Belay Device – ATC

Photo by Cade Prior on Unsplash

Getting high off the ground on a climb route is a feeling unlike any other. To reach that feeling, though, you need to have the correct gear to keep you safe in case of a fall. The belay device is an essential piece of equipment that will manage the slack on the rope and stop the rope from running freely.

How to Choose Belay Devices

A belay device acts as a brake on the climbing rope by applying friction to it. The device, plus the belayer’s quick “braking hand” (which locks off the free end of the rope), helps keep tension on the rope and helps to protect the climber at the other end. It is an essential device for climbing safety.

When choosing a belay device, you have three primary types to choose from:

  • Tubular (ATC)
  • Assisted braking (Gri gri)
  • Figure 8

Which one you choose depends on the kind of climbing you do.

Tubular Belay Devices (ATC)

These are very common and are suitable for any kind of climbing. The rope is folded and pushed through the device and clipped with a locking carabiner to the belayer or directly to the anchor. 

Friction caused by the bent rope’s contact with the belay device slows down and stops the rope, helping to protect the climber. Some tubular devices have ridges or “teeth” to create even more friction.

When it’s time to abseil the dual slots found on nearly every tubular device accept two strands of rope for standard rappelling technique.

Some tubular devices can be set up as an assisted-braking device for belaying one or two followers on a multipitch climb.


  • Compact, light and easy to use
  • Work with many rope diameters and can accommodate single or double ropes
  • Ropes don’t twist or kink
  • Can be used for rappelling on two strands


  • Some people, especially lightweight climbers, find tubular belay devices to be slow for rappelling

Best for: Multipitch trad climbing, sport climbing, gym climbing

Tubular Belay Devices: How to use

These are the most common types of belay devices — which many of us have come to know and love. 

Tubular devices have two slots. When used for belaying, you insert a bent rope bight through one slot and then clip a carabiner through the loop, attaching the carabiner to the belay loop on your harness. Friction is created by the shape of the bent rope against the belay device, which assists in stopping the rope. 

Advanced tubular devices have teeth or grooves for extra friction. When used for rappelling, you can insert both rope strands through the dual slots. The advantages to these devices include compactness, the ability to use varying diameters of ropes, and double or single ropes. The ropes don’t get twisted up and tubular belay devices are easy to use for rappelling. They are recognized as the industry standard in many countries.