What are Belay Devices?
If you are merely researching rappelling to practice later, you still have to learn a lot. It is true even if you have started this adventurous journey recently. There is not too much equipment required for practicing rappelling. Still, every single gear is of crucial importance.
Safety-based devices like anchors and belay devices are specifically significant. In this session, I will talk a little about this mechanical piece of rappelling equipment. I will try to answer a few frequently asked questions (FAQs) about belay devices.
What is the Primary Role of Belay Devices in Rappelling?
Belay devices control your rope while you belay or rappel. The unique design of a belay device minimizes your physical effort required for rappelling. An essential role of belay devices is to stop the rope during a fall.
A few devices can automatically stop the rope without any user intervention. Other belay devices need you to hold or pull your rappel rope at a specific angle. In the case of rappelling, companies design some belay devices for a controlled descent specifically.
How Do Companies Manufacture a Belay Device?
The manufacturing process of belay devices depends upon the type of device and brand. Most of the manufacturers use aluminum or some alloys to craft them. All the devices need to pass a few stringent tests before they hit the market. If you consider the safety implications of belay devices, rigorous testing is mandatory.
The latest belay devices usually feature different kinds of materials. A variety of materials are essential as there are moving parts in these devices. The material is all the more critical for assisted locking feature. For instance, GriGri from Petzl features steel axels for mounting. Similarly, Sirius belay devices from Tre feature a brass slide bearing.
If we talk about tubular devices, they feature a retaining steel wire coated with a polymer. Salewa's Ergo belay devices feature a few non-critical polymer parts to enhance their ergonomy. By far, Aluminum and steel are the most famous load-bearing materials, Aluminum being more popular.
Unluckily, all the top brands of belay devices keep it secret how they manufacture them. Hence, rappelling experts started searching about the manufacturing process by studying different commercial climbing gears available in the market. Although the findings are a little disappointing, they still throw a few essential clues about the manufacturing process.
For example, Edelrid's Sirius and Bat Brake devices are probably drop-forged. Black Diamond's ATC belay devices feature a complicated geometry without any evidence of stamping or similar techniques. However, they reveal several undercuts hinting at investment cast as the most likely metal forming method used.
Why Do Manufacturers Prefer Aluminum as the Primary Material for Belay Devices?
It is a matter of handling constraints. Manufacturers prefer to choose only those materials which do not damage the ropes. Similarly, they choose high corrosion-resistant material so that their devices are durable.
Moreover, it is also crucial that the metal used should never reach its melting points, ensuring that it does not damage the rope in any way. Finally, the material needs to be affordable and readily available.
By observing these facts, Aluminum becomes the favorite choice of manufacturers because it satisfies most of the conditions stated above.
Why Do We Have Two Holes in a Belay Device?
A few beginners ask a straightforward but puzzling question, especially when they see and use a belaying device for the first time: Why do we have two holes in belay devices?
Several rappellers feed the rope only through one of the device holes. It causes some confusion in the minds of a beginner. If we use only one of the device holes, why do we have a second hole?
- Some experienced climbers use two ropes and a pair of anchor lines. It is a safe practice and works better for experienced climbers. Two holes are handy for dual rope climbing. Remember that it calls for a fair degree of skill and experience. The safety of the climber depends upon excellent communication between the rappeller and the belayer.
- Secondly, some devices have an asymmetric design. You can get varying degrees of friction from two different holes. Moreover, some devices features holes with specific one-way orientation - either up or down. In that case, you get a clear-cut indication of where to feed your rope. It depends upon whether you are left-handed or right.
- There is another reason specific to rappelling only. The holes work as arrestors if in case you loop the rope around the anchor. You can try a loop from every length through both holes.
What are Different Kinds of Belay Devices?
Although there are several types of belay devices in the market, we have only six main categories. If I inadvertently miss any class, do remind me of the same with relevant details.
Usually, every type of belay device is suitable for a specific set of activities. If a style is ideal for rappelling, the others may be apt for belaying and some others for climbing, and so on.
1) Figure 8 Type
Figure 8 Belay Device
Figure 8 type belay devices are most common for rappelling. They are also the most simple ones available in the market. Besides rappelling, you can also use them for caving activities or rescue missions.
These belay devices feature two holes: a large and a small hole. The rope primarily goes into the larger hole. Then you can loop it around the outside of the smaller hole. You clip this hole into your belay loop on the harness.
That will look like figure eight. But what is the use of figure 8 for rappelling? This type of bulky design dispels heat immediately.
Consequently, it leads to a much smooth descent. The device causes comparatively lesser friction than other such devices. The rappellers need to take care during a more considerable fall and use body strength to control the descent.
2) The Munter Hitch
I have used this type of belay device only once, but it is not safe as traditional belay devices. You can call it an emergency device at best. I will not suggest using this belay device unless you are on a low budget, as it works just fine.
In this case, you may use it with your locking carabiner for rappelling or belaying. Climbers mostly use this device when they accidentally drop their belay device on a climb having multiple pitches. It is better to use the Munter Hitch than to stand still. But it may not be as safe as conventional devices.
3) Tubular Belay Devices
There can be anything ranging from sports climbing, single pitch climbing, multiple pitch climbing, gym-based climbing, and rappelling.
Such belay devices feature dual slots. The more advanced and sophisticated belay devices even have grooves and teeth to offer additional friction while climbing. You have to put both ropes through these holes for rappelling.
Climbers prefer tubular belay devices as they are practical and compact. They are versatile enough to work well with a variety of rope diameters and single or dual ropes.
4) Guide Plates
They are nothing but an innovative variant of traditional tubular belay devices. The guide plates feature two attachment points: one of them is bigger than the other attachment and locates at each end. The best part of these devices is to belay the second attachment during a multiple pitch climb.
Besides, it works like any other tubular belay device for belaying the lead climber. Guided plates also feature an assisted braking feature. Hence it becomes easier to rappel a climber using them.
5) Passive-Assisted Braking Devices
Remember, they are not thoroughly hands-free. No belay device is 100% hands-free. Such devices feature a unique mechanism where they apply force on or between the device and the carabiner.
6) Active assisted braking belay devices
Such devices are NEVER fit for rappelling. Still, for the sake of knowledge, I will tell you something about them.
Probably you may like to use it for belaying while climbing. These belay devices are comparatively heavier than passive assisted devices. Nevertheless, these belay devices are the most advanced ones out there.
That is all I wanted to tell you about the role of a belay device and its manufacturing. Please get in touch with me if you intend to ask something or share your insights about the topic. Okay, and one last thing, go and read our article on what does ATC stand for climbing.
The rankings on rappellingequipment.com are curated to save you time by aggregating the best reviewed products from the most reputable companies. We may receive a commission if you buy something using a link on this page.