Carabiners are used in almost every aspect of climbing from building anchors to cracking open a beer.
You can use your single carabiner for everything, and it’ll probably work just fine, or you can continue to read this guide to learn more about different carabiners. I mean that’s why you clicked on this article, right?
This handbook will guide you through the difference between carabiners and their common uses. We will cover things like:
There are over a thousand carabiner designs out in the world, but when looking at the basics it all boils down to five common components:
The spine is the strongest part of the carabiner, where most of the force and weight is carried.
The gate is spring-loaded and opens inwards to attach ropes, devices or pieces of protection.
The nose is what the gate latches with to close the carabiner.
The rope basket is the bend at the top of the carabiner. Often, the rope basket is wider to allow a rope to move freely and reduce wear to the carabiner.
The runner end is the bend at the bottom. Often, this end is narrow to help position the carabiner on quick draws or harnesses.
This is a easter egg. You'll find it if you're in dark mode
At Climbing Anchors, we sort our carabiners into locking vs non-locking gates. When choosing a carabiner, deciding on the gate is the first stop.
The gate is made with a piece of solid aluminum or steel that connects to a hinge and opens at the nose. Solid gate carabiners are the most common type for sport quickdraws. Also, they are preferred when used to clip into bolt plates as they are less likely to wiggle free when climbing on carrots in Australia.
The gate uses a loop of wire, which makes for a lighter carabiner. It’s design is less likely to trap ice and dirt, which makes them ideal for alpine quickdraws and camming devices. Although a rare occurrence, a wire gate also has a lower chance of opening when the carabiner experiences unusually rapid movement (See blog on gate shutter or gate flutter).
Both solid and wire gates can come in a straight and/or bent version. The straight gate is commonly used on the bolt-end of the quickdraw and for racking protection. The bent gate focuses on the ergonomics of pushing a rope through the carabiner, making clipping rope to a quickdraw significantly easier.
Most popular type of locking carabiners because they’re simple, cheap, durable and reliable. The threaded barrel is screwed closed to lock or open to release the gate.
Screw locks require the good old-fashioned habits of double checking that your gear is locked and secured. While, if you’re struggling to get into the habit of checking, visual cues can help with noticing when they’re unlocked.
The barrel around the gate is spring-loaded resulting in a carabiner that is designed to close and lock itself. The design makes these carabiners quick to operate and convenient.
However, their features shouldn’t be taken for granted. Pre-climbing equipment checks should still be conducted and regular cleaning of the barrel to prevent ‘sticking’ or ‘jamming’ from sand and dirt.
Some carabiners feature a small indicator on the gate of a carabiner. The design helps you identify unlocked carabiners at a glance, which is a pretty useful feature at a crowded anchor.*
*Visual cues are useful, but should be in addition to physically checking that your carabiners are locked before every climb and at every anchor.
Several carabiners come with specialty gates that provide the auto-locking functionality through a unique gate design.
Note: While speciality gates are innovative and awesome, they do have their limitations. In Australia, we have plenty of ironstone which can break down into fine grit. Without regular cleaning of the magnets, magnetic locking carabiners can accumulate ironstone and prevent proper closure. Similarly, both magnetic and ball lock carabiners aren’t designed for use in alpine weather conditions either. They can seize from ice build up or become unusable when your fingers are too cold to make the precise movements needed to open the carabiner.
Just remember to always double check that your equipment is locked, even if you have the best locking carabiner in the world. Innovation has given us extremely cool gear that makes our lives easier, but that should not be at the compromise of good risk management habits!
The next step is to decide on the shape that fits your intended use. Carabiners can be found in four basic shapes that make them ideal for particular tasks. Check it out!
D-shaped carabiners are strong and durable, making them an excellent choice for a wide range of climbing tasks. The asymmetrical shape allows for the load to be distributed closer to the spine, where the major axis is strongest. The rope basket and runner end are similar in width.
Improving on the D-shape design, the “Offset D” exaggerates the rope basket to make for a lighter and stronger carabiner. The offset also allows the gate to be opened wider, which is ideal for quickdraws, small locking carabiners, and racking carabiners.
Sometimes labelled as “HMS” (“Halbmastwurf sicherung” or Munter Hitch Belay), this carabiner’s design is for rappelling and belaying with a device or a munter hitch. The larger gate opening makes it easier to clip in tube style belay devices loaded with ropes. While, the round rope basket helps manage wear on the rope and carabiner (See More On Material & Weight). These can be heavy, so one or two might be all you need to get out of a sticky situation.
Oval carabiners are the weakest of the herd, but they have some great uses. When it comes to racking protection, ovals can hold more pitons or nuts on a single carabiner. The symmetric shape helps centre the load when attaching webbing or pulleys to the carabiner, commonly used in primitive slacklines or weighted training. Sometimes you may see people use ovals to build a carabiner-brake rappel for a double rope descent.
You may not notice until you start using a carabiner, but the nose is super important. Not just in terms of strength, but in terms of application when climbing.
Non-keylock carabiners feature a notch in the nose that hooks onto the gate. The notch helps keep the carabiner’s gate closed when it’s under force. Typically, cheaper carabiners have non-keylock designs because they’re easier to manufacture. The downside to the design is the notch is prone to catching on to things, such as nuts/stoppers or bolt plates (you better start praying the plate doesn’t drop!).
The keylock system is where the gate connects to the nose like a jigsaw piece. It’s design is ideal for racking a set of nuts or ensuring that your carabiner doesn’t snag on a bolt, harness, or sling. You’ll see this system on premium solid gate carabiners, and sometimes you can find them on wire gates like the Camp Dyon or Petzl Ange.
With similar benefits to a keylock system, a hooded nose hides the notch from snagging on to equipment. It’s a common solution for wire gate carabiners, such as the Wild Country Helium.
After choosing the gate and shape, the size and weight is the next consideration when deciding on which carabiner suits your needs.
Though carabiners are generally quite light, you need to think about the combined weight of several carabiners on quickdraws or a trad rack. Managing weight is for obvious reasons, while size matters as well. Not only does size affect weight, but also a smaller carabiner has a smaller gate opening, which can be more difficult to clip ropes and belay devices into compared to a larger carabiner. So, how do we balance size and weight?
Most people will choose to rack nuts, stoppers, hexes or quickdraws with full sized carabiners. Especially if you have bigger hands, you’ll want the ease of handling. You can find a few full-sized carabiners that are super lightweight too, such as the Camp Photon Wire at 29g.
Sometimes you need to save on weight, like when putting together alpine quickdraws or racking cams. You can find mini carabiners that offer the same strength as full sized one and get down to being as light as 22g. In these cases the few grams saved can make a big difference.
MORE ON MATERIAL & WEIGHT
How do manufacturers reduce weight without compromising on strength? Now, that’s an interesting question. Here’s how.
Today, almost all recreational carabiners are made with a tempered aluminium alloy (7075-T6). It’s a high-strength material that balances the demand for light, ductile, and tough carabiners at a reasonable price. While the material does not change much between carabiners, the differences in strength-to-weight are achieved through the product’s design.
The rope basket and spine of a carabiner is where weight can be manipulated without compromising on strength. The rope basket and spine can be shaped “Round” or “I-beam”, as well as varying degrees of the two. The examples below show the different types:
Neither I-beam or Round
Round rope basket, I-beam Spine
The best way to describe the shapes is to imagine the cross section of the carabiner when it’s cut in half. A ‘round’ cross section would appear like an oval, while the ‘I-beam’ would look like the capital letter “i”. The design of the ‘I-beam’ shape uses less material for the same strength, effectively reducing the carabiner’s weight. So, why don’t all carabiners move towards an ‘I-beam’ shape?
The answer is longevity. All carabiners experience wear at the rope basket. This wear happens as abrasive materials (e.g. fine grit) on a rope passes through the carabiner and carves a groove in the basket. Now, what makes an ‘I-beam’ carabiner strong is the integrity of the “i” shape. Once the groove in the rope basket cuts into the middle part of the “i” shape, then the strength is significantly reduced and the carabiner could “snap”. But despite this, many people still prefer ‘I-beam’ shaped carabiners simply because they make fantastic light quickdraws. You’ll just need to keep an eye on their wear and be diligent about replacing them.
With “round” shaped carabiners there is more material and the wear happens at a slightly slower rate. The shape makes them best suited for rope-centric tasks like belaying, top rope anchors, and rappelling. You’ll find every pear-shaped carabiner to feature a round rope basket because they’re built for tube-style belay devices where there is lots of contact between the rope and carabiner.
Although steel carabiners seem like the better option in terms of strength and price, climbers choose aluminum carabiners because they’re light. An aluminium carabiner can weigh between 22 - 60g, while steel carabiners can weigh somewhere around 200 - 300g each.
Designed for industrial use, steel carabiners are generally more durable and strong. You can find them with strengths up to 60kN, which makes them almost 3x times stronger than an aluminum carabiner. However, this amount of strength is rarely required for recreational climbing. Rather, you’ll see steel carabiners used as fixed gear simply because the materials are more resistant to rope wear.
At Climbing Anchors, we only sell rated carabiners. You can trust that every carabiner we stock is certified for rock climbing and/or mountaineering. Yes, that means we don’t sell those cool keychain / bottle opener carabiners either.
If you’re looking for a carabiner for rock climbing, you should be looking to see that it is made by a known climbing manufacturer and has an “EN" and/or "UIAA” certification visible on the spine or via a database on the manufacturer's website.
What else should you know? Well, carabiners must meet a minimum strength requirement to be certified for a particiular use. Carabiners for rock climbing show a rating across three orientations:
The carabiner's strength is dictated by the "kN". One kN is roughly equal to 224.8 lb of force (101 kg). A carabiner loaded along the major axis with 23kN in strength can take about 5170.6 lb (2345.3 kg) of force. They're way stronger then you'll ever need them to be and if you don't believe me, then watch this video on how much force lead falls can generate.
It’s not common practice to clean carabiners. But, cleaning a couple times a year can make using your gear more enjoyable.
We get people visiting our stores in search of answers about their carabiner gates sticking or a grinding noise inside the barrel of the gate. Well the answer is quite simple, it’s time to clean your carabiner when:
Additionally, if you’re using them near salt water environments, then it’s a good idea to clean your equipment regularly. Even though carabiners are made with an aluminium alloy, the inner spring in the barrel or joining bar is made with steel that can rust.
I have been rock climbing for about four years and it’s taken me to beautiful places all over Australia. I love adventuring into the outdoors, seeking big multi-pitches, splitter cracks and night climbing. My local is the Blue Mountains (NSW), while in the winter I’ll migrate to Frog Buttress (QLD). When the weather’s right, you can catch me at places like Point Perpendicular, Arapiles, Tassie, Buffalo and maybe the Warrumbungles.