I'm simply wondering why we don't use reversos or similar belay device in guide mode when we top rope or lead climb.

During normal use, letting go of the brake rope removes any braking in case the climber falls. But in guide mode, the device orientation makes it so that the rope pinches itself in case of a fall, even if the brake rope isn't held.

Thus I'm wondering why we don't do that, to prevent any mistake.

I've asked some people around, but the only answer I got is kind of "we don't do that because". Well, I want a better explanation!

  • In this case, it really doesn't work out technically, IIUC. But more generally, these kinds of recommendations often have "second-order" justifications: consistent teaching of simple, well-tried things is safer than confusing people with several technically safe options requiring more judgement. Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 11:07

2 Answers 2


To my knowledge, the guide mode works only when the pull on the rope is downward, like in belaying your second. It does not work for any upwards pull when belaying a leader or top rope climber.
Moreover, belaying is more than just locking the rope. While there might be ways to set up a device in guide mode to lock on a leader's fall, it will be very difficult to pay out rope and lower the climber while maintaining safety. Controlled lowering of a weighted rope in guide mode is very difficult.

And third, the big advantage of a tube style belay device is the ability to do a very controlled dynamic catch without jumping like it is required with a locking device. Think of an alpine or multi-pitch belay where the belayer is on a short tether or belay is done from a fixed point

  • I think you should switch reaon one and two. Lowering from guide mode in a controlled manner is difficult and not without risk. Therefore it is a really bad idea to use it for top roping (which always include lowering). Your other points are not without merit, but much less important.
    – Guran
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 12:18
  • 1
    Your second point makes a lot of sense. For the first, I don't agree, it locks well no matter the orientation. For the third, how do you do a controlled dynamic catch without jumping?
    – elcye
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 14:09
  • 1
    dynamic catch: in a tube-style belay device you will always have some rope slipping during the catch and it's actually quite easy to control that: just grab the rope 1/2m further down and allow the hand to move towards the device rather than just blocking straight away. It's even easier if the climber is significantly lighter than the belayer. In the inverse scenario - if the belayer is lighter than the climber, the catch is quite soft anyway, the belayer often gets pulled no need to jump anyway
    – Apfelsaft
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 22:27
  • When you feel the pull on your brake hand, you simply go with it and feed an arm length of rope through the device. This will not only give a soft catch with little rope to feed, it will also give you a lot more control over where the climber hits the wall and can still react while catching. If you are jumping, you are done once you leave the ground. This is not only possible with a tube but also with the reverso.
    – Manziel
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 7:19

As @Manziel's answer discusses, the biggest hindrance of autoblock/guide mode style belaying is that lowering or giving slack is a major hassle. Given that top rope and lead belaying will involve these tasks, there are better tools for the job that still feature some form of locking, e.g., Petzl Gri-Gri, Trango Versa, Edelrid MegaJul, Climbing Technology Click Up, Mammut Smart, etc. In contrast, top belaying on a multipitch route will rarely require lowering or quickly giving slack, making autoblock/guide mode a good choice (especially when considering the little additional weight and the ability to organize and eat/drink after leading a hard pitch).

There is one slick trick, however, for using autoblock/guide mode while top rope belaying. I have also seen videos of IFMGA/AMGA guides discussing this technique, but am having trouble finding said videos in the sea of social media (E: here's an example from Cody Bradford--Alpine Gri-Gri ). This trick has limited utility--in decades of using autoblock devices, the only time I've used this trick was when belaying at an ice climbing clinic for novices (=lots of falls/hangs and slow progress upwards) on an absolutely frigid and snowy day (=GriGri is unreliable on icy ropes and I really wanted to belay wearing my mittens). It definitely falls into the category of advanced rope tricks for experienced users.

  1. Set up your belay device as you normally would for top rope/lead belaying. However, connect it to your belay loop with a long, flexible quickdraw that has locking carabiners on both ends, rather than just using a single locking carabiner. A tripled up shoulder sling with two locking carabiners or a short tether/PAS with a locking carabiner also work well.
  2. Connect the autoblock/guidemode point on the device to your belay loop as well with another locking carabiner.
  3. As the climber ascends, take in slack in this autoblock configuration on your harness. Note that the slack in the locking quickdraw prevents you from defeating the autoblock mode. Remember that we should always still control the brake strand in an autoblock configuration.
  4. When the climber (finally) reaches the top, have them briefly unweight the rope, while you unclip the carabiner holding the device in the autoblock orientation. Make sure you're controlling the brake strand!! You can now lower the climber back to the ground with the device in its normal orientation while extended off your harness, sort of like how we do extended rappels.

Here's a picture of what this setup looks like while in "power-toproping mode." When you're ready to convert to lowering, you would simply unclip the red & gold locking carabiner between the belay loop and the belay device. Image of Autoblock top rope belay

  • 1
    Unclipping a carabiner connected to a belay device in use is definitely what I'd call "confusing people with technically correct options"... but this is a cool technique anyway. Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 8:52
  • @phipsgabler Absolutely---I tried to emphasize the language about advanced users only, but I can certainly beef it up (more discussion of pitfalls/dangers/problem solving). I showed this technique given the wide audience of outdoors.sx, but it is certainly beyond the scope of the (presumably novice) original question of "why don't we do X?".
    – erfink
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 22:04

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