The Best Locking Carabiners
What is the best locking carabiner for rock climbing? We compared 15 of the best locking carabiners in a variety of tests to find out. We judged each carabiner on the following six categories: lightness/compactness, ease of unlocking, gate hang up, amount of knots held, rope pull smoothness, and gate clearance. In the end, we found that there was no one product that excels at everything. Instead, there are three main categories which each had their own top products: lightweight locking carabiners, medium belay and rappel carabiners, and large belay and rappel carabiners.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Locking Carabiner
Petzl Attache 3D
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Rocklock
Analysis and Test Results
Lightness and Compactness
Our favorite lightweight locking carabiner was the Wild Country Neon which edged ahead of the other two super light carabiners: the Mad Rock Super Tech Keylock Screw and the Trango SuperFly Screwlock. Which was the lightest? It's hard to say because the manufacturer weight listings were a little different than our own measurements. They are all within a few grams of each other with the Trango and Wild Country being a little lighter than the Mad Rock. The Neon is our top pick because it had the smoothest keylock gate, was really easy to handle and just looks cool. The Mad Rock scored only a little lower and is much cheaper. If we were on a budget, we would go with the Mad Rock. The Trango is a solid biner but we prefer the keylock gate of the other biners. It was also the most expensive of the three. Another notable light biner is the Petzl Attache 3D which is not as light as these three, but is probably the lightest considering its size. With most light biners, the small size means you sacrifice a little in the range of activities the carabiner is good for. That is why the light biners in general scored so low. They just don't do a lot of functions as well as bigger models. The Attache 3D on the other hand is very light and very functional across a wide variety of tasks.
Ease of Unlocking and Locking
The DMM Boa twistlock was the easiest carabiner to lock and unlock. The twist lock is incredibly smooth and the shape of the carabiner makes it very easy to lock and unlock. In general, all the twistlock carabiners were easier to lock and unlock than the screw gates. As far as screwgate carabiners, there were five carabiners that all tied for best (you can see them in the rating chart). The Petzl carabiners stood out for having bigger twist gates that were easy to use, especially with gloves. The Wild Country Synergy stood out for taking just one accurately placed twist to completely unlock (this probably only works with the carabiner is new and smooth).
Gate Hang Up
All the keylock carabiners did great in these tests which involved seeing how easily the gates got hung up on bolt hangers and slings with unclipping. It's hard to single out a clear winner in this category. The clear low scorers were the non-keylock carabiners. We would still use a non-keylock carabiner, but we really prefer the keylock feature.
Number of Knots Held
The DMM Boa and Black Diamond Rocklock got top scores for holding the most knots and slings. These are great locking carabiners to use as the "master point" of an anchor because you can easily clip multiple knots on a bite, slings and other items. The Petzl carabiners and the Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner also scored very high. Not surprisingly, the worst scores came from the lightest and smallest carabiners. The exception was the Petzl Attache 3D which is very light but still scored well for holding many knots and slings.
Rope Pull Smoothness
The best carabiner for pulling rope over was the Petzl Attache. It has a wide diameter and is almost perfectly round which makes the rope pass over with minimal friction. It is no surprise this is the carabiner most guides use when belaying a second in auto-block mode from the anchor. The Petzl Attache 3D scored nearly as well and is much lighter. Many other carabiners scored high and would make great belay carabiners. The super light mini carabiners scored the world.
The Black Diamond Rocklock and Omega Pacific Jake scored the best for gate clearance but there were many other carabiners close behind. The carabiners with the worst gate clearance were the small lightweight carabiners.
The History of a Locking Carabiner
Rock climbing and mountaineering has roots dating back into the 16th century, although with marked differences from the current sport. Often the earliest climbs, like the first ascent of Mount Blanc in 1786, were done by the most obvious path to the summit. These early mountaineers would follow the path that provided the most 'walking' terrain. Still these climbs often came with grave consequences and were not without their technical challenges. By the late 1800's there were many different mountaineering groups spread across Europe. Often many of these groups would hold meetings at their local cliffs or boulders, like the boulders strewn about the forests of Fontainebleau outside of Paris, France. Here these early mountain climbers would practice their climbing skills in order to prepare for the Alps and other big mountains.
It is hard to imagine a time before many of the modern tools that we use in rock climbing, however, there was a time before even the simplest items like a carabiner. In fact, the name carabiner dates back to 1800 and the Napoleonic Wars where it stems from the German phrase 'karabinerhaken', which translates to 'snap hook.' The snap hook in reference was one being used to connect a carbine rifleman's bandoleir to his carbine rifle. These snap hooks were also used by the "Carabiners", as they were called, to affix various items to their belts and bandoliers. Through the years the name of these rifleman became associated with the snap hooks they used.
By 1868, an official patent for these snap hooks surfaced. The item was a metal oval, most likely made of steel, that had a gate that could be opened outwards and then pushed closed. The patent labels the biner as a 'ring hook' and it was most likely intended for connecting chain or tied rope together. By 1897 another patent appears, this time referred to as a snap hook. This hook slightly resembles a modern day biner but has a second connecting point, a closed metal ring, affixed to the top of an oval with an openable gate (imagine a biner with an extra circle attached to the end).
By the late 1890's, another patent showed up for a tear drop shaped snap hook that has a small piece of metal inserted over the gate arm. This piece of metal has threads on it and can be screwed up to block the gate from being opened. It is here that we see the first locking carabiner.
In the early 1900s, mountaineers had limited ways for connecting themselves and their rope to a piece of protection. At the time the majority of protection for rock climbing was created by tying a rope around a block wedged in a crack, known as a chockstone, or by tying off flakes or horns of rock. When the climber would tie off one of these points they would tie the protection rope around their rope in order to catch them should they fall. Around this time climbers had begun to create and utilize the very first pitons, metal wedges to be hammered into cracks for protection. However, with the advent of pitons and their popularization as the best form of protection, climbers needed a way to connect their rope to their pitons, and so the carabiner became apart of the rock climbers tools.
It was around 1911 that a strong German rock climber and mountaineer by the name of Otto Herzog was pushing the limits of climbing in the Alps. Herzog was a strong proponent of using pitons while climbing and mountaineering and is often credited as being the first person to use carabiners in a climbing system. Herzog used these biners to clip his rope to his pitons so that should he fall they would catch him. It didn't take long for this to become the method of choice for climbing protection. By 1921 a company based in Munich, Germany began to produce the first biner specifically for climbing, it was made of steel and weighed in nearly six times as heavy as a modern day biner at 130 grams.
During the second World War the US government began to outsource the production of many different high demand items that could be made in different sorts of shops across the nation, from textiles to metal products. Many different circular stock aluminum carabiners showed up during these years made by various companies and then stamped with a generic US label. In the post-war era many of these biners, pitons and tools came into the hands of the ever growing sub-culture of rock climbers who were striving to tackle bigger, harder and more technical objective across the nation and around the world.
Many of the early American climbing legends in the United States started their climbing careers with military issue pitons, biners and fabric goods like duffle bags and backpacks. In 1957 one of these climbers, Yvon Chouinard, had recognized both a need and a demand for improved climbing specific hardware, so he purchased a second-hand forge and began manufacturing a new line of pitons and carabiners and then selling them out of the trunk of his car. These new lighter and stronger carabiners and the various sizes of pitons played a major roll in revolutionizing the rock climbing game and opening a world of big wall climbs like those on the massive granite walls in Yosemite valley.
Over the next thirty or more years, the carabiner continued to see many improvements and modifications. Many different screw gate models were introduced and in the late 1970s the first auto-locking biner was prototyped by Salewa. During these years the biggest modifications were in the different construction patterns and most importantly the different types of metal alloys that they were made from. Companies have since embraced high tech methods for forging metal to create incredibly light weight and amazingly strong biners, often weighing less than one ounce, or 28 grams, and holding as much as 7500 pounds or more. So today we can be thankful that we don't have to carry dozens of 130 gram steel biners with as many heavy iron pitons!
— Chris McNamara and Chris Summit
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