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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Heavier than the Reverso 4, otherwise nothing to complain about
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
The Black Diamond ATC Guide is a tough rappel/guide's belay device and our favorite device for multi-pitch climbing. It gets our Top Pick award, barely edging out the newest version of the old winner, the Petzl Reverso 4. It's more durable than the Reverso 4, better with thicker ropes (9.5-11.0 mm), and creates less friction for the belayer in auto-block mode. We know many guides in Yosemite and elsewhere that use the ATC Guide year after year. It catches lead falls well and locks off strong when a hanging climber needs to rest. That said, the Reverso 4 is an ounce lighter, so it's not easy to tell a clear winner.
In this review we'll compare the ATC Guide mostly to other devices tailored for multi-pitch climbing. These include the Reverso 4, Edelrid Mega Jul, and Mammut Smart Alpine that all have dual friction channels and auto-block (guide mode) capability. If you don't multi-pitch climb and belay off the anchor much, we recommend the ATC Guide's cousin, the Black Diamond ATC XP, or the Petzl GriGri 2. Additional options can also be explored in The Best Climbing Belay Device Review.
RELATED: Our complete review of belay device
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The ATC Guide is a tube-style belay device with an extra clip-in loop for belaying a second directly off of an anchor.
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 the Petzl Reverso 4 though 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.
The performance difference between lowering/rappelling with the ATC-Guide and the Petzl Reverso 4 was 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, you shouldn't let it impact your purchasing decision.
There isn't much variation between the ATC Guide and the three other non-assisted locking devices in 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.
Auto-block (resistance belaying a second)
The ATC Guide weighs an ounce more than its closest competitor, the Petzl Reverso 4 (3.2 oz vs. 2.2 oz). For most folks this amount isn't a big deal, but for such a lightweight item, it amounts to a 45% difference. Size-wise the ATC Guide is also a bit larger. Usually we're all in favor of the lightest possible gear, however, in this case we believe the lessened auto-block resistance of the ATC Guide will save most climbers more energy than the extra weight will cost.
Mammut Smart and Edelrid Mega Jul are made of stainless steel that stands up better than the ATC Guide's hot forged aluminum.
All things considered the ATC Guide is our favorite device for all-around multi-pitch use, be it thwacking up frozen waterfalls with twin threads of climbing 'floss' or projecting big wall free climbs with a single 10-mm cable. We especially recommend it for climbers prone to elbow or shoulder overuse injuries.
At $29.95, the ATC Guide costs the same as the Petzl Reverso 4 and less than all the other devices capable of direct belays off an anchor. The extra $8 more than the Black Diamond ATC XP and Petzl Verso is probably worth it if you plan to do some multi-pitch climbing.
The performance difference between the ATC Guide and the Petzl Reverso 4 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. Although the Reverso 4 is an ounce lighter, over the lifespan of either device, we believe the ATC Guide's lower auto-block friction will actually save most users more energy. For this reason we consider the ATC Guide our top pick for multi-pitch climbing.
Other Versions and Accessories
The ATC Guide and other Back Diamond belay devices received color updates in 2016.
Black Diamond ATC XP
Black Diamond Stone Glove
— Jack Cramer
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: January 31, 2016
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