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How do I learn to belay?


If you're climbing at a gym, take instruction from them. Sometimes this is arranged ad hoc, but sometimes you need to sign up for a intro class or reserve a lesson.

If you want to get a jump on things, read about the PBUS method for belaying and watch the American Alpine Club's excellent video for their "Universal Belay Standard". This is the most current and most accurate instruction for belay technique.

Note that it's possible — perhaps likely — that employees at your gym have a slightly different opinion for the belay or are instructed to enforce a certain protocol that's not described in the AAC video. Sometimes this is because the facility's business insurance requires superfluous safety measures. Sometimes it's because the staff are trained with outdated techniques. It's not worth arguing the details. Just go with whatever they tell you to do.

The most common difference you'll find at a major climbing gym is the mandatory use of rope-fixed GriGri assisted braking devices instead of tubular belay devices such as the Black Diamond ATC and Petzl Reverso. Although the PBUS method is still used with the GriGri, the AAC video doesn't cover the system setup and the process for lowering. Receive instruction from your gym.

Gyms that require GriGris are also more likely to teach a belay variant called Slip-Slap-Slide (SSS) which — while okay for top-roping — is very outdated and somewhat dangerous when used in the wrong context. Learn it only if you must and remember that it's not the most preferred method.

If you have a question about your technique, or a question about someone else's technique, seek qualified instruction.

SIDEBAR Belaying might feel awkward at first, but you'll quickly develop a muscle memory that improves your coordination.


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