Black Diamond Reliable Air Traffic Control - BD's ATC-Sport

Dalvinder Sohdi using the new ATC Sport at Kilnsey Crag, North Yorkshire
© Kevin Avery
"Taaaaaaaake!" Hurtling through the air, arms bathed in lactic torment, body quivering from the exhaustion and the shock it's not a good time to be wondering if your belay device is up to scratch. Thankfully however, I stop before I hit the ground!

Luckily the burning discomfort and inadequate holding power of waist belays is now a thing of the past. Things have changed for the better and today there are no shortage of belay devices on the market. ATCs, VRCs, SRCs, Eddys and GriGris; the list just goes on. Some take two ropes, some take one, some are designed for skinny ropes, some for fat ones and some even lock off all by themselves! Designs get more complex and prices rise.

So, when I got my hands on Black Diamond's latest offering I was surprised to see that it is actually refreshingly simple, being basically a slimmed down version of the ATC-XP. The "ATC-Sport" is what Black Diamond call:

"A single-rope, sport-cragging belay device, built using the rest of the ATC family's time-tested design. This simple, lightweight, hot-forged device can handle a rope from 7.7-11 mm, and is designed with regular and high-friction modes for excellent versatility and holding/stopping power. It weighs 60 grams and is available in an assortment of colours. It is constructed from 7075 T6 aluminum alloy."

Okay, that's the theory but how was it in practice?

Well, I have used the device for a little over a month now, mainly at my local sport climbing haunts of Kilnsey and Malham and I have to say that I really quite like it. It's simple, light and effective and offers ease of use for all. At £13.99 it's also relatively inexpensive.

I have used it with a skinny 9.1mm single rope and found that paying rope out and taking it in is slick and requires minimal effort. There's none of the jarring or sticking that you can sometimes get with some of the auto-locking devices, particularly if the user is unfamiliar with them and holding a fall is easy -just don't let go of the rope! One thing I would say however is that I did find the "normal" friction setting to be a little too slick for my 9mm rope and I'm not sure I'd like to test it on a 7.1mm shoelace! My friend let out a nervous yelp as he came zipping rather quickly towards the ground and didn't appear to feel any better about the experience when I explained to him that it was all in the name of research! With a thicker rope though (10.5mm or more), this setting felt perfectly adequate and if you are in any doubt then I would just opt for "high friction" mode as this performed well with all the ropes that I tested it with.

Paying Out
© Kevin Avery
So is there anything that I didn't like? Well, not really. It did exactly what I wanted it to and without fuss. The only thing I would say is that an auto-locking device does have the upper hand when you're on a long belay stint and your mate is dogging his/her project or hauling themselves up the rope. It just makes life that bit easier, you can swig water, put an extra layer on and generally stay more comfortable. But you do pay around £35 more (at least) for the privilege. Also, I'm not sure why you would buy one if you already have a standard twin rope device (such as an ATC-XP or a DMM Bug) as they probably do the job just as well and have the added versatility that enables you to belay and abseil using twin ropes. But if you only ever go sport climbing and are looking for an easy to use and inexpensive device then the ATC-Sport may be just the thing for you.

In summary the ATC-Sport is a great device. It is lightweight, simple to use, high quality and inexpensive. It offers two friction modes and is compatible with a wide range of single ropes from 7.7 to 11mm. It's great for sport climbing and can also be used for single (or even multi-pitch) climbs whether they are trad or sport, as long as you're using a single rope. It's only downsides are that it has no auto-locking function (try a GriGri or SUM) and it lacks the versatility of a twin rope device, which may put off those all-round climbers amongst us who will be looking for one device that tackles all disciplines.

What Black Damond Say

For Sport Climbers

The Black Diamond ATC Sport
© Kevin Avery
Black Diamond ATC (Air Traffic Controller) belay devices have become a proven standard belay tool. For the summer of 2008, the ATC line will be complete with the superlight ATC-Sport version for single ropes. This will be the belay device of choice even for die-hard sport and gym climbers.

The new ATC-Sport is a light version of the ATC-XP for single ropes and was designed for sport climbing. It is very user friendly and simple to use. Two friction settings, one for strong and one for normal braking action, offer a variety of applications on ropes from 7.7 to 11 mm. The ATC-Sport weighs only 60 grams and is extremely small and handy. The proven design and reliable 7075 T6 aluminum alloy have not changed.

The ATC-Sport is available in Dark Denim, Gold, Platinum and Ruby at a suggested retail price of 17,99 Euro / £ 13,99 in good mountain sports stores.

See the range of Black Diamond's belay/abseil devices at

Kevin Avery on the Bowderstone
© Kevin Avery

About Kevin Avery:

"I'm based in Silsden, West Yorkshire where I work as a teacher. I've lived there for a couple of years now and it's a fantastic location. So many crags so close by means that it's really handy for getting out, loads of styles and loads of motivated people. Before that I was based in Carlisle where I started climbing in 1994. After an 18 month stint on the local wall I began to venture onto the Lakeland crags, ticking the classics, gaining experience and more often than not, getting gripped! I began to venture further afield and I have since climbed all over the UK in both summer and winter.

I climb sport, trad, ice, mixed and go bouldering! I love climbing, meeting great people, the places, the experiences and talking about it when I'm not doing it! It's so diverse, it would be impossible to get bored. I try to get out at every opportunity and I'm more than slightly obsessed. I just can't help it! Regular trips abroad are always a must, from the usual sport cragging and bouldering destinations of Europe, some ice and Alpine rock and then further afield to Australia and even Hawaii!

When I'm not climbing I enjoy getting out for a wander with the dog, running, doing some weights (not that you can tell!), writing stuff and more recently taking pics."

For more information visit Black Diamond Website

9 Jun, 2008
By the sounds of it, it does the job, but I don't really see the point. A classic ATC, works on the same diameter ropes, weighs 1 gram less, cost £1 less and you can absail on that too. Surley sport climbers absail too?I know you can rig the ATC Sport to absail with, but it is much more faff to set up a retrevable absail, plus you would have to leave a krab too. Why would you buy an ATC sport over a classic ATC?
9 Jun, 2008
That's what I was wondering too ... mind you I'm no sport climber.
9 Jun, 2008
I think you both miss the point. But go sport climbing together and see who is going to belay the other on single 9mm with a classic ATC and you'll get it pretty quickly. And probably some free crutches from the NHS. If you're lucky.
9 Jun, 2008
As I said I don't know anything about sport climbing, so I'm happy to be enlightened!
9 Jun, 2008
Its actually nothing to do with sport climbing. Classic ATCs are designed only to be used with single ropes of the older generation - I can't remember exactly but probably 10.2 or bigger. I got rid of my ATC classic after getting scared abseiling with it in the Alps when it was too slick on overhanging or vertical abseils with thinnish double ropes. I the ATC guide is much better, I happily use it with my single 9.1 revelation. the ATC sport just appears to be a lighter cheaper version of that for those who don't use double ropes.
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