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The Grigri is a self locking belay device which is designed to add an increased level of safety to climbing situations.
Belay devices add friction to a climbing system so that if the climber falls the rope catches them. They started out with the rope around the body and moved onto the stitch plate design which has been tweaked many times but still essentially remains the same.
The Grigri was/is a step change in the devices. It is designed to lock if a force is exerted one way (the way the climber falls) but still allow the belayer to pull the rope through the other way. Its design is very similar to a car seat belt.
There have been many horror stories blamed on Grigri's but i have never read one which hasn't been down to user error or laziness. The device is not designed to be relied on solely and the instructions very much state this. However it is a regularly observed event of belayers ignoring the warnings and being seen eating, texting or smoking (and sometimes a combination of all 3) and this has lead to the Grigri getting a negative reputation from some.
Using the device is very easy. The rope pulls through easily (the right way) and holds snug very quickly. A lever on the side is used to move the autolocking cam for controlled lowering. Inserting the rope is easy but the range of diameters is limited but is should cover the vast majority or climbing ropes. Thicker ropes do tend to stick a bit so requires a bit more effort until it softens after some use.
For me I moved back to a plate design, the extra size and weight was not worth it and it can promote a level of complacency, it's also a second quicker to feed rope out to the climber on a plate design which can make the difference between a success or failure of a particular route and no one wants to fail a route because of a bad belayer or belay device. They are also single rope only so climbing with double or twin ropes requires an alternate device.
They have there place for top roping and especially as a fail safe for beginners but lead climbers will find the drawbacks not worth the benefits.
I have to say that when I first started climbing, I was rather intimidated by this belay device. Everyone has heard all of the horror stories of things going wrong with it.
But I have to say that these stories are not the devices fault, they are the fault of the belayer using it. I have had this device for nearly 8 months now and I have never had anything but steller performance from it.
The safety net that this device affords you it fantastic, but should never be relied on, not because you shouldnt trust it, but because it would be poor ettiquette while climbing.
This device is advertised as a self-locking/braking belay device, it is not advertised as a "hands free" device. This is where the horror storys come from, as people take their hands off the rope. Whether this is through stupidity or not being shown how to use the device/just not competent with it. Aslong as you follow the instructions and do nothing else, you will be perfectly fine.
Remember than a belay device is designed to be used how the manufacturer designed it, anything else puts peoples lives at risk.
The device works through a grabbing action which is exerted on the rope when the rope suddenly becomes taught on the climbers side (usually from a fall) When the rope becomes taught or tries to slide back throught device, the 'cam' in the device locks down on the rope, thus stopping backflow of the rope. This is perfect for use on those tricky climbs where you might not always be able to see the leader or when the leader is likely to fall.
It is also useful for top-roping (where the anchor is at the top of the wall and the belayer at the bottom, I have never tried it in a top-belaying situation nor am I 100% certain it was designed for that purpose ALWAYS ASK A TRAINED INSTRUCTOR IF YOU ARE UNCERTAIN)
The device has but one flaw in mmy opinion and that is that because of this tight jamming action that the cam exerts on the rope to brake and lock the rope from moving, this puts considerably more stress on the rope because it is such an instant reaction, especially in falls where lead climbing is the case because the falls them selves are usually of around 10 feet and upwards.
This said though I have been doing all styles of climbing and belaying with this device and have not noticed any defect either on the device or on my rope.
It should be noted that all belay devices are designed for a specific thickness of rope. This device will accept ropes varying in thickness between 10mm and 11mm and will only accept single ropes and will not work with half, double or twin ropes.
These belay devices are quite expensive though and should not in my opinion be used by a novice climber getting into the sport, if you are a novice climber reading this review, I would suggest you go and get a Petzl REVERSO. This is an extremely goode starting place.
The GriGri is also fantastic of rappeling and hauling equipment, just make sure you refere to the information supplied with the device and always ask if you are not sure.
The self-braking function helps the belayer catch and hold a climber from falling.