The Quest for the Best Carabiner
Best Overall Carabiner
Wild Country Helium Carabiner
The Wild Country Helium did it again, winning our Editors' Choice award for the third time. There have been some exciting new additions to the market in the last four years, but none good enough to take the top spot from the Helium (in our minds anyway!). This product does everything well: it's easy to handle and can hold multiple ropes thanks to its full size, it clips nicely and has a smooth pull, it's lightweight and suitable for all types of climbing, and most importantly, it marries the best of wiregate and keylock designs into one package. You can purchase it in five different colors to match with your cams or go on your slings, or they come on a pre-assembled quickdraw.
While the Helium is significantly lighter than some sport-specific models, and half the weight of some ovals, at 33 grams it's a bit heavier than some other options now out there. If you're looking for a lighter but still functional alternative, the Black Diamond Oz will save you 5 grams, and if you want to lighten up, the CAMP Nano 22 will save you 11 grams! However, you start to sacrifice ease of handling, overall usability, and versatility with a smaller model, as they are much harder to handle with gloves on. The main thing we don't like so much about the Helium is the price. It's up to double the cost of some other options in this review, and if you need to buy a lot of them at once, it can be daunting. Start a savings account, shop the sales, and try it out if can!
Read review: Wild Country Helium
Best Bang for the Buck
Mad Rock Ultra Light Wire
If you just checked out how much the Wild Country Heliums are selling for and are having a panic attack, take a deep breath and buy some Mad Rock Ultra Light Wires instead. They're a little smaller than the Heliums, but also a hair lighter, giving a nice compromise between a lightweight but still highly usable option. Best of all, they are quite inexpensive!
They do have an unprotected notch in the nose, which means they can snag on you a bit more than the Heliums will, but you might decide that you'll put up with a little snagging for all the money you'll save. They also only come in two colors (red for the bent gate and silver for the straight). If you want something that is also affordable for racking your cams with, see our other Best Buy option, the Trango Phase, which comes in eight colors. The Ultra Light is an excellent choice for your next set of slings, or you can also find them on the Mad Rock Ultra Light Quickdraw.
Read review: Mad Rock Ultra Light Wire
Best for Lightweight
Black Diamond Oz Carabiner
Have you ever taken your heavy pack off after a long hike and had the sensation that you were floating? This is what switching to lightweight gear is like for your trad rack. The Black Diamond Oz is not the lightest product out there, but in our minds, it is the lightest product that still retains as much functionality as possible. At a scant 28 grams, or 1 ounce, you barely notice it in your hand, yet you can still clip and handle it fairly easily. The Oz has a stainless steel wire hood over the notch in the nose for snag-free unclipping, and it comes in a few individual colors and a six-pack to rack with your camming devices.
The Oz is a little more expensive than some of the other models in this review. No doubt the wire hood adds to the manufacturing cost, but in our opinion, it's worth it. One pet peeve we have though is that they are only sold individually in Black, Silver, and Orange. If you want any of the racking colors (that correspond with Black Diamond's Camalots), you have to buy the six-pack or the 2nds. That's a little frustrating if you lose one or two and don't want the whole pack. On the plus side, if you're looking to make some alpine draws with a long runner, you can purchase the Oz Alpine Quickdraw which already comes with a sling and save a few dollars.
Read review: Black Diamond Oz
Best Buy for a Racking Carabiner
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 hair larger than the CAMP Nano 22, which we like, but also a bit heavier, so you'll have to decide what your main priorities are: weight savings (Nano 22) or cash savings (Phase). There is an exposed notch in the gate, and this model didn't pair so well 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 for Ultralight
CAMP Nano 22 Carabiner
The CAMP Nano 22 might be small, but it's hard to ignore. Weighing in at 22 grams it blows the competition out of the water for portability. Using these on your rack vs. the Wild Country Helium (33 grams) can save you up to a pound or more! That's no laughing matter when you're objective is a high alpine route with an epic hike. It's available in eight colors for racking your cams, or you can pair it with a Photon Wire for some trad or alpine draws.
You do sacrifice some usability by going with the Nano 22, as the small size makes it harder to handle. If you have large hands or plan on using these with gloves on, they may feel unworkable. They're smaller than the Trango Phase and Black Diamond Oz, but if you are used to those carabiners, it might not be too much of a stretch to go even smaller, in which case you can reap the benefits of the light design.
Read review: CAMP Nano 22
Great for Use With Gloves
CAMP Photon Wire Straight Gate
CAMP redesigned their Photon Wire last year, and we like the changes they made. The previous version of the Photon had some gate sticking issues and highly variable gate lengths, but the newer version is much improved. We appreciate the larger size for times when we have gloves on, say when ice or big wall climbing, and those climbers with larger hands will find the Photon much easier to operate than the CAMP Nano 22 or other smaller options.
While it almost bested our Editors' Choice winner, the Wild Country Helium, the Helium still won out thanks to its clean nose design. If snagging isn't too much of an issue for you though, the Photon Wires will save you a few grams and a few dollars.
Read review: CAMP Photon Wire
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.
This review began with us scouring the market for all the available models that we might want to include. With no stone unturned, we made an initial selection of 40 models, which was then further refined to only include the 10 best of those 40, which you find discussed here. We next had to identify the most important functions of a carabiner and name them, using these as our performance criteria. We used these carabiners in Red Rock, Nevada and Independence Pass, CO, and on routes ranging from 5.5 to 5.12. We also recieved input from an extended team of 6 testers, including men and women, with a range of hand sizes. This group had over 100 years combined climbing experience. After field use, we did some controlled tests, then compiled the information into the comprehensive review you find here. We hope you find it a valuable tool in choosing the right carabiners for your rack.
Analysis and Test Results
There seem to be as many different types of carabiners 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 carabiner, choosing a manufacturer's pre-assembled quickdraw instead. But once you start placing gear while trad climbing, they 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 gearbox. Our main reviewer recently did an inventory of her gear, and after 20 years of climbing, she's accumulated over 100 (and that's not including the dozens that have already been retired). No wonder people just stick to bouldering these days!
Related: Buying Advice for Carabiners
To help you select the right product, we've tested and compared 10 of the highest rated traditional-climbing focused models available today, from the lightest and smallest options to some full-size (but still light!) models. In the rest of this article, we'll go into each of the different test criteria that we used to evaluate the different carabiners. We'll also discuss below what to consider when you want to purchase something that doesn't cost a ton of money.
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 model can save you hundreds of dollars! More expensive models tend to have some extra features, like notch-less gates or are constructed with hot-forging methods to lighten it up without compromising strength. This might help them score better in our tests, but there are still excellent options for a less expensive price point. Our two Best Buy winners, the Mad Rock Ultra Light and the Trango Phase, have good scores without being too expensive.
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 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 models 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 and DMM Alpha Light, 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 Oz wiregates, adding a stainless steel wire hood over the notch instead. The Petzl Ange L is like a cross between a wiregate and a keylocking bar gate. 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 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.
Ease of Clipping
Two characteristics seem to affect the ease of clipping most: the size 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. The full size Wild Country Helium and CAMP Photon Wire are top scorers in this category. The gate tension on both is just how we like it, and the clips are smooth and easy. Even though it is full-size, the Petzl Ange L is a little more challenging to clip because the gate length of the single wire is on the short side. You have to be very precise about where you place the rope on this one.
When the models started shrinking, however, so did their scores. The smaller Black Diamond Oz and Neutrino were all a little more difficult to clip, and the gate tension on the Oz is on the stiff side. The DMM Alpha Light has slightly better clipping action than the similarly sized Trango Phase, and when it came to the smallest models, our testers found clipping the super small CAMP Nano 22 and the Metolius FS Mini II downright tricky.
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.
Ease of Handling
The ease of handling is another critical purchasing criteria. 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 can down to the size of the model, though a few other factors came into play as well, like the shape of the nose and the width.
On the whole, the larger the model, the easier it is to handle. The CAMP Photon Wire and the Wild Country Helium got the top scores in this category, as did the Petzl Ange L and Mad Rock Ultra Light Wire. 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. However, a more bulbous nose protects the gate from scraping against the rock, so it is a nice feature to have.
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. Some models, like the CAMP Nano 22, are so narrow that six of them are the equivalent of five wider options, like the Black Diamond Neutrino. This makes a big difference when trying to stuff a double set on your harness. Finally, if you're looking for a racking carabiner then having multiple color choices will allow you to match it to the corresponding cam, which makes selecting the right piece a bit easier. Most of the options in this review come in racking colors, except for the Petzl Ange L and the Mad Rock Ultra Light Wire.
How Many Ropes Fit
We put each of the models reviewed here through several tests for this metric. There was our "three-rope test" (can they hold three figure eights on-a-bight and still have the gate open fully), our clove hitch test (can the gate still open with a single clove hitch in each one) and our twin rope test (how did two ropes sit in the basket). This category is important if 1) you climb big walls and will be anchoring off them; 2) you climb multi-pitch routes, particularly with parties of three; or 3) you like clove hitches.
Predictably, the more prominent models with a larger gate opening scored well in these tests, while the small models did not. Those with the largest baskets and widest gate openings were the CAMP Photon Wire and Wild Country Helium. The mid-sized carabiners, like the Black Diamond Neutrino and DMM Alpha Light, did not have quite enough room for all three and still have the gate open. The smallest one in this review, the Metolius FS Mini II, scored the worst. It has a tiny 17.5 mm gate opening and can barely handle two ropes, let alone three. While we can still get a clove hitch of 9 mm in there, it is a bit of a squeeze.
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 22 can 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 line wanders a lot, you will start to see it even with a lot of extended slings. A smoother pull will be gentler on your rope, and your elbows!
If we had some oval carabiners in this review, this would be the one category where they would take the cake. That style has a round basket and wide rope-bearing surface, which significantly helps to reduce friction. But they are heavy and not that useful on free climbs. When it comes to the models in this review, the Petzl Ange L stood out from the rest. It has the broadest rope-bearing surface, and the difference when compared to something small like the Metolius FS Mini II is noticeable. Products with narrower rope bearing surfaces will be harder on your rope, especially if you use them for top-roping or you're taking repeated falls. Keep that in mind when setting up a toprope, and choose either a locker from your rack or your two widest ones.
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. With other products, like backpacks, you might end up with something that is light but not durable. With carabiners, an ultra-light model might just not be that usable.
The CAMP Nano 22 is impressively light (22 grams), and the Metolius FS Mini II is light and small (25 grams). This easily catapulted them to the top of the portability ratings. Twenty Nano 22s weighs just shy of a pound, whereas the same number of Black Diamond Neutrinos weighs 1.5 pounds. Considering that the Nano is only a little smaller than the Neutrino, it makes a lot of sense to go with something lighter.
When comparing some of the larger but still light options, the decision to lighten up gets a bit harder. The CAMP Photon Wire (30 grams) and Wild Country Helium (33 grams) are indeed weightier than the Nano, but so much more usable, that we're okay with those few extra ounces.
The Black Diamond Oz (28 grams), is only slightly larger than the Nano but has the advantage of the notch free gate, making it a more usable option in our estimation. If you've decided that the most important thing for you is weight-savings, then the Nano is the best choice and our Top Pick for Ultra-Light. If you're looking for something more middle of the road, then the Oz is the way to go and our overall Top Pick for Lightweight.
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