The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

Black Diamond ATC Pilot Review

Works best for toproping scenarios, a good choice for gyms or programs who want a bit more safety than a traditional tube device but don't want to buy mutiple active locking devices
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $45 List | $44.95 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Passive locking provides extra security and takes pressure off your belay hand
Cons:  Doesn't feed smoothly - you have to keep a lot of pressure on your thumb, limited use and functionality
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Andy Wellman & Cam McKenzie Ring  ⋅  Feb 21, 2020
  • Share this article:
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
58
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#15 of 17
  • Catch and Bite - 30% 7
  • Lowering and Rappelling - 30% 7
  • Feeding Slack - 20% 4
  • Weight and Bulk - 10% 8
  • Auto Block - 10% 0

Our Verdict

The last few years have seen the release of several new or updated "passive" assisted locking devices, including the ATC Pilot from Black Diamond. It provides the extra security of locking up all of the way and taking the pressure off your brake hand when compared to other tubular devices, though the manufacturer states that you should always keep your hand on the rope just in case. And it costs significantly less than most "active" assisted braking devices. We enjoyed using the ATC Pilot for top roping and lowering scenarios, but note that the use for this devices is somewhat limited, as it can only handle one strand of rope and work for single pitch climbing only. Since it's so much cheaper than most auto-locking devices, this is a great option for programs or climbing gyms that want the extra security of the auto-lock without the expense when buying multiple units.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Black Diamond ATC Pilot is a "geometry assisted" belay device for ropes in the 8.7 to 10.5 mm range. When the rope is weighted the angle of the device changes, locking the rope down, though, as we mentioned above, you still need to keep your brake hand on the rope. Speaking of your brake hand, it's not right-hand dominant like most other assisted belay devices, so left-handed climbers can belay with it the "opposite" way if that feels more natural to them.

Know How to Use Your Belay Device
Check out this very informative instructional video made by Black Diamond to learn how to use the Pilot correctly. Please don't construe this review as actual instruction, instead consult the video.

Performance Comparison


The Pilot has a distinct look and function. This "passive" assisted braking device is like a cross between a tube-style device and one with a moving cam inside it.
The Pilot has a distinct look and function. This "passive" assisted braking device is like a cross between a tube-style device and one with a moving cam inside it.

Catch/Bite


We liked the catch on this device and felt like it provided almost the same security as the active locking devices. There's little to no slippage like you experience from the tube style devices, and should you get knocked around in the fall you can be reasonably sure that the mechanism will engage completely. We did encounter some creepage one or two occasions, though we found it tough to replicate them. Because of variances in rope diameter, belay carabiners, and friction from quickdraw placement or route wandering, it is hard for us to say for certain when or how this device is likely to creep, though it mostly happened in gym scenarios with little friction in the system. BD states that the Pilot should only be used with larger Type H or HMS carabiners, and always on the larger side if using a divided carabiner like the Gridlock.

The bite on the Pilot is created by the device changing its orientation and "pinching" the rope against the carabiner. In this photo  the pinch was secure with a 9mm rope in an outdoor scenario when used with a Gridlock carabiner.
The bite on the Pilot is created by the device changing its orientation and "pinching" the rope against the carabiner. In this photo, the pinch was secure with a 9mm rope in an outdoor scenario when used with a Gridlock carabiner.

Lowering/Rappelling


We liked the lowering function of the ATC Pilot better than the other passive assisted braking devices we compared it to. The curved plastic housing on the Pilot was more comfortable to hold onto than the sharp metal edges of other devices, and the rope stayed in the shorter track better. Unlike tube-style devices, where you have to loosen your grip on the rope for it lower, the Pilot requires you to pull back on the device to disengage the camming function. If we were solely choosing one of these passive belay devices for top roping, we'd choose the Pilot since we liked how it lowers the best. As for rappelling, Black Diamond doesn't say that you can't do it, though it would only work for single rope rappels, which is not always useful.

When it's time to lower the climber  you need to lift up the lever and tilt the device back towards you. The plastic housing feels comfortable in the palm of our hand with or without gloves on.
When it's time to lower the climber, you need to lift up the lever and tilt the device back towards you. The plastic housing feels comfortable in the palm of our hand with or without gloves on.

Feeding Slack


Here is where we were underwhelmed with the performance of the Pilot. The Pilot feeds out slack in a similar manner as most other passive assist devices. You have to exert upward pressure with the thumb of your brake hand to "unlock" the device while pulling out slack with your other hand. The Pilot required more thumb pressure than others we compared it against (and more constant pressure throughout a belay) to get the rope to pay out smoothly. If we weren't constantly pushing the device out to the maximum amount, it would start to lock up on us. Some other devices didn't require as much exertion.

We felt like we needed to push out with our thumb continuously when using this device  which was fatiguing.
We felt like we needed to push out with our thumb continuously when using this device, which was fatiguing.

Weight/Bulk


The Pilot weighs 3.2 ounces (same as the ATC Guide) and doesn't take up much room in your pack. It also has a relatively small profile, so weight and bulk are no reason not to consider owning one.

The Smart 2.0 (left) and ATC Pilot (right) have a similar weight and size. It will likely be a personal preference whether you prefer one model over the other.
The Smart 2.0 (left) and ATC Pilot (right) have a similar weight and size. It will likely be a personal preference whether you prefer one model over the other.

Auto block (resistance belaying a second)


The Pilot is not made for belaying a second off an anchor, so we could not test or rate it for this category. If you are looking for a device that can do this, the Edelrid Giga Jul is our Top Pick for Multi-Pitch Climbing.

The Pilot is likely to wear out your carabiners first before itself  unless the plastic turns out to be fragile over time and cracks.
The Pilot is likely to wear out your carabiners first before itself, unless the plastic turns out to be fragile over time and cracks.

Value


While this device is not particularly expensive, especially when compared to the cost of most active assist belay devices, it is also not as cheap as regular auto-block or tube-style devices. It is a bit of a one-trick pony though, and you'll likely get more versatility out of a device that can handle two ropes.

We preferred the top-roping action on this device thanks to it's smoother lower vs. the Mammut Smart 2.0.
We preferred the top-roping action on this device thanks to it's smoother lower vs. the Mammut Smart 2.0.

Conclusion


If your first thought upon looking at the Black Diamond ATC Pilot is "what's the point of this device?" you wouldn't be alone! However, it does serve a useful purpose for certain scenarios, and we can see gyms that like to have a pre-rigged GriGri on every toprope opt for the Pilot instead due to the cost savings. It also shaves a couple of ounces off your rack, so if you're looking to lighten up all of your gear, this will help you towards that goal.

Andy Wellman & Cam McKenzie Ring