Weight: 67 grams
I’ve burned through a number of different belay devices, as my climbing obsession (and job) lead to unremitting use of these tools from March to November. I chose to test the Wild Country VC Pro because of its seemingly simple but effective design. This piece is an update from the VC belay device that has been on the shelves since the late 1980s. The classic version was a long-standing, standard device; the new VC Pro has big pitbull teeth on one side that allow for better bite with thin ropes. More importantly, it has all four hallmarks I insist on: smooth handling, effortless rappelling, secure holding and a simple design.
I was lucky enough to use the VC Pro all summer guiding and climbing, from the Tetons to the Bugaboos. Most days I spent on long, moderate rock routes with belays from above and below. Cold, wet days were few and far between, but I did get the chance to use a variety of ropes ranging from skinny 8s to “fat” 10s. I found this slick, lightweight tool easily accepted ropes from 8-11 millimeters thick.
If smooth handling is what you’re looking for, the VC Pro is the one. Whether I was paying out quick bites for the leader or rapping with fat or skinnies, the VC Pro refused to get old and cranky on me. The smooth edges and craftsmanship play a big role in keeping the rope running smooth over and around all sides of the device.
One feature similar to other devices on the market is the “teeth” on one side of the VC Pro that provide extra braking bite on skinny singles and twin or double ropes, which are growing increasingly popular. Be careful, though: the VC Pro pays out rope pretty fast with single 9mm ropes when using the non-grooved side for the brake hand. Wild Country states that you have the option of using either side for a tighter or smoother handle, but it’s in the fine print. I would suggest they add a simple drawing on the device’s side to remind novices of their options.
In addition to the teeth biting well into those skinnies, the VC Pro is simple and lightweight. Loading is straightforward (push the rope[s] through the top and clip away, and so long as you load the skinnies to brake on the toothed side, you’re set). For safety and ease, this simplicity keeps your mind thinking about the send and not goofing on how to load the device.
Something else that sets this device apart from the others is its relatively tall, semi-rigid keeper. At first I liked this feature, which positioned the rope a comfortable distance away from my harness. But over time the keeper wore down, becoming more flexible and therefore dropping into my belay ‘biner–so watch out, or you might lose those little fingers to the device. So far, this is the only significant sign of wear after an intense season of use.
Overall I found the VC Pro ideal for belaying and rappelling–with double ropes or a single–everywhere from long alpine routes to my local crags and gym. My estimation is that most climbers would be happy to have this new tool up front or on their side.
Pros: Inexpensive; teeth bite double or twin ropes well; simple design; smooth handling and effortless rappelling.
Cons: Semi-rigid keeper becomes flexible over time; not as versatile as other, more expensive belay devices on the market.