The Carabiner Conundrum

It used to so simple back in the ‘golden age’ of climbing – or so the older climbers tell us!  All you did was go into your local climbing shop, choose from either a snapgate or screwgate carabiner, pay your 3 shillings and that was it – you were ready to go climb a new line on Cloggy or summit an 8000er!

Nowadays, you go into your local climbing shop and you will be faced with row upon row of shiny biners all lined up and winking at you.  To make matters worse, they will usually be just out of reach behind the counter and the cheery shop assistant will bounce along saying “something for the weekend sir?” expecting you to know exactly what you want!  It will all end in tears!

Fortunately, there’s a simple way to avoid a biner blooper….. research, research, RESEARCH!  All the major manufacturers provide high quality catalogues with lots of information and guidance.  The internet has it all – manufacturers’ and retail websites, reviews, excellent user reports and, of course, forums where you can ask questions such as right here on RCUK

Then, once you’ve done your research you go back to that cheery shop assistant and read out your shopping list with conviction; “Right my good man.  I’ll have 3 DMM red anodised phantom’s with titanium wiregates, gate open strengths of 50 kn, closed strengths of 200kn, turbo charged retraction mechanisms and personalised engraving on each that says ‘keep off – this baby is the property of a rock god’.  Oh, and a block of chalk please!  (We should also say that that very same shop assistant is also likely to be a brilliant source of info so listen to their advice too).

Anyway, this article is in danger of going severely off course and it’s real aim is to get you on the right track in the great carabiner caper – after all the first step on the road to shiny metal enlightenment is to know what basic biner types there are so you can start to narrow your search.

First the techy bit.  Carabiners come in 6 basic styles that relate to the 6 categories designated by the relevant European standard (EN12275).  And, though it sounds heavy, this helps us easily distinguish the types on offer.

Type B (Basic)

The most popular shape out there and usually an offset D shape that maximises strength and, with the variety of gate options available, will happily cover most of your biner requirements.  What? Variety of gate options? That sounds confusing. Please advise!  OK, well first there is the solid straight or solid bent gate.  The solid straight (left hand picture) is your do it all carabiner suitable for most situations and available as a snapgate or locking gate.  Next, there is your solid bentgate (central picture), which is designed to be used on the rope, clipping end only and although they make clipping your rope easier they are a bit more prone to unclipping inadvertently.  I remember looking down pepsicomaine, a classic 6b+ sport route at Buoux only to see my last bentgate clip had completely and inexplicably come undone.  I suddenly felt a verrrry long way above my last bolt – infact, I was a long way above my last bolt!

For many people (including us) solid gates have been largely replaced by wiregates (right hand picture) which do pretty much everything solids gates do while being lighter, offering easy clipping into either ropes or protection, don’t freeze up in winter conditions and are less prone to ‘gate flutter’, which is the phenomenon where gates can open and shut through oscillation caused by, for example ropes travelling rapidly through the biner in a fall.  Gate flutter can, potentially, lead to gate open failure.  You can test this by holding a solid straight gate carabiner in you hand and hitting its back bar against the palm of your other hand.  You’ll hear, and probably see, the gate clicking open and closed with each hit on your hand – this is gate flutter.

As well as snapgates, solid straight gates are also available in a variety of locking options such as screwgates and several auto lock systems.

Type D (Directional)

These carabiners have an attached sling that is held captive at one end of the biner.  This ensures the sling stays in the correct orientation along the back bar of the biner but means they are suitable mainly as biners for quickdraws.  They are popular with some sport climbers and at climbing walls.

Type H (HMS)

HMS carabiners are suitable for use with belay plates or Italian (Munter) hitches where the carabiners wide rope-bearing surface allows the Italian hitch knot to invert smoothly and the rope to run smoothly through your belay plate.  They are also popular for connecting several clove hitches to the climber at belays.  This is a useful technique but care must be taken not to place too high a force on the nose of the carabiner, as this will greatly affect its strength.  It should also be noted that the HMS shape does cause a significant reduction in gate open strength compared to other shapes although this is compensated to some degree by the fact that HMS’s usually have a screwgate or auto locking system.

Type X (Oval)

This type of carabiner doesn’t feature too highly on most climbers’ everyday rack but they have several uses.  They are ideal for racking wires or pegs as their symmetrical shape makes getting to that vital nut easy just by spinning the gear around the curve easily.  They are also very popular with aid climbers, as those smooth curved ends tend to prevent the carabiner shifting under load, as some shapes are prone to do.  This is reassuring when you’re hanging on a shaky skyhook 600ft above the valley floor on day 3 of your new El Cap masterpiece!  They are also well suited for use with pulleys because they tend to seat smoothly in the curvy ends.  Ovals are generally a weaker shape than the classic D shape (especially with the gate open) but modern manufacturing has significantly narrowed this gap.

Type K (Klettersteig)

Type K’s are for use on Via Ferrata rigs.  Klettersteig are larger than normal to facilitate clipping those chunky VF cables and always have an auto locking system to combine quick opening with good security.

Type Q (Quicklinks)

Stay with us.  We’re nearly there!  Quicklinks (maillons) are simple link pieces that are very secure because once they are screwed up there is no gate to accidentally come open.  They are really useful for situations where they might be left in place such as abseil setups or to be left when rap retreating from a route.  They are also pretty cheap – hooray!  They come in a wide range of sizes and shapes and not all of them are marked and tested.  Check for the EN12275 number before you choose.

Obviously this information is only our opinion and if you choose to follow it you do so entirely at your own risk. If you are in any doubt of the techniques we describe please check before you do anything that could be dangerous.