The best way to work out all your core muscles, build up your core strength, and eliminate your body fat is by doing repetitive laps on gym climbing walls. You’ll not only get to build your endurance but have lots of fun too!

However, if you don’t have a belay partner, you probably won’t manage to go as high as you’d like. This could bar you from achieving the benefits mentioned above. To counter this, most gyms incorporate auto-belay devices on their climbing walls.

This article focuses more on what the devices offer, how they work, and how to use them safely. The best way to start the article is by understanding a human belayer’s role.     

Auto-Belay Device
Auto-Belay Device: What Is an Automatic Belay and How to Use It

So, What’s a Human Belayer’s Role?

When top rope climbing, a rope is extended from your climbing harness, that’s then passed inside an anchor in the summit straight back to the belayer’s hands.

The belayer pays attention to the rope’s slack, adjusting its length accordingly as you gradually make your ascent (with the help of an ATC or belaying device).

If there isn’t anybody to pick up the slack, you risk falling considerable distances increasing chances of injury.

However, this doesn’t mean that the belayer should pick up all the slack. If they do this, you risk slamming your body against the wall, which could lead to lots of serious injuries.

This means that not anybody can be a belayer. The job demands lots of skill and experience to help climbers avoid any accidents. One of the most important aspects of knowing how auto-belay devices work is to know what exactly is belaying in climbing.

Auto-Belay Devices in Mountain Climbing

Admittedly, not all tools work as effectively as people. People can use their versatile thinking and problem-solving abilities to provide the best experience without compromising on safety. However, this isn’t to say that auto-belay devices, in this case, aren’t as helpful.

These devices have a circular design and can be mounted to the top-most section of the climbing wall. They contain an in-built lanyard that’s fitted with a unique mechanism capable of picking up any slack. The device helps climbers ascend walls without being worried about significant falls.

You are probably wondering if the device picks up all the available slack automatically, doesn’t that place the climber at risk of whipping against the wall? The simple answer is that it doesn’t.

The auto-belay device is designed to interact with the load. When you slip and start falling, the device will detect a sudden increase in weight and activate its inbuilt brakes allowing you to descend smoothly and safely.

How Does the Auto-Belay Device Work?

Auto Belay Device

You could read this section if you are interested in how an auto-belay device works. However, understand that the information provided here doesn’t affect how you use the device. If you don’t find such details interesting, you could skip to the next section.

An auto-belay device contains a nylon lanyard that’s wrapped around a spring-loaded spool. The spring in the lanyard is responsible for picking up slack while making your ascent, similar to how a recoiling tape measure works.

However, while picking up the slack as you climb is relatively simple, things become a little bit more complicated as you make a controlled descent. The devices feature either of these two mechanisms: friction or magnets.

Magnetic auto-belays

If you want to understand magnetic auto-belays, you must remember the most basic rule for magnets: likes repel while opposites attract. Magnetic auto-belays use this rule when controlling your descent.

When you open an auto-belay device, you’ll notice that the lanyard wraps around a rotor. The rotor features moveable magnetic arms with more prominent magnetic bands surrounding it but is not in contact.

The magnetic arms lay tucked within the rotor when the device is at rest, preventing them from repelling with the more prominent magnetic bands.

If the climber falls, the rotor rotates at high speeds forcing its magnetic arms to move outwards due to centrifugal force. When the two magnetic fields come into proximity, they repel each other slowing down the rotor. This allows the climber to make a safe and smooth descent.

If you prefer this mechanism, you’ll notice that the TrueBlue XL device from OmniProGear works best. The device is a little more expensive; however, it’s pretty efficient and can handle weights between 22 and 330 pounds.

Auto-Belay Devices


Magnetic auto-belays require minimal maintenance. The device’s moving parts never come into close contact when braking; thus, its braking quality doesn’t degrade over time, making them highly efficient.

The devices are also quite effective in allowing children and adults to enjoy the same level of fun and safety. The device works proportionately, allowing the magnetic arms to repel harder when the weight applied in controlled descents increases.


Magnetic auto-belays tend to be a bit costly due to their high durability. Plus, they take a bit longer to slow you down since the arms have to rotate to a certain speed to get to the repelling position.

This doesn’t necessarily affect your safety since the device will activate if you have enough distance between you and the ground. However, you could encounter some problems if you fall from an intermediate distance since the device won’t have enough time to activate.

Friction auto-belays

Friction auto-belays work similarly to magnetic auto-belays with the lanyard wrapped around a metal drum. The device uses centrifugal force; however, instead of magnets, it uses brake pads place inside a metal drum and fitted with a spring.

The metal drum rotates at high speeds if you slip and fall, moving the brake pads outwards. The brake pads contact the lanyard, slowing your descent, allowing you to land softly and safely.

If you prefer a magnetic auto-belay system, then you’ll love the Direct Drive Auto-Belay device from Perfect Descent. The device can support weights between 25 and 30 pounds.


Even though frictional auto-belay devices rely on centrifugal forces for activation, they are much quicker compared to magnetic auto-belays.

Their quick response is because the friction is often applied immediately, activating the controlled descent much faster.


Friction auto-belays wear down quicker than magnetic auto-belays because the parts responsible for slowing your descent have to come into contact.

This is why it’s often essential for you to investigate the device periodically to avoid any accidents.

How to Use an Auto-Belay Device

Using the auto-belay device is relatively simple. All you’ll need to do is simply follow the instructions listed below.

Auto-Belay Devices Indoor Climbing

Step 1: Double-check your climbing harness

Before attaching your auto-belay lanyard, the first thing you’ll need to do is to ensure that you’ve tied your harness tightly around your waist and legs. Overlooking this step could expose you to severe injuries.

Double-check your buckles and ensure that the webbing is threaded through the metal hoops before it comes back on itself. Doing this limits the chances of your harness getting undone regardless of how heavy the load becomes.

Step2: Test your auto-belay device

You must test your auto-belay device before starting your climb to ensure it’s working correctly. To do this, you’ll need to detach it from its anchor and pull it a few feet from the wall.

Allow the webbing to retract while you maintain a tight grip. If it retracts, then you can move to the next step. If it doesn’t, then you’ll need to report it, move to another device, and repeat the process.

Step 3: Clip your carabiner

There are many different carabiners on the market, and they all feature different opening and closing mechanisms. Ensure that you ask for help if you don’t understand how to operate your carabiner.

Ensure that you clip your carabiner on two ends, at the lanyard and the harness, instead of clipping it to various points on your harness.

Remember to attach your carabiner to your climbing harness’ belay loop before letting go to avoid instances where the webbing retracts through to the auto-belay device.

Step 4: Start your climb

Ensure that you test the auto-belay device to ensure that it can handle your weight before beginning your climb. It’s natural for you to be afraid. If you do, you could start by climbing halfway and letting go to test the device.

Ensure that you are high enough for the device to function correctly but low enough not to get hurt. This will help boost your self-confidence, making it easier for you to climb higher.

Step 5: Clip the device back after you are done

Ensure that you detach the device and hook it to the ground or wall anchor as soon as you are done climbing. If you forget to do this, the lanyard will fully retract back to the device and make it harder for other climbers to use it.

Final thoughts on Auto-Belay Devices

Auto-belayers are a great way to improve your climbing skills while staying safe. Working with a human belayer is excellent, but it’s time-consuming and keeps either of you from fully working on your weaknesses.

Using an auto-belayer is loads of fun; however, remember that you also have to work on your weaknesses and improve your strengths in preparation for ascending natural routes outside your gym.

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