What is Belaying?
Belaying is the process of controlling the amount of rope
available (slang: 'paid out') to the climber, therefore reducing how far the climber could fall. Most forms of 'Free Climbing' use a belayer (the term 'belayer' refers to the person who is 'belaying' the climber).
A belay device is used by the belayer. Belay devices add friction to the rope
and permits the belayer to stop the climber's fall. Most belay devices include two slots. One slot is used when belaying. Two slots are used when rappelling.
There are many models of belay devices on the market today.
ATC [Black Diamond]
The most popular belay device on the market today is likely Black Diamond's ATC. ATC stands for 'air traffic controller' and provides a simple, single-friction belay device that can be used for belaying and descending.
The ATC is a 'bucket' style belay device. Dozens of competitive models are available. Many belay devices have a 'high friction' side and a 'low friction' side (the ATC-XP from Black Diamond is an example). Generally speaking the high friction side is beneficial if you are rappelling down extremely steep terrain or holding a climber who is 'hang dogging'. 'Hang dogging' is slang for a climber who is constantly waiting the rope
while trying to work out moves on a climb.
An auto-blocking belay device automatically jams when weighted without any action from the belayer (though the belayer should always keep a brake hand on the rope). The auto-blocking device requires additional knowledge on how to use it as well as how to release the device when weighted (i.e. if you need to lower an injured climber), therefore this device is better for advanced climbers.
The Petzl Reverso (left) has obtained a reputation as an ideal belay device for alpine and/or multipitch climbing. The Reverso has the benefit of acting as an auto-blocking belay device. Reversos cost 25 dollars.
The Reverso can be used as an emergency ascender,
which is useful in situations such as rope
jams, self-rescue etc. Petzl also offers a smaller version of the Reverso called the Reversino, which is designed for smaller diameter ropes.
Auto-locking belay devices are designed to catch a fall without any action from the belayer (but they must be backed up). When the climber's side of the rope
is weighted, a cam
pinches the rope
in the auto-locking belay device. The belayer can deactivate the cam
by pulling back on the handle (i.e. when lowering the belayer). Auto-locking belay devices must be backed up at all times by belaying as if you were using a non-auto-locking belay device (i.e. ATC).
The auto-locking feature can make it more difficult for the belayer to provide a dynamic
belay (as opposed to belay devices that require a manual lock off).
Petzl also offers the Petzl GriGri. The Petzl GriGri is an auto-locking belay device. A large handle permits the user to release the auto-locking feature when necessary. The Petzl GriGri is one of the best 'Hang-Dogging' belaying devices. The down side of the GriGri is that it is expensive, heavy and you cannot (easily) rappel with double ropes.
Therefore the GriGri is ideal for sport climbing.* (*Belaying a lead climber with a GriGri takes advanced knowledge).
Trango has released a competitive belay device called the Cinch.
Soloing is a complex climbing technique which allows a climber to climb without a partner while still being protected by a rope.
The Silent Partner is an example of Rope
Soloing belay devices. These are designed exclusively for experts.
Emergency Belay Devices Munter Hitch
The Munter Hitch is a sliding friction hitch which is capable of safely holding loads in excess of 800 pounds before it starts to slip. With practice it can be used for belaying and rappelling. The Munter Hitch is an essential knot to know, especially in the event that you drop your belay device.
The Hitch Munter System (HMS) carabiner
The HMS carabiner
which is now manufactured to be used specifically in conjunction with various friction breaking belay devices on the market today, was originally designed in Germany by a Mr. Munter (no kidding). Its intended purpose was to pass a knot through the carabiner
without it getting stuck. In order to accomplish this task, Munter designed the carabiner
large enough to go through the waist band and leg straps of a conventional climbing harness
and still have room to pass a knot.
Today, the HMS carabiner
is manufactured by all the major climbing companies and is designed to be used in conjunction with your belay device. All HMS carabiners
by their very nature are locking. The screw gate
is the most common type of HMS carabiner
on the market today. However, there are auto-locking HMS versions as well as a double locking HMS carabiner.
Many people use screw gates
because they have less moving parts and are less likely to jam, especially in cold weather. However, when ice climbing, plastic gate HMS carabiners
are often preferred. The HMS carabiner
is also ideally suited for many rescue operations because of its unique shape and the fact that the carabiner
is always attached to the climber's harness.