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How to Choose a Carabiner

By Charlie Townsend

Trying to choose some carabiners for climbing? There are a lot of options, and it can be pretty overwhelming. Most of us will end up with 30 or more, and since we use each carabiner for such a huge variety of applications in our normal climbing, versatility often trumps specialization when picking one design over another. Start by asking yourself a few key questions about what you’re clipping to what.

How to Choose a Carabiner

When Your Life Depends On It

Is the security of that connection absolutely critical (i.e., there’s no backup)? Then a locking carabiner makes the most sense, especially for things like attaching your belay or rappel device to your harness, or clipping yourself to an anchor. Do you ever belay with a Munter hitch? Then grab one of those wide-mouth versions. Otherwise, a standard oval or D-shaped design will work just fine. Some people prefer auto-locking models, but those locks still need to be double-checked—especially in the winter— as they can snag on stuff or get jammed with ice.

If You Just Need Some Backup

Will this carabiner be part of a larger system that already incorporates some redundancy? Then a nonlocking carabiner is usually sufficient. Plus, it has the advantage of being lighter, less expensive, and easier to use than a locking one. There are way too many options, so first consider the size and weight, since you might end up with two dozen of these things. If you’re lugging your gear great distances or cranking up a lot of overhanging routes, then tiny lightweight options might be justified. For most of us, however, those little fiddly guys can be annoying, especially when wearing winter gloves.

Solid Gates vs. Wiregates

Which style of gate would work best here: solid or wiregate? Straight or bent? Carabiners with wiregates instead of solid gates can be startling at first (“Really? It looks like a safety pin!”), but they can actually offer some advantages: a wider gate opening, a resistance to freezing shut, and a reduced likelihood of that gate flinging open when the carabiner smacks the rock. Also, consider a few bent-gate carabiners to reside solely on the rope end of your quickdraws, as they can be easier to clip when you’re stressed—but remember that they can also come unclipped more easily if your rope doubles back over the gate as you fall past it.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

i) Don’t get distracted and grab those toy versions meant for your keychain and such.

ii) All the carabiners Eastern Mountain Sports offers are strong enough for their intended uses. The strength ratings are printed on the gear itself, and they all come with technical information describing the relevant do’s and don’ts, so there’s no need to agonize over 23 kN vs. 24 kN.

iii) The strength of any carabiner can be significantly diminished by improper use, as when loading it crosswise, over an edge, with its gate open, etc. Read all those warnings.

iv) If that carabiner you’re considering looks dramatically different from all the others, it probably has specialized uses—and limitations—that you need to understand. Don’t just buy it because it looks cool; do your homework to grasp the designer’s intent. Misuse can be catastrophic.


About the Author:
Charlie is a climbing guide and director of the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School in North Conway, New Hampshire.


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