Whether for top-rope climbing or lead climbing, rock climbing or indoors, when belaying one or two climbers, a descender is an essential piece of kit! But its characteristics may vary depending on where, how, and with whom you are climbing. We're here with some guidance.
You will quickly develop a personal preference for one system over another depending on the climbing site and your experience. As is often the case in climbing, it's at the rockface that we discover what works best!
Single-Pitch Belaying With a Single Rope
You'll need a conventional descender
Conventional descenders are the most basic systems. These are not necessarily the most advanced, but as they are easy to handle, the risk of incorrect use is reduced. Even the simplest systems are designed to make your life easier!
The Karo features a groove on the side in which to lock off the rope, to ease the belayer's burden when the climber wishes to rest mid route.
The special case of the Tubik
Are you looking to get started with belaying? To begin learning how to climb with a half rope, you can opt for the Tubik. But it's important to note that it does not have a ring for connecting off the anchor station. You therefore can't use it to belay a second climber from the anchor station: you'd therefore need an additional plate-type belay device.
For even safer belaying, the ATC Pilot is designed to provide increased braking while maintaining good rope fluidity
Assisted Braking for Belaying
There are also systems with assisted braking. These can be used for both lead climbing and top-rope climbing. They require a high level of vigilance when handling to ensure the system is correctly triggered, but ensure increased safety if used properly. Petzl's Grigri, which doesn't even need presenting, comes to mind, as well as newcomers on the market such as Béal's Birdie.
If There Is a Significant Difference in Weight Between the Climber and Belayer
If belaying or being belayed by someone heavier (or vice versa), for greater comfort and safety, you can opt for the OHM quickdraw: In the event of a fall, this device increases rope friction, enabling a lighter belayer to better hold a heavier climber.
Multi-Pitch Belaying With a Half Rope
For multi-pitch climbing, you will often need a half rope. You will therefore need a belay device with two grooves and a ring for connecting off the anchor station. More versatile belay devices require a certain level of experience in belaying. They can be used for a range of climbing disciplines (multi-pitch climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, etc.)
You can also belay a second climber using a plate-type belay device. However, this type cannot be used to belay a lead climber (it would need to be supplemented by a Tubik, for example). This system, which underlies belay devices with a 'well' (or bucket/basket) design, is less versatile but very popular amongst Italian climbers.
It's through training that you'll become more at ease with belaying. Before getting started, read the instructions for use of your belay device – they contain important information. Then learn how to set up the system until you can perform the moves naturally! The idea is that, at the bottom of your route, you feel at ease and safe right from the start. You can also for opt for backup belaying while you get an instinctive feel to ensure optimal security. This involves three people: one climber and two belayers, one of which is experienced. Once you have familiarized yourself with your belay device, only change it if necessary, because by opting for another model, you'll need to get used to using a different device.
And of course... Never forget to double-check the belaying system and tie-in knot before starting the climb!