There are 2 main styles of belay devices; those that increase the friction on the rope (bugs, ATC’s etc.) and those that pinch the rope (grigri, Single Rope Controller, etc.) As there are so many types of belay devices on the market, we are only looking at a couple of devices that increase the friction and not devices that are ‘pinching or ‘semi’ locking. We will also not be looking at the price of the devices as these can easily be researched on-line.

The first thing to say about belay devices is that the all do a similar job, that is, provided the belayer is holding the rope, they stop the climber from hitting the ground. So that means it all boils down to personal choice, however are subtle differences between devices and this is down to how ‘slick’ or ‘grabby’ the device is and what type of climbing is going to be carried out.

For beginners to intermediate climbers who are mainly going to be climbing on indoor walls or outdoors in a ‘top roping’ situation, it is recommended that you opt for a device that is somewhere in the middle or towards the ‘grabby’ range.

Another factor to consider is the karabiner that is used with the belay device, most belay devices are designed to be used with an HMS or ‘Pear’ shaped karabiner. Smaller karabiners tend to get jammed in the device as the angle is narrower, but the cross section of the karabiner also makes a difference. For example some karabiners are round and some are oval or grooved to reduce weight but improve strength, this can effect the amount of friction on the device.

Bug – DMM

DMM Bug belay device
DMM – Bug – Belay device

The Bug is a classic belay device and can’t be faulted on it’s simple to use and robust design. It is particularly good at handling thicker ropes (ideal for centre ropes that are getting a bit furry!) The Bug is at the ‘slicker’ end of the scale, but a great belay device that will last for ages. Because of its thickness it is ideal for centres using them day in day out however this makes it a fairly heavy device. It is also not so good for thinner ropes.

  • Rope Size – 9-11mm
  • Weight – 83g

ATC – Black Diamond

Black Diamond ATC
Black Diamond – ACT – Belay device

Another classic style belay device, and is one of my favourites, being simple to use and lighter than the Bug. It won’t last as long as some of the others, however if you’re trying to save weight then the ATC is ideal. It can also handing a wide range of rope sizes. It can get a little hot when abseiling due to the thinner, sleeker design.

  • Rope Size – 7.7-11mm
  • Weight – 60g

Variable Controller Pro 2 – Wild Country

Wild Country VC Pro belay device
Wild Country – VC Pro – Belay device

Since the Variable Controller, a number of different designs have emerged on the market including the VC Pro 2. Instead of the wedge shape, the design revolves around grooves inside a V shaped slot. I’ve not used version two but the first version was a little awkward when paying out rope and used to jam on thicker ropes, but held a fall well! However I am told than the new version is said to be much better and pays out rope without a problem.

  • Single Rope – 9mm+
  • Double Ropes – 7.7mm+
  • Weight – 80g

In the end, the decision is a personal one, but I would recommend (it you can) that you try out a few different devices before you buy.

By Tom Hatt