The need for a quality assisted-braking belay device suited for skinny ropes has been the elephant in the room for the past few years. Single ropes kept getting thinner but the Petzl Grigri stayed the same. I’ve been using the Grigri 1 for nearly ten years for everything from sport climbing to multi-pitch traditional climbing, rappelling, bolting, guiding, top belays, bottom belays, hauling, and spreading peanut butter. OK, maybe not the last one, but while I found the Grigri to be adequate for nearly all applications there were some improvements to be made and I waited eagerly for Petzl to make them. They came through with flying colors. Overall the Grigri 2 is a solid performer and a huge step better than the original.
The first thing I noticed upon pulling it out of the box was the size. It is, in fact, 25% smaller than the original. It’s also 20% lighter. I always found even the original to be worth its weight for everything except long scrambles in the mountains where weight was at a true premium. I immediately threw the device in the pack and headed out for a day of single-pitch cragging at the New River Gorge. The Grigri’s true value shines through when dogging sport routes, and that’s what I planned to do with it. I headed out with two ‘skinny’ ropes. A 9.2 mm Sterling Nano and a 9.4 mm Sterling Ion.
At the crag my buddy tied in on the 9.4 mm Ion and I hooked up the Grigri 2. Nothing has changed about the proper loading of the device. The device housing hosts the same familiar pictures: “You’re the man, I’m the hand.” He cast off and I began to feed rope.
Unlike the Grigri 1, rated for ropes from 10mm to 11mm, which is indicated on the housing, the Grigri 2 adopts a new method of diameter recommendation. As indicated on the housing, the device shows a recommended diameter of 8.9 to 11mm. 8.9 to 9.4 gets a ‘2 star rating’, 9.4 to 10.3 gets 3 stars, and 10.3 to 11mm gets 2 stars. Basically what they are saying is that while the device will work with all single ropes the preferred range of the device falls between 9.4 and 10.3. While the two skinny ropes were actually field tested at the crag, I tested three ‘fat’ ropes at home, only feeding slack and testing lock-off ability on a 9.8 Sterling Velocity, a 10.1 Sterling Marathon, and an ancient 10.5 Bluewater that is so old I wouldn’t feel comfortable climbing on it.
When feeding slack I personally use what Petzl refers to as the ‘classic technique’. On my brakehand my thumb faces away from the device. I’m able to ‘shuffle’ rope through the device to feed slack. When the climber goes to clip and fast slack is needed my brakehand pinches the cam near the front of the device. Alternatively, Petzl recommends the ‘new technique’ which has the brake hand thumb facing the device. When fast slack is given the rope is flipped toward the belayer, the thumb pinches the back of the cam and slack is pulled through. Watch this Petzl video for clarification
When using the ‘classic technique’ the device performed flawlessly on all but the 10.5 mm rope. I was able to shuffle rope through easily while keeping my brakehand firmly attached to the rope. The 10.5 was OK but got a little sticky at times. For the 10.5 I reverted to the ‘new technique’ and the rope ran much smoother. One thing I did notice is that the length of the cam arm has been significantly shortened. On the old device the cam arm stuck out the back about one inch. On the new device it is flush with the housing. Shortening the cam arm did a couple things. Firstly, it makes it lighter and smaller accomplishing one of the goals. It also makes it slightly more difficult to hold the cam open with the thumb when feeding. In my opinion this is a good thing. If the climber were to fall while the belayer is feeding slack it seems that it will be more difficult for a neophyte belayer to hold the cam open resulting in catastrophe. Not sure if this was Petzl’s intent or a convenient advantage.
Not to scale. Notice the length of the cam arm. Grigri 1 on top, Grigri 2 on bottom.
Catching a fall:
My buddy Eddie decided to get straight on his project without warming up due to the frigid temperatures. I thought for sure he would whip immediately. I braced myself at the crux, thinking about the ‘not for sale’ text printed on the side of the demo belay device. “Is this thing good to go?” I wondered, knowing that it was. Eddie lunged, stuck the move, and cruised to the anchors. “Dammit,” I thought, “I wanted to catch him.” Oh well, he fell a bunch later on in the day.
Knowing the ease with which the device fed rope had me curious about how quickly and effortlessly it would lock itself off. In short, it locks off better than the old one, on all ropes. My curiosity as to how this could be had me opening the device and looking at the cam itself. It is shaped a bit different than the old one. Both cams have the same width but the new cam stands a little bit taller. I’m not an engineer but I did a little test where I simulated the device locking off with the housing open so I could watch the cam. Sure enough, the new cam has a greater surface area where the rope is pinched against the housing. While this doesn’t affect the way the rope feeds when the cam is open, it definitely creates more friction when the cam is closed. I’m speculating that a byproduct of this is that it might be a bit easier on ropes. Instead of pinching one tiny point of the rope, it’s pinching a slightly larger area. It could possibly increase the life of the device as well. Just speculation though.
Note the difference in shape of the cam. Grigri 1 on top, Grigri 2 on bottom.
Lowering the climber:
“Nice job Eddie,” I shouted up as he cleaned the anchor and prepared to lower. I was ready to test what I’d heard so much about: the ‘progressive descent control’ capability. Let me try to explain how this works. When the device is locked off and you’re prepared to lower the climber the belayer holds the brake hand firm and with the other hand begins to pull back the handle. The handle folds back without engaging the cam arm until a pin, which is embedded inside the handle, comes in contact with the housing. When the pin engages the housing it slowly opens the cam arm until the handle is completely open. From there the handle works just like it did on the old one, you pull down and it opens the cam arm more quickly.
In practice, this leaves you with what amounts to a 2-speed transmission. That first stage of handle opening allows the belayer to ever-so slowly lower the climber with complete control. The second stage is the normal lowering mode that you’re used to from the Grigri 1. My thought is that this feature will greatly reduce lowering accidents. People ‘getting dropped’ by inexperienced users has always been the number one gripe from Grigri opponents. The progressive descent control reduces the risk of someone quickly opening the handle and being unable to control that split second where the rope begins to feed through the device, sometimes too quickly.
My co-tester, Eddie, made a simple comment about the device: “It feels more like you’re belaying.” It’s true, for whatever reason it feels more like you’re belaying. I think what Eddie was alluding to is that it gives you more control. More control when feeding rope, catching falls, and lowering. Those are the three tasks that the device is designed to accomplish and it accomplishes them better than the old one. Success on Petzl’s part.
The only thing I’d like to add is my impressions on the recommended range of rope diameters for the device. I think that the star rating that Petzl has adopted is a bit misleading for the average user. If stars were awarded for ‘ease of use’ I would bump the recommended range down a bit. My personal opinion is that the device performed flawlessly on the skinny ropes. I would say 9.1 to about 9.8 is going to give the user the greatest ease of use. Even the 10.1 felt just a little tight in the device but perfectly fine. The 10.5 felt outright stiff and jerky though this could also be attributed to the stiffened nylon of a 12-year-old rope. But that is saying something. I haven’t bought a fat rope in 10+ years and had to dig through my closet to find one! With most climbers using a rope in the 9.8 to 10.1mm range this device is going to be flying off the shelves. I would definitely hesitate before buying one if you still climb on an 11mm rope. Overall, a job well done by Petzl and I’ll be buying one as soon as they hit shelves in the U.S. Slated for release, springtime 2011.
Specs from the Petzl site:
For use with single ropes between 8.9 and 11 mm in diameter
Available in three colors:
- gray (D14 2G)
- orange (D14 2O)
- blue (D14 2B)
- aluminum side plates
- stainless steel cam and friction plate
- reinforced nylon handle
The Petzl Grigri 2 belay device was sent to DPM to be tested then returned to Petzl. Unfortunately I don’t get to keep it. Petzl did not offer any compensation for a positive review. The thoughts are my own. Feel free to ask specific questions in the comments section and I’ll be happy to answer them if I can.