In 1991, when Petzl released the original grigri belay device, the company changed the belaying game forever. The grigri was the first assisted braking device and remains the industry’s gold standard.
The term assisted braking implies that if the belayer loses control of the rope, the belay device itself will arrest the climber’s fall in the overwhelming majority of circumstances. This does not eliminate the need for a competent belayer but certainly increases safety for the climber, and of course, peace of mind on the sharp end!
Whether climbing big walls in Yosemite or top roping in the climbing gym, the gri-gri should be at the top of any climber’s gear arsenal.
In this article, you will learn how to use the gri-gri in several contexts of belaying and rappelling. Please keep in mind, while this article can be a valuable resource, it is not a replacement for qualified in-person instruction from a certified guide.
PETZL GriGri Belay Device
- Assisted-braking device for added safety in case of fall.
- Designed to be used with dynamic ropes for fall energy absorption.
- Compact and lightweight design for easy handling.
- Easy to use, even with one hand, which is useful in emergency situations.
Here, you can purchase your own gri-gri from Amazon. At less than one hundred dollars, the device is very affordable, especially considering all of its different uses and applications. Make sure to purchase a locking carabiner to accompany it and read on to learn how to rappel with a grigri safely!
Gri-gri For Belaying
Top Rope Belay
Learning how to use the gri-gri for top rope belaying is the most basic application of the device and the basis for all the other methods. In top roping, the rope is already threaded through an anchor at the top of the wall. As the climber ascends, slack is created. The belayer’s job is to take in this slack through the belay device to prevent the climber from taking a big fall.
Step 1: Load the rope into the gri-gri
The first thing you are going to do is open your gri-gri. On the inside of the device, you will see two icons: One of a climber and one of a brake hand. Place the rope inside the device according to these icons, ensuring the strand of rope coming out of the “climber’s side” continues up, through the anchor, and down to your climbing partner.
The rope from the brake-hand side should continue to a stacked pile on the ground. After loading the rope into the device, close it up and clip it to the belay loop of your harness using a locking carabiner.
Step 2: PBUS!
Here, after standard safety checks with your partner, we get to the belaying itself. A commonly used acronym for this is PBUS. This stands for pull, brake, under, slide and is the motion you will continually repeat as the climber ascends the wall. Let’s break it down.
On pull, use your left hand to pull slack down towards the device from the rope going up the wall, and your right hand to pull it through the gri-gri itself. Then brake, by bringing your right hand below the device. This is your standard braking position.
For under, bring your left hand down below your right. Now with your left hand secure on the rope, you can release pressure with your right and slide it back up to the starting position. Repeat this cycle until your climber reaches the top.
Step three: Lowering
If you have already learned rappel with ATC or other nonlocking belay device, this is where things will get a little different. When the climber weights the rope, the gri-gri will automatically lock. To release it and get the climber back down, gradually pull back the trigger with your left hand and keep light pressure on the rope with your brake hand.
The rope should be running over the curved lip on the right side of the gri-gri. The combination of how far you pull back the trigger and how tightly you grip the rope will determine the speed at which they lower. It takes a couple of try to coordinate between those but rest assured that lowering with a grigri is much easier and safer.
Once you master the top rope belay, the next step is learning to lead belay. In lead climbing, the whole rope starts on the ground. As the climber ascends, they will clip the rope into pieces of protection. If the climber falls, the combination of how much slack the belayer has in the rope and how far they are above their last piece of protection will be the primary factors determining how far they whip.
Because of this, lead belaying has much more nuance than top roping. Set up the gri-gri just as you would with the top rope. This time the strand coming out of the climber’s side will go straight to their knot, rather than up and over the anchor first. As the climber makes their way up the wall, give them slack by using your left hand to slowly pull the rope through the top of the gri-gri while keeping your right hand loosely on the brake strand.
If you need to give slack more quickly, such as when the climber is making a clip, you will need to use a different technique. For this, position your right hand under the lip on the right side of the gri-gri with your thumb on the back of the trigger. From this position, you will be able to pinch the gri-gri, thus holding it open and allowing slack to slide through. As soon as you are done giving slack make sure to move your thumb back off the trigger. If you need to take slack back in, simply do a quick PBUS, just as though you are top rope belaying.
Gri-gri For Rappelling
While most climbers realize the grigri is a great belay device, many do not know you can also rappel with a gri-gri. The advantage of using a gri-gri as opposed to a traditional tubular device like an ATC is that it eliminates the need for a third hand. If you lose control during your rappel, the assisted braking mechanism in the grigri will stop you, without any additional friction hitch.
The disadvantage is that it can only be used on a single strand, making the setup slightly more complicated than with a traditional double strand rappel. Here are a couple methods of rappelling with a gri-gri. With any of these methods, always make sure to tie a proper stopper knot at the end of your rope.
The simplest way to rappel with a grigri is on a single strand, tied off the anchor. This is mainly useful if you are:
- rope soloing a single pitch route
- rappelling off a multipitch where there is only one ATC between you and your partner
In the later situation, the member with the ATC would rappel second and switch the rope to a standard setup.
The first step is to secure one end of the rope to the anchor. This can be accomplished in several ways, however, the simplest is to tie it through both rap rings using a figure eight follow through or a bowline. After this you are ready to set up the grigri exactly as you would in a belaying context.
When you are ready, test the grigri by weighting it, unclip from the anchor, sit back in your harness, pull back the trigger and allow slack to slide through your brake hand to rappel at a comfortable speed.
This setup is a great one to have up your sleeve as it allows you to use the grigri in place of an ATC, while still allowing you to pull the rope down from below. This makes it ideal for getting down from multi-pitch routes using only the grigri. First, thread the rope through the rap rings to the middle mark of the rope, like with a standard rappel.
Next, take one side of the rope and tie an overhand on a bite. Put a locking carabiner through the knot and clip it to the opposite strand. Now you can treat this strand as a single rope to rappel with your grigri. When you get down, pull on the other strand (the one with the overhand) to retrieve your rope. It is critical to always double check you are attaching your grigri to the strand that is locked off before unclipping from the anchor.
By now, you have learned several methods of how to belay and rappel with a grigri. Whether top roping, leading, or rappelling, the grigri is a solid, reliable choice in gear. And this only scratches the surface of the device’s many applications: It can also be used for hauling, jugging, route development, and so much more. Spend lots of time practicing and getting to know this device, and it will be your best friend on the rocks. Be safe and have fun!