Break Hand Up or Down?


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Big Mike

Trad climber
Apr 25, 2013 - 02:12pm PT


Big Wall climber
san jose, ca

Apr 25, 2013 - 10:04am PT
This thread has drifted. The OP point was about having the brake hand down below the belay device vs up above it. Not about palm up or palm down.


Trad climber
Apr 25, 2013 - 02:14pm PT
I switch based on circumstance...
Tr in the gym, palm up to save the shoulder a bit.
Leading, inside and outside, palm down. I feel like I have a better grip.

Trad climber
Auburn, CA
Apr 25, 2013 - 02:41pm PT
Down and resting below belay device whenever possible....

Thumb up seems stronger to me....

Mountain climber
Apr 25, 2013 - 02:51pm PT
Drifting like drivers in Tokyo...

I have an interesting picture taken from belayer's perspective:

He's hip belaying the 2nd. Both hands are on the rope and in the picture...I asked him how he did it and he couldn't remember because it was taken in the early 60's!

Did cameras have timers back then?

Back OT:

Thumb up or down for me, just depends and I always 'lock off' if I can while waiting for climber to move.

Apr 25, 2013 - 03:11pm PT
Another vote for "You are stronger at gripping with the palm down" and "Palm down, brake hand down below" as expressed above. I learned to belay on goldline, figure 8 and Whillans & was trained by a retired air force Colonel. So there wasn't much of an argument then.

When I see palms up, it still scares me, they're putting more faith in their devices than me. Plus I'm a lightweight, I'm not taking chances, my partner often outweighs me by 40-60+ pounds.

Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
Apr 25, 2013 - 06:16pm PT
I agree with the OP that the whole gym method of putting your hand above the belay device, esp. the way they teach it in most gyms, seems really sketchy. I'd like to watch what happens if someone were to take a lead fall while the belayer using an ATC has their hand up high like that and they're doing that bizarre matching technique with one hand while they slide the other hand down. But of course they don't see what might happen, since they are using gri-gris and toproping.

I had someone working in a gym once tell me that the way I belayed, using one brake hand always below the device, was called the "french sliding technique" and that it was dangerous since while my hand was sliding down the rope, I was not technically holding the rope. I found that kind of laughable.

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Apr 25, 2013 - 06:58pm PT
This discussion is pretty meaningless without even mentioning what kind of device you will be using (even then, it's pretty meaningless because either way is perfectly fine with advantges in some situations and disadvantages in others).

Jebus is spot on when he says:

I do both ways interchangeably and have never had a problem stopping a fall or with burning any part of my person.
Big Mike

Trad climber
Apr 25, 2013 - 07:10pm PT
We are talking about tubular devices or atc's like the one in the op pic.

Stair climber, lost, far away from Poland
Apr 25, 2013 - 07:39pm PT
+1 for the palm down, hand down

Apr 25, 2013 - 07:57pm PT
What are these tubular devices u guys are talkin aboot that u got ur palms all over? Does it feel like someone else is doing it for u when u go thumbs down on your tubular device??
Ever try switching hands??

Lol sorry I'm havin a good time over here. This thread is priceless, maybe a troll too.

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Apr 25, 2013 - 08:39pm PT
Ever try switching hands??

I like to sit on my hand till it falls asleep and goes numb... then it feels way different.

The first time I went climbing, I was taught to hip belay. A "Sierra Sow" is what they called the thing you had to catch. It was about 175 lbs, fell about 15 feet and you could not see it or hear the latch release.

Most folks dropped the sow to the deck the first time.

The force hit you in a pretty violent manner, very sobering.

Made me take belaying very seriously.

If I owned a gym,and wished to make my gym safe, I would make people catch the "Sow".

I do go palms up or down, depending on the situation but I always keep the hand below the "TUBE" so you are mostly locked off all the time.

I have watched some who sort of daydream whilst belaying.... you know both hands above the tube... and seen them drop people 20-30 feet on TR!!!!!

And get a hand burn on the uphill side of the rope..... serves them right.

Jim Henson's Basement
Apr 26, 2013 - 09:23am PT
Well, I do agree it doesn't really matter as long as your belayer is competent with whatever method they use. I don't really care as long as someone isn't going to drop me.

That being said... I'm of the opinion that palm-up was carried over from hip belay days. It works OK but isn't the best. The pinch-and-slide above-the-device (actually a separate issue) has absolutely no place in modern instruction IMO. If I'm teaching someone, I always teach palm down. It's a more natural position for your arm and the strongest part of your hand controls the rope.

Although there really is no extensive studies that I'm aware of.. my own personal experience is all the "empirical proof" I need. My first regular partner outweighed me by 70 pounds. It didn't take too many lead falls before I rapidly ditched palm-up/pinch slide BS I had been taught for a much more secure grip and greater control of the rope.

Trad climber
Chapel Hill, NC
Apr 26, 2013 - 09:40am PT
I like to sit on my hand till it falls asleep and goes numb... then it feels way different.

Ahhh...the "Stranger"...a classic.
Jebus H Bomz

Peavine Basecamp
Apr 26, 2013 - 10:00am PT
Guess I thought we were talking palm up/palm down, which I would deem a fairly insignificant matter of personal preference on your standard atc device. I'm sure there's much more to it, I just don't care as long as the basics of keeping my ass off the ground are covered.

Apr 26, 2013 - 10:39am PT
Yep, palm down is all you need to know.

Trad climber
The great state of advaita
Apr 26, 2013 - 11:13am PT
I thought this thread sounded familiar. Guess it's the cyclical five year brake hand debate. :-)


Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Apr 26, 2013 - 11:17am PT
I'd like to add something about grip strength related to women belayers. One of the remarkable things about climbing is that when it comes to climbing performance, there is essentially no gender gap. This makes it easy to forget that on average, women's grip strength is lower than men's. From a climbing perspective, this makes no difference because, on average, women are also lighter than men. But the distinction may not be insignificant when, say, a 100 lb woman belays a 200 lb man. A system designed, if you wish, to be "operated" by someone with the grip strength of a 200 lb man is in this case being "operated" by someone with the probably lower grip strength of a 100 lb woman.

It still won't matter most of the time, because systemic friction will reduce the loads enough not to test the belay. But I think the very fact that the belay is usually successful may be a source of complacency. If a much more serious fall happens---and thank god such occurrences are rare---the belayer will need every grip advantage available to her, and to weaken her grip, even a little bit, with a palm-up position seems to me like a flawed strategy.

Apr 26, 2013 - 11:43am PT
I did some rudimentary pubmed searching for "grip, strength, supination, pronation" but wasn't able to find what I wanted. Does anybody have an idea what the percent difference is between palm up and palm down grip strength? Is the variance more than say left vs. right? Or climber vs. non-climber?
Big Mike

Trad climber
Apr 26, 2013 - 11:48am PT
The pinch-and-slide above-the-device (actually a separate issue) has absolutely no place in modern instruction IMO.

Thank you JTM! This is the discussion! Not this palm down palm up rhetoric...

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Apr 26, 2013 - 08:50pm PT
Crotch, I don't know of any data. Moreover, I'm using "grip strength" in a systemic sense, not in the absolute sense that you might expect to get data on from a clinical study. By "systemic" I mean, among other things,

1. It is almost impossible to orient the palm-up braking hand vertically, so

a. the brake strand applies lateral force to the pinky, prying open the hand finger by finger from the weakest side.

b. you can't bend the braking strand as far around the device with palm up as you can with palm down.

Taken together, these two things mean the hand is in a weaker position and less friction can obtained from the device with the palm up. Does this matter? Mostly no. But always?
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