The Best Locking Carabiners
The carabiner is an indispensable tool for rock and alpine climbers, mountaineers and backpackers, and even folks who just want to hang their keys on something. Carabiners come in both locking and non-locking varieties, and while both are used during a climbing outing, they each have their own unique applications. We took 10 popular locking carabiners and used them in a wide range of climbing and mountaineering situations to see which ones performed the best. We rated each carabiner on function, ease of locking and unlocking, compactness and weight as well as gate clearance and hang up. Keep reading to discover which contenders came out on top during our testing.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
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Analysis and Test Results
Locking carabiners, or simply lockers, are just metal snap-links that are kept securely shut by way of a locking gate. While this seems simple enough, there are many styles of lockers out on the market now, designed with different tasks in mind. While there used to be very few styles of locking type carabiners beside the big and bulky, classic HMS shape, now there are so many to choose from that we have updated this review to feature some of the newest designs alongside some of our trusty lockers that have long been on our harness.
Since there are as many applications for lockers as there are products on the market, let's take a look at what makes some of these carabiners in our review stand out from the crowd.
The shape of the carabiner is important to its function in a given application. Some can be used interchangeably with little negative effect, and others perform poorly at tasks they are not designed for.
The most popular style on the market, this shape comprises about 60 percent of the available carabiners produced. The Black Diamond Positron is a good small-medium sized offset-D. It is a slight modification to the standard D-shaped locker described below, with some notable improvements that make it so useful to climbers. The Offset D features a wider basket that improves function, allows for a wider gate opening and can be scaled down resulting in smaller and lighter weight lockers. Some strength is lost from the D shape, since the load is not as evenly distributed to the spine.
HMS, or pear-shaped lockers, have a wide basket and a narrow crotch. The Mad Rock Ultra Tech HMS is a good example of this shape. HMS stands for halb mastwurf sicherung, or the half clove hitch belay. Most climbers know this as a Munter hitch. The Munter is a hitch that takes up a lot of space on the basket or the carabiner and needs to freely move without being pinched by the spine, hence the wide basket. These are also used frequently as belay and rappel carabiners as they allow for even feeding of brake strands without pinching because of the wide, symmetrical basket used.
D-shaped lockers are not as popular, but are still produced by climbing companies. The Omega Pacific ISO Locking Standard D is still seen on enough climber's racks that we included it in the review. The standard D shape is popular for those seeking high strength carabiners for use in anchoring systems since the shape keeps the load oriented along the strongest axis (the spine), but is a poor performer at many other common climbing tasks due to the tight basket and crotch shape. Other designs have improved on the D shape, such as the Petzl Am'd, which although not a true symmetrical D, keeps high major axis strength while allowing a wider gate opening and larger basket area.
The oval is the original carabiner design, and the oval shaped locker is still produced by some companies. While there are certain benefits to the oval shape, like being able to fit a lot of gear onto it, the shape is inherently weaker than others since the load is not directly in line with the spine, and does not have as wide as an opening or useful basket as Offset D or HMS lockers. We did not test any true oval locking style carabiner shapes.
Gate Closure Style
Locking type carabiners are often described as being double-action or triple-action. This basically means that to open a triple-action locker, you need to perform three separate movements. A non-locker is a single action, a regular screw gate is a double action, and a gate that requires you to twist, slide, and then open the gate would be a triple action locker. Here we describe the three styles featured in our review, which does not represent ALL styles of locking carabiner closures out there.
This is by far the most popular style of gate closure system. The screw gate relies on a small metal cylinder which screws up and over the nose of the carabiner, preventing the gate from being opened. Some designs, like the DMM Master 2, use an additional closure that further prevents the screw gate from opening. The downside to standard screw gates is that they must be manually closed each time, something climbers often are forgetful about. For this reason, Petzl among others put a red stripe along the gate of the carabiner to indicate whether it is closed or not – "See red, you might be dead!"
Twist gates, such as on the Petzl Am'd Twist, can sometimes be more cumbersome to open, but the locking mechanism is automatic once released, thanks to an internal spring, making for a potentially more user-friendly tool, especially when used with belaying. Just like with screw gates, grit and grime can clog up the mechanism, so they are not completely foolproof.
Okay, let's be honest, this category didn't even exist until a couple of years ago. When Black Diamond came out with the Magnetron line of locking type carabiners, some were skeptical, but they have proved worthy in many applications. They are in reality a double-action locker, even though the user must depress both sides of the magnet closures at the same time to open the gate. It is an automatically locking closure, but the magnets do attract ferrous material if left in the dirt and can become sticky or clogged. Also, when used in cold and icy conditions the gate is more likely to freeze shut than others.
Criteria for Evaluation
A locking specific carabiner should be used whenever it is the critical link in the safety system. This could be when used for belaying or rappelling, attaching to an anchor, connecting yourself to ascending devices, or during many of the other times when climbers find themselves needing to rely heavily on a single piece of equipment. While all contenders will be able to perform these tasks, some are only suited to narrow, specific situations. The Petzl Attache was the highest scoring locker for function, for its overall usefulness, but carabiners like the Omega Pacific ISO Standard Locking D scored poorly in this category for their narrow range of function.
We gave higher marks to those lockers that could function well across many applications. A small, extremely lightweight locker like the Edelrid Pure Screw is a boon to those seeking weight savings on demanding climbs or on long backcountry trips, but will not offer the same across-the-board performance as an all-purpose locker like the Mad Rock Ultra-Tech HMS. Some lockers, such as the DMM Belay Master 2, are so obviously designed for a specific purpose, such as attaching a belay device to a climbing harness belay loop, that we did not deduct any scoring for functioning poorly during uses for which they were not intended.
There are many variables that can affect a locking carabiner's function, including stock shape (round, oval or I-beam construction), gate opening style, and carabiner shape as discussed above, to name a few. Durability is included in our function score, and how well a carabiner stands up to the abuse that climbing environments can inflict on gear is an important consideration. Lightweight construction is a benefit in areas where the rope can stay clean from dirt and grit, but in places like the desert your ultra-light belay locker might be heavily grooved after only a handful of pitches!
There has been quite the revolution in carabiner technology in the past couple of decades, and the modern climber no longer has to be content with heavy, full-sized carabiners comprising their rack. Quickdraws, racking carabiners and cams have all been re-engineered to maintain the same strength we expect from our equipment, at a fraction of the weight. Our Best Carabiner Review highlights many modern carabiner designs that can take pounds off of your harness, and while the majority of the carabiners we carry are non-lockers, if you are carrying six to eight lockers on a standard multi-pitch rock climb, the bulk and weight of those lockers can begin to add up.
The Edelrid Pure Screw was the only locker to receive a score of 10 in this category, for its scant 43 gram weight. We were also quite impressed at the Black Diamond Vaporlock Magnetron, an auto-locking carabiner that is full sized but still only 56 grams. Our Best Bang for Buck locker, the Black Diamond Rocklock Screwgate is sure nice to work with, but at 85 grams was far too heavy to carry on long routes or in large quantities.
A locker's size is an important point-were able to carry more lockers and avoid running out when building critical safety systems when they are smaller and less cumbersome. Compactness is not always favorable though, as the locker's functionality decreases the smaller the carabiner gets. One could use the smallest locker on the market to attach an auto-blocking belay device such as the Petzl Reverso to an anchor, but that carabiner would perform poorly if tasked with clipping into a bulky master point.
Weight is also one of the major deciding points in purchasing a locking type carabiners. The metal we take with us up on the cliffs and into the mountains can be a heavy burden both on the approaches as well as the climbs. By lightening our racks without leaving anything important behind, we can climb faster and have more fun, but weight savings also come at a cost. In exchange for featherweight gear, we trade in durability, price, and sometimes function. The lighter weight, I-beam carabiner construction used on lockers such as the Petzl Attache can experience gate shutter when they are knocked against another hard surface, a phenomenon that can open the screw gate if the carabiner is not oriented correctly.
Ease of Locking/Unlocking
Above we described a few of the different styles of gate closures found on the lockers that are featured in this review. What we look for in a locker is the ability to manipulate the locking mechanism with one hand, since we are often performing our tasks at the anchor with our other hand holding onto either the rock or the anchor, ability to open and close the carabiner while wearing gloves, and the overall ease of use.
Most of the screw gates performed about the same in our review tests; however, some, like the Omega Pacific ISO Standard Locking D, we found too easy to over-tighten both in the open and closed position. When screw gates rattle a little bit on the gate, having perhaps been milled too large, they can end up screwing onto the stopper ring at the bottom of the threads, making them stick.
The only twist lock carabiner in the review, the Petzl Am'd, was a welcome relief to the clunky and difficult-to-open twist locks and triple-action lockers that Petzl has produced before, and was easily operated one-handedly. We preferred the twist lock style to the Magnetron style auto-locker for a couple of reasons. A common scenario for needing to unlock and remove a carabiner is at an anchor, where multiple lockers might be attached to a master point and are under load. In these situations, the unique Black Diamond Vaporlock Magnetron felt more difficult to remove than others because of the need to depress both sides equally at the same time.
Gate Hang up
When using locking carabiners with thin slings and cord, racking them onto your harness' gear loops, and especially when clipping them to bolt hangers, having a snag-free nose on your carabiners is the way to go. In virtually no scenario that we could think up would a standard notched carabiner nose be superior. Key lock carabiners are no longer a new feat of engineering that are only being put onto a handful of models; these days almost any locking carabiner is available in a key lock version, with little if any price difference, so there is no reason to not give yourself the smoothest interaction possible between your lockers and whatever you have to clip them too.
The best of these keylock style noses is found on the Petzl Attache -there is no abrupt change in stock thickness, giving a nice smooth taper. Other keyed noses like the Mad Rock Ultra HMS were thicker and did not clip as easily. Our least favorite carabiner in this category was the Omega Pacific ISO Standard Locking D, a design that still uses the traditional notched nose and which hangs up on everything.
The size and shape of a carabiner has a direct effect on the distance that its gate is going to be able to open. D-shaped lockers have some of the smallest gate openings because of the symmetrical design, with HMS and Offset D shapes usually providing the largest clearance, thanks to their asymmetrical shape. Shape does what it can, of course, but when an Offset D shape is miniaturized, as in the case of the Black Diamond Positron, there will be a negative effect on its gate clearance. If you need wider gate clearance, the Mad Rock Ultra HMS was the second best in this category with a gate clearance of a whopping 2.3 cm and is only sightly larger than the Positron. The best performer was the Petal Attache, opening up 2.4 cm, almost a full centimeter wider than the Omega Pacific Standard Locking D.
Why does gate clearance matter? If you are only using your locking carabiners for belay duty, and are clipping a maximum of one or two strands for belaying or rappelling, then clearance is not a big issue. But if you find yourself at a gear anchor, with a fat master point comprised of several loops of thick 7mm cord that you need to clip into, you would prefer a carabiner like the Black Diamond Rocklock Screwgate with the larger gate opening over the mini version that barely clips into a bolt hanger.
History of the 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 1800s 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 but there was indeed 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 1890s, 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 a part of the rock climbers' tools.
It was around 1911 that a strong German rock climber and mountaineer named 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 at 130 grams weighed nearly six times as heavy as a modern day biner.
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 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 30 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 were used. 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!
The Bottom Line
We chose 10 lockers for our review, in an effort to discover what models performed the best for climbing and adventuring. Since these locking carabiners are designed intentionally to be used in technical climbing systems, some performed much better than other in specific tasks. Even within this category there were several different styles of carabiner represented, each with their own merits. While your needs will dictate the type of carabiner you should be shopping for, there were clearly ones that rose to the top in our tests and which should find their way onto your climbing harness.
Because most climbing situations require multiple locking carabiners, read the complete review, as well as the buying advice to find out what locker worked best for what type of use. You will find that purchasing a variety of the different lockers highlighted in this review to suit your needs will lead to better performance at the crag or in the mountains.
— Ryan Huetter
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