid Giga Jul is an example of a passive assisted-braking device.
Manual Tube Style
Manual tube-style belay devices have been around longer than assisted-braking devices. These devices create a double bend in the rope, which generates enough friction for a belayer to easily catch a climber by holding the braking strand of the rope in the brake position.
Like assisted-braking devices, a belayer using a manual tube must always maintain a grip on the braking strand. In fact, this all-important rule is even more crucial with manual tube-style devices.
For many decades, manual tube-style devices were the most popular type of belay device. Now, more climbers are transitioning to assisted-braking devices.
Some climbing gyms no longer allow belayers to use manual tube-style devices. Still, this style of belay device tends to be the cheapest and lightest option, so beginner climbers may want to consider starting with one. On this list, the Black Diamond ATC-XP and the DMM Pivot are manual tube-style devices.
2 Strands of Rope vs. 1
Some belay devices are compatible with two strands of rope, while others can only accommodate one at a time. Devices that can accommodate two strands at the same time can be used for double-rope rappels.
For multipitch climbing, you’ll often need a device that can manage double-rope rappels to return to the ground safely.
Devices that can handle two strands can also belay climbers using double or twin ropes — a common system for various forms of traditional and ice climbing. Also, an auto-blocking device that accommodates two strands of rope can be used to belay two followers at the same time in a multipitch setting.
Many assisted-braking devices are not compatible with two strands of rope. However, the Edelrid Giga Jul is a highly versatile option that offers both assisted-braking and dual-strand capability. This device can rappel, belay a leader with ease, and do pretty much everything you need it to in a multipitch setting.
Climbing ropes vary in diameter. A single rope is strong enough to catch a falling climber without the need for a second rope.
Single ropes can be as thin as 8.5 mm and as thick as 11 mm. Before purchasing a belay device, make sure it is compatible with any ropes that you currently own or plan to buy.
Double ropes and twin ropes are often thinner in diameter than single ropes, and they’re meant to be used in a two-rope system. Not all belay devices are compatible with thin double and twin ropes.
Again, it is wise to check the diameter range of a belay device before purchasing. Using a rope with a diameter beyond the suggested range can be extremely dangerous.
Belaying From Above
Many belay devices have the ability to clip directly to an anchor and belay the following climber from above. Some assisted-braking devices such as the GriGri can be used to belay from above.
Manual tube-style belay devices in guide mode are considered “auto-blocking” because they will automatically pinch the climbing rope in case the follower falls. Still, the belayer must always maintain contact with the brake strand.
On this list, the DMM Pivot is a manual tube-style device that also has a built-in guide hole and can be used to belay from above. Belay devices are used in guide mode when they are clipped directly to an anchor and are used to belay from above.
Belay devices range in price from around $15 to well over $100. Generally, active assisted-braking devices are the most expensive, and manual-style tube devices are the least expensive. The devices that we included on this list offer good value.
Manual tube-style belay devices may be the cheapest, but they are also not allowed in certain climbing gyms, which may lessen their value for some climbers. Versatile devices like the Edelrid Giga Jul are functional in many different situations, and versatility adds to a device’s overall value.
All of the devices on this list are well-designed and well-built. Even with regular use, a belay device should last for multiple years. The Edelrid Giga Jul has built-in steel inserts that resist abrasion from the rope and extend the life of the device.
All belay device owners should check regularly for signs of excessive wear. Retire and replace any devices with deep grooves or sharp edges.
Which Belay Device Is the Best?
What’s the Best Belay Device for Multipitch Climbing?
We love the multipitch-specific innovation that went into the design of the DMM Pivot. This device allows you to lower your follower safely and easily.
However, the Pivot does not offer assisted braking when belaying the leader, which many climbers may consider to be a drawback.
How Does a Belay Device Work?
All belay devices work by attaching the belayer to the rope. They use friction to keep the climber safe and catch them if they fall.
Different types of belay devices have unique characteristics, but every device requires the belayer to be attentive and to maintain contact with the braking strand of the rope at all times.
How Do You Attach a Belay Device to Your Harness?
A locking climbing carabiner connects a belay device to a belayer’s harness. Once the belay device is correctly fed with the rope and clipped to the harness, the belayer must secure and double-check the locking mechanism on the carabiner.
What Is the Safest Belay Device?
When used properly, the quality and safety of a belay device are more about the person belaying than the belay device. On this list, every belay device can help you have a safe climbing session, as long as the user maintains best practices.
Many climbers consider assisted-braking devices to be “safer” due to the automatic backup that comes with this style of device. However, every style of belay device must be used with constant care and vigilance — even those with assisted-braking features. Every new belayer should seek thorough instruction before actually belaying a climber.