When I show up to the crag with a tube-style belay device these days, it seems like every climber looks askance at me and the deprecated technology I cling to, as though I were using Windows ‘98 to their new-fangled Apple operating systems. Assisted-Braking Devices (ABDs) are the gold standard for sport cragging and gyms these days (some gyms won’t let you belay with anything but an ABD!). So while once upon a time the Grigri was the only choice, now there are a host of options to choose from, the Beal Birdie being one of the newest and most appealing.
The Birdie operates on the same basic principles as several other ABDs out there—when the rope gets pulled through the device fast, the camming device inside locks up. In terms of its number one job, the Birdie passes with flying colors—no slippage whenever the cam engaged.
The biggest draw of the Beal Birdie is easily its price point. At just $75, the Beal Birdie is half the price of the Grigri+ and still $35 cheaper than the regular Grigri. Or look at it this way: You could buy a Beal Birdie and one of those archaic tube-style belay devices for a back up if someone swipes the Birdie out of jealousy. And just because it’s affordable, doesn’t mean it’s not super bomber: the inner components are made of steel, so the Beal Birdie should last you years and years.
Steel obviously isn’t the lightest of materials, and weight-wise the Birdie is pretty much what you’d expect. At 210 grams, it’s comparable to other ABDs. If you’re a light-and-fast kind of adventurer, this probably isn’t the device for you, but if your approach consists of dragging your pack out of the trunk of your car ten feet to the base of the crag, you’re good, bud.
On to performance: For lead belaying, I found the Birdie unrivaled in how easy it was to feed rope into the device (without having to disable the camming unit with one’s thumb, that is). It’s just smooth—simple as that.
When you have to overcome the camming device to feed out several arm lengths of slack quickly, you press on the camming unit with your thumb. I found myself wishing there was some sort of finger catch on the side of the device for my index finger, so that I could more easily maintain my grip on the brake strand with a couple fingers and also apply apply counter pressure to steady my hand. Since there isn’t such a feature, the Birdie requires a bit more dexterity than other devices, but it was something I adapted to quickly enough.
The front of the Beal Birdie has two guardrail-like ridges meant to keep the rope aligned with the device as you lower a climber or rap on a single strand. In theory, it’s a really nice idea; in practice, it works some of the time, and the rest of the time the rope slips over one ridge or the other. I’m definitely psyched on this idea though, and imagine it will only get better in future iterations of the Birdie
The Birdie can accommodate ropes 8.5 to 10.5 millimeters in diameter. Lead belaying was fine with all sizes in that range—the skinnier the easier, unsurprisingly.
All in all, Beal has hit the mark with this one: the Birdie gives you a little extra peace of mind as you hold your partner’s cord, it leaves you with a little extra cash in your wallet, and it gives people fewer reasons to scoff at your (okay, maybe it’s just me) old-fashioned belay device at the crag.
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