Belay Device – Gri Gri

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.

Assisted-Braking Belay Devices (Gri Gri)

Assisted-braking belay devices (also sometimes called self-braking, self-locking, auto-blocking or auto-locking devices) are designed to lock down on the rope when a sudden force is applied to it to help the belayer catch and hold a fall.

There are a couple different types of assisted-braking devices:

  • Some provide assisted braking whether you’re belaying a lead climber, top-rope climber or a follower on a multipitch climb.
  • Others offer an assisted-braking mode only for belaying one or two followers.

Among the devices that provide assisted braking when belaying a leader or a top-rope climber, many use an internal camming mechanism to lock  down on the rope when a climber falls. The most popular is a Petzl Gri Gri.These devices tend to be heavier than other designs and they generally work only with a single line, which means you can’t do a traditional rappel on two strands of rope like you can with a tubular device. Because of this, these devices are used mainly for sport climbing, either at the gym or outdoors.

Others in this group have a passive design that pinches the rope between the device and a carabiner to provide the assistance. These are typically lighter than those with a camming mechanism, versatile enough for any type of climbing and capable of being used to rappel on two strands of rope. 

Devices that offer an assisted-braking mode only for belaying one or two climbers are essentially tubular belay devices with an additional metal loop on the side. That metal loop allows you to attach the device directly to an anchor and set it up in assisted-braking mode. The most popular is the Reverso, also made by Petzl.

These devices share all the advantages and disadvantages of tubular devices, while also being able to belay one or two climbers in assisted-braking mode. And, just because you can’t use the assisted-braking mode to belay a lead climber doesn’t mean you can never belay a leader. 

You simply use the device like you would a basic tubular device to do this.As with any belay device, assisted-braking devices require that you always use proper belay technique and have your brake hand ready to lock off the rope. Be sure you read the manufacturer’s information and fully understand how to operate the device before belaying or rappelling.


  • Help the belayer to stop the climber’s fall
  • Feed rope smoothly
  • Assisted-braking devices with camming mechanisms make it easy to lower the climber in a controlled manner


  • Don’t work with all diameters of rope, so be sure to check the manufacturer’s specifications
  • Assisted-braking devices with camming mechanisms tend to be heavier than other devices
  • Some only allow rappelling on a single strand
  • Devices with camming mechanisms are not recommended for use with wet or icy ropes
  • Tubular devices with an assisted-braking mode lock up under a load when rigged in this mode, making them difficult to use as lowering devices
  • Best for: Sport climbing, gym climbing, multipitch trad climbing

Active Assisted Braking Belay Devices (Gri Gri): how to use

These are the most technologically advanced belay devices currently on the market. 

Active assisted braking devices function by pinching the rope between a camming mechanism within the device itself. 

They generally serve to work with a single strand of rope, which means they cannot be used for rappelling. 

These devices are ideal for belaying climbers on single pitch sport routes because they tend to take some of the weight off the belayer by gripping the rope firmly when a climber hangs on the rope or falls. 

On a multi-pitch climb, these devices can be used to bring up a second climber. The disadvantages to active assisted braking belay devices? They are usually much heavier than their counterparts due to the weight of the camming mechanism, and cannot be used for rappelling.