Academy: How to Perform an Advanced Top Rope Belay

Part of our "Toes to Knows" Climbing Academy series--covering climbing from footwork to mental preparation.

Tags: Coaching, Intermediate, Advanced

How to give a basic top rope belay


In our second article on belaying, I’m covering how to perform an advanced top rope belay. We’ve already covered the basics of top rope belaying here.

An advanced top rope belay sounds like an oxymoron. Top rope belaying is the very first skill a new belayer learns. It’s so basic, how can there be an advanced version?

Top roping is a low-risk way to work moves on a hard route. If your climber is at their limit, even on top rope, having a careful, attentive belay can help them do a better job working the moves. Here are a few tips that will help you be the best top rope belayer out there.

Where to Stand

It’s best to stand to the side of your climber. This helps reduce risk of rock fall hitting you, plus it keeps the belay side of the rope out of the way of the climber.

Use a Directional

If possible, clip the belay side of the rope a little off to the side of the main top rope anchor. This will keep the belay rope out of the face of the climber, making the top rope experience much more enjoyable for them. The directional doesn’t have to be very far to the side, a few feet will do just fine.

How Much Slack?

A lot of belayers keep the rope far too tight. You want to have enough slack in the rope that your climber can move freely up and down if needed, but not so much that you can’t take up the slack if they need you to. Like many things in life, it’s all about balance.

How much slack on a Top Rope Belay

How to Take

If your climber is working hard moves, you’ll want to give them a solid take so they don’t fall down below the sequence they’re trying to figure out. Do this and your climber will stay right where they need to be.

Here are the steps:

  1. Lean forward
  2. As you lean forward, pull in as much slack as you can
  3. Jump backward to take all slack out of the rope

Jump backward to take quickly

Let Climber Climb Out of a Take

If you’re taking all the weight of your climber and they are ready to start climbing again, lean forward slightly to lessen your load on the rope, then slowly give them slack, being careful to let them actually climb out of the take rather than you giving them slack too suddenly. If you give slack before they’re ready, they may drop down below the holds they’re trying to restart on.

EyeSend Belay Glasses

Use a Jumar

Ropes are slippery, especially when you’re wearing gloves. It can help to use a Jumar (ascender) as your upper hand on the rope. This gives you a solid grip that can help to take slack quickly. This is especially useful when you’re belaying in a constrained space.

Use a Jumar for Advanced Top Rope Belays

Use Belay Glasses

Belay glasses are a neck saver. They can turn a steep belay where you’re craning your neck into a much more comfortable effort. This is especially true if you’re using EyeSend belay glasses, which have an adjustable angle of view.

Use Belay Glasses

Happy belaying!

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