BD ATC Pilot Review
By Marc Piche, ACMG Mountain Guide
Assisted breaking belay devices are nothing new. The Petzl Grigri, Trango Cinch, Mammut Smart, Edelrid Megajul and others have been around a while, so BD is the new kid on the block (pun intended) here. BD doesn't take their R&D lightly though so perhaps they were waiting to develop the perfect combination of form and function... Enter the ATC Pilot.
This is a single rope strand device meant for single pitch belaying of a climber on lead or top rope. It is not built for rappelling. So, in my mind it is mainly competing in a category against the Petzl Grigri, Trango Cinch/Vergo, and Wild Country Revo. The big difference is that where the other guys went high tech to build a better mouse trap, BD took it in the other direction to keep things simple. This thing feels, feeds and works pretty much like any tube style belay device out there with the addition of what Black Diamond calls "enhanced braking." The ridiculously simple engineering has enabled BD to create an assisted braking device at a fraction of the price and weight of the "mouse trap" builders.
The simplicity factor also means that it is easy to teach to beginners, or to anyone who is already used to any tube style device. There are no moving parts, so setup is simple. If you set it up backwards, then you are just reduced to a regular tube style device - no one's gonna die. It seems to me like some other manufacturers have gone to a lot of effort to make their devices idiot proof to compensate for devices that were overly complicated to begin with. BD didn't create any inherent design problems, so it didn't need to find complicated, expensive and heavy solutions to fix them.
Taking rope in for a top roper is exactly what you would expect from any tube device. Feeding rope out to a leader is the same as for a regular ATC and can be done quite quickly if you keep the ropes loose around the device. If the bight around the carabiner closes and it locks inadvertently, simply slide your break hand thumb up to the curved lip to keep it open while your other hand feeds rope. This hand motion is easier than with the Edelrid Jul 2 or Megajul which require the thumb to be placed inside a loop created by the leash.
Holding a climber fall happens naturally when feeding out the rope in regular tube fashion as the camming action grabs the rope in an instant. If hooking the thumb under the lip to feed rope, there seems to be little risk of maintaining the device in the open position during a climber fall with the speed that the rope would run through the device and cam it closed, however I have not tested this theory by trying to hold it open during a climber fall.
Lowering is achieved by simply tilting the unit back towards yourself - very intuitive. I actually prefer this device over my Edelrid Megajul for lowering, as the plastic shell prevents the dirty rope from coming in contact with your guide hand and conducts no heat from friction.
My only criticism is that the double plastic fins that clip into the carabiner are a bit bulky and awkward. It would be nice to see a conventional thin wire leash at the base.
This has become my go to belay device for gym climbing and single pitch cragging. I prefer its simplicity and light weight to my Grigri. If I was purchasing a fleet of belay devices to use in an instructional setting this would be the unit, in my opinion. It's a comparatively inexpensive device that still provides the safety margin of assisted braking for beginners. Because it doesn't require the user to feed the rope through it or lower with it in an unconventional way, it allows a smooth progression to tube devices that allow rappelling with two rope strands. Replacing the larger plastic fins with something less bulky would just make an already great device just that much better.
Rope diameters: 8.7 - 10.5mm
Weight: 92 g