Ever been climbing as a group of three and by day’s end your elbows are wreckage from pulling ropes through your belay device? Yes, well, there is salvation for you and your aching elbows…the Kong “GiGi.” The GiGi is an Italian-made belay device that’s mostly used for belaying your follower(s) in “autoblock” mode. Ropes tend to pull through the slots on the GiGi much more easily than a Petzl Reverso or Black Diamond ATC Guide–but like most techniques and tools there are compromises for the easier pulling…so read on.

The lightweight and easy-pulling Kong GiGi.

Kong has an informative page on their site detailing all of the GiGi’s proper applications and techniques, but I wanted to write something specific about the Kong because I’ve used the the thing incorrectly on occasion. More on this in a sec…

Like I said before, the GiGi’s main advantage over the Reverso and ATC Guide is ease of use. For guides, who might be pulling hundreds of meters of rope a day, day in and day out, this can mean the difference between tendinitis and smooth sailing. The GiGi has wider, longer slots than other autoblocking devices (an autoblocking device locks up when a follower falls, introducing security into the system, as well as allowing the belayer to be tending to other tasks like eating, stacking the rope, checking the route topo, etc.) which allows rope to feed more smoothly and more easily–cool.

The downside, though, is that these wider, longer slots can let a thinner rope (less than 10mm in diameter, as indicated in the Kong literature) twist, invert, and come out of autoblock mode if the blocking biner isn’t oriented properly.

As with the Reverso and ATC Guide, the follower’s strand of rope (or the “load” strand”) is on top in this pic. Unlike the Reverso and ATC Guide, though, when using a rope of less than 10mm in diameter, it is not enough to simply clip the rope in the back with a block biner–as is pictured here. This photo, therefore, is of a GiGi set up INCORRECTLY when belaying a single rope of less than 10mm.

Notice in the above photo that the GiGi is set up exactly as one would belay a single rope with a Reverso or ATC Guide. While this works flawlessly with either of those tools, the GiGi is not designed to belay a single strand of less than 10mm rope in this fashion. Why?

To see why the GiGi isn’t meant to be used this way, simply weight the load strand, then twist the blocking biner forcefully in either direction by rotating it in one’s hand.

As you rotate the biner, you’re essentially taking the climber’s (or load) strand and flipping it to the bottom. Because of the wider slots on the GiGi, with a rope of less than 10mm in diameter, it is possible to flip the climber’s strand to the bottom and the GiGi is no longer in belay mode and will fail.

The ropes have now been flipped, so the climber’s strand is on the right in this photo, which is also the bottom–INCORRECT on the GiGi as well as the Reverso and ATC Guide. The belay device will fail at this point. To be clear: this is not a design flaw in the GiGi. Rather, it is user error, but perhaps a common one because the Reverso and ATC Guide are virtually impossible to flip while the GiGi can with a skinny, single rope.

Before you write the GiGi off, there is an easy fix for the above error. As described in the GiGi manual, you simply orient your blocking biner around the whole device (pics to follow) when using a rope of less than 10mm in diameter (which everybody seems to these days!). I generally only use my GiGi when belaying two strands of rope from above, which makes the potential error described above a moot point–with two strands of rope, it’s impossible to twist the blocking biner around and release them. Even with a single strand, the likelihood is fairly low, but it is potentially a catastrophic mistake.

The simple fix: if belaying a single follower/strand of rope of less than 10mm, orient your blocking biner around the entire device, so it can’t rotate and flip the ropes into an “unbelayed” or “non-autoblocked” orientation. Easy!

So, the fix is easy–simple orient the blocking biner around the entire device when belaying a single strand of rope. You just rendered the whole “rope-flipping” thing a moot point–good work! The GiGi manual describes this situation clearly, but I’ve seen the GiGi used this way a few times and an IFMGA guide emailed me to clarify the technique. He had a near-miss early in his guiding career and took the time to send me some video showing the GiGi release when set up incorrectly–and I want to reiterate that this situation is not a design flaw in the GiGi–it’s simply using the tool incorrectly.

So, if you’re using the GiGi with two rope strands, no sweat, but if you choose to use it on a single strand when belaying your second/a follower, then make sure you orient your blocking biner around the entire unit and you’re good to go. I like my GiGi because it feeds rope smoothly (on rappel, too) and despite what people say, it can belay a leader when used correctly and by a skilled practitioner. But again–visit the manual and verify that you’ve been using it correctly! It’s a great tool, but one that requires a bit more management than a Reverso or ATC Guide.

Apologies if I’ve been redundant or a bit pedantic, but I wanted to clarify this issue with the GiGi–I’m sure I’ve set the thing up incorrectly at some point in the past…and while the likelihood of twisting the rope and releasing it (as shown above) seems pretty low, I’ll make sure to always orient my blocking biner around the GiGi so it can’t flip.

I’m a big fan of the GiGi, and maybe it’s worth introducing to your toolbox…but make sure you’re using it correctly–I am now. Thanks to the guide who took to the time to email me and happy climbing to all of you.