Better Belaying... Learn to Share

Nearing the belay while scoping terrain for my lead on the next pitch

I wrote this article to be published elsewhere, but was told that is was potentially dangerous by an online editor, and Climbing magazine was keen, but had recently ran a very similar concept as one of their tech-tips. At least this second rejection validated the idea as: A. somewhat worth listening to and B: not completely crazy. Coincidentally, these are the only two prerequisites I use for filtering out potential blog material, so I figured I might as well post this here and see what others thought.

Keep it simple with the fastest and easiest way to use your new-style belay device.

On multi-pitch climbs, I like to take turns leading. I hate having to flip, or re-stack ropes at the belay, and after a stressful lead, I am always happy to follow a pitch. And as a naturally-cluttered person, I'll do anything to simplify things at the belay. That's why I like to take full advantage of my auto-locking belay device by using 'the swap'. An auto-locking belay device has become standard equipment on multi-pitch climbs, with nearly every company now making a lightweight device that can be hung from the anchor. These automatically lock off the rope should the second climber fall, but offer another, little-used advantage beyond hands-free belaying.

Simplicity - When swapping leads on a multi-pitch route, both climbers should have a hangable belay device like the Petzl Reverso, Trango B-52, or Black Diamond ATC Guide. The first climber leads the pitch and belays her follower like normal, by hanging her belay device from the anchor and bringing in rope in hands-free mode. When the follower reaches the belay, he should not bother with a daisy chain or other personal anchor slings. Instead, leave the desired length of rope out from the belay device to facilitate easy gear exchange or comfortable distance from the anchor. The follower can hang from the belay device--already in place-- using the rope, which was already tied into. The follower is locked off with a dynamic connection to the anchor, and avoids fiddling with extra gear.

Speed - The follower will lead the next pitch, and so he should begin to rack gear or quickdraws on his harness. The belayer should grab the team's second belay device off her partner's harness, and clip it into her own belay loop. The rope is already stacked with the new leader's end on top, so the belayer should immediately put her partner on lead-belay as he finishes racking his gear. The new lead climber is still hanging from the locked-off belay device he was brought up on, and now on lead-belay from his partner with the second device.

Patagonia, approaching the belay in a mountain range where efficient changeovers seemed vital.

Swap It- When the new leader is ready to begin, he confirms that he's on lead belay from his partner, and then un-clips from the hanging belay device, grabbing it to bring with him up the pitch. The climbers have now swapped belay devices, and completed a simple and speedy belay changeover without having to re-stack the rope, use a daisy chain/personal anchor, or carry more than one belay device each on the climb.

And as proof that I can occasionally get something published in the real world, the current edition of Climbing features a short article I wrote about collecting water and staying hydrated in the mountains. If anyone has seen it, I'd appreciate any feedback about that article, or the one above.


  1. Hi Blake-
    I think your belay device switch off makes perfect sense. If anyone is really nervous abou hanging off of a locked belay device, a simple overhand on the brake strand would suffice to back up the device.
    Otherwise, I thought it was pretty well written for a 6am read with 4 hours of sleep. Maybe Gripped or Climber would be interested in it instead?

  2. Thanks Chris, good call on the backup overhand for a peace-of-mind thing. It's funny what we'll fall on, and then be afraid to hang from. Say Hey to Patsy.

  3. yeah, for some irrational reason, i'm a big fan of the overhand backup on hanging belays, but forego it with a stance.

    So who turned the piece down for safety? I havent climbed with a partner in years that didnt use this changeover technique.

  4. I've been doing it this way for about a year...I am pretty sure I read about it on a forum a while back. Indeed, it's a great approach.

  5. You should add that the second should always take moment to move the belay device from the belay loop to a gear loop, lest the leader start fiddling with their junk at the next belay. Icky.

  6. Using a personal anchor sling really is not that slow. With your system, think about the time used for the belayer to take the other belay device from the follower, put him/her on belay for the next lead, and then the new leader has to take out the belay device he/she was on before climbing. Now compare the time for that and the time for the follower to clip in with a PAS when arriving at the anchor, the belayer now already has the rope rigged in the belay device ready for belaying, all he/she has to do is remove it from the anchor and clip it into the harness without any need for anyone to remove and re thread the rope through any belay devices, minimizing the chance of a dropped belay device.
    Your way is good, but is by no means faster... It's just a matter of personal prefference.