The Beginner’s Guide To Belaying

The Beginner’s Guide To Belaying

For those who are new to climbing, belaying is when one person, who is standing on the ground below the climber, applies tension on the rope that is attached to both the climber and the belayer. The tension applied by the belayer prevents a serious fall from if the climber loses his or her grip momentarily.

The way that belaying works is with top rope climbing. One end of a rope is attached to the climber’s harness and then ran through a hoop on the top of the route which is then ran back down and attached to the belayer. The belayer makes use of a device called a belay device, which threads the rope.

The belay device works to reduce the physical effort required by the belayer. You have two different modes to choose from when it comes to operating the belay device.

In the first mode, the rope passes freely through the device allowing the free movement of the climber. In the second mode, the belayer can stop the fall of a climber by using the device to force the rope to bend tightly and slow movement.

Belaying is considered to be a pretty fundamental skill required to becoming a serious and accomplished climber. Taking steps to learn how to belay properly will help you with this.

How To Belay?

Setting Up The Belay Device

While the person you're climbing with is busy setting up their harness, you should be closing the system on your end by tieing a stopper knot on your portion of the rope.


This will make sure that the rope never passes entirely through the belay device which would result in the climber falling.

If the person you're going to be belaying is a lot heavier than you, you might want to consider tieing the rope to a ground anchor. A ground anchor is a little anchor that you can stick to the ground and further attach the rope to.

The point of the ground anchor is to function as a further layer of safety because it can help provide a sturdier anchor in dangerous climbing situations.

You then assemble the belay device by moving a loop of rope through the device closest to your dominant hand. Some devices may have grooves on both sides while others will feature one side that's more dominant than the other. Make sure that you classify which is which going in.

To finish setting up the belay device, you must attach a locking carabiner.

The Safety Check

Before climbing, it’s important to run through a cursory safety check to make sure that everything is in order and everyone is going to be safe.

Make sure that the climber's figure 8 knot is tied tightly and correctly. You should also make sure that the system is appropriately closed with the correct stopper knot.

You must also make sure that both harnesses are snug and that their respective buckles are fastened securely. Sometimes on newer harnesses, the buckles are designed so that the straps automatically double back down to them.

After making sure that all the buckles are in order, you're ready to check the belay device itself. Make sure that the belay device has been threaded properly. Keep track of the rope, harness belay loop, and the belay device cable and that all pass through the carabiner.

Finally, it's important to run through your list of communication terms with your climber to establish common ground as to what terminology and phrasing you both will be using. This can vary depending on where you're climbing.

More often than not, you and your climber will understand the terminology being used, but it never hurts to take the extra step to make sure.

Making Use Of Proper Belay Communication

When communicating with either a belayer or a climber, it's important that you announce all of your intentions loud and clear. There isn't any point of communicating if one person can't even understand the other.

Remeber to review terms beforehand with your partner to make sure that you're both on the same page. A lot of the words used in belaying and climbing are just affirmations.

The climber starts off by announcing “On belay?” to which the belayer responds “Belay on,” indicating that they are ready to begin belaying and that the slack in the rope is gone.

The climber will then say "Climbing" when they're ready to climb to which the belayer will respond "Climb on."

If the climber needs a room on the rope, they'll yell out "Slack!" to which you should give a little room and wait to see if they need any more.


If the climber says "Up rope" then as the belayer, you need to pull in the rope slack a little bit and pause again to see if they need any more.

If the climber says “Tension,” it means that they want to rest by putting their weight on the rope. This is okay. Remove all slack on the rope and hold it tight. Respond with a firm “Okay.”

When the climber says that they're ready to lower, it'll mean that they're prepared to come down. You should take this as a cue to reposition your hands and get ready to brake. Respond to your climber by saying "Lowering."

When your climber says "Off belay," it means that they are standing safely on the ground and that they don't need your belaying any longer. Respond to your climber by saying "Belay off," letting them know that you've stopped belaying them.

Many climbers will often say "Take" instead of "Tension" which is why it's a good idea to run through terms before climbing. It might also be a good idea to start every command with the name of your partner.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have some idea as to what terms belay rock climbing translates to, you are one step closer to becoming an advanced rock climber.


Leave a Comment: