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How to Top-Rope Belay (Q&A)

Many beginner climbers get excited to climb, but nervous to belay, and understandably so. Having the trust of your climber to keep them safe is a big task. Thankfully, top-rope belaying is quite easy once you get the hang of it. After a few practice sessions, you will feel comfortable enough belaying to also begin cheering on your climber!
Watch the video below to learn how to top-rope belay: 
Q: Can I put the carabiner through the tie-in points?
A: This question begs the question, why is there a belay loop at all? Belay
loops exist because carabiners are made to be loaded along their axis, generally along the spine of the carabiner with two forces pulling opposite directions from each other. Belaying with a carabiner through the two tie-in points rather than the belay loop pulls the carabiner in a third direction causing what is called “Tri-axel loading,” weakening the overall strength of the carabiner. More so, if the carabiner does get stuck in a “cross-loaded” position, having your carabiner through the belay loop will make it much easier to reposition correctly than if it was through your tie-in points. The belay loop redistributes the load to a single point, maintaining the desired strength of a carabiner. In general it is best to put the carabiner through the belay loop and not good practice to go through the tie-in points.
Q: I do not feel comfortable belaying someone yet, but want to learn safely. What can I do?
A: Being nervous to belay someone for the first time just means that you really care about safety and understand the inherent risks of climbing which is very commendable. When belaying for the first few times, it is good practice to have a more experienced belayer backing you up.
To have someone backup belay, they will grab the brake line of the rope and position themselves below the belay device. In the case of the belayer accidentally letting go of the brake line while a climber falls, the backup belayer can hold onto the brake line and stop the rope from going through the belay device.
Q: I weigh less than my climbing partner. Will I get pulled off the ground if they fall?
A: The first thing I try to let belayers know about belaying someone heavier than you is that it is not necessarily a bad thing if you get pulled off the ground. The rope does not act like a playground seesaw. You will not get pulled up to the very top of the climb if your climber falls. In top-rope belaying, if there are small weight differences (around 50lbs or less) between you and your climber, you will likely not be pulled off the ground so long as you are keeping tension throughout the belay. If the climber has a larger difference of weight from you (around 50lbs or more), than you may feel your feet come off the ground a little. This can be an unpleasant surprise for many first-time belayers; however, it is very normal. For belayers with very significant weight differences (around 100lbs or more) from the climber, it may be a good idea to attach to a ground anchor or find a different belayer with a similar weight to the climber to make sure the experience is safe and comfortable.
If you are lifted off the ground, you can continue to hold yourself in the air by keeping the brake line taut. When your climber begins climbing again, you will be lowered to the ground and can begin belaying like normal. Another solution to getting back on the ground if you are lifted up is to simply lower yourself to the ground just as you would lower the climber to the ground when they are finished with the climb.
Here are a list of carabiners I have used and recommend for belaying:
  • Black Diamond: Gridlock Screwgate Carabiner
  • Black Diamond: RockLock Screwgate Carabiner
  • Black Diamond: RockLock Twistlock Carabiner
  • Black Diamond: RockLock Magnetron Carabiner
  • Petzl: Attache Carabiner
Here are a list of belay devices I have used and recommend:
  • Petzl: GriGri
  • Black Diamond: ATC Pilot
  • Edelrid: Giga Jul
  • Petzl: Verso

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