Belay Device – Figure 8

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.

Figure 8 Belay Device

Figure 8 devices are primarily used for rappelling, however, they can be rigged to belay a leader or a top-rope climber. Shaped like the number eight, they have one larger and one smaller hole. 

When rappelling, you feed a bight (bend) of rope through the large hole and loop it around the outside of the small hole till it rests on the “neck” of the figure 8. The small hole is clipped to your belay loop on your harness. Figure 8s are frequently used for search and rescue, caving and rappelling. For belaying, different devices recommend different ways to rig the rope through the device. It’s imperative to read the instructions included with your figure 8 to learn the proper way to set it up.


  • Efficient and smooth for rappelling
  • Dissipate heat from friction efficiently
  • Can be used with just about any rope diameter


  • Require more attention and more force from the belayer’s hand than other belay devices
  • They put a twist in the climbing rope, which can make rope handling difficult

Best for: Search and rescue, caving, rappelling

Choosing the appropriate belay device for you depends on your experience, climbing preference, and objectives. 

Many climbers have multiple belay devices to use in different situations or for different types of climbing. Evaluate the kind of climbing you primarily do. 

Do you like to project on hard sport routes? – An active assisted belay device might be ideal. 

Do you primarily climb long, multi-pitch routes? – You’ll want a device you can use to bring up your second. Some people prefer to only use a standard tuber device in all situations simply because that’s what they’re used to. It really comes down to personal preference — but now that you’re familiar with everything that’s out there, you should be able to make the appropriate choice for you.

Figure Eight Belay Device: how to use

This is still a popular device in Europe, although it’s most commonly used for rappelling. These are the simplest kind of belay devices, often utilized in search and rescue and caving. The device has two holes: one large and one small. 

A bight of rope is fed through the larger hole and looped around the outside of the small hole, which is clipped into the belay loop on your harness. The rope is locked off to the belayer’s side, and in this way it makes for a sufficient situation in which to halt the rope’s movement. It’s popularly used for rappelling because its extra bulk dissipates heat quickly and allows for a smooth descent. The main drawback is the decreased friction allocated by the device, which can necessitate added strength and attention when catching a large fall. It also puts a twist in the rope, which can make rope handling more difficult. With all of the other belay devices to choose from, this one is not recommended for beginners.