How to Belay

Last Updated on August 29, 2020

Belaying is a common term in rappelling or abseiling. Belaying seems complicated but not difficult to adapt with extensive practice. It is a skill that a rappeller or rock climber must know and practice.

The safety of the climber depends on the belayer. Only a skilled belayer can turn the climbing rope to a safety tool by using proper techniques. A simple mistake or lack of attention of the belayer can even cause death.

How to Belay

Belaying should be learned from a professional as it is the most crucial part of abseiling and rock climbing. Knowing to tie the knots is also essential. Once the techniques are learned, then comes the practice. Regular practice is a must for a belayer.

A rappeller or rock climber will also have to know the basics of belaying as they will have to understand the calls and signs from the belayer while abseiling. Let us jump straight to the method of belaying.

Belay Devices and Alternatives

The only device that is needed while belaying is a belay-rappel device. A belay device is used to control and lock the belay line or rope in its place depending on the climber’s movements. It eliminates tension on the belay line.

The belayer needs to put less effort and strength. It ensures safety by stopping the fall during accidental tumbles. It is also used to lower the climber. Both manual and automatic belay devices are available in the market.

Munter hitch works as an alternative to a belay device. Munter hitch around a carabiner works perfectly for belaying. It causes scrape to the rope, thus cannot be used quite often. It should be used only in emergencies.

Double carabiner brake rappel is also used to belay which is not smooth enough but provides tremendous braking power. It also proves that a belay device is essential for rappelling.


Belaying is done in three different methods. The methods are top rope climbing, lead belaying, and automatic belay. In top rope climbing, the belayer holds the slack rope and stays alert to arrest fall.

In the case of lead belaying, the responsibility of the belayer is the same. However, here the belayer pays out or gives away the slack rope to the climber. Automatic belaying doesn’t require a belay partner, and it is pretty safe.

Key Factors

Belaying has four key factors – gearing up, setting-up the belay tools, communication, and technique.

Gearing Up

Gearing up means owning all the rock climbing essentials. The essentials are belay devices, belay lines, carabiners, harness, helmet, shoes, chalk, and more. Now, the techniques changes depending on the belay tools. Practice and belay with the same devices and tools.

Setting the Devices Up

Insert a tiny arched portion of the belay line in the tube of the belay device. Use the carabiner on the harness to attach that arched belay line to the harness. Always use a locking carabiner. Use an Italian hitch to attach the belay line with the harness during emergencies.

The portion of the rope which will be taken by the climber must always remain on the upper side of the belay device. Tie a double overhand knot at the end of the rope. It is irrational for the belayer to run out of the belay line without even realizing it. Always remember to double check the knots, lockings, and buckles of the tools to ensure security.


The communication and conversation between the climber and the belayer is the key. Belaying has its own language. So, that language needs to be understood by both the partner.

A belayer needs to act immediately after the climber yelled something and yells back. Letting the rappeller know that he has done what he was asked to do is the prime aspect of belaying communication.


A belayer needs to be a pro at the methods he is applying. The approach might vary depending on the dominant and opposite hand and foot. Although, the basic technique of belaying is the same. Pull, take in the slack, and tighten the hold.

Shift the hands right before the guiding hand reaches the belay device. Do not downright leave the rope. Do it slowly, keeping them closer to the belay line. Belaying technique is mainly a repeat of pulling and changing the hand positions.

What Makes a Belayer Best Among the Rest

Belaying requires attentiveness and good reflex. While a climber is climbing the rock or descending the belayer will have to put all his attention on the rope. This attention will help to take quick action during sudden falls.

Belaying requires a good hold on the belay line. A good belayer never for a second leaves the belay line. Leave the guiding hand if necessary, but it is recommended to keep holding the rope with the brake hand.

Final Words

Constant attentiveness might sound and appear hectic. However, that doesn’t, in any way, minimize the excitement and fun. Belaying remains the same adventurous activity. An individual who wants to belay will have to practice it until he proves the efficiency in it. Other than constant practice, one must be alert in belaying.

It is a fact and should not be denied. So, unless you are sure in every respect, do not belay. The same applies for a rappeller as well. Do not depend on a novice belayer. Use an automatic belay device instead. An efficient and alert pair of rappeller and belayer ensure safe abseiling.


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