Learn How to Climb: Belaying Basics

Belaying is a Basic Climbing Skill

Proper belaying technique requires that the rope is threaded through a belay device and the brake hand always on the rope below the device. Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

Belaying is one of the most important rock climbing skills that you will learn and master at an indoor climbing gym. Belaying is the basis of climbing safety, ensuring both your and your climbing partner’s safety. Belaying is the simple process of holding the climbing rope and a climber in the event of a climbing fall with the rope threaded through a belay device. The rope links both the climber and the belayer together in a safety partnership, allowing the climber to fall without fear of hitting the ground and suffering injury or worse.

The Mechanics of Belaying

When you are in a controlled climbing gym situation, one person will be the belayer while the other person will be the climber. The rope, which is anchored to safety gear at the top of the indoor wall, is attached to both the climber and the belayer (this type of climbing is called top-roping). The climber is tied directly into the end of the rope (use a Figure-8 Follow-Through knot), while the belayer is attached to the rope with a belay device, a mechanical device which enables the belayer to safely and efficiently hold the climber’s weight with the rope. It is the belayer’s responsibility to keep the rope snug on the climber as he ascends up the wall, to hold him in case he falls, and to lower him back to the base of the wall after he reaches the top. This type of toprope belay is called a slingshot belay, which is considered the best set-up for top rope climbing.

Finding a Belayer

Remember that climbing gyms do not supply belayers (although some might offer a belayer-for-hire). You need to be trained yourself to safely belay and to bring a properly trained belayer to climb with you. If you do not have a belayer, you can often hook up with another climber without a partner on busy evenings and swap climbs and belays.

Gym Belay and Climbing Tests

Most climbing gyms require new climbers to take an introductory crash course in indoor climbing that acquaints them with gym rules, how to tie into the rope with a Figure-8 Follow-Through knot, how to belay and lower, and basic climbing movements. Most gyms also require a belay test that demonstrates your belaying competency as well as a knot-tying test to make sure that you can properly tie a figure-eight follow-through knot to secure the rope to your harness.

You Can Belay! Let's Go Climbing!

Okay, you and your partner have passed the gym belay test, you are tied into the climbing rope, and you are outfitted with rock shoes and a harness. Now you're ready to rock and roll. Let's go climbing!

Go to the next How to Climb section on Climbing Up to learn the basics of climbing movement and lowering down on an indoor climbing wall.

Watch Now: How to Lead Belay for Indoor Rock Climbing