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Black Diamond ATC Guide Review

The best value for multi pitch climbing, rappels, and double rope ascents
Black Diamond ATC Guide
Photo: Black Diamond
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $30 List | $29.95 at Backcountry
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
By Andy Wellman & Jack Cramer  ⋅  Feb 21, 2020
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 16
  • 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.

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Pros Great for belaying seconds on multi-pitch climbs, durable, good valueThree belay modes in on device, affordable, stainless steel inserts for greater longevityLightweight, easy to unlock, great for belaying two skinny ropesLightweight, smooth, compactGood friction control when rappelling and lowering, smooth paying out rope
Cons Heavier than the ReversoSlightly heavier than competitors, assisted braking mode requires learning a new belay techniqueSofter aluminum seems less durable, not ideal with ropes thicker than 9.5mmWeak lock off0.2 oucnes heavier than the Verso, you must hold the weight of the climber when they weight the rope
Bottom Line The best value for multi pitch climbing, rappels, and double rope ascentsAn incredibly versatile device that allows for every style of belay you would need on a multi-pitch climbA match made in rock heaven for skinny ropes and climbers counting weightA lightweight entry level belay device that gives our Best Buy winner a run for the moneyA simple design suited for building proper belay technique
Rating Categories Black Diamond ATC G... Edelrid Giga Jul Petzl Reverso Petzl Verso Black Diamond ATC XP
Catch And Bite (30%)
5.0
8.0
5.0
5.0
5.0
Lowering And Rappelling (30%)
9.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Feeding Slack (20%)
9.0
7.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Weight And Bulk (10%)
8.0
7.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Auto Block (10%)
5.0
4.0
3.0
0.0
0.0
Specs Black Diamond ATC G... Edelrid Giga Jul Petzl Reverso Petzl Verso Black Diamond ATC XP
Style Auto-block tube Passive assisted braking Auto-block tube Tube style Tube style
Recommended Rope Diameter 7.7 mm - 11 mm 7.8 mm - 10.0 mm 7.5 mm - 11 mm 7.5 mm - 11 mm 7.7 mm - 11 mm
Weight (oz) 2.8 oz. 4.3 oz. 2.2 oz. 2 oz. 2.2 oz.
Double Rope Rap? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Belay off anchor? Yes Yes Yes No No
Assisted Braking? No Yes, passive No No No
Warranty 1 year 1 year 3 year 3 year 1 year

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.

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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

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...
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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

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...
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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

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...
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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

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...
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.
Photo: Jack Cramer

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