May 11, 2018

‘Tis the Season

Spring has sprung and that means sport climbing season is in full bloom. Whether you’re pulling plastic indoors, traveling to your favorite limestone destination crag, or simply putting in burns at your local spot, embrace the warm temps, long days, and consider updating your belay device (even crusty trad climbers can get it on the goodness). If you haven’t dabbled in the dark arts of assisted braking have no fear; the technology isn’t magic but the ingenuity and efficiency are sure to blow your mind (or at least make belaying a breeze). Check out our pros and cons to make sure you get the gear that is right for you.

 

Black Diamond Pilot

belay

 

Like most new product offerings from Black Diamond, the Pilot is a resounding success straight out of the gate. Substantial research and development shine through and secured this device as a favorite amongst our testers. Simple design, steel construction, and no moving parts make the Pilot a minimalist’s dream.

 

Why we’re stoked

  • 3.25 ounces make this the lightest assisted braking device we tested
  • Ease of use: no moving parts mean it’s easy to control lowering your partner
  • Occam’s Razer of belay devices, AKA simplicity for the win

 

A gripe and a grouse

  • Smaller locking carabiners may not lock the device as well compared to using a larger carabiner
  • Limited functionality. While the Pilot excels at single pitch climbing (gym or outdoors), it cannot be used for multi-pitch adventures

 

Final Grade: 92/100 (A-)

If you exclusively single pitch climb (or find that most of your climbing happens indoors) bump the score to a solid A.

 


Mad Rock Lifeguard

belay

 

An excellent option for climbers looking for versatility, the Lifeguard operates just like a GRIGRI while being more compact and slightly lighter. The perfect option for trad climbers and sportos alike, the Lifeguard can belay from an anchor, ascend a rope, and single rope rappel all while delivering reliable and soft catches.

 

Why we’re stoked

 

A gripe and a grouse

  • Thick ropes are hard to feed, prepare to be labeled a short-roper
  • The small brake-release handle can be tricky to manipulate

 

Final Grade: 88/100 (B+)

An excellent, do-it-all device too compact and light to not throw on your harness. Our testers liked the reliability and durability but yearned for more precise control while lowering.

 


Petzl GRIGRI+

belay

 

Tried and true, Petzl knows a thing or two when it comes to assisted braking devices. Hailing from a long lineage of excellence, the GRIGRI+ offers all the best features of a regular GRIGRI while managing to add an extra layer of protection: the anti-panic handle. Climbing with a less experienced lead belayer? Petzl has your back, designing the brake-release handle to automatically re-engage if it’s accidentally held open.

 

Why we’re stoked

  • Same design as GRIGRI2 with the added security of the anti-panic handle
  • Really shines for super safe top-roping
  • Multiple settings for either top rope or lead climbing

 

A gripe and a grouse

  • The anti-panic handle makes feeding rope quickly difficult
  • New users will find an adjustment period before dialing in smooth lowering

 

Final Grade: 85/100 (B)

The GRIGRI+ is a really solid device for beginning climbers and/or those focused on the joys of toproping; lead climbing with the device is not nearly as intuitive or efficient. If you’re worried about the competency of your belayer, hedge your bet and invest in the GRIGRI+ (but you should also just find a competent belayer).

 


CAMP Matik

belay

 

The ultimate in safety with some luxury functions as well, the Matik is ideal for cautious climbers looking to guard against as many risks as possible. The anti-panic handle prevents accidentally bring dropped by frantic belayers while the camming system gradually engages a rope during falls, making for soft catches and reducing force in the system. The CAMP Matik cannot be clipped to a carabiner unless the device is completely and properly closed, adding an extra layer of safety.

 

Why we’re stoked

  • Pinnacle of safe belaying technology, with numerous features designed to prevent accidents and guard against beginner belayers
  • Super durable, robust design means the Matik will be with you for the long haul
  • Ease of use right out of the box

 

A gripe and a grouse

  • Weight! The Matik is really heavy (almost 10oz) making it unlikely this will accompany you on adventures far from the car.
  • Price! Far and away the most expensive device we looked at. Of course, if you’re sporting top of the line gear across the board, the Matik may be a status symbol you’ve been searching for.

 

Final Grade: 82/100 (B-)

While the selling points for CAMP Matik should not be overlooked, the price and bulk render this device a true niche offering. If you’re climbing close to the car and demand the highest level of safety money can buy, the Matik is for you. Most climbers will find comparable devices for less cash, lighter weight, and same overall functionality.