The ATC XP is a classic tube-style manual belay device with additional friction grooves on one side. It got a nice redesign in 2012. Machined windows were added to the sides that reduced the weight by 30%.
An ATC XP basking in the sun overlooking the entrance to Yosemite Valley.
With two friction modes, the ATC XP allows you to match the holding power to the circumstances. When top-roping with large, stiff gym ropes, regular friction mode can save you lots of energy. Flip it around and use the teeth for greater holding power catching a lead fall. We thought the ATC XP provided a similar bite to Petzl Verso. However, once someone was hanging on the rope, the XP locked off better and required less hand strength to keep the rope from sliding through.
Tube style devices require a great deal of hand strength to hold the weight of the climber, which can be fatiguing. This is one reason for the popularity of the active assisted devices and probably also why Black Diamond recently released the ATC Pilot. The Pilot is a "passive" device that pinches the rope against the carabiner, taking a lot of the pressure off your break hand - though you still have to hold on to it! While this offers more security than the ATC XP, the Pilot is a single-strand only device, so it's not as versatile as the XP.
During lowering and rappelling the performance difference between the ATC XP and Petzl Verso is was very small.
Both are capable of rappelling two strands and provide a similar amount of resistance. The ATC XP though felt ever so slightly less jerky.
Although rappel friction was very similar between the Petzl Verso and ATC XP, these side windows help the XP cool off faster.
Feeding slack with the ATC XP and Petzl Verso was nearly identical. After trying both with a variety of ropes and in blind tests with our friends, we believe the ATC XP does so slightly more smoothly. Compared to paying out rope with the ATC Pilot or other assisted locking devices, we prefer the simplicity of a tube device like this one.
Auto-block (resistance belaying a second)
It's not safe to belay a follower directly off an anchor with this device and we did not score it for this category. We compared other auto-block capable devices in our review, and you can see our scores for each one below.
The ATC XP weighs in at 2.2 ounces. This is just a touch heavier than its chief rival, the Petzl Verso.
Size-wise it's also a bit larger, with a longer wire cable and a wider main body. Neither of these differences was big enough to affect our purchasing recommendation. Overall it's tied for being the second lightest and smallest.
The body and wire loop on the Black Diamond ATC XP (left) are both larger than the Petzl Verso (right). The difference wasn't large enough to have a significant impact on our scoring.
The aluminum used to make the ATC XP feels harder than that on the Petzl Verso. After six months of use, we think it will last longer — the friction teeth certainly seem to.
Many climbers learn the sport with an ATC XP or similar tube device before moving on to more sophisticated models when they specialize in a particular climbing discipline. We believe the XP will last the average climber several years, plenty of time to sort out what device to upgrade to.
We like this belay device most for climbers new to the sport or for experienced shoppers that appreciate simplicity. New climbers can learn the basics of belaying with the added safety margin of strong stopping power. Experienced climbers can enjoy affordable function in a compact, reliable package.
The affordable ATC XP is our recommendation for beginners or anyone that wants a simple, compact belay device.
At $21.95, the ATC XP is a competitively priced belay device. Although there are cheaper options available, we believe the added braking power of the XP is worth the added cost. The price is identical to the Petzl Verso; however, we believe the XP is more durable and a better value.
The Black Diamond ATC XP is our favorite basic tube belay device. It's light and durable, and the two friction modes increase its versatility for different rope or friction situations. We like it most for new climbers still ingraining proper belay techniques or for experienced folks looking for a simple, reliable device that can do everything pretty well. There are cheaper devices available, but we believe the $21.95 MSRP is justified. It's also frequently on sale, so consider checking the "Where's the best price?" links at the top of this page to find a good deal.
Other Versions and Accessories
Black Diamond also makes our Top Pick for multi-pitch climbing, the ATC Guide. This device is similar to the ATC XP but with the ability to belay a follower from above directly off an anchor. A toothless tube option is available too as the classic Black Diamond ATC ($18).