Taking the Easy Way Down
Free soloists might find modern belay devices superfluous. After all, what’s the point of having a belay device when you’re not using a rope? The majority of climbers however, prefer pushing their limits while using a rope. And if the unavoidable does happen and they fall, they know that their partner, with a belay device at the other end of the rope, will give them a safe catch. Not only will the belay device prevent unexpected encounters with the ground, but once on the summit belay devices also allow for a controlled descent that can’t be achieved as easily with dulfersitz rappel (look it up).
Here are some belay devices that should satisfy the need of most climbers - except perhaps the dedicated free soloist.
This year Black Diamond has updated their ATC Guide by removing material in the side plates and increasing the diameter of the auto-block release hole so that it can accommodate a small biner. The result is a belay device that is lighter and easier to use than last year's model. Multiple friction modes ensure compatibility with ropes ranging from 7.7 mm up to 11 mm in diameter, while the ability to use the ATC Guide in plaquette mode (for safely belaying two people seconding a route) adds versatility on longer climbs. This is an excellent belay for almost any climbing situation.
Sterling has always been known for their great climbing ropes, but this season they've introduced new belay/rappel device that offers incredible versatility and control regardless of rope size. This performance stems from the device's unique shape, which looks like a cross between a figure-8 and a traditional slotted belay plate. Climbers can use the slots for belaying and rappel in the figure-8 mode. Friction can be increased by threading the rope past one or more of the protruding horns, which also allow for easy lock-off during descents. For even greater friction options, the ATS sports curve along its long axis - insert the rope from one side for greater control when using super-skinny twins or the other side for fat singles. With so many friction options, the ATS qualifies as an almost-do-all belay device - nice.
The Click Up is a small and effective single-rope assisted-braking belay device. The braking action is activated when the rope is loaded dynamically during a fall while the belayer is holding the brake end of the cord. Unlocking and lowering is simple - just push the device upwards. The Click Up's construction allows for smooth rope handling and solid catches of big falls, but climbers must use an HMS style biner. As an added safety feature, the Click Up can safely lower a climber even if the device is accidently loaded incorrectly. Lightweight, simple and easy-to-use, the Click Up is a good belay option for sport cragging.
Most assisted-braking belay devices are built for single-ropes. And while this makes them a good choice for cragging, they are less viable on longer routes where half or twin ropes often used and rappelling with two ropes is the norm. Realizing this, Mammut updated their Smart belay device to accommodate two ropes. The black coloured Smart Alpine works with ropes ranging from 8.9 mm to 10.5 mm in diameter, while the silver coloured version offers more friction and is suitable for cords ranging from 7.5 mm to 9.5 mm in diameter. Belaying and rappelling with the Smart alpine is smooth and predictable and the extra control provided by the assisted braking increases safety during unexpected falls. At the belay, the Smart Alpine can be used like a plaquette allowing two climbers to be safely belayed while seconding the route. Lightweight, versatile and easy-to-use - no wonder it's called Smart.
Consisting of Verso Belay device and an Attache 3D carabiner joined by a durable plastic connector, the Universo offers some unique advantages over conventional belay systems. First, the connector ensures that the Verso is correctly aligned along long axis of the biner eliminating any control-robbing shifting. This simple plastic connector also prevents dropping the belay device, which could lead to some problems on longer routes. And while this connector offers some interesting benefits, they would be less compelling if the belay device and belay biner had any serious shortcomings. Thankfully, the Verso and Attache 3D have no such issues. The Verso can handle half and twin ropes down to 7.5mm in diameter and single ropes down to 8.9mm in diameter and the V-shaped slots increase braking without causing unnecessary drag when feeding rope. The biner is equally ready for belay duty with a large, rope-friendly shape, while any unnecessary weight is removed thanks to the biner's aggressively sculpted shape. This is an excellent belay combo for almost any climbing situation.