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Understanding Belay Devices: Choosing the Right One for Your Climbing Needs

A belay device is a critical tool for climbing safety, providing friction on the climbing rope to help secure and protect the climber. This device, along with the belayer’s quick “braking hand,” ensures the rope stays taut, safeguarding the climber. Here’s a breakdown of the primary types of belay devices and their uses to help you make an informed choice.

Types of Belay Devices

There are three main types of belay devices, each suited for different climbing scenarios:

  1. Tubular Belay Devices
  2. Assisted-Braking Belay Devices
  3. Figure 8 Belay Devices

Tubular Belay Devices

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

Tubular belay devices are versatile and commonly used across various climbing styles. The rope is folded, threaded through the device, and clipped to the belayer or anchor with a locking carabiner. The friction generated by the bent rope against the device helps control the climber’s descent. Many tubular devices feature ridges or “teeth” for added friction.

When rappelling, the dual slots in tubular devices allow for the use of two rope strands. Some can also be set up as assisted-braking devices for multipitch climbs.


  • Compact and lightweight
  • Compatible with various rope diameters, including single and double ropes
  • Minimizes rope twisting and kinking
  • Suitable for rappelling with two strands


  • Can be slow for rappelling, especially for lightweight climbers

Assisted-Braking Belay Devices

Ideal for: Sport climbing, gym climbing, multipitch trad climbing

Assisted-braking belay devices, also known as self-braking or auto-locking devices, are designed to lock down on the rope under sudden force, aiding the belayer in catching and holding a fall. There are two main types:

  1. Camming Mechanism Devices: These use an internal cam to lock the rope during a fall. They are generally heavier and work best with a single rope, making them popular for sport climbing.
  2. Passive Design Devices: These use a pinch mechanism between the device and carabiner. They are lighter, versatile, and can be used for rappelling with two strands.

Devices in this category can also have an assisted-braking mode for belaying one or two followers, useful for multipitch climbs.


  • Enhances belayer’s ability to stop a fall
  • Smooth rope feeding
  • Easy, controlled lowering with camming mechanisms


  • May not accommodate all rope diameters (check manufacturer specs)
  • Heavier than other devices with camming mechanisms
  • Some allow only single-strand rappelling
  • Not ideal for wet or icy ropes
  • Tubular devices with assisted-braking mode can lock up, making lowering difficult

Figure 8 Belay Devices

Ideal for: Search and rescue, caving, rappelling

Figure 8 devices, shaped like the number eight, are primarily used for rappelling but can also be rigged for belaying. To rappel, you thread a bight of rope through the large hole, loop it around the small hole, and clip the small hole to your harness. These devices are favored in search and rescue, caving, and rappelling due to their efficiency and heat dissipation.


  • Efficient and smooth rappelling
  • Effective heat dissipation
  • Compatible with most rope diameters


  • Requires more attention and force from the belayer
  • Can twist the rope, complicating rope handling

Final Tips

Safety is paramount in climbing. Always practice proper belay techniques, maintain your equipment, and ensure you fully understand how to use your belay device before hitting the trails or climbing walls. No article or video can replace hands-on training and experience, so consider seeking instruction from a certified climbing instructor. Stay safe and enjoy your climbing adventures!