The Quest for the Best Carabiner Review
We wanted to find out which carabiner was the best, so we've updated our old review to look at some of the newer products out there, and compared them to some classic performers. Even though carabiners have been used for rock climbing for over 100 years, the innovation still continues. Our testers used the products in this review for three months on a variety of single and multi-pitch traditional climbs. Our side-by-side comparison testing evaluated how well each model unclipped and clipped, how well it handled, how many ropes it could fit, how smoothly the rope pulled through, and its portability. This review will go over our findings and fill you in on whether some of these new innovations are worth the extra bucks.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Analysis and Test Results
There seems to be as many different types of products out now as there are routes to be climbed. If you're a dedicated sport climber, you might never even purchase a free, stand-alone biner, choosing a manufacturer's pre-assembled quickdraw instead. But once you start placing gear while trad climbing, the carabiners will accumulate. First 10, then 20, and by the time you decide to climb El Cap, you could have 50 or more of them in your gear box. Our main reviewer recently did an inventory of her gear, and after 20 years of climbing she and her husband have accumulated over 100 (and that's not including the dozens that have already been retired). No wonder people just stick to bouldering these days!
To help you select the right product, we've tested and compared 18 different models, from "old-school" ovals to the lightest biners being made today. Keep reading to see what performance criteria we find essential in these pieces of aluminum, and what you'll want to keep in mind when buying your next set.
You can also read our buying advice for even more detailed information on the ins and outs of product construction and how to select the right one for your main climbing objectives.
These products can be sorted out in several ways: shape, gate, and function.
Oval (big wall climbing)
Pear (belaying, large lockers)
D (old school trad, big wall climbing, belaying)
Off-set D (most common shape; comes in bent and straight gate)
Solid Gates (locking and non-locking)
Criteria For Evaluation
Ease of Unclipping
A lot of people focus on how easy it is to clip a piece of climbing gear, but we spend just as much time unclipping our gear as we do clipping it, and this is a crucial purchasing decision. You might love a certain model's clipping action, but if it has an exposed notch in the nose that the gate latches on, you (or your follower) won't love unclipping it, particularly as the wall steepens.
It used to be that all models had a notch to catch either a pin in the solid gate or the wiregate itself. Then Petzl invented the keylock design, and these days almost all solid gate models are keylock. With this design, the nose sits in a groove in the gate itself, eliminating any notches that might snag on your gear. The keylock models that we tested scored very high in this metric, particularly the Petzl Spirit Straight Gate, Petzl Djinn Straight Gate, and Black Diamond Positron. These products make excellent choices for quickdraws, so that you can easily clean a steep sport route without getting it stuck on the rope or the bolt. It's also a safer product to use on the bolt end of a quickdraw as it cannot become
Many people prefer wiregates over solid gates since they are generally easier to clip, lighter, and have a larger gate opening. But most wiregates still have a notch in the nose, leading to some frustrating unclipping scenarios. Some manufacturers have created keylock/wiregate hybrids, like the Wild Country Helium. In this model, the wiregate latches onto a notch that is inset into the nose. The notch is buried deep in there and cannot snag on anything. Black Diamond has taken a different route with the Black Diamond LiveWire and Black Diamond Oz wiregates, adding a stainless steel wire hood over the notch instead. All of these models were easier to unclip than ones with an exposed notch. An added benefit of this extra bit of engineering is that the bigger nose profiles protect the gate from scraping open against the rock. The two downsides are that the bulbous nose can be tricky to fit in tighter situations and the fancy designs come with a fancy price tag.
If you climb steep routes, either sport or trad, definitely keep all this in mind and choose a product that scored highly in this category. Otherwise, you might not even notice an unprotected wiregate on your cams or slings, but you might want to purchase one or two larger keylocking model, like the Petzl Djinn, to rack your nuts on.
Ease of Clipping
There are two characteristics that seem to affect the ease of clipping most: the size of the biner and the stiffness of the gate. While some prefer the clipping action of a wiregate over a solid gate, we had both score well in this category. Wiregates are less prone to icing up in cold conditions though, and should be your first choice for ice or alpine climbing. How important is this metric? If you're mostly climbing on cruiser terrain and doubt you'll ever be clipping from a tenuous position, then it might not be much of a concern. But for any type of hard-for-you climbing, where you need your clips to be fast and assured, you'll want a product that scored highly in this category.
When it comes to size, bigger really is better for clipping. The full size Wild Country Helium, Wild Country Nitro, Petzl Spirit, and Black Diamond LiveWire were all top scorers in this category. When the models started shrinking, however, so did their scores. The smaller Black Diamond Oz, Mad Rock UltraLight Bent Gate and Wild Country Astro were all a little more difficult to clip and our testers found clipping the super small CAMP Nano 23 and the Metolius FS Mini downright difficult.
The other factor that affects clipping action is the tension on the gate. Part of this comes down to personal preferences - some people prefer stiff gates over soft, or vice versa. Overall our testers seemed to prefer the medium to medium-stiff tension. The Petzl Spirit was a tester favorite, along with the Wild Country Helium and Black Diamond LiveWire. The Black Diamond Oz and CAMP Nano 23 were a little too much on the stiff side and didn't score as highly, nor did the CAMP Photon Wire with its weaker gate tension. While a soft gate tension might seem easier to clip at first, the downside is that it's easier for them to cross clip themselves when all jammed up on your harness. It can be really frustrating to reach for a piece or quickdraw in a crucial situation only to find that your gear is in a knot. This did happen to us when testing the CAMP Photon Wire.
Ease of Handling
Our testers found that larger products were easier to handle than smaller ones, with or without gloves on, particularly at the end of a long climb when your hands become fatigued. If you do climb in cold conditions, be sure to consider a full-sized model like the Wild Country Helium or CAMP Photon Wire. If you aid climb with gloves on, best to cut the fingers off so you can still use some smaller biners and save on weight.
Another thing to consider with this category is how you rack your gear when trad climbing. If you rack on a sling, you will most likely have ample space, but if you rack on your harness, you will want a product with a narrower spine so that things don't become bunched up. The CAMP Photon Wires are so narrow that six of them are the same width as five Petzl Djinns. This makes a big difference when trying to stuff a double set on your harness.
How Many Ropes Fit
We subjected each of the models reviewed here to our "three-rope test." Could the products hold three figure eights on-a-bight and still have the gate open fully? This is an important purchasing consideration if 1) you climb big walls and will be anchoring off the biners you buy; 2) you climb multi-pitch routes, particularly with parties of three; or 3) you like clove hitches.
Predictably, it was the small models like the CAMP Nano 23 and the Metolius FS Mini that scored poorly in this category. Generally speaking, the larger ones scored well, as long as they had a correspondingly large gate opening. For example, the Petzl Spirit straight gate is full sized but it has the same 21 mm gate opening as the much smaller Nano 23 (by default, solid gates have a smaller gate opening than wiregates). It was difficult to fully open the Spirit's gate when it held three loops of 10 mm rope.
The products with the largest baskets and the largest gate openings (and therefore the best performers in this category) were the CAMP Photon Wire, Petzl Djinn, Wild Country Helium, and Black Diamond HotWire.
We also tested out twin 7.8 mm ropes with these models to see how well the double ropes worked with each one. Even the small CAMP Nano 23 was able to hold the two ropes just fine, though we wouldn't want to clip two 10 mm ropes in there.
Rope Pull Smoothness
We tested how smoothly the rope pulls through each piece of gear for two reasons: the effect of rope drag and the wear on your rope. When lead climbing, you want the least amount of friction between the rope and the carabiner so that you're not fighting rope drag all the way up a route. On an Indian Creek splitter crack you might never notice the friction, but if you are on a long pitch, or the route wanders a lot, you will start to notice it even with a lot of extended slings. This is the one category that the oval biners scored highly in, as the round basket and large rope bearing surface helped to reduce friction. Products with narrower rope bearing surfaces will be harder on your rope, particularly if you use them for top-roping or you're taking repeated falls. This is why most sport climbing quickdraws still use full size models, as opposed to smaller lightweight ones.
We've divided the products we tested into three categories: lightweight for alpine, multi-pitch, and speed ascents; all-around for traditional climbing or sport climbers who want the lightest full-size models possible; and heavy for sport or big wall climbers who like to take their time.
Lightweight: alpine, multi-pitch, & speed ascents
CAMP Nano 23 (23 grams)
Metolius FS Mini (24 grams)
Black Diamond Oz (28 grams)
Wild Country Astro (28 grams)
CAMP Photon Wire Express (29 grams)
Wild Country Nitro (31 grams)
Mad Rock UltraLight (32 grams)
Trango Superfly (32 grams)
All-around: traditional or sport
Wild Country Helium (33 grams)
Black Diamond Neutrino (36 grams)
Black Diamond HotWire (37 grams)
Petzl Spirit Straight (39 grams)
Heavy: sport or big wall
Black Diamond LiveWire (44 grams)
Petzl Djinn (45 grams)
Camp Orbit Bent (45 grams)
Black Diamond Oval Wire (45 grams)
Black Diamond PosiTron (49 grams)
Black Diamond Oval (64 grams)
The CAMP Nano 23 is impressively half the weight of some of the "heavy" products (we should note that the "heavy" biners used to be the standard weight before the hot forging and I-beam construction revolution.) Twenty Nano 23s weigh one pound, compared to two pounds for the CAMP Orbit and almost three pounds for the Black Diamond Oval. If you extrapolate that to a big wall rack, where you might be carrying up to 60 carabiners, switching all your ovals out to an ultra-lightweight one will save you 6 pounds. Anyone who's tried to mantle with a 25-pound aid rack on knows that six fewer pounds on their harness would be a dream!
However, there is a trade-off with the lighter weight models, and that is overall usability. The Nano 23 and Metolius FS Mini did not score well in any other metric that we tested. For a few extra ounces overall you can upgrade to a still-small-but-bigger-than-a-keychain-carabiner like the Black Diamond Oz or Wild Country Astro, which are considerably easier to use.
The History of a Carabiner
In the mid 1800's, rock climbing was still in its neonatal infancy, if you will. The activity of climbing rocks and mountains does date back into the late 16th century but with major differences to that of modern day alpinism. The earliest climbs, like that of Mount Blanc in 1786 were often done by the 'walking' path to the summit, while not without its challenges, it was a far less technical game. By the late 19th century different mountaineering groups across Europe were beginning to practice climb at their local cliffs and on boulders near major city centers. These skills were then transferred to the bigger mountains, like the Alps, where the climbing skills were employed to summit unclimbed mountains.
The first patent for an item resembling a carabiner shows up in 1868. The oval of metal, most likely steel, has an openable gate and on this early rendition the gate opens outwards. This early carabiner, labeled as a ring hook, was not intended for climbing but likely connecting chain or tied rope together. Another early rendition of a carabiner patent appears around 1897, referred to as a snap hook and again made of steel. This biner had two connecting points, one that could be accessed by the opening and closing spring loaded gate and another sealed ring for tying into.
The name carabiner goes back long before this first patent, however. The name stems from the German phrase 'karabinerhaken' which loosely means 'spring hook.' The earliest forms of these snap hooks were used by German carbine riflemen during the Napoleonic Wars at the start of the 19th century. These riflemen, dubbed carabiniers, used the snap hooks to connect their bandolier to their rifle and to attach items to their bandolier or belt, and the name seems to have stuck.
By the early 20th century, the application of the biner had changed entirely as mountain climbers found themselves limited in the ways they were able to secure themselves to a rope and then again limited in ways to secure their rope to their protection. At the time, climbing protection mainly consisted of tying a sling around a wedged block in a crack, known as chockstones, or tied off flakes and horns of rock. The climber would tie the sling around the block and then around the rope, a time consuming process. As different forms of protection were introduced to the mountaineering community in Europe in the late 19th century Pitons became the preferred form of protection. Being able to hammer in a piton whenever the climber wanted allowed for climbers to begin pushing the difficulty of routes. However climbers now needed a way to secure their rope to the piton without untying to pass the rope through a tied sling.
At this point, in 1911, a strong young mountaineer by the name of Otto Herzog was pushing the limits of climbing in the Alps. Herzog is credited with being the first person to use an early form of the carabiner in a climbing system. These were likely a heavy steel oval shaped biner with a spring loaded, inwards opening gate, very resemblant to a modern day biner. In 1921 a Munich, Germany based company had begun to produce one of the first climbing specific biners which weighed in at 130 grams (that is over 6 times as heavy as most biners today).
By the late 1930s and beginning of World War Two, many companies in both the US and Europe had begun to manufacture aluminum versions of the classic oval snap hook. There are many mysterious manufacturers from these years, likely companies that had the tools and equipment to manufacture an item that was in demand by the US government, so several different companies took up contracts for short periods of time. As the sub culture of climbing began to take root in the US during the post-war era and early 1950s, climbers began to tackle bigger, harder, and more technical objectives and many of these army tools found their way into rock climbing.
Many of the early legends of climbing in the United States started with military issue pitons and biners. However, by the 1957 one American climber had decided there was a demand and a need for some very specific tools in rock climbing and so Yvon Chouinard set to work and began manufacturing climbing equipment. Chouinard started manufacturing pitons and carabiners with a second-hand coal fired forge and selling them out of the trunk of his car. These new products were lighter and stronger and along with his pitons played a roll in changing the rock climbing game and opening the world of big wall climbing, like the massive walls of Yosemite Valley.
Throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties many different variations on the biner were created. Sometimes strange designs like twisted patterns or the use of hollow aluminum stock were tested. But the biggest developments with biners over the years comes from the metal that they are made from. The days of hand poured aluminum stock are long gone as the technology and development of biners has become similar to rock science. Engineers are constantly exploring new metal alloys and different shapes to decrease the weight and increase the strength.
Today, most models weigh in at close to (and often less than) one ounce or 28 grams. Most biners utilize an "I-Beam" construction, which is just as it sounds based on the same principles as a massive I-beam used in construction. Modern biners are created using a mix of different forging techniques, both hot forging and cold forging. These techniques allow for the use of a wider variety of metal alloys which weigh less yet have increased strength. So next time you are out climbing, be thankful you don't have an entire rack of steel biners and heavy steel pitons, all clipped into a hemp rope!
— Cam McKenzie Ring
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