How to Lead Climb Belay

Lead climbing means that you, the rope and your climbing partner all start together at the bottom of the climbing wall. As the climber ascends, he periodically clips the rope into protection points, which act as temporary anchors that will catch the rope, and thus the climber, if he falls. Your job as a lead belayer is to keep a careful eye on your climber, giving him just enough slack to move up and make the clips, but not so much slack that he hits a ledge, the ground or another obstacle if he falls.


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    Attach your belay device to the rope, relatively close to where your climber has tied into the lead or "sharp" end of the rope.
    • There's no exact figure for how much slack you should leave between you and your climber; it depends on the climb and your partner's belay preferences.
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    Double-check the following (your partner should be doing the same before-climb safety checks):
    • You and your partner both have your harnesses on correctly.
    • The rope is properly loaded into your belay device. The belay device should also be secured to your harness, or the belay point on a climbing anchor, with a locking carabiner. Double-check that the carabiner is screwed shut.
    • Your partner has correctly tied into the end of the rope.
    • The rest of the climbing rope is flaked out into a reasonably orderly pile of coils, making it less likely to tangle.
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    Communicate with your climber so that you know exactly when he starts climbing.
    • He should check with you before he starts climbing, but your job as belayer is to be ready for him to climb at any given moment. If at any point you cannot give your climber your undivided attention, tell him.
    • Before your partner starts climbing, make sure you're both clear on whether you'll keep him on belay and lower him from the top of the climb, or take him off belay so he can rappel from the top. Miscommunications on this critical matter are a common cause of climbing injuries.
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    Feed out extra slack, as necessary, so that your climber can safely reach the first bolt or gear placement without feeling any tension in the rope.
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    Step forward, or feed out extra slack, so that your partner can safely make the first clip without having to pull hard on the rope.
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    Continue stepping forward or back (or manually feeding out or taking in slack, respectively) as necessary so that the following conditions are always met:
    • Your partner has enough slack to move up the wall without having to pull on the rope;
    • Your partner has enough slack to make clips safely;
    • Your partner has little enough slack that he won't hit the floor or any other obstacles, such as ledges, if he falls. Remember that if he falls from above a clip, he'll fall down to the clip, then he'll fall the same distance as any slack you had out, plus rope stretch.
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    Catch any lead falls, as necessary, by doing the following:
    • Watch your climber constantly so that you can see the moment he starts to fall.
    • Always keep your belay hand on the brake rope, so you can catch a lead fall with minimal effort at any time.
    • Monitor the amount of slack in the rope between you and your climber at all times, and adjust as necessary so that he won't hit the ground or any obstacles if he falls. Remember: Climbing ropes are designed to stretch, and some are more elastic than others--so you'll have to take the rope's elongation into account as well.
    • Let the force of the climber's fall pull you forward slightly so that he doesn't get slammed into the wall by an overly tight belay. However, moving forward does extend the length of his fall, so if doing so would cause him to hit the ground, slamming into the wall might be the preferable option.
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    Continue belaying your climber until he reaches the top of the climb and either signals for you to take him off belay, or signals for you to take up slack and prepare to lower him.
    • Again, always make sure that you know ahead of time if your climber will rappel down or expect to be lowered; miscommunications can be fatal.


  • If your climber weighs a lot more than you do, you might want to clip in to a ground anchor when lead belaying. However, an experienced lead belayer can safely belay somebody that outweighs them by quite a bit; discuss the matter with your partner before you begin climbing.


  • Climbing is dangerous; even if you do everything right, you could still get injured or even killed. There are also many different lead belay techniques, so always tailor your procedures and equipment to the immediate conditions.

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