6 Best Belay Devices of 2019—Field Tested & Reviewed

Belay Device Score Weight Rope Compatibility Assisted Braking?
Top Pick: Petzl GriGri 2
89
170g 8.9-11 mm Yes
Best Value: Black Diamond ATC-Guide
85
88g 7.7-11 mm No
Edelrid Mega Jul
84
65g 7.8-10.5 mm Yes
Petzl GriGri +
83
200g 8.5-11 mm Yes
Petzl Reverso 4
82
59g 7.5-11 mm No
Best for Beginners & Gym Use: Black Diamond ATC-XP
75
64g 7.7-11 mm No

The six belay devices we tested

Belay devices are one of the central tools of climbing, so we took our six favorites to the cliffs for a showdown. The winner is a trusted classic: the Petzl GriGri 2.

The GriGri 2 has been a leading device on the market for years, and for good reason. It brings an added level of safety while remaining versatile and usable.

Other companies have been trying to match the GriGri’s functionality for years, and they’re getting closer. But the attempts always run into trouble at some point — the Trango Vergo has been plagued by recalls, and the Mad Rock Lifeguard didn’t quite match the GriGri’s usability.

The GriGri 2’s closest competition often comes from tube-style devices like the ones reviewed here — or its new-fangled sibling, the GriGri +.

Here’s an unusual confession: there’s a case to be made for all of these devices.

In the right circumstances, just about all of them excel in one way or another. You’ll notice that the lowest scoring device in this review, the ATC-XP, still gets an award nod. Testers had their favorites, but all these devices are capable (and they’re all a massive improvement over a Munter or a hip belay).

The differences in score came down to which devices were most functional over the widest range of circumstances. For details, read on.

Top Pick: Petzl GriGri 2

The great advantage of the GriGri over a tube-style device is assisted braking.

Petzl is very clear that the GriGri should not be treated as a hands-free device, and it’s certainly not an excuse for shoddy belay technique. But should something happen to a belayer — and despite our best efforts, things like rockfall happen — a GriGri won’t drop the leader.

A friend of mine once got yanked into a roof while belaying a steep sport climb, leaving him concussed. If he hadn’t been using a GriGri, his climber would have decked.

The GriGri has other advantages as well.

If the leader is hanging out projecting, it takes strain off the belayer. On epic days it’s a safeguard against mental fatigue. It’s useful in a pinch to ascend a rope. Plus it just belays well, feeding slack smoothly and catching falls effortlessly.

There’s one major disadvantage to the GriGri, and that’s its inability to handle more than one rope. To rappel, you still need a tube. And if you like to belay with half or double ropes, you’re hosed.

For some climbers, that’s enough to count the GriGri out as a multi-pitch device. To make matters worse, the GriGri is nearly double the weight of even the ATC-Guide.

In practice, I think the GriGri is often still worth it as a multi-pitch belay device. It does add a few ounces and require throwing an extra ATC on the back of your climbing harness. But it belays well from above, and multi-pitch is often where the GriGri’s safety and versatility really shine.

Like many aspects of climbing, it’s a trade-off. The GriGri 2 is also much more expensive than an ATC, although it’s almost always on sale somewhere.

Still, this is the belay device that I (and my fellow testers) reach for most often. From sport cragging to multi-day ascents, the GriGri almost always plays a role.

That the GriGri 2 still (in our opinion) hasn’t been improved upon is a testament to how well-designed this device really is.

Full review: Petzl GriGri 2

The GriGri 2 has the narrowest rope compatibility of the bunch, but unless you’re using extra skinny ropes it’s not an issue.

Best Value: Black Diamond ATC-Guide

I awarded the ATC-Guide the Best Value award not so much for being a steal (although it is the second cheapest in our test) but because it’s your best bet for one device that can do it all. You’re always going to need one of these around.

Traditional tube-style devices like the Guide don’t have any assisted braking (except when belaying from the top), but they will belay in all possible scenarios.

For many climbers, that makes this the device of choice for multi-pitch climbing, where its simplicity and capability are prized virtues. When cragging or projecting, a GriGri is more convenient, but a good old ATC will still get the job done.

The Guide’s chief competition in this test came from the Mega Jul and the Reverso, both of which are fine devices in their own right.

The Guide is heavier than both, but it still won out because it’s the smoothest of the lot when belaying from above. As a result, it’s the tube-style device of choice for any adventures more than a pitch long.

Again, this device is a classic, and it’s for good reason.

Best for Beginners & Gym Use: Black Diamond ATC-XP

The ATC-XP lacks a guide mode, so it won’t handle multi-pitch well. Just like the ATC-Guide, it also lacks assisted braking.

But in the gym, where the environment is controlled and nothing is more than a pitch long, an ATC-XP is all you need.

Many climbers recommend learning to belay on an ATC to build good habits. The ATC-XP is accessible, simple, and reliable.

It’s the device most gyms rent out from their own counters. And best of all, it’s the cheapest of the bunch as of this writing. That makes it the ideal choice for a daily driver, one that’s not too dear to replace after wearing out on miles of laps.

Just like many climbers have a pair of beater gym shoes, most of our testers have a beater gym belay device — and it’s usually an ATC-XP.

The GriGri and ATC (either the ATC-XP or the original ATC) are the belay devices we see most often at the gym. Accordingly, lots of climbers in the market for a belay device wonder whether to buy a GriGri or an ATC. If that’s you, check out our side-by-side comparison of the two devices.

Reviews of the 3 Other Belay Devices We Tested

Edelrid Mega Jul

This device is so, so close to unifying the advantages of the ATC-Guide and the GriGri 2.

The Mega Jul is a clever modified tube-style design, which allows the belay carabiner to slide into a slot when catching a fall.

In my experience, it provides assisted braking comparable to the GriGri, while preserving the versatiliy and lightness of the ATC.

At 65g it’s even lighter than the ATC-Guide, and only slightly more expensive. It allows easy hands-free on rappels. It even has a guide mode. That should make it the ideal quiver of one.

And it very nearly does.

The Mega Jul is a little finicky — it behaves best with certain carabiners (beefy HMS belay ‘biners work best), and it takes some getting used to. The thumb loop is an intuitive way to unlock the device, but it requires a new technique for feeding slack. It’s tricky to lower smoothly, especially without belay gloves. Same story on rappels: when oriented right-side up, the Mega Jul doesn’t rappel nearly as smoothly as a regular ATC.

Some of these quirks have workarounds, and others are forgivable. By flipping it upside down on rappels, the Mega Jul will rappel just like a regular tube. And once you’re used to the thumb loop, lead belaying is as easy as using a GriGri.

The final straw is the Mega Jul’s guide mode. It’s functional, but not pleasant. The device creates too much resistance, making belaying far more taxing than it needs to be.

I’d like to believe that with a couple geometry tweaks these flaws could be amended, and I sincerely hope that Edelrid has another generation in the works.

This device may still have a place for many climbers: for dialed teams of two it could work well as a lead-belay only device on multi-pitch, and for single-pitch cragging it’s a lightweight alternative to the GriGri.

It’s worth keeping in mind that this is a polarizing device: some testers felt that it was harder to feed slack than a GriGri, others felt the opposite. Some feel it locks too easily, others have no issue.

The learning curve is certainly steeper than most devices. But if you’re willing to learn its quirks, the Mega Jul is a capable companion — and it’s still only a fraction of the price of a GriGri 2.

Petzl GriGri +

Last year Petzl decided that everyone else shouldn’t have all the fun trying to best the GriGri 2, so they gave it a shot themselves.

The basic function of this device is the same: the GriGri +’s mechanism works the same way as the GriGri 2, and all the geometries are close to identical.

What Petzl added was a host of safety and durability features. The handle locks automatically if pulled back too far on a lower. There’s a new “Top-rope Mode” that locks more easily when feeding slack isn’t necessary. The front plate is beefier, with stainless steel inserts where the rope runs, and the finger tab has been amputated.

Petzl is usually excellent at executing their designs, but most testers felt these features were more trouble than they were worth.

The anti-panic lower system is easy to trigger accidentally. The top-rope belay mode is neat, but it seemed like a solution to a nonexistent problem. The new plate looks more durable, but the smaller tab also means that curling your index finger underneath (Petzl’s recommended technique for quickly feeding slack) is more difficult, especially without looking down.

As a result, the GriGri + has the odd problem of adding features but losing functionality. It’s also heavier than the already beefy GriGri, and it costs quite a bit more. For the price of a GriGri +, you could buy five ATC-Guides.

The extra safety is impressive, and for guides who work with novice climbers, the GriGri + could be a worthwhile investment.

For pretty much everyone else, we recommend sticking with the GriGri 2.

Full review: Petzl GriGri +

The steel wear plate is reassuring, but the abbreviated tab is an ergonomic bummer.

Petzl Reverso 4

The Reverso is Petzl’s rendition of a multi-pitch-capable tube, and it has some admirable qualities.

At 59g it’s the lightest device in our test, and it’s affordable. It has the widest rope compatibility of any device we tested.

In most cases, a Reverso and an ATC-Guide will both perform well.

The one case where the Guide wins is belaying a second. Here the Reverso created noticeably more resistance, making it much less friendly on long days.

Guide mode is a large part of why climbers buy these devices, so although the Reverso scored well, we can’t recommend it over the ATC-Guide (unless those last 29g are really going to make the difference for your day).

Summary

Here are the best belay devices:

  • Petzl GriGri 2
  • Black Diamond ATC-Guide
  • Edelrid Mega Jul
  • Petzl GriGri +
  • Petzl Reverso 4
  • Black Diamond ATC-XP

How to Choose the Best Belay Device for Your Needs

It’s worth repeating that these are all capable belay devices. If you have any of them, there’s no need to throw it away for something else.

The differences in device largely come down to convenience and preference. The most important thing is to have a belay device you’re comfortable with — whatever device you choose, make sure you know how to use it well.

Where Will You Be Climbing?

If you’re out sport cragging all the time, look at assisted braking devices like the GriGri 2. If you climb mostly multi-pitch, a GriGri 2 or an ATC-Guide will be your best bets (make sure your systems work with your partner, too!). If you’re in the gym all the time, just get an ATC-XP.

What Are Your Priorities?

For some climbers, the simplicity and lightness of an ATC are worth the loss of assisted braking. Others prefer the peace of mind, even with the weight penalty. If you want the safest possible device, the GriGri + has you covered, although it may be overkill.

What’s Your Budget?

Most tube-style devices are relatively affordable. GriGri’s are expensive, but can be well worth it if you’re outside often. Climbers do well with all of these devices, so pick the one(s) that make the most sense for your needs and budget.

How We Tested

I had a jump-start on this test, because I’ve been using most of these devices for years. The Mega Jul was one of my first devices after an ATC, and a GriGri 2 is always in my pack.

To make sure everything got a fair shake, I took all six of these devices out with me through all possible venues: lead belaying (indoors and out), top-rope belaying, and multi-pitch.

On most days, I had fellow testers out with me to corroborate. I even got a few novice climbers to come out and see how user-friendly the devices were.

At the end of testing, we all rated the devices in three categories:

  1. Function/Safety
  2. Versatility
  3. Ease of Use

The categories were sometimes tough to nail down — after all, all these devices are technically “safe” by certification standards, and ease of use is subjective. We looked at categories as spectrums and balanced our ratings with discussion to make sure we agreed on the pros and cons.

In the end, all testers were pretty satisfied with how the scores lined up.

Another day at the office

Function & Safety

Does the belay device adequately fulfill its intended function? Does it provide extra safety features? Are there ways that the device might malfunction?

Versatility

How many venues can I use the device in? How well does it perform in different settings? How likely am I to throw it in my pack for more than one outing?

Ease of Use

How intuitive is the device’s design? How much does the device encourage proper use? Once mastered, how likely am I to misuse the device?