Best Locking Carabiners of 2020
The Petzl Attache has long been a favorite locking carabiner, providing nearly unrivaled versatility for all types of climbing. It's pear shape means that it has a large basket that allows for clipping many ropes or other 'biners to it at once without overlap or pinching, and its very large gate clearance means that getting these items on or off is also a cinch. Made with a hot-forged, I-Beam shape, this carabiner is both surprisingly light, while also super strong . The Attache can do everything, from belaying and rappelling, to using it as a master point or on the end of a daisy chain, and is both light and affordable. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot find a more versatile locker.
There are very few downsides to the Attache, and one would be the fact that it's easy to tighten the screw locking mechanism down too tight, making it difficult to unscrew. This can be avoided by recognizing that when you screw a locker closed, you are simply blocking the gate from opening, not actually joining the gate to the nose, so it doesn't need to be super tight. The Attache isn't auto-locking, meaning it's not fool-proof, but this fact is offset by a red visual indicator if the gate isn't locked. Screw gates also have other advantages, like ease of use with gloves on, and affordability. All in all the Petzl Attache is a locker that we can't live without, and recommend that every multi-pitch climber has two or three of these when they leave the ground — although it's easy to find additional uses if you have more!
Read Review: Petzl Attache
Best Bang for the Buck
CAMP USA Photon Lock
The CAMP USA Photon Lock has been around for a long time, but has been newly updated for 2020. This nifty locker has an offset-D shape, making it ideal for building anchors on multi-pitch climbs, or using on the end of a personal anchor system, and is also versatile enough to be used for belaying. Its hot-forged, I-beam construction helps it cut down on the weight, and indeed this is one of the lightest lockers you can buy, without sacrificing size in order to accomplish this. It also has a screwgate that is quick and easy to open and close with only a couple of revolutions, and now has a visual indicator icon printed on the gate bar so you can more easily see whether the gate is fully closed or not.
There are few downsides to this very affordable locker, but the biggest is inherent in the offset-D shape — it's simply not as versatile for rappelling as an HMS/pear shaped locker is. It also has slightly less gate clearance than larger lockers, although we didn't struggle to add clove hitches or clip it into anchor points when we needed to. Finally, the gate spring squeeks a bit when opening and closing the gate, but this is more of an annoyance than a safety or quality concern. Everyone who used this locker commented on how light it is for a full-sized locker; no need to sacrifice size and versatility in order to shed weight on the harness. This is it's principal advantage, but the other would be its super low cost, making it a shoe-in for our Best Bang for the Buck award, and the first locker we recommend buying if you are on a tight budget.
Read Review: CAMP USA Photon Lock
Best Compact Locker
Stand at the bottom of any multi-pitch climb, clip the rack onto your harness and notice the significant amount of extra weight, not to mention clutter, that you will have to carry up the route with you. If your intended climb is close to your maximum climbing ability, then the weight of the rack could conceivably make a difference in whether you send or fall. Any opportunity to lighten the load helps you out, which is why we love compact, lightweight locking carabiners. How many lockers you need on a climb is up to you, but only one or two of these at most needs to be larger pear or HMS style lockers, the rest can, and should, be small lightweight lockers. We think the DMM Phantom Screwgate the best one you can buy. It's the lightest climbing rated locker we have ever used, and is also super quick to lock and unlock.
As long as you aren't trying to belay or rappel with these as your main locker, there is virtually no downside to using them. With their small size, you can't expect to clip a bunch of other 'biners to them, or ask them to hold multiple ropes or knots, but they can do everything else you would need a locker for, all while weighing less and taking up far less harness space than a typical locker. Anyone who loves multi-pitch climbing and wants only the best performance for when it matters should be in the market for three or four of the DMM Phantom Screwgates.
Read Review: DMM Phantom Screwgate
Best for Durability
Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Triple FG
The friction of a weighted rope running over the inside of a locking carabiner can wear grooves into the aluminum in a surprisingly short amount of time. Exacerbating this effect is the fact that our ropes are often filled with abrasive dirt from playing outside all the time, and the fact that carabiners are now usually built with a narrower I-Beam shape to save weight while still offering the necessary strength. To combat the effects of premature wear, and the need for an early retirement, the Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Triple FG employs a stainless steel insert covering the basket of the carabiner where the rope typically runs. This feature is worthy enough to earn it accolades for durability, and we highly recommend it for any high-wear situations, such as belaying with an ATC, rappelling, or for setting up top-rope anchors. It also has the notable perk of including a wire-gate keeper in the crotch that ensures that it always stays oriented correctly without becoming cross-loaded. Add to that the triple-action auto-locking gate mechanism, and you have one secure locking carabiner on your hands.
One of the few downsides to this locker is its weight, but the added security features are worth it. That said, on multi-pitch routes we would likely choose to carry a lighter HMS style locker, like the Petzl Attache for belaying with. We also discovered that the triple-action gate is difficult to open with one hand. With its bulletproof metal insert, this locker is ideal for use while rappelling, or as a master-point top-roping anchor, in addition to regular belaying.
Read Review: Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Triple FG
Best for Belaying with a GriGri
Belay devices should always be attached to the belay loop of a harness with a locking carabiner for security, but have the annoying tendency to flip sideways before catching a fall, occasionally cross-loading them along the wrong axis. In order to address this problem, many companies have engineered anti-crossloading carabiners specifically for belaying, and our favorite one that offers the simplest solution is the DMM Rhino. This beefy yet slick locker has a small "horn" on the outside of the spine that blocks braking assist devices, such as the Petzl GriGri or Trango Vergo from sliding off of the basket, where they are intended to stay to properly orient the forces of a potential fall. It also works great to keep pulley devices such as the Petzl Micro Traxion, or ascenders such as the Camp Lift, both commonly used while top-rope soloing, oriented along the proper weight bearing axis as well. While we tested the buttery smooth and very easy to use screw gate, this locker also comes with either double-action or triple action auto-locking gates as well.
While we love the Rhino due to its incredible simplicity and affordability, the downside compared to other anti-crossloading lockers such as the Black Diamond GridLock Magnetron, which prevents biner shift by holding the belay loop in a fixed position in the crotch of the carabiner, is that it doesn't work with tube-style belay devices, whose keeper loop is plenty big enough to slide over the horn. We also point out that for being a simple HMS/pear shaped locker with a small horn added on, it is a bit heavy compared to the Petzl Attache, which is nearly the exact same shape. That said, the Rhino is just as versatile as the Attache, with the added benefit of keeping rope-catching devices oriented correctly. If we are belaying with a braking assisted device, or top-rope soloing, this is the locker we want on our belay loop.
Read Review: DMM Rhino Screwgate
Why You Should Trust Us
Andy Wellman, a senior gear reviewer for the past eight years, is the expert tester who leads this review. Andy has been climbing for over 23 years and considers himself a jack of all trades. Andy has traveled the world in search of climbing adventures and continues to do so. He is a former owner and publisher of Greener Grass Publishing rock climbing guidebooks, and is the author of Stone Fort Bouldering, a guidebook to one of the finest bouldering areas the US has to offer. He has passionately spent most of his life attuning himself to the intricacies of climbing gear while tackling all disciplines, from sport to big wall, bouldering to ice. He prefers to live near quality crags, and currently resides in Terrebonne, Oregon, just down the road from the tuff and basalt of Smith Rock.
Besides closely monitoring changes to rock climbing gear as they happen, Andy spent about 10 hours researching over 40 different locking carabiners before choosing the 15 for inclusion in this comparative review. He then tested them by using them on his adventures and climbing roadtrips, including jaunts to Greece, Red Rocks, Squamish, Index, and the Bugaboos, besides all the climbing he does near his home in Oregon. He also conducts side-by-side tests, comparing different lockers one after the other for things such as the ability to tie knots to them easily (where gate clearance is often an issue), the ability to use them for multi-pitch anchors, as well as belaying with many different types of belay devices. He also forced his friends and climbing partners to use his gear, gathering outside opinions on what people like and don't. The end result is recommendations for all types of lockers, designed for all different purposes, provided by an expert tester.
Related: How We Tested Locking Carabiners
Analysis and Test Results
Locking carabiners, or simply "lockers" for short, are carabiners designed for climbing or rigging purposes that include a mechanism that keeps the gate locked closed. It's important to recognize that by locking the gate closed, you are not joining the gate to the nose to make the carabiner stronger; these carabiners are already extremely strong. Locking them simply prevents the gate from unwanted openings, securing whatever is inside the 'biner––whether a rope, knot, or sling––without allowing it to escape by accident. While lockers used to come in fairly simple designs, there are now countless varieties to choose from, each with an intended purpose and emphasizing certain traits, whether it's for belaying, rappelling, attaching the rope to a fixed piece or bolt, or countless other situations. Where, when, and what type of locker to use in any given situation is up to you, but the most common uses while climbing are on your belay and rappel device, as a master point of an anchor, as the connection point for a Personal Anchoring System (PAS), and to construct equalized multi-pitch anchors.
It goes without saying that climbing is dangerous, with the consequences of making one tiny mistake, even once in your life, can result in death or injury of you or your friends. While we discuss different uses and applications for locking carabiners in this review, please don't take our purchasing advice as instruction. Consult a professional guide to learn how to safely belay and climb.
Lockers come in three types: HMS or pear style, offset-D, or compact. Additionally, there are also lockers that are designed specifically for use while belaying, and include additional features to enhance this use. Lockers also come with three main styles of gate locking system: screw gates (the most common), double-action auto-locking, or triple-action auto-locking, both of which lock automatically, and require either two or three actions to unlock them before opening. We graded each locker based upon five specific metrics, described in detail below, which we weighted depending on how important that metric is for a lockers overall performance. Testing and grading is always done in comparison to the other products in the review. Rather than simply making purchases based on overall scores, we recommend analyzing your own particular needs to help you choose the right product for you.
Related: Buying Advice for Locking Carabiners
Climbing is an expensive sport to get started in, especially as you venture into large multi-pitch climbs that require far more gear than simply getting a workout at the gym. While we don't rate products based upon their value, we think this is an important consideration before purchasing. Different shaped lockers generally work better for different purposes, so the ones that are the most versatile for multiple purposes could be considered the most valuable. We also find lighter weight carabiners to be of higher value, as the lighter they are, the more likely we are to be willing to clip them to the back of the harness, and so they will get used more.
The Petzl Attache is not only the highest overall performer, but is also very versatile and surprisingly lightweight. Not only that, but the price for these classic lockers remains low, and we think they present great value. The CAMP USA Photon Lock are even less expensive, and are also very light, and conveniently full-sized. While the Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Triple FG is fairly expensive, its greatly enhanced durability means that you may have this locker for a very long time before needing to replace it, adding to its value. Beware some of the lowest priced lockers — while they may be cheap, the drop in performance may not be worth it when you can spend a tiny fraction more and get a far higher performing locker.
Overall Utility takes into account how well a locker performs at its intended purpose, as well as how versatile it is. In general, belay lockers, HMS-style pear lockers, and compact/lightweight D-lockers are designed for different purposes, so we first set out determining which were the best products at performing their intended purpose, compared to the competition. However, climbing is a game where you want to carry the least amount of stuff to aid in your performance, so having a locker that can do more than one thing well is a great advantage. So we also took into account the versatility of each locker, meaning its ability to be used in more than one situation without significant drawbacks.
Among all the lockers tested, the Petzl Attache does the best job at combining function and versatility. It's easy to use, is large enough to be used for nearly any purpose, has a versatile pear-shaped basket, and is light enough to not make you think twice about bringing it on long climbs. For these reasons, it is the highest-rated HMS/pear-style locker. Among the lockers designed for belaying, we found the performance of the features on the Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Triple FG to be superior to the others. Its triple-action locking mechanism is super secure for belaying, it has an internal spring bar that keeps it properly oriented, and the stainless steel insert greatly increases longevity and decreases wear. While it's pretty heavy, we felt that it was also relatively versatile for use in anchor setups or top-roping as well. The DMM Rhino is another favorite for belaying, as it is super versatile, affordable, and prevents most devices from cross-loading. A full-sized offset-D that is super lightweight, the CAMP Photon Lock is a top scorer when it comes to both function and versatility. Among the compact/lightweight lockers we found that the Edelrid Pure Slider and the DMM Phantom Screwgate were roughly equal in terms of overall utility. The Pure Slider didn't function as well as a locker as the DMM Phantom, but we found it to be more versatile in a number of different situations, so scored them the same. Overall Utility accounts for 25% of a product's final score.
Ease of Unlocking and Locking
The 15 lockers tested in this review include seven different styles of locking mechanism: the classic screw lock, two double-action twist auto-lockers (Petzl Freino and Black Diamond RockLock Twistlock), a triple-action twist auto-locker (Edelrid HMS Bulletproof), a sliding locker (Edelrid Pure Slider), a magnetic auto-locker (BD GridLock Magnetron), a screw gate with plastic safety bar (DMM Belay Master 2), and the double gate with single screw lock found on the Mad Rock Gemini. By repeatedly opening and closing these gates we learned that they range from very quick to relatively laborious, and super easy to requiring great dexterity. For this metric, gates that were quick and easy to open scored the highest, and ones that took longer and were more difficult scored lower. While screw gates require the same action to either lock or unlock, auto-locking 'biners snap closed and lock automatically, making them super easy to lock. However, they often require more dexterity to unlock, and can sometimes be annoying to unlock in order to simply remove them from a harness loop.
With their double-action twisting auto-lock, the Black Diamond RockLock Twistlock and Petzl Frieno were the easiest lockers to lock, and weren't too hard to unlock either. They lock by themselves every time in a snap, and to unlock you simply turn the gate ¼ turn and open it. This can easily be accomplished with one hand almost instantly. The Edelrid Pure Slider has a tiny little sliding lock that snaps over the tip of the nose when the gate is closed, and is also very quick and easiest to unlock and lock. To unlock, simply slide the lock down with the thumb as you open the gate, and it then snaps closed and locks by itself (most of the time). Among screw gate lockers, the DMM Phantom is far and away the easiest and quickest. It needs only two full revolutions, or four half twists, of the screw gate to move from fully locked to fully unlocked, less than any other screw lock, and also features very smooth, buttery twisting action.
In contrast, we found the DMM Belay Master 2 and the Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Triple to be the slowest and most difficult to lock and unlock. In the case of the Belay Master 2, with its plastic clip that must be snapped in place after screwing closed, this is by design. But the dexterity needed to manipulate the triple action unlocking maneuver of the Edelrid Bulletproof was one we could not master with only one hand. Lower scorers among the screwgates included the Metolius Element Screwgate and the Black Diamond HotForge, both of which took around double the number of revolutions for the gate to go from fully open to closed. Ease of Unlocking and Locking accounted for 25% of a product's final score.
Compactness and Weight
Gone are the days when carabiners were made of thick, heavy steel. Today most 'biners are made of an alloy of aluminum, which is far lighter than steel but can still be engineered to meet CE testing requirements for breaking strength. Also common these days are 'biners made with an I-beam construction, rather than a fully rounded rod of metal (although round stock is still somewhat common as well). I-beam design allows engineers to remove more metal while still meeting testing certifications, thereby further lightening the load of a single 'biner. Of course, using aluminum alloys in a lighter weight construction comes with the downside that these 'biners may show wear and need to be retired sooner, but for most climbers carrying less weight per item, multiplied by all of the many trinkets we need to carry with us up the rock, makes a noticeable difference in comfort, performance, and also fun, making weight something worth paying attention to.
Compactness is another factor to consider when choosing which lockers to buy. In many cases, you simply don't need a large locker that can adequately hold a Munter-hitch (like HMS style lockers are designed to do), and having a smaller locker will not only save weight once again, but also take up less space on your harness. Why would we want our climbing gear to be smaller if possible? Well, chimney your way up into the narrows of the Steck-Salathe in Yosemite, and I think you will find your answer! To rate for compactness and lightweight, we measured each locker on our independent scale, counting grams to be more accurate, and then adjusted the scores accordingly depending on how small or large they were. Smaller and lighter meant higher scores.
The king when it comes to compactness and lightness is the DMM Phantom Screwgate, advertised as the lightest locking carabiner in the world. At 41g (1.45 oz.) it is lighter even than the Edelrid Pure Slider, which came in second (43g, 1.52 oz.), even though the Phantom comes with a screw gate, which is bulkier and more secure than the sliding lock mechanism of the Pure Slider. Also very impressive is the CAMP Photon Lock, which now weighs only 43g, or 1.52oz. and yet is a full-size offset-D, rather than a more compact version. While compact is certainly worth having, the added advantages of having a larger carabiner, which makes ropework easier and adds to versatility, at the same very low weight, cannot be overlooked. Compactness and lightweight account for 20% of a product's overall score.
Let's face it, if you didn't want the gate to stay locked closed, you would just buy a wiregate carabiner. While all of these lockers are going to stay closed once they are locked, some of us have slightly less trust in the gear, or more propensity to OCD behavior, than others, making gate security an important thing to consider. Auto-locking 'biners offer the most gate security because they lock automatically when they close. If the gate is closed, you can rest assured it is locked. Screw gate lockers, on the other hand, have a large caveat: you have to remember to screw them locked. Ask any experienced climber if they have ever forgotten to screw the gate of their locker closed and you are bound to hear some stories.
With its auto-locking closure and triple-action unlocking mechanism, the Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Triple FG is the most secure locker that we tested. The BD RockLock Twistgate, BD GridLock Magnetron, and the Petzl Freino are also auto-locking, and while they are a bit easier to open up than the Bulletproof, it's still virtually impossible to imagine a scenario where they would open on their own. Among the screw gate lockers, the DMM Belay Master features a plastic clip that snaps over the closed, locked gate, ensuring that it cannot unscrew or open on its own, also providing a solid visual indicator. The Petzl Attache, CAMP Photon Lock, and Mad Rock Gemini also come with visual indicators, a solid red stripe or caution icon painted onto the gate that you can see if it is unlocked, but which becomes covered up when locked. Gate security accounts for 20% of a product's final score.
Different sizes and shapes of carabiners have different amounts of gate clearance. Gate clearance is the amount of space, at its narrowest point, between the gate and the nose when the gate is fully open. Gate clearance isn't a very important feature if you intend to simply clip one sling or rope through your locker, but when you are using a locker as a master point and have multiple ropes or knots clipped to it, then clearance can become an issue. In particular, if too many items are clipped to a single small locker, it can at times become difficult to get the gate open and slide a rope or knot out. This is why we often carry a couple of HMS-style large lockers to use as master points on multi-pitch anchors, and then top off our rack with far smaller and lighter lockers with much less carrying capacity and gate clearance.
Not surprisingly, smaller, D-shaped lockers have less gate clearance than larger, pear-shaped HMS style. We measured gate clearance with a ruler with the gate fixed open by a rubber band, and those with more clearance scored higher than those with less. We also documented the clearance of each locker in the specs table. The Petzl Attache, despite not being the single largest locker in our review, never-the-less has the most gate clearance at 2.6 cm. A very close second is the Black Diamond RockLock Twistgate, a huge but versatile locker that is easy to use as a masterpoint or for belaying, which has 2.5 cm of clearance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the DMM Phantom has the least amount of clearance, only 1.6 cm. As the least important feature contributing to a locker's performance, we weighted this metric at only 10%.
Climbing gear companies manufacture all sorts of locking carabiners, most of which are designed with a certain purpose or function in mind. Choosing the right locking carabiner starts by assessing the particular situations that you expect to use it, and then narrowing the search based upon the attributes that will lead to the best performance for those situations. Most climbers own many lockers, so buying a few different types and using them in different situations can help to make the selection process easier. Happy climbing!
— Andy Wellman