Unless you started climbing only within the last several years, chances are you've owned a Black Diamond ATC belay device. This is the archetypical manual belay device. Even with all the new devices on the market, this is still a great one. The ATC is especially smooth when belaying 10mm or thicker ropes. There's no need to have the friction grooves found on the ATC XP when belaying with a rope that already provides ample friction. The ATC works on thinner ropes, too, such as a modern 9.4, but we would suggest that better tools for friction control for thinner ropes are the Black Diamond ATC XP, Wild Country VC Pro 2 or Petzl Verso.The Black Diamond ATC is simple, light, affordable, provides smooth rope handling and is compact. The ATC design hasnt changed in 20 years and is competitively priced. It doesnt have friction grooves, heat dissipaters or any other fancy add-ons it is simple and works great. If you rappel a lot, get something more durable such as the Wild Country VC Pro 2 (it has thicker tube stock and friction grooves). The ATC works exceptionally well on ropes 10mm or thicker. If you mainly use thinner ropes, a device with friction grooves such as the Petzl Verso, Black Diamond ATC XP or the VC Pro 2 is more appropriate.
Black Diamond ATC Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Simple, smooth, lightweight, affordable
Cons: No added friction control options, thin tube-stock
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
Our Analysis and Test Results
The ATC is the second smallest and lightest belay device tested, the first being the Petzl Verso, which is more expensive. We really expected the newer devices with friction grooves to blow this old school model away but we were impressed with how the ATC pays out climbing rope as well, and maybe better, than many of the newer models. For the ropes thicker than 10mm, this device held its own. If you want this device to have just a little more friction, you can use a carabiner like the Black Diamond Vaporlock that adds in friction. It won't as much as the ATC XP but will help.
We generally climb on 9.4-9.7mm ropes. For these, we like to have friction grooves for better stopping power, so we reach for the VC Pro II or ATC XP. Additionally, we burn through belay devices when rapping in the Fisher Towers, bailing off El Cap and during heavy cragging situations and so we like a device with thick tube stock. Whats wrong with thin tube stock? With heavy use the rope wears it out and the metal becomes sharp. This probably isnt something that will cut the rope, but it doesnt give you a warm feeling, either.
A decade ago, before Chris Van Leuven could afford a Petzl GriGri, he bought the ATC as his sole belay device for use on such big walls as Leaning Towers West Face and El Caps Shield. He cringes at that idea now too many whatifs during lengthy belay sessions but this device still works great for most other climbing/rappelling situations.
What surprised CVL most about the ATC is the dedication climbers have towards this classic device. Several testers said that theres nothing wrong with the ATC, so theyre glad that it hasnt changed in 20 years. The ATC has been their go-to device for most of their climbing careers and they dont plan on changing this anytime soon. If you have this device, it has never been dropped and the clipin cable is in good working order, stick with it.
Chris Van Leuven: "I've taken the ATC up more climbs that I can remember. Its not that I have a particularly bad memory, rather that I climbed with the device for 10 years or more. On my first-ever climbing trip to J-Tree in 92 I used it to belay Solid Gold (10a). In '95, '96, I took it up my first handfull of big walls; it caught my first aid whipper on Leaning Towers West Face. And it was excellent for lowering bags out on the Shield. Ive burned through probably three ATCs over the years. When the original Wild Country VC came out I switched to that due to its thicker tube stock and friction grooves."
Climbing with 10mm or above ropes? Looking for a simple belay/rappel device to use for a leader or to get off the top of your climb? The ATC gets the job done in a simple, affordable package.
At $19 the ATC is one of the better priced belay devices. That said, there are some higher scoring devices for less that are probably more durable.
— Chris McNamara