Shop Talk: Grigri vs ATC – Comparing Climbing Belay Devices

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Unveiling the Differences

When it comes to climbing, safety is paramount. A crucial component of climbing safety lies in the belay device. The belay device serves as a friction-enhancing tool that assists climbers in controlling the rope during ascent and descent. Two popular options, the Grigri and the ATC, have become mainstays in the climbing community. In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between these two belay devices.

Arguably the most crucial aspect of learning the sport of climbing and being successful at it is knowing the best safety practices, when and where to use certain gear, and the danger behind the misuse of gear. In the early days of climbing, common practice included using your body to belay someone. Although extremely dangerous, people would use the friction of their bodies on the rope and their bodies as a counterweight.

When the first belay device came out, it was a simple flat piece of metal with a large hole and two smaller holes below. Over a period of twenty years, it evolved into the ATC that has become the standard today. Shortly after, an assisted-breaking device called the Grigri hit the market and changed the sport. The Grigri added capabilities and a certain element of safety that climbers before then could only dream of.


The ATC, which stands for Air Traffic Controller, has become a classic choice for climbers around the world. Created in the early 1990s by Black Diamond Equipment, the ATC revolutionized the climbing industry with its simple yet versatile design.

The device’s primary function is to provide friction by threading the rope through its dual slots, creating a controlled braking system. It allows climbers to belay a lead climber, top rope, or rappel effectively. And the lightweight design and affordability make the ATC a popular pick among climbers of all levels.

While the ATC belay device suits various climbing styles, it shines in traditional climbing scenarios where climbers need versatility and adaptability. This classic belay device allows for smoother rope feeding and dissipates heat effectively during long rappels. Moreover, the minimalist design of this device fosters a better understanding of the mechanics behind belaying, making it an excellent choice for climbers looking to improve their skills.


The Grigri, created by Petzl in 1991, introduced a groundbreaking innovation in assisted braking technology. The Grigri was initially designed for sport climbing. In sport climbing, the falls tend to be more frequent and dynamic. The Grigri utilizes a camming mechanism that pinches the rope during a fall, providing an assisted braking effect

The key to safety while climbing is redundancy, which is why the Grigri is the preferred belay device for most climbers. It adds another support layer to your climbing system with its autolocking capabilities.

The Grigri is an important piece of equipment. Although somewhat awkward to initially learn and understand, it is well worth its added safety. The Petzl Grigri has fast become the most popular belay device for climbers for various reasons. One of the main reasons is the autoblock. The autoblock stops the rope from sliding through the belay quickly.

The Grigri’s primary advantage lies in its ability to catch a falling climber more effectively than the ATC. It reduces the risk of belayer error, making it a reliable choice for climbers of varying experience levels. The camming system allows for smoother rope handling during both belaying and lowering the climber if you know how to use it properly. It’s worth noting that proper technique and attentiveness are still essential while using the Grigri.

Although there are other belay devices that act similarly, this article’s primary focus is the Grigri because it is the industry standard and most well-known.

Upsides of Each

You always want to carry an ATC device with you when you climb, no matter what. They’re often used to clean routes after climbing, for rappelling, and in self-rescue situations. ATC belay devices are relatively cheap and easy to use. Prices are low enough for most climbers to afford, usually ranging from around $15 to $35.

Choosing the suitable belay device largely depends on the climbing style and individual preferences. Here are some best-case scenarios for each device:

  1. Grigri: The Grigri excels in situations where dynamic climbing and frequent falls are common, such as sport climbing or gym climbing. Its assisted braking system provides an added layer of security, making it an excellent choice for belaying heavier climbers or when climbers have a significant weight difference. The Grigri is also preferred for intensive top-rope sessions or for climbers needing hands-free capabilities.
  2. ATC: The ATC is a versatile device suitable for a range of climbing styles. It is particularly well-suited for traditional climbing, multi-pitch climbing, and mountaineering, where adaptability and lightweight gear are paramount. Its simplicity and ease of use make it an excellent choice for beginners, as it promotes a deeper understanding of belaying techniques.

Commitment to Safety

Over time, belay devices have evolved to address climbers’ specific needs and safety concerns. The introduction of assisted braking devices like the Grigri, Mega Jul, and Jul 2, among others, showcases the industry’s commitment to improving climber safety. These devices offer advanced braking features and cater to different climbing styles and preferences.

It is important to note that the use of the Grigri does not automatically stop a person from falling. It can take many feet to bring the climber to a full stop. That is why you must always pay attention and stay focused, even if your tool has autoblock capabilities.

Choosing the Right Gear

The sport of climbing has evolved and changed quite a lot over the last 30 to 40 years, but at its core, it is still an inherently dangerous sport. Many people die every year falling while rappelling, making small or big mistakes when they are tired. There is so much outside of the climber’s control that can go wrong. People must understand their gear completely to minimize that danger.

Choosing the right belay device can significantly impact your climbing experience and safety. The Grigri and ATC are important gear items to include in your climbing rack. If weight is a factor for your next climb, you could cut the Grigri from your climbing rack. The Grigri weighs between 6 and 7oz, so depending on your objective, it might be worth the extra weight. Above all else, you should choose the belay device you are most comfortable using.

By Calindra Revier, Content and Media Manager,

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