Black Diamond ATC Guide Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Great for belaying seconds on multi-pitch climbs, durable, good value
Cons: Heavier than the Reverso
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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