Climbing safety relies on a solid belay chain, linking the climber to the belayer. For this, the use of a belay system is essential, enabling the climber to be braked and stopped in complete safety.
Generally speaking, a climbing party consists of no more than two or three people.
The belay chain comprises all the elements needed to link people together. This includes harnesses, rope(s), knots, belay devices, belay stations and progression points.
Like all other elements in the belay chain, belay systems have evolved over time. From the climbing pioneers who achieved feats with rudimentary belay systems, today we are faced with a wide range of choices. From all-purpose systems to the most specific, we've selected a few options to help you choose the one that best suits your needs.
Please note that this guide does not cover caving, canyoning or working at height. Here, then, is a selection of belay systems suitable for indoor climbing, cliff climbing, long routes and mountaineering, for use with dynamic ropes.
A few essential rules
It's essential touse a safety carabiner, such as a screwgate carabiner, with any belay system.
Always hold the rope on the braking side, whether it's an assisted braking system or not.
Each belay system requires specific training. So it's crucial to confirm with a more experienced person that you're using the system correctly, especially if you've just changed devices.
If in doubt, or if you're just starting out, we recommend that you read the manufacturer's manuals and instructions carefully, and seek help from experienced people, such as climbing associations, clubs, courses or guides. Don't hesitate to practise before attempting more complex situations.
The different categories
There are three categories of belay systems, depending on their versatility and use:
Multi-purpose systems without assisted braking: These systems are suitable for top-roping, long routes and abseiling. They require technical mastery and increased vigilance on the part of the belayer to ensure effective braking.
Multi-purpose systems with assisted braking: These systems are suitable for long routes and abseiling. They offer assisted braking, making the belayer's job easier and reducing the risk of accidental rope release.
Less versatile systems with assisted braking: These systems are designed specifically for rind climbing. They offer assisted braking, making belaying easier when climbing cliffs.
It's important to choose the right belay system for your climbing style, and to familiarize yourself with its specific operation. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions, and get training from experienced people if you're just starting out or using a new device.
All-rounders without brake assist
In the category of belay systems recommended for beginners wishing to gain autonomy, we recommend Petzl's Reverso or Black Diamond's ATC Guide Belay. These belay devices are versatile, lightweight, easy to use and ideal for learning. They can also be used on long routes.
However, it's important to note that Black Diamond's ATC Alpine Guide is more specifically designed for large-scale routes and accepts small-diameter ropes. It is therefore less suitable for beginners.
Suitable for single-length routes
Suitable for multi-length routes
Ease of use
Easy to give slack
No assisted braking, so you need to be very careful when falling, especially on abseils where the climber's weight is greater than the belayer's.
All-rounders, with assisted braking
It's important to stress that, whatever belay system you use, you must always keep your hand on the braking side of the rope. Assisted braking does not mean you can let go of the belay rope, as there is no self-locking system.
Allows you to climb long routes
Makes it easier to belay a heavier climber
Greater safety thanks to assisted braking
Giving slack can be more difficult and requires time to learn
The device must be released or disengaged to give slack freely.
Less versatile, with assisted braking
This category includes belay devices with assisted braking. This mechanical feature is designed to increase climbing safety by facilitating belaying when the climber is considerably heavier than the belayer. However, it's important to stress that you must always keep your hand on the braking side of the rope. Assisted braking is a braking aid, and there is no self-locking system that would allow you to let go of the belay rope.
The difference between a GRIGRI® and a GRIGRI® + lies in the presence of an anti-panic system during descent on the GRIGRI® +. This system reactivates the assisted braking if the descent lever reaches the end of its travel, offering additional control during descent. To continue descent, return to the initial position and operate the lever again.
The Grigri and Birdie are particularly popular for indoor climbing, as well as for moulinettes and single-length routes.
makes it easier to belay a heavier climber
Offers greater safety thanks to assisted braking
Only suitable for single-length routes
Requires releasing or disengaging the device to give slack freely.
And a few other systems
There are a number of different belay systems, such as belay devices, tubes, wells, pads or descenders. Although these terms generally refer to different devices, their ultimate purpose is very similar.
Whether you're a beginner or an experienced climber, Petzl's REVERSO® offers many advantages. It's ultra-light, weighing just 57 grams, highly versatile and available at an affordable price. You'll be able to use it in a wide variety of situations, from climbing gyms to mountaineering.
If you're looking for a belay specially designed for very small diameter double or twin ropes, you can turn to Edelrid's Micro Jul. Weighing just 62 grams, it will enable you to climb multi-pitch routes, while offering a similar assisted braking system to the Mega Jul.