Best Carabiners of 2020
|Price||$7.95 at Backcountry|
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|$13.95 at Backcountry|
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|$12.95 at Backcountry|
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|$15.95 at Backcountry|
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|$13.95 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Full-sized, easy to clip, low price, low weight||Key-locking nose design, easy gate action, large size||Keylock wiregate has no notch, easy to handle, large rope-bearing surface||Recessed notch in nose, great clipping action, easy to handle||Easy clipping and unclipping, keylock design, lightweight for medium size biner|
|Cons||Has a notch in the nose, gates sometimes get sticky over time||Pricey, heavy compared to competition||Heavy, expensive, single "wiregate" takes some getting used to||Not the cheapest, not the lightest, crotch is slightly narrow for accommodating wide slings||Bent spine sacrifices strength|
|Bottom Line||A very affordable carabiner that is also one of the easiest to use and won’t cost you anything on the scale||Provides very simple clipping and unclipping action, and feels great in the hands||Heavy for a trad rack but nice keylocking gate||An ergonomic and smooth clipping carabiner that also has a keylocking nose design for the best overall wiregate function||The Camp Dyon is an easy handling, lightweight 'biner that is a true all-arounder|
|Rating Categories||CAMP Photon Wire||Helium 3||Petzl Ange L||DMM Alpha Trad||CAMP USA Dyon|
|Gate Clearance (20%)|
|Specs||CAMP Photon Wire||Helium 3||Petzl Ange L||DMM Alpha Trad||CAMP USA Dyon|
|Manufacturer Weight (g)||30g||38g||34g||36g||33g|
|Gate Closed (kN)||22||24||22||24||21|
|Gate Open (kN)||9||10||10||9||11|
|Gate Clearance (mm)||26||27||26||25||26|
|Forging Method||Cold||Hot||Not Specified||Hot||Not Specified|
Best Overall Carabiner
CAMP Photon Wire
According to our testing, the CAMP Photon Wire is the best carabiner you can buy. While it ranks near the top of all of our various comparison metrics, perhaps its best attribute is the incredible price, which is close to half as expensive as many of our other top scorers. This means you can buy twice as many of these as other top contenders for the same price. Of course, we also love how light they are, how snappy and easy the gate is for clipping, and also how the wide, flat bucket has plenty of space for multiple ropes or knots to fit if needed, and yet still retains plenty of space for the gate to open easily.
If there is one thing we would wish to improve, it would be to add a keylocking nose design that eliminates the notch where the end of the wire gate fits into, such as that found on the Wild Country Helium 3.0 or the DMM Alpha Trad. Of course, all of the designs that use this feature also cost significantly more, and the nose hook on the Photon Wire is low profile compared to some others. We've also experienced some sticky gates in the past, so be sure to keep your carabiners clean and well-lubed for the best performance over time. But if you want optimal function at a nearly unbeatable price, these are the best bet for you. They work great for extended draws, racking cams, and even on quickdraws.
Read Review: CAMP Photon Wire
Easiest to Clip
Wild Country Helium 3 Carabiner
The Wild Country Helium 3.0 is one of our favorite wiregates for trade climbing, based on how incredibly easy it is to clip, unclip, and handle. It has perhaps the lightest gate of any that we've tested, which makes a huge difference when clipping the rope through, as the resistance is virtually non-existent. At the same time, the gate spring is so perfectly and satisfyingly snappy that we almost can't resist playing with it every time it's in our hands. The notchless nose design is a game-changer for wiregate carabiners, ensuring that there is no tooth sticking up that can catch on stopper loops, bolt hangers, slings, or a tensioned rope. Combine these awesome features with a large full-size design that makes handling a breeze, and you have one easy carabiner to love.
As the name suggests, this is the third update of this fantastic 'biner, and we have noticed that it has gained a few grams with time. It still feels light in the hands, but at 38g per, is nowhere near as light as the ultralight offerings. It's also fairly pricey compared to many other options, so isn't going to be the best for the budget-conscious. We love to use these guys for nearly any trad climbing use, from racking cams and stoppers to clipping the rope through extended runners or even building multi-pitch anchors.
Read review: Wild Country Helium 3
Best Bang for the Buck
Trango Phase Carabiner
If you're trying to outfit your rack on a budget and want color-coded options for your camming devices, the Trango Phase is an excellent choice. For not much money (or even less if you buy the rack pack) you get a small but still usable model that is slim enough to rack well on your harness. It has one of the highest closed-gate strengths in our test group (24 kN), and it clips reasonably well for a smaller carabiner.
It's a bit larger than the Black Diamond MiniWire, which is nice, but also a bit heavier, so you'll have to decide what your main priorities are: weight savings (MiniWire) or cash savings (Phase). There is an exposed notch in the gate, and this model didn't pair perfectly with our BD Camalots that have an 18mm sling. A thinner sling (like on the BD Ultralights) or a 10 mm over-the-shoulder sling works better with the Phase. If you're building up your first traditional rack and want to save some money for getting the best cams, pair them with the Phase, and your wallet will thank you.
Read review: Trango Phase
Best Ultralight Carabiner
Black Diamond MiniWire
In early 2020, Black Diamond released the Miniwire, which replaces the Oz as the smallest and lightest fully-functional carabiner in their line-up. This tiny biner could remind one of a keychain carabiner, except that it passes the strength tests needed for climbing safety. Its tiny size and super light weight makes it a blessing for alpine and trad climbers that wish to minimize both weight and bulk, an advantage on the approach as well as on the climb. They are also among the most affordable carabiners in this review, so won't punish those wish to go super light with a high price tag.
What is a blessing can also be a bit of a curse, as the small size makes it a bit harder to handle, and also harder to clip and unclip. This could be a factor for winter climbing or alpine climbing when you are wearing gloves. Similarly to the BD Hotwire, we also find the gate springs to be a bit on the stiffer side compared to many other smooth clipping options. For those who want small and light, the trade-offs will be worth it, but for high-end rock climbing, we think full-sized carabiners will make for easier clips.
Read review: Black Diamond MiniWire
Why You Should Trust Us
Senior Review Editor Cam McKenzie Ring is no stranger to racking up for many types of climb, and she knows the value good carabiners add to everything from long trad routes to sport climbs. These days, you can find Cam in the sandstone landscape around Las Vegas with her two boys. She's also a five-year veteran of Yosemite Search and Rescue and an accomplished, 20 year climber with El Cap big wall routes on her resume. Joining her for carabiner testing is Andy Wellman, a lifelong climber with 24 years of experience under his belt on all disciplines of climbing, from alpine ascents in North and South America, to big walls in Zion and Yosemite, to trad head points in Eldorado Canyon, and years spent focusing on sport climbing and bouldering. Andy, a Colorado native, lives in Ouray, Colorado.
Carabiner testing takes place every time we go climbing. We conduct hours of research to identify the best wiregates on the market, then purchase them and use them on the ends of extendable runners, for racking stoppers and cams, and even on the ends of quickdraws in order to best gauge performance. While there are many great solid gate carabiners on the market, the lighter weight of wiregates makes them preferable for most trad climbing uses. What we don't determine out on long multi-pitch routes in Red Rocks, or on the local trad cracks close to our homes, we figure out in a series of side-by-side comparative tests. The result is the most authentic, continually updated climbing carabiner recommendations you will find.
Related: How We Tested Carabiners
Analysis and Test Results
Peruse this review, and you'll notice that we've only included and tested wire-gate carabiners. Why is this, when there are also many top quality solid gate carabiners of both bent and straight gate design? Mostly because wire gates are lighter, less bulky, and thus more portable. If you are shopping for single carabiners, as we've reviewed here, you are likely using them to rack camming devices, stoppers, or to pair on shoulder length slings. For all of these uses, light is right, and wire gates are the clear choice. Solid gate carabiners that are non-locking are mostly only used on Climbing Quickdraws, designed for clipping bolts while sport climbing.
Related: Buying Advice for Carabiners
To figure out which carabiners are best, we rated them according to five different metrics, described in greater detail below. In all cases, we grade models in comparison to each other. Furthermore, the way we value certain attributes may not be the same way that you value them for your climbing needs, so we highly recommend identifying what qualities are most important to you, then homing in on which products best fit that description.
If you're only purchasing one or two carabiners, then the difference between a cheap one and an expensive one might not seem like that big a deal. But if you're looking to outfit a double set of cams and a dozen alpine draws, choosing a more affordable option can save you hundreds of dollars. More expensive 'biners tend to have some extra features, like notch-less gates or lighter, hot-forged I-beam design. While these may lead to higher scores, they also often lead to higher prices. Never-the-less, some of the more affordable options still perform really well across most applications. Good choices for the budget-conscious are the CAMP Photon Wire, Black Diamond Hotwire, Trango Phase, and the BD Miniwire
Three characteristics seem to affect the ease of clipping most: the size and shape of the carabiner and the stiffness of the gate. 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 scores highly in this category.
When it comes to size, bigger is better for clipping. Larger carabiners also tend to have larger baskets and larger gate openings, all of which make it easier to drop the rope inside. The shape is also of critical importance, and carabiners with noses that stick out a lot farther than the top of gate, so that the gate is effectively at an angle, allow one to "drop" the rope through the gate and into the basket. Carabiners with this design are far easier to clip than those with plumb vertical gates, where the rope must be forced through with the fingers.
The other factor that can affect 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 favor the medium to medium-stiff tension. Too soft and the wires might accidentally cross clip themselves when bunched on your harness, too stiff and you might blow the clip.
The Wild Country Helium 3.0 is the easiest carabiner to clip, due to the great tension on the gate spring, as well as a very conducive shape and wide opening. The CAMP Photon Wire and CAMP Dyon were also top choices for the ease of clipping, while many others were still quite good. As one might expect, the smallest carabiners, with the stiffest springs, were also the hardest to quickly and easily clip.
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 equipment as we do clipping it, and this is a crucial purchasing decision. You might love a 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 carabiners are keylock. More and more wiregates now have keylock designs or notchless wiregates as well. Climbers have come to appreciate snag-free unclipping and are looking for it in all of their hardware. On the Wild Country Helium 3, the wiregate latches onto a notch that is inset into the nose. This design is also present on the DMM Alpha Trad. On these carabiners, the notch is buried so that there is little chance of either the rope snagging while you try to unclip, or the notch itself snagging on other gear like slings as it hangs on your harness. The Petzl Ange L is like a cross between a wiregate and a keylocking bar gate.
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 it's a little too much for you to outfit your entire rack in notchless wiregates, then consider using them only for situations like racking your nuts or for your alpine draws, where you're more likely to snag.
When it comes to the weight of our gear, climbers are notorious for looking for every advantage and shaving ounces whenever possible. This makes sense since most people would prefer to feel as light as possible while climbing. There is always a fine line, though, when searching for ultra-light gear. While durability and safety should not be a major concern by opting for lighter carabiners, the fact is that lightness generally comes due to much smaller size, and some options push the envelope to the point of seriously affecting their usability.
The lightest carabiners tend to be the smallest ones, and these are best reserved for use while alpine climbing or on long multi-pitch routes, or when you need to carry your gear a long distance. At a mere 23g, the BD MiniWire is far and away the lightest carabiner included in this review, and also the smallest. Many others, such as the Trango Phase, weigh in at a still light 30g. Perhaps the most impressive of this bunch is the CAMP Photon, which also only weighs 30g, but which is full size and is one of the very best overall performers. When it's possible to get the best performance at a very light weight, why wouldn't you?
When multi-pitching, building anchors, guiding, or climbing with a party of three, the size of the carabiner's basket and gate openings can have a large effect on how useful it is to you. The first thing to look at when trying to understand how far a carabiner's gate can open is the manufacturer's stated gate clearance size, which ranges from 21mm all the way up to 27mm in this review. However, just because a gate can open wide, doesn't mean there is much space inside the carabiner for a rope to land. An accurate test of this aspect of performance is by testing how many ropes can fit on a single carabiner, which directly mimics many real life climbing conditions.
After comparing the gate clearance numbers, we then put each of the models reviewed here through a couple of tests for this metric. These are our "three-rope test" (can they hold three figure eights on-a-bight and still have the gate open fully?), and our clove hitch test (can the gate still open with a single clove hitch in each one).
The full-sized Black Diamond Hotwire and CAMP Photon Wire have the largest gate openings, and also had deep, flat bottomed baskets that are able to hold as many as three knotted ropes side-by-side without needing to stack them on top of each other, or blocking the gate from opening. The Petzl Ange L and the Wild Country Helium 3 also fit three knots and have wide openings, but needed some rope stacking and jockeying to fit them in there in the same manner while still providing enough room to open the gate. As one would expect, the smallest options have the smallest gate openings, although all the carabiners tested had no problem accommodating a clove hitch.
How easy a carabiner is to handle is the final consideration we tested for. The carabiner that seems big enough in the store might be too small on the wall after your hands are swollen and fatigued. For the most part, this metric comes down to the size of the model, though a few other factors come into play as well, like the shape of the nose and the width. Some hot-forged models are also designed with extra features, such as texture ridges, or ergonomic shapes, that make them easier to grip in the hands without dropping them.
On the whole, the larger the model, the easier it is to handle. The CAMP Photon Wire and the Wild Country Helium 3 get the top scores in this category, as does the DMM Alpha Trad, which has a bent spine for especially easy gripping. They are all large enough to handle comfortably even with gloves on, so keep that in mind for ice or big wall climbing. The Photon's slightly thinner nose gives it an advantage, as we can squeeze it into smaller opening easier than the Helium 3.
Rock climbing is a gear-intensive sport, and traditional climbing requires a lot of it. We hope our review helped you figure out what to consider when making your next purchase and that you have a good starting point, whether you're outfitting your first rack or replacing your twenty-year-old gear.
— Cam McKenzie Ring & Andy Wellman