ABD or the Assisted Braking Device has been the most used acronym in the last 2 weeks in Singapore climbing community. Before this I have never seen so much interest being paid to a belaying device after all its just for belaying right?
For those readers who have no idea what the issue is about, 3 major gyms in Singapore have banned the use of tubular device or commonly known as the ATC. Citing that it does not have a assisted locking feature and has high potential of accidental release of brake hand during a belaying accident. They also mentioned that they hope to lower the number of accidents in the climbing gyms after having the community migrate to ABDs. Seriously??
Now we already know that ABDs are not safer and the root of the problem is education and active policing. However, since you and I are not going to fork out some cash to start our own climbing gym, I guess we have to suck it up and go buy a ABD and continue climbing in their gym. Nothing much we can do except burn our harness and hit the boulders.
If you are not going to do that and is in the market for a new ABD do continue to read.
The Petzl GRIGRI has been the staple for climbers for a long time until recently all shape and sizes of belay device came out in the market. There are also rumours that GRIGRI is not safe, citing Ashima + Dad accident recently. Is it not safe or is it the user?
Before we continue the gear review here are 3 things to look out for when using a ABD.
1. Brake hand must always be on. Its Assisted not AUTO brake.
2. The device must be setup and orientated correctly if not most of the ABDs in the market would not work.
3. Understand the lowering mechanism, some are lever operated, some are ‘thumb loop’ operated and some are ’tilt shift’ operated
Now with the above mentioned it seems like ATC is a simpler device and I always like ‘KISS’ – Keep It Simple Stupid. But I am also a user of a GRIGRI for many years, why?
Its less tiring to hold on to the rope when your partner is working on a route. On multi pitch it also allows me piss and belay at the same time (yes it works). And the best thing is I use the GRIGRI for abseiling, ascending (with a jumar) and belaying. Essentially meaning the choice of ABD I have is being used for more than one thing other than belaying single pitch sports climb.
Now I have jumped ship from GRIGRI to Madrock Life Guard. I wasn’t going to jump ship easily after all I’ve been using GRIGRI for more than 10 years but the Life Guard was just a true beauty. Here are some of the reasons.
Weight and size
The Life guard shed some weight from the GRIGRI 2 and to be exact, 16gm. Not a lot comparing a 170gm GRIGRI 2 to a 154gm Life Guard but the size of the device is nearly half! Ounce make pounds.
Small + for Life Guard
Top rope belays did not see any difference in the 2 device. However during lowering, the GRIGRI 2 can be jerky on 10.5> old fat ropes (you find them alot in the gym) while the Life Guard would lower slower but smoothly. The camming springs on the Life Guard seems a little stiffer and require more force to have it jammed.
Lead belay is when you see the 2 devices pull apart. GRIGRI 2 will require a fairly new rope and usually a less than 10mm rope to feed rope smoothly. In a short rope situation, the GRIGRI2 requires belayer to hold the brake rope down with the last 4 fingers and use the thumb to deactivate the device to pay out rope quickly and safely. Lifeguard does not have that problem and will feed rope out smoothly as long as you pull the rope outwards (instead of upwards) and feed in rope from the brake side simultaneously like using the ATC.
Big + for Life Guard.
Kelly and I abuse our equipment quite a fair bit. We show no mercy and use them as tools of trade. One thing I truly hate about the GRIGRI2 is the plastic filmsy lowering lever and the ever loose plate that opens and closes for rigging the rope. As wear and tear happens (pretty fast for us) the plate becomes looser and at some point of time, the rope gets stuck between the cam and the plate. It wasn’t me who experience the problem but a few friends who used my GRIGRI 2 complained about it too! They actually told me my GRIGRI is broken. =D
Life Guard comes with a Aircraft grade Aluminium lever and zero free play on the plate. The design also doesn’t allow the rope to be jammed at the cam. At least not that I have notice in the last 2 weeks of usage in various situation.
Big ++ for Life Guard
GRIGRI2 – 9.4mm – 10.3mm
Life Guard – 8.9 – 11mm
I tried to lead belay with the Life Guard on a old shitty 10.5++mm Mammut Classic Eternity Rope and I could belay as though I was using a ATC. The GRIGRI 2 had no chance. Mega Jul had problem even squeezing the rope in the device! This should be a key consideration for gym top rope climbers since the gym in Singapore uses big fat static rope for top rope setups. ‘Smooth as silk’ that’s what my wife told me after her first belay with the Life Guard.
Big +++ for Life Guard
The price tag is always a big deal or not? For a device that will last 3-5 years, I think its not big of a deal. More importantly is are you able to use the device safely and comfortably for the period of time you going to own it.
GRIGRI2 – 99.95USD – most website without sale (not including sale tax)
– 149SGD at RSB.sg
Life Guard – 89 USD – MSRP in Madrock website (not including sale tax)
– 145SGD at Campers Corner
In a nutshell, Life Guard IMHO is a top winner in its class of camming device ABD. While the hefty price tag is going to keep most new ABD converts away but those looking to exchange their GRIGRI2 or Cinch for something better I think the choice is clear. The thing I wish the Life Guard will have is anti panic features and that will really set it ahead of its competitors. For now a competent belayer will be able to pick the Life Guard and get use to it pretty quickly.
I’m not comparing Elderid Jul, Mammut Smart and CT Click Up because they are not in the same class and they all have problems of their own.
In the end no device is a perfect device, if you do not know how to use a ATC you probably don’t know how to belay and should not attempt to do so. Strapping you with a ABD is not going to make you a proficient belayer, instead it almost guarantee you to be part of the statistics. Get proficient, certified and practice practice practice holding the brake rope.
For those who hates the new ruling and wants to melt your ATC device or send it to the trade in store, stop! You will need your ATC for abseiling off that multi pitch that you have been eyeing for a long time and most ABDs just cannot be used for double rope abseils! I know it is a pain but yes I expect to see a most climbers in Singapore with 2 belay devices hanging off their gear loop. But hey its Kiasu Singapore right?