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Black Diamond ATC Guide Review

The best value for multi pitch climbing, rappels, and double rope ascents.
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $30 List | $22.46 at Backcountry
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Pros:  Great for belaying seconds on multi-pitch climbs, durable, good value
Cons:  Heavier than the Reverso
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Andy Wellman & Jack Cramer  ⋅  Feb 21, 2020
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 17
  • Catch and Bite - 30% 5
  • Lowering and Rappelling - 30% 9
  • Feeding Slack - 20% 9
  • Weight and Bulk - 10% 8
  • Auto Block - 10% 5

Our Verdict

The Black Diamond ATC Guide is a tough belay device and provides the best value for multi-pitch climbing. It combines a standard tube-style design with the ability to belay seconding climbers directly off the anchor on multi-pitch climbs, conveniently "auto-blocking" to catch their falls. It's durable, works well with thicker ropes (9.5-11.0 mm), and creates less friction for the belayer in auto-block mode, an attribute that can help prevent elbow tendonitis and general fatigue on long climbs. We love this device for all-around multi-pitch use, be it thwacking up frozen waterfalls with twin threads of climbing 'floss' or heading out for a stroll on our favorite five-pitch classics. We especially recommend it for climbers prone to elbow or shoulder overuse injuries due to its lower auto-block resistance. If you are thinking of buying any sort of traditional belay device, we think it only makes sense to choose one with auto-block capabilities, as they are far more versatile.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Black Diamond ATC Guide is a tube-style belay device with an extra clip-in loop for belaying a second directly off of an anchor. Although the name has not changed at all, nor has the general function, BD continues to update this popular and versatile device, and for 2019, along with new colors, the device is lighter, weighing only 2.8 ounces, rather than 3.2 as it did before. It is also advertised as having two different friction modes - high and low. What this really means is that you can thread the device either way.

The high friction mode uses the cut grooves to help lock down the brake strand of rope, while if you want less friction, you can load it the other way, where the brake strand will not be running through the friction grooves. Honestly, with an ATC style device, we pretty much always appreciate more lock off and braking power, and so don't really ever see a reason to use the low friction mode. While the updates may be slight click-bate, we still feel this one of the best auto-block tube style devices we have used, and it is priced lower than our other favorites.

Know How To Use Your Belay Device Properly
Please don't mistake our discussion, intended to help you with a purchasing decision, for instruction or advice. Check out the pictorial instructions linked here for proper usage of this device, and watch this video.

Performance Comparison


The ATC Guide was our favorite device for moderate multi-pitch routes.
The ATC Guide was our favorite device for moderate multi-pitch routes.

Catch/Bite


The ATC Guide provides similar friction compared to the other tube-style devices. One side of the friction channels is toothed, the other smooth, to give you two different friction options. It loses points to the assisted braking models because holding a hanging climber requires a constant grip that can tire your hand.


We like locking off with it more than some other options because the ATC Guide's hole to release auto-block mode is recessed. This allows you to bend the rope through the toothed groove at a sharper angle, creating more friction and ultimately saving hand strength for climbing instead of belaying. Passive assist braking devices offer a stronger bite, which gives your hand a break when belaying someone who is hanging a lot.

The hole used to release a weighted device in auto-block mode is larger on the Reverso (left) than the Black Diamond ATC Guide (right). Although this makes lowering an auto-blocked climber slightly harder with the ATC Guide  it also makes locking off easier during regular operation. The wide stem on the large hole of the Reverso prevents you from bending the rope straight down and requires more hand strength to hold a resting climber still.
The hole used to release a weighted device in auto-block mode is larger on the Reverso (left) than the Black Diamond ATC Guide (right). Although this makes lowering an auto-blocked climber slightly harder with the ATC Guide, it also makes locking off easier during regular operation. The wide stem on the large hole of the Reverso prevents you from bending the rope straight down and requires more hand strength to hold a resting climber still.

Lowering/Rappelling


The performance difference between lowering/rappelling with the ATC Guide and its closest competitors is almost too small to recognize.


After extensive blind testing with several different ropes, we ultimately concluded that the ATC Guide is slightly smoother. This difference is so small though that it wasn't enough to impact our scoring nor should you let it impact your purchasing decision.

We observed little difference between the ATC Guide and Petzl Reverso 4 while lowering or rappelling. They both offered the smoothest performance in this review.
We observed little difference between the ATC Guide and Petzl Reverso 4 while lowering or rappelling. They both offered the smoothest performance in this review.

Feeding Slack


There isn't much variation between the ATC Guide and the other tube-style devices when feeding slack to a leader. The difference is substantial, however, when compared to the assisted locking models. Without mechanical cams or release handles, the simple tube designs feed easier. This can reduce the chances of short roping and help you make more precise adjustments during critical near-ground clips.


Weight/Bulk


The ATC Guide weighs 0.6 ounces more than its closest competitor, the Petzl Reverso (2.8 oz vs. 2.2 oz). For most folks, this amount isn't a big deal, but for such a lightweight item, it's not an insignificant difference. Size-wise the ATC Guide is also a bit larger. Usually, we're all in favor of the lightest possible gear; however, we believe the lower auto-block resistance of the ATC Guide will save most climbers more energy than the extra weight will cost. Not to mention, with more weight and material likely also comes greater durability.


Auto-Block (resistance belaying a second)


The most noticeable thing distinguishing the passive auto-block devices we tested is the amount of friction in auto-block mode. To examine the differences objectively, we used a hanging scale and a brand new model of each device to measure resistance. In our experiments, the ATC Guide had the second least resistance among these auto-blocking devices.


Compared with some alternatives, the friction savings was noticeable, and our testers were able to consistently identify each in blind tests. It's not uncommon for longer multi-pitch routes to require a thousand feet of rope work, and by the end of many, we know our elbows appreciated the ATC Guide's lower friction.

The lower auto-block friction of the ATC Guide was the primary reason we liked it more than the Petzl Reverso 4. This type of configuration  in which you use the belay device connected to an anchor to belay a second climber can be confusing. Be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
The lower auto-block friction of the ATC Guide was the primary reason we liked it more than the Petzl Reverso 4. This type of configuration, in which you use the belay device connected to an anchor to belay a second climber can be confusing. Be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions carefully.

Value


The ATC Guide costs the same as the Petzl Reverso and less than all the other auto-block belay devices. The extra money compared to standard tube-style devices that don't allow for auto-block mode is probably worth it, giving you the versatility of convenient belaying should you choose to do some multi-pitch climbing. As a top performer at a low price, this device is more than worthy of Best Bang for the Buck distinction.

Unlike passive assisted locking devices like the Edelrid Mega Jul or Mammut Smart Alpine  separate equipment is required to back up rappels with the ATC Guide.
Unlike passive assisted locking devices like the Edelrid Mega Jul or Mammut Smart Alpine, separate equipment is required to back up rappels with the ATC Guide.

Conclusion


The performance difference between the ATC Guide and Petzl Reverso is closer than we could have imagined. Both devices are smooth and reliable when belaying a leader or rappelling. They're also reasonably priced and durable. The differences amounted ultimately to only weight and auto-block resistance. For these reasons, we've named the ATC Guide our Best Bang for the Buck winner for Multi-Pitch climbing.


Andy Wellman & Jack Cramer