The market is saturated with carabiners that come in all different sizes, styles, and gate variations. It can be hard to determine the appropriate carabiner you need for climbing — especially with all the different types of climbing and situations for use. There isn’t one carabiner that works for everything, so it’s important to understand the appropriate carabiner to use in different situations. This is our guide to choosing the right carabiner for climbing — whether you prefer projecting on hard sport routes or embarking on long alpine climbs.
Anatomy of a Carabiner
Gate: The gate is the part of the carabiner that opens inwards to attach the rope, your harness, or a piece of protection. This piece is spring-loaded.
Spine: This is the part of the carabiner opposite from the gate, serving as its ‘back bone’. The spine needs to be strong as this is the primary place force and weight is carried.
Nose: The nose is the part of the carabiner that meets the gate.
Climbing carabiners must have specific certifications highlighted by meeting UIAA and CE standards. UIAA is an iconic label that attests to a piece of equipment having the highest international standards for safety. CE accredits independent labs to carry out safety testing and then issues certificates for products that pass. Carabiners are rated for strength in three directions including the major axis (lengthwise), the minor axis (sideways), and with the gate open. These ratings are directly marked on the carabiner and make for easy evaluation of strength from one carabiner to another.
Carabiner Size and Weight
Larger carabiners tend to be stronger and allow for more clearance for clipping ropes because they typically have larger gate openings. Gate open clearance is measured in millimeters. Too little clearance may make it difficult to clip the rope to the carabiner. For belay and rappel devices, you’re definitely going to want to have a larger belay device in your arsenal. Smaller carabiners are lighter weight and take up less room on your rack, ideal for trad and alpine climbing when every ounce matters and you’re less likely to be taking repeated huge whippers. It’s important to note that lightweight carabiners can have lower open gate strengths and tend to have shorter lifespans. Narrower carabiners can also cause more rope wear.
Oval: Oval carabiners are the original kind of carabiner. The symmetrical shape means they can easily be rotated or flipped around. They’re ideal for aid climbing but they’re typically weaker than other shapes and fairly heavy. One advantage of oval carabiners is that they are relatively inexpensive. Here is a standard oval climbing carabiner.
D-Shaped: D-shaped carabiners are the strongest type of carabiner boasting an asymmetrical shape that tends to move force away from the gate. They can also be designed lightweight and have a wider gate opening, making for easy clipping. These are commonly used in quickdraws or for locking anchor points. They are more expensive than oval shaped carabiners.
Offset D-Shaped: Similar to D-shaped carabiners, these provide for a wider gate opening making for easier clipping, as they offer an exaggerated asymmetrical design. This makes them slightly smaller at one end. They are probably the most popular type of carabiner. They’re slightly more expensive than standard D-shaped carabiners. Here is an example of an offset D-shaped carabiner available for purchase.
Pear Shape: These carabiners are pretty much oversized version of offset D-shaped carabiners. Also called HMS carabiners, they are ideal for use in belaying and rappelling and make for excellent anchor points, whether top roping or multi-pitch climbing. They are typically heavier and more expensive than other types but it’s necessary to have an HMS carabiner in your gear arsenal.
Different Types of Gates
Carabiners come in different shapes and sizes and they also boast different styles of gates. Different kinds of gates are appropriate for different kinds of climbing, depending on your personal preferences and the purpose of the carabiner. They are divided into two categories: locking and non-locking.
Snaplink (Non-locking Gates)
Straight Gate: Straight gate carabiners are strong, durable, and easy to use. They are commonly found on quickdraws and also often used for racking gear. The gate is constructed from solid aluminum or steel and forms a straight line from the hinge to the closure point. Spring loaded mechanisms allow the gate to open when pushed but will automatically close when released. Many straight gate carabiners feature a smooth notch where the nose and that gate interact, preventing it from hooking on your harness or equipment. This feature is called a keylock. Here is an example of a straight gate carabiner available for purchase.
Bent Gate: These gates are solid like straight-gate carabiners but have an inwards bend on the gate, giving them a curved appearance. They make for easy clipping of the rope and therefore are commonly found on the rope end of quickdraws. These carabiners are not intended to be clipped into protection points and should be used accordingly. Bent-gate carabiners can also be keylock carabiners, making them less likely to snag. Here is an example of a bent gate carabiner available for purchase.
Wiregate: These are the lightest carabiners, featuring a narrow loop of wire for the gate as opposed to solid metal. Wiregate designs make for larger gate openings and are less likely to freeze in wet, cold conditions in addition to withstanding corrosion better than other styles. Wiregate carabiners are available in either straight or bent gate designs. Wiregates are also less likely to vibrate open in the chance of a fall, making for added utility during any type of climbing. Take a look at this wiregate carabiner.
Locking gate carabiners offer increased peace of mind as they provide extra protection against accidental gate openings. You need to use a locking carabiner with your belay or rappel device. The only downsides to locking carabiners are their added weight, but it’s helpful to have a few on hand for anchor building or in places when you need extra protection.
Screw-lock: The screw locking carabiner must be manually opened or closed in order to release the gate. Fewer moving parts make for added utility.
Twist-lock: These carabiners have spring loaded sleeves that must be turned in order to release the gate from the nose. The lock closes automatically but because of the added moving parts, twist-lock carabiners are more susceptible to wear and tear.
Be sure to check out Aspiring Safety’s full line of climbing carabiners.