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Petzl GriGri Explained: Understanding This Fundamental Belay Device

GriGri rock climbing belay device
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The basics behind the Petzl GriGri, one of climbing’s most popular belay devices.

While old-school devices such as the figure eight and ATC still have their place in the climbing world, the GriGri reigns supreme.

Since Petzl’s first generation of the GriGri was released in 1991, climbers have cherished its versatility and assisted braking ability. In some parts of the world, GriGris are so popular that all belay devices are called “GriGris.”

While the GriGri was among the first assisted braking belay devices on the climbing market, it now competes with a host of other devices made by various brands. To be clear, Petzl manufactures the only true GriGri — and that’s the product we are focusing on in this guide.

Though this guide has a wealth of information on GriGris, it is not a comprehensive instruction manual. Using a GriGri safely requires in-person instruction from a qualified source and lots of hands-on practice.

Editor’s note: Rock climbing is an inherently dangerous activity. As with any outdoor sport that entails risk, you should start slow and at a level suitable to your experience. Above all, you should go with someone more experienced than you for your own safety. 

Grigri climbing belay device
The rotating internal cam makes the GriGri an “assisted braking” device; (photo/Alexandru Nika)

What Is a GriGri?

The GriGri is an assisted braking belay device manufactured by Petzl. It is primarily used while rock climbing to maintain a safe and effective climbing system.

Since the introduction of the original GriGri, Petzl has released a series of updated models. The GriGri 2 came out in 2011, followed by the GriGri+ in 2017, and the GriGri in 2019. Each model is slightly different, though they all primarily function in the same way.

For users, it is important to note each GriGri model is only compatible with a specific range of rope diameters. The newest model can accommodate single dynamic ropes between 8.5 and 11 mm.

How Does the GriGri Work?

Like all belay devices, the Grigri is used with climbing harnesses and climbing ropes to create a safe and efficient climbing system. Of course, when lead climbing or top-roping, the belayer must property load the climbing rope through the GriGri before anyone leaves the ground.

Once the rope is loaded into the GriGri, the device is attached to the belayer’s harness with a locking climbing carabiner. This system allows the belayer to serve as an anchor for the climber. Should the climber fall, the belayer’s weight creates tension in the rope and limits the fall distance in a controlled manner.

The GriGri allows the belayer to manage the system while the climber makes upward progress. The rope can move in both directions through a GriGri. A good belayer uses the device to maintain an appropriate amount of slack in the system.

What Is Assisted Braking?

The GriGri is an assisted braking device or ABD. In today’s climbing scene, ABDs are the go-to for most climbers. Many climbing gyms require visitors to use ABDs while belaying.

An ABD assists the belayer in catching a climbing fall. GriGris have an internal cam that rotates and pinches the climbing rope whenever the rope moves quickly through the device. This pinching action helps the belayer catch a fall safely.

Many climbers mistake the term “assisted braking” with “automatic braking.” The GriGri is not an automatic braking device. Like nonassisted braking devices, users must always keep a hand on the braking stand of the rope while using a GriGri, per Petzl’s specifications.

The Petzl GriGri still requires the brake hand to remain on the brake strand.

How to Use a GriGri

In practice, belaying with a GriGri is similar to belaying with a nonassisted braking or tube-style device. The belayer should use the standard Pull-Brake-Under-Slide (PBUS) technique to take slack out of the climbing system, which maintains hands-on contact with the braking strand throughout. While top-roping, the PBUS method is a belayer’s bread and butter.

Petzl specifies that belayers should mostly stick to a primary belaying position for lead climbing. To pay out slack in the primary belaying position, the dominant hand should remain on the braking strand of the rope. The nondominant hand should stay on the climber’s strand of the rope just above the device itself.

While the dominant hand lightly pushes rope through the GriGri, the nondominant hand pulls. The internal cam will not engage when the belayer uses this method with a light touch.

In specific scenarios, belayers need to pay out lots of slack very quickly. When the lead climber clips a quickdraw or other piece of protection, they may pull upward rapidly on the rope. An attentive belayer will be ready to respond with rapidly delivered slack.

To feed slack quickly, the belayer can use the thumb of the right hand to press down lightly on top of the GriGri’s cam device while the index finger supports the unit via the protruding lip on the right side plate. Using the thumb to press down on the cam momentarily prevents the assisted braking mechanism from engaging.

Proper technique for paying out slack quickly on a GriGri

While giving slack quickly, it is vital to maintain a grip on the braking strand with at least three fingers to maintain a safe belay. Petzl has precise requirements for doing this correctly.

Users should only use the thumb to press down on the GriGri’s cam when it is necessary. When the user is not feeding out quick lengths of slack, they should stick to the security of the primary belaying position.

Paying out slack is more complicated for left-handed users. Many left-handed belayers learn to use the GriGri like a right-hander. Climbers can find more information on handedness and GriGris here.

Climbers should always tie a knot on the free end of the rope.

Rop rope climbing belay grigri
Top rope belaying using the PBUS method.

Top 5 Tips for Proper GriGri Use

1. Take Your Time and Double-Check Your Setup

When setting up your belay device and climbing system, it is crucial to focus and move carefully. Make sure the GriGri attaches to the rope according to the diagram on the side of the device.

Before anyone leaves the ground, both climbers should double-check all aspects of the system. Ask yourself: Is there a knot at the end of your rope? Is your belay carabiner locked? Is the belayer in an excellent position to catch a fall safely?

2. Assess Your Body Position

Belayers should stand on stable ground and out of the way of all hazards and obstacles. While top rope belaying, belayers should stand roughly beneath the anchor at the top of the route.

While lead climbing, belayers should stand beneath the first bolt or piece of climber protection. In lead falls, the forces generated can pull the belayer toward the first clipped bolt or piece of gear. Be sure that the path between the belayer and this fixed point is safe and clear.

3. Never Take Your Hand Off the Braking Strand

GriGris are assisted braking belay devices. They are not “automatic braking” or “hands-free” devices. Even when feeding out slack quickly, belayers must maintain a solid grip on the braking strand of the rope at all times.

4. Learn How to Lower

GriGris have a built-in plastic handle that allows for smooth and safe lowering. You should have verbal confirmation from a climber before lowering them whenever possible.

The plastic handle on a GriGri is very sensitive, and it is crucial to open it slowly and carefully to avoid lowering a climber too quickly. While lowering, the belayer’s hand must remain on the braking strand of the rope.

5. Keep an Eye on Your Climber

Belaying is all about attention. While using a GriGri, every climber holds the life of their partner in their hands.

Whenever possible, keep your partner within sight. If this isn’t possible, maintain communication via verbal commands. A belayer must make many split-second decisions when a climber falls to mitigate risk.

Sometimes it is best to jump and provide a super-soft catch, and other times it is best to minimize fall distance however possible. A GriGri is a helpful tool, but it’s no excuse to lose focus.

Other Uses of the GriGri

While standard belaying is the primary use of the GriGri, the device functions in various climbing applications — from single-rope rappels to complex rescue systems. GriGris can be useful in the gym, on The Nose, and anywhere in between.

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