Review by Tony Lourens
Actively camming assisted-braking belay devices have been around for about a quarter of a century and the majority of sport climbers and trad climbers (climbing on a single rope), will have one in their arsenal.
Let’s not beat about the bush here. The GriGri has been around for yonks and as such is the leader in these kind of belay devices, but over the years, a few leading brands have done much R&D in this field and have brought out their own version of these awesome devices.
Beal, world renowned for their rope manufacturing, is one such brand, and after quite a few years of fine-tuning the design, until they were totally happy and satisfied, they released their latest contribution to the climbing world in the form of the Birdie.
My immediate first impressions of the Birdie were how sleek and compact the device is. It has a very solid feel, and its all metal construction (including the lowering lever) makes it feel even more solid.
The basic design is very similar to other devices in this category – the camming action, which brakes the rope, and the release lever, which allows one to free the locked rope and to lower off.
The big difference however, is the way it is designed for feeding the rope and lowering. With the Birdie, the rope is fed through the system in a straight line, as opposed to bringing it down to one side. Not only does this make feeding the rope to the leader smoother (using the standard two-handed feed – like a normal tuber belay device), but it significantly reduces the kinking action, while lowering. Having said that, if you need to pay out slack quickly, you still need to revert to the ‘thumb holding down the cam’ action. And to boot, the device is compatible with ropes as thin as 8.5 mm (specifically designed for the Beal Opera 8.5 mm rope), all the way up to burly 10.5 mm cords, often found in climbing gyms. Speaking of which, the Birdie comes with a locking screw, which makes it impossible to remove once threaded to a rope – ideal for climbing gym use.
Overall, the Birdie is a sleek operator. Paying out rope and lowering is silky smooth, and the robust and compact construction, with its attractive price tag, makes it a serious contender when next out shopping for a belay device.
Rope compatibility: 8.5 to 10.5 mm
• Compact and ergonomic for great handling
• The rope runs directly out of the device and not to the side, thereby avoiding any kinking
Weight: 210 g
Materials: all metal construction