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Belaying is a variety of techniques climbers use to create friction within a climbing system, particularly on a climbing rope, so that a falling climber does not fall very far. [1] A climbing partner typically applies tension at the other end of the rope whenever the climber is not moving, and removes the tension from the rope whenever the climber needs more rope to continue climbing.


The term "belay" also means the place where the belayer is anchored; this is typically the ground or a ledge, but may be a hanging belay, where the belayer themself is suspended from an anchor in the rock.

How it works

Leader and belayer climbing in Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree - Lazy Day 1.jpg
Leader and belayer climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

In a typical climbing situation, one end of the rope is fixed to the harness of the climber, using a Figure Eight knot. Other knots or bends are used to "tie-in" the climber to the rope, but are less safe for beginners. The rope then passes through climbing protection, which is fixed into the rock. Attachment to the rocks may be via bolts that are permanently fixed into the rock, or by traditional protection that the climber places and later removes without altering the rock.

The rope runs through the protection to a second person called the belayer. The belayer wears a harness to which they have attached a belay device. The rope threads through the belay device. By altering the position of the end of the rope, the belayer can vary the amount of friction on the rope. In one position, the rope runs freely through the belay device. In another position, it can easily be held without the rope sliding through the device because of the friction on the rope. This is called 'locking off' the rope.

A belayer is belaying behind a lead climber. Belaying.jpg
A belayer is belaying behind a lead climber.

If the climber climbs three feet higher than the last piece of protection in the rock, and then falls, the rope allows him to fall the three feet to the protection, and another three feet below that. If they fall any further, rope is pulled upwards through the protection from the belayer below. Because the belayer generally keeps the rope locked off, the climber's fall should be arrested and they are left suspended, but safe, somewhere below the last piece of protection.

A dynamic rope, which has some stretch in it, is often used so that the climber is not brought to a sudden jarring stop. Some climbers choose static ropes for abseiling/rapelling because it's easier to use.

As the climber continues to ascend, they clip the rope into higher and higher pieces of protection on the rock, so that in the event of a fall they don't fall further than the "unclipped" length of rope allows. While the task of belaying is typically assigned to a companion who stays at the bottom, self-belaying is also possible as an advanced technical climbing technique.

The person climbing is said to be on belay when one of these belaying methods is used. Belaying is a critical part of the climbing system. A correct belaying method lets the belayer hold the entire weight of the climber with relatively little force, and easily arrest even a long fall. By using a mixture of belaying angle and hand-grip on the rope, the belayer can gently lower a climber to a safe point where climbing can be resumed.

Belayer responsibilities

A demonstration of the belay device with rope and carabiner without a proper locking gate RoyLindmanBelayDevice.jpg
A demonstration of the belay device with rope and carabiner without a proper locking gate
Belay device held in the 'locked off' position and under tension. In this way, the belayer is holding the full weight of the climber with only one hand. Belaying tuber.jpg
Belay device held in the 'locked off' position and under tension. In this way, the belayer is holding the full weight of the climber with only one hand.

The belayer should keep the rope locked off in the belay device whenever the climber is not moving. As the climber moves on the climb, the belayer must make sure that the climber has the right amount of rope by paying out or pulling in excess rope. If the climber falls, they free-fall the distance of the slack or unprotected rope before the friction applied by the belayer starts to slow their descent. Too much slack on the rope increases the distance of a possible fall, but too little slack on the rope may cause the climber to "whip" or swing into the rock at a high velocity, possibly injuring themselves. It is important for the belayer to closely monitor the climber's situation, as the belayer's role is crucial to the climber's safety.

When belaying on overhanging bolted routes, particularly indoors, belayers often stand well back from the rock so that they can watch the climber more easily. However, when belaying a lead climber who is using traditional protection, this can be very dangerous. The belayer should stand near to the bottom of the route in order to decrease the angle of the rope through the first piece of protection. This, in turn, decreases the force pulling it up and out of the rock if the leader falls. Standing too far away from the rock can result in protection unzipping, with the lowest piece being pulled away from the rock, followed by the next, until all of the protection may potentially be pulled out. [2] Standing too far away from the bottom of the climb also means that if the leader falls, the belayer experiences a sudden pull inwards towards the rock and may be pulled off their feet or into the rock.


Communication is also extremely important in belaying. Climbers should wait for a verbal confirmation from the belayer that they are ready to begin.

US terminology

In the US, usually the climber asks, "On belay?" or "Belay?" and wait for the belayer to reply "Belay on." Once ready, the climber follows with a "Climb ready" or "Climbing". The belayer usually acknowledges this by calling, "Climb on."

During the climb, the climber may ask the belayer for "Slack," "Take", which means to add tension to the rope, warn of a "Rock!," or that they are about to be "Falling!." At the top of the climb, the climber may elect to climb back down, be lowered down, walk back down, set up a new belay point for another pitch, or set up a new line to rappel down from. The choice must be made clear to the belayer. When the climber is in a safe position independent of the belay they call "Off belay."

At times, it may be impossible for climbing partners to hear one another, for example, in bad weather, by the sea, or near a busy road. Silent belay communication is possible via tugging the rope. Some people use walkie talkies in areas where communication is limited.

UK terminology

When the climber is tied onto the rope and is ready to climb "Ready to climb"

When the belayer has attached the rope to the belay device, and is ready to belay "Climb when ready" (or in recent years, "On belay" or "Belay ready")

When the climber is about to start climbing, "Climbing"

When the belayer is belaying, "OK"

When the slack rope is taken in by the belayer and it becomes tight and therefore the belayer doesn't need to take the rope in any more the climber says "That's me"

During the climb, the climber may ask the belayer for "Slack", or to take in the rope "Take in" (the command "Take in slack" is never used as it could be misinterpreted)

If the climber is about to fall and they need the belayer to know & take in the rope, they may say "Tight" for a tight rope or "Take In" to take the rope in.

When the climber is in a safe position independent of the belay "Safe" or "I'm safe".

When the belayer has taken the climber off belay "Off belay"

Warning shouts for falling objects, "Rock!"; when throwing a rope off the edge "Rope!"; when a rock has been dislodged and is falling "Rock!"


When top rope belaying for a significantly heavier partner, it is sometimes recommended that the belayer anchor themselves to the ground. The anchor point does not prevent a fall, but prevents the belayer from being pulled upwards during a fall. [3] This is normally not used when lead belaying. [4]

To set up this anchor the belayer should place a piece of directional protection (i.e., a nut or cam) into a crack below their body, or tie themselves by the belay loop to a rock or tree. The anchor arrests any upward force produced during a fall thus preventing the belayer from "taking off". Unlike belays set up at the top of a climb, it is not usually necessary for belayers at the bottom to have more than one point of protection as long as the single piece is sturdy and safe – "bomber" in climber jargon.

Hanging belay

During multipitch climbs it is sometimes necessary to belay while sitting in a harness and anchored to the wall. In this case rope management becomes more important, and the anchor is constructed in the traditional manner. [5]

Belay methods

Climbers now almost exclusively[ citation needed ] use a belay device to achieve controllable rope friction. Before the invention of these devices, climbers used other belay methods, which are still useful in emergencies.

Belay devices

A belay device is a piece of climbing equipment that improves belay safety for the climber by allowing the belayer to manage his or her duties with minimal physical effort. Belay devices are designed to allow a weak person to easily arrest a climber's fall with maximum control, while avoiding twisting, heating or severely bending the rope.

Munter hitch / Italian hitch

A munter hitch is a belaying method that creates a friction brake by tying a special knot around an appropriate carabiner. This type of belay, however, causes the rope to become twisted. It can also be used on double ropes. Simply tie the munter hitch with both ropes as if they were one.

Body belay

Body belay during rescue training in Switzerland in 1924 Fotothek df ps 0000188 Hohlenubung.jpg
Body belay during rescue training in Switzerland in 1924

Before the invention of belay devices, belayers could add friction to the rope by wrapping it around their body; friction between rope and the belayer's body was used to arrest a fall. This is known as a body belay, a hip belay, or a waist belay and is still sometimes used when climbing quickly over easier ground. On vertical rock it is no longer used as it is less reliable and more apt to injure the belayer stopping a long fall. [6]

Australian belay

The Australian belay is used on many high ropes courses for supporting participants on vertical, as opposed to traversing, elements. [7] The Australian belay allows untrained participants to engage in the safety and support of their fellow participants on an element, and allows a single facilitator to oversee an element with multiple individuals participating. The Australian belay does not use a traditional belay device, but rather ties two or more people into loops on the working end of the rope as a belay team, who walk backward as the participant ascends the element, taking up slack as they go. Additional participants can be tied into the loops or left free to help hold clipped in members of the belay team in place. The Australian belay requires a clear runway back from the element almost double the height of the element in order to allow the belay team to support climbers all the way to the top.

See also

Related Research Articles

Climbing Activity to ascend a steep object

Climbing is the activity of using one's hands, feet, or any other part of the body to ascend a steep topographical object. It is done for locomotion, recreation and competition, and within trades that rely on ascension; such as emergency rescue and military operations. It is done indoors and out, on natural and man-made structures.

Climbing protection is any of a variety of devices employed to reduce risk and protect others while climbing rock and ice. It includes such items as nylon webbing and metal nuts, cams, bolts, and pitons.

Traditional climbing Style of rock climbing

Traditionalclimbing, is a style of rock climbing in which a climber or group of climbers place all gear required to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete. Traditional bolted face climbing means the bolts were placed on lead and/or with hand drills. The bolts tend to be much farther apart than sport climbs. For example, a trad bolted route may have bolts from 15–75 feet apart. A sport route may have bolts from 3–10 feet apart, similar to a rock climbing gym. The term seems to have been coined by Tom Higgins in the piece "Tricksters and Traditionalists" in 1984. A trad climber is called a traditionalist.

Tree climbing

Tree climbing is a recreational or functional activity consisting of ascending and moving around in the crown of trees.

Glossary of climbing terms List of definitions of terms and concepts related to rock climbing and mountaineering

This glossary of climbing terms is a list of definitions of terms and jargon related to rock climbing and mountaineering. The specific terms used can vary considerably between different English-speaking countries; many of the phrases described here are particular to the United States and the United Kingdom.

Rock-climbing equipment

A wide range of equipment is used during rock or any other type of climbing that includes equipment commonly used to protect a climber against the consequences of a fall.

Abseiling Rope-controlled descent of a vertical surface

Abseiling, also known as rappelling, is a controlled descent off a vertical drop, such as a rock face, by descending a fixed rope.

Free climbing Form of climbing not using aid climbing

Free climbing is a form of rock climbing in which the climber may use climbing equipment such as ropes and other means of climbing protection, but only to protect against injury during falls and not to assist progress. The climber makes progress by using physical ability to move over the rock via handholds and footholds. Free climbing more specifically may include traditional climbing, sport climbing, bouldering and most forms of solo climbing. Free climbing a multi-pitch route means free-climbing each of its pitches in a single session. At the end of each pitch, climbers anchor themselves to belay stations where they can rest.

Aid climbing Style of climbing

Aid climbing is a style of climbing in which standing on or pulling oneself up via devices attached to fixed or placed protection is used to make upward progress.

Lead climbing Competitive discipline of sport climbing

Lead climbing is a climbing style, predominantly used in rock climbing. In a roped party one climber has to take the lead while the other climbers follow. The lead climber wears a harness attached to a climbing rope, which in turn is connected to the other climbers below the lead climber. While ascending the route, the lead climber periodically connects the rope to protection equipment for safety in the event of a fall. This protection can consist of permanent bolts, to which the climber clips quickdraws, or removable protection such as nuts and cams. One of the climbers below the lead climber acts as a belayer. The belayer gives out rope while the lead climber ascends and also stops the rope when the lead climber falls or wants to rest.

Top rope climbing Climbing technique

Top rope climbing is a style in climbing in which the climber is securely attached to a rope which then passes up, through an anchor system at the top of the climb, and down to a belayer at the foot of the climb. The belayer takes in slack rope throughout the climb, so that if at any point the climber were to lose their hold, they would not fall more than a short distance.

Fall factor Mathematical ratio relevant to climbing safety

In lead climbing using a dynamic rope, the fall factor (f) is the ratio of the height (h) a climber falls before the climber's rope begins to stretch and the rope length (L) available to absorb the energy of the fall,

Rock climbing Sport in which participants climb natural rock formations

Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up, down or across natural rock formations or artificial rock walls. The goal is to reach the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a usually pre-defined route without falling. Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that often tests a climber's strength, endurance, agility and balance along with mental control. Knowledge of proper climbing techniques and the use of specialized climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes.

Munter hitch Adjustable knot used control friction in a belay system

The Munter hitch, also known as the Italian hitch, Mezzo Barcaiolo or the Crossing Hitch, is a simple adjustable knot, commonly used by climbers, cavers, and rescuers to control friction in a life-lining or belay system. To climbers, this hitch is also known as HMS, the abbreviation for the German term Halbmastwurfsicherung, meaning half clove hitch belay. This technique can be used with a special "pear-shaped" HMS locking carabiner, or any locking carabiner wide enough to take two turns of the rope.

Ascender (climbing) Devices used for ascending, braking, or protection in climbing

An ascender is a device used for directly ascending a rope, or for facilitating protection with a fixed rope when climbing on very steep mountain terrain.

Prusik knot

A Prusik is a friction hitch or knot used to attach a loop of cord around a rope, applied in climbing, canyoneering, mountaineering, caving, rope rescue, ziplining, and by arborists. The term Prusik is a name for both the loops of cord used to tie the hitch and the hitch itself, and the verb is "to prusik". More casually, the term is used for any friction hitch or device that can grab a rope. Due to the pronunciation, the word is often misspelled Prussik, Prussick, or Prussic.

In rock climbing, an anchor can be any device or method for attaching a climber, a rope, or a load above or onto a climbing surface—typically rock, ice, steep dirt, or a building—either permanently or temporarily. The intention of an anchor is case-specific but is usually for fall protection, primarily fall arrest and fall restraint. Climbing anchors are also used for hoisting, holding static loads, or redirecting a rope.

Dynamic rope Rope designed to stretch under load

A dynamic rope is a specially constructed, somewhat elastic rope used primarily in rock climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering. This elasticity, or stretch, is the property that makes the rope dynamic—in contrast to a static rope that has only slight elongation under load. Greater elasticity allows a dynamic rope to more slowly absorb the energy of a sudden load, such from arresting a climber's fall, by reducing the peak force on the rope and thus the probability of the rope's catastrophic failure. A kernmantle rope is the most common type of dynamic rope now used. Since 1945, nylon has, because of its superior durability and strength, replaced all natural materials in climbing rope.

Grigri (climbing)

A GRIGRI is an assisted braking belay device manufactured by Petzl designed to help secure rock-climbing, rappelling, and rope-acrobatic activities. Its main characteristic is a clutch that assists in braking under a shock load. The success of this device has led to grigri becoming a common name for devices of this type. In 2011 a new version, the GRIGRI 2, was released to replace the original 1991 model. Petzl released the GRIGRI + in 2017, adding safety features to the original design, and 2019 saw the release of an updated version of the device, simply called the GRIGRI.

Belay device Mechanical piece of climbing equipment

A belay device is a mechanical piece of climbing equipment used to control a rope during belaying. It is designed to improve belay safety for the climber by allowing the belayer to manage their duties with minimal physical effort. With the right belay device, a small, weak climber can easily arrest the fall of a much heavier partner. Belay devices act as a friction brake, so that when a climber falls with any slack in the rope, the fall is brought to a stop.


  1. A Glossary of Climbing Terms
  2. Staying Alive: Some tips for Single Pitch Climbing
  3. Dave Sheldon (15 June 2012). "Learn This: Belaying A Heavier Climber".
  4. Kitty Calhoun (27 October 2016). "Belaying an XL – Tips for Lightweight Climbers". Rock and Ice.
  5. "How to Maximize Comfort at Hanging Belays". 24 March 2016.
  6. "How to Hip Belay". Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  7. "About the Australian Belay". Project Adventure. Retrieved 2 April 2016.