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The Best of Both Worlds

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Still dragging that worn out tube belay device to the gym? Tired of having your rope snag and jerk when lowering your buddy? Tired of the weight (and cost) of a mechanically-assisted device?

You’re in luck. There’s a new belay device in town, and it’s specifically designed for single pitch climbing. The ATC Pilot.

Andy Earl

For years, two types of belay devices have reigned supreme in the climbing world. The standard tuber (think of a typical ATC) device, and mechanically-assisted devices. Few belay devices have attempted to bridge the gap between the two, but with the ATC Pilot, Black Diamond did just that. “At BD we’re constantly looking at the changing landscape of climbing and want to provide the right tools for the job,” said Black Diamond’s Climbing Category Director, Kolin Powick. “We wanted to create a device that was ideal for new and experienced users alike, for gym or outdoor use – that fed smoothly but offered enhanced braking when catching a fall or dogging a route, and more secure and controlled lowering.”

Designed with a “geometry-assisted” braking style, the Pilot threads like a normal tube-style device and can fit single ropes from 8.7 to 10.5 mm. Compared to a typical tuber, however, the Pilot offers significantly increased safety when catching falls, thanks to the geometry-assisted braking. This pinches the rope between the carabiner and the Pilot itself, as opposed to relying solely on the friction of the bight and downward force of the brake hand, like a standard tube device. The result is a significant decrease in the amount of force required by the brake hand to hold a falling (or hangdogging) climber. Meanwhile, the Pilot lacks any of the moving parts or levers of mechanically-assisted devices, making it a solid choice for beginners.

The Pilot gives the user a smooth, controlled lower, with an ergonomic grip that results in a hybrid lowering mechanism. The belayer lets rope slide through their brake hand as they rotate the device with their free hand, meaning the rope pays out easily and steadily. Coupled with a durable, stainless steel build as opposed to a typical aluminum tube device, a weight of 92 grams (half the weight of most mechanically-assisted devices), and a price tag of $45 (mechanically-assisted devices run over $100) the Pilot offers perhaps the biggest bang for the buck on the market.

ATC Pilot in action. Photo Andy Earl

While the Pilot’s lack of double-duty capability limits it in the case of two rope rappels, it’s enhanced braking and lowering means it even comes in handy as an auxiliary belay device when multi-pitch climbing.

“I’m such a fan that I’m using it on multi-pitch routes all the time,” said Powick. “Each climber has an ATC-Guide for belaying from above and rappelling, and the ATC-Pilot is used to belay the leader – it gets handed back and forth. The added security of enhanced braking to catch that unexpected slip way off the deck certainly adds to piece of mind.”

For single-pitch climbing in particular, the Pilot offers the best of both worlds for both beginner and expert climbers. For newer climbers, it provides tube-style simplicity of use, married to a reliability and security that’s hard to beat for the weight and cost. For the pros, it makes lowering and belaying easier, giving better holding power when a partner is flailing on their project.

Bottom line: whether you’re still wearing socks with your rock shoes and proudly flashing your “Top Rope certified” gym belay card, or you’re projecting 5.14 with a decade of climbing under your belt, the ATC Pilot is worth checking out.

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