By Jonathan Doyle
Assisted braking belay devices are fast becoming the go to option for many climbers, especially for those who focus on single-pitch climbing and the gym rats among us. They are essentially designed to help you out when belaying a climber working single-pitch sport routes; the idea being to make belaying less tiring, helping you to catch falls more easily and lower your climbing partner down in a controlled manner.
The ATC Pilot is Black Diamond’s offering to this increasingly competitive corner of the market, and at just 92g is one of the lightest assisted braking devices available and can accommodate ropes from 8.7-10.5mm in diameter. Unlike the Petzl Grigri, it contains no moving parts, instead relying on the rope being pinched between the belay-carabiner and Pilot at a particular angle. This system not only benefits the belayer by reducing the strain on them, but also aids the climber, giving them piece of mind that unless something truly disastrous happens, each and every one of their falls will be successfully caught. Of course using one of these devices does not mean you can afford to be a lazy belayer.
After using the ATC Pilot for a few sessions both indoors and out, I came away with the following thoughts, feelings and conclusions.
The ATC Pilot is incredibly intuitive to use, especially for climbers who already have experience using belay devices. It is used in the same way as traditional tube-style devices, meaning that it is very user friendly and a great introduction into the realm of assisted belay devices.
At first I found it a little tricky to give out rope smoothly, as when the climber pulls on the rope, the device naturally wants to lock up. This did lead to a few cases of short-roping, however I got the technique down pretty quick and it just required me to pay additional attention to ensure my braking hand was in the correct position ready the push the lever up when needed.
Lowering off was incredibly simple and smooth and I felt that I was in complete control of the system, even when lowering the climber at a good speed. I did initially have a little concern as to do this, you have to let the rope run through your brake hand, which traditionally is a no-no, however as you are controlling the descent speed with the tilt of the device , you can quickly slow the climber by adjusting the angle of the device with very little input from the braking hand.
There is a little bit of rope slippage when the climber fully weights the rope, although this is easily mitigated by increasing the angle the rope is to the device and braking a little harder, so no big deal.
Overall I was pretty impressed with the ATC Pilot and I would definitely consider using it for when I climb indoors and indeed when climbing single pitch sport outdoors. It is super simple to use, lightweight and really comfortable to catch falls with.