How to Top Rope Belay

How to Top Rope Belay

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Top Rope Belay

Before even touching real rock or even plastic, new climbers must learn to belay. Though it has none of the excitement of climbing itself, belaying is perhaps the most important aspect of the sport

If a climber falls while climbing on top rope, their weight transfers from the rock to the rope. As the belayer, you provide a brake on the rope to prevent the climber from falling to the ground. A belay device helps you by applying friction to the rope.  If you are not using the belay device properly, a fall could kill your  partner!  

Standard Technique

The belay device: There are many, many different belay devices on the market. 

They are all rated to the same safety and performance standards and get the same job done: stop the rope in case of a climber’s fall.

The three most common belay devices are:

  1.  Tube devices like the Black Diamond ATC
  2. Petzl GriGri
  3. “Semi-automatics” like the Edelrid Jul or Mammut Smart

Top Rope Belay Basics:

  • Read the instructions that came with your device!
  • Feed the rope through your belay device and attach the belay device to a locking carabiner. If you are using the tube-style ATC, be sure to clip the locking carabiner through the loop of BOTH the device and the rope.
  • Attach the locking carabiner to the belay loop on your harness.
  • LOCK THE CARABINER and then double check it is locked by grasping it and trying to open it.
  • Assume a ready stance: Keep your legs shoulder width apart, feet on stable ground and be in a good position to see your climber. Depending on the route (e.g. slab or overhung), you may need to adjust as the climber moves up. Stand close to the face of the rock or wall so if the climber falls, you are not pulled across a long distance.
  • Use your strong hand to brake the rope. Right handed people will for example use their right hand on the brake end of the rope. Your other hand can either be below the brake hand, or above the device, to take in slack.
  • Do your safety checks with your partner before they begin.
  • As the climber ascends, take in the slack. Never take your brake hand off the slack-side of the rope! Pull in slack with your non-brake hand from above the device and then with your brake hand from below the belay device. See the REI video below for a clear and simple example.

Important Tips:

  • Keep your brake hand at least 6" (15 cm) below the belay device. If your hand is too close, it could get yanked into the belay device if the climber falls. This is both painful for you and dangerous for the climber as you may end up letting go of the rope!
  • Always be in position and ready catch a fall. It's easy to get distracted c hatting or looking around, particularly if the climber is slow or taking a break.
  • Practice, practice, practice! When you are belaying, someone's life is in your hands. Climbing is fun but never forget mistakes can be a matter of life and death.