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Black Diamond ATC Guide Review

The best belay device for multi pitch climbing, rappels, and double rope ascents.
Black Diamond ATC Guide
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $30 List | $22.46 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Great for belaying seconds on multi-pitch climbs, durable, good value
Cons:  Heavier than the Reverso 4
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Jack Cramer ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 31, 2016
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75
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 13
  • Catch and Bite - 30% 6
  • Lowering and Rappelling - 30% 9
  • Feeding Slack - 15% 9
  • Auto Block - 10% 5
  • Weight and Bulk - 10% 8
  • Durability - 5% 7

The Skinny

The Black Diamond ATC Guide is a tough belay device and our favorite 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 simpler tube-style version of this device, the Black Diamond ATC XP, along with the updated GriGri+ from Petzl for those looking for an active assisted braking device.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

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 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 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 Edelrid Mega Jul and Mammut Smart Alpine offer a stronger bite thanks to their passive braking, 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 Petzl Reverso 4 (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 4 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 Petzl Reverso 4 (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 4 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 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 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.


Auto-block (resistance belaying a second)


The most noticeable thing distinguishing the four 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.


Compared to the Petzl Reverso 4, the friction savings was only 6-8%, but 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.

Weight/Bulk


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, we believe the lower auto-block resistance of the ATC Guide will save most climbers more energy than the extra weight will cost.


Durability


Compared to other tube style devices the ATC Guide is pretty durable. Its teeth seem to last longer than those in the softer aluminum of the Petzl models.


Other entrants though surpassed it in longevity. Both the Mammut Smart Alpine and Edelrid Mega Jul are made of stainless steel that stands up better than the ATC Guide's hot forged aluminum.

The aluminum on the ATC Guide is pretty tough and should last several years. Causes of eventual retirement vary: the teeth might wear down  edges on the tube can sharpen  or the wire cable could get damaged.
The aluminum on the ATC Guide is pretty tough and should last several years. Causes of eventual retirement vary: the teeth might wear down, edges on the tube can sharpen, or the wire cable could get damaged.

Best Applications


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.

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.

Value


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.

Conclusion


The performance difference between the ATC Guide and 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 save most users some energy. For this reason, we've named the ATC Guide our Top Pick for Multi-Pitch climbing.


Jack Cramer