The following article is courtesy of Black Diamond Equipment.
With dozens of companies making untold numbers of carabiners these days, it can be a real chore to navigate through countless
different models to choose the one that's right for your type of climbing. Wiregate vs. standard gate. AutoLock vs. screwgate. Ultralight vs. heavy.
What biners should I use on my slimmed-down alpine rack as opposed to my daily sport cragging kit? As with most pieces of climbing gear, there is a
certain amount of inherent versatility, but often certain products are better suited, and more often than not designed specifically for certain applications.
As with almost anything, it's always prudent to select the right tool for the job. This month we'll attempt to distill the basics of carabiner usage
to help you figure out what's the right choice for your type of climbing.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN INDUSTRIAL AND RECREATIONAL CARABINERS
We'll start off with a quick word on basic carabiner use because we get this question all the time.
I get lots of random calls from arborists, fire departments, rescue workers, marinas, yachting folks, Jeep guys and warehouse personnel wanting to know
if it's okay to use our carabiners for their particular application. The official answer is always no, not recommended. Just as all of our instructions
say, our gear is "For Climbing and Mountaineering Only." But why?
The simple answer is that we are climbers and mountaineers, we know climbing and mountaineering, and we design, test and certify our gear for climbing
and mountaineering. We're not as intimate with the loads, the uses, misuses and abuses of these other applications.
What many people may not realize is the different ways that recreational gear is designed, tested and rated compared to industrial equipment. Industrial
connectors are usually made of steel, are much heavier, are often much stronger, certified to different standards, and are sometimes rated differently
than aluminum climbing carabiners.
Depending on what standard an industrial connector is certified to, and it’s intended application, it may be rated to either it’s Safe Working Limit (SWL)
and/or it’s Minimum Breaking Strength (MBS). The steel connector on the left in the photo above has an MBS of 45kN—if it sees a load of 45kN,
it will break. However, if a connector is marked with it’s SWL, it will have a safety factor included which could be anywhere from a factor of 4 and
up. For example, let’s say a steel industrial connector is marked with a SWL of 10kN and is certified to an industrial standard which requires a safety
factor of 4. This means that you can load the connector safely to 10kN—and that it won't actually break until a minimum of 40kN. However, climbing
gear is always rated to the load at which it will actually break. So a 20kN carabiner actually breaks at that load. There's a big difference.
Bottom line: Climbing gear shouldn't be used in industrial applications—it just isn't designed and rated for those types of loads and situations.
A WORD ABOUT STRENGTH
As far as carabiner "strength" is concerned, almost every carabiner available today is CE certified. This means they meet minimum strength requirements.
A bunch of smart people have spent a lot of time determining what these standards should be, given real-world climbing and mountaineering loading scenarios.
There are some subtle differences and exceptions when getting into the nitty gritty of different kinds of carabiners, but for argument's sake, the
minimum strength requirements for most climbing carabiners are:
Closed gate strength - 20kN
Open gate - 7kN
Minor axis - 7kN
Though in theory loads at the belay can reach 20kN, this is extremely rare and likely caused because something didn't go right. Is a 24kN carabiner stronger
than a 20kN carabiner? Yes. Does it matter? In most cases, likely not.
Now open-gate and minor-axis strengths for most carabiners are much less (about a third) than closed-gate, and are in the ranges that can actually be seen
in the field. So a higher open-gate or minor-axis rating isn't necessarily a bad thing, but once again, all biners sold are going to meet the minimum
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CARABINER FOR YOUR CLIMBING
Even within the climbing and mountaineering carabiner world, how do you know which model or style to choose? Black Diamond alone manufactures over 30 different
styles of carabiners. From belay-specific biners, lockers, wiregates, keylock and traditional-gate biners, to biners with "hoods" and now even carabiners
with magnets. How is someone to know what is the right tool for the job? I'll speak mainly to Black Diamond's offering of carabiners because that's
what I use and know best.
Belay biners, also known as HMS biners, are always lockers, and typically have a large basket end to accommodate using a MÃ¼nter hitch. There are heavier,
larger versions usually made from a larger diameter rodstock, and there are smaller, often lighter versions which usually have a more aggressive I-beam
construction-this puts material where it is needed to attain the required strength, but removes excess material from where it is not needed, resulting
in a lighter biner. Larger diameter carabiners usually last longer as there is a consistent, larger rope-bearing surface to wear evenly, whereas lighter
I-beam carabiners tend to show signs of rope wear more quickly due to the geometric differences where the rope runs.
I like the Rocklock or MiniPearabiner for my standard workhorse Belay biner, a Gridlock for use with a GriGri, and a Vaporlock for multipitch rock, ice
or in the alpine.
There are several different types of locking mechanisms available on the market today. As far as Black Diamond carabiners are concerned, these include:
- the new Magnetron
TwistLock and Magnetron biners are auto-lockers. Basically if the gate is closed, the mechanism automatically engages and it's locked, whereas a screwgate
needs to be manually screwed shut to engage the locking mechanism. Screwgate biners are typically lighter than auto-locking lockers. Here you need
to make a choice between less weight and added security.
As well as the different types of locking mechanisms described above, there are two general families of lockers: big and small. Typically large lockers
are used for belaying (as stated above), setting up top ropes, or acting as the power point in anchors. Smaller lockers are often used to build anchors,
on a particular placement where you could be concerned about the gate opening, or to clove yourself into an anchor.
Wiregate vs Non-Wiregate
In 1995, Black Diamond brought wiregate technology to the climbing industry with the HotWire carabiner.
Wiregate carabiners are typically lighter, less susceptible to freezing, and because of the reduced mass, less susceptible to gate whiplash. During
a climbing fall there is a lot going on-carabiners are getting loaded, ropes are stretching and getting tight, things are bouncing around. Traditional
gates on carabiners have more mass to them, and during all of this bouncing and vibration, it has been shown that the mass of the gate can allow it
to open slightly which in effect results in an 'open gate' loading scenario. And as stated above, carabiners are typically 3 to 4 times as strong when
the gate is closed. The reduced mass of a wiregate carbiner alleviates this.
Personally I like the fact that wiregate biners are usually lighter and less susceptible to freezing so I typically use them for long routes with long
approaches, and ice or alpine climbing.
Keylock Gate vs. Non-Keylock Gate
Carabiners historically used a 'hook and pin' configuration to allow the gate to interface with the body of the biner and give it its strength during closed-gate
loading. This style is consistent, strong, relatively easy to manufacture and relatively cheap.
Another solid gate design came on the scene several years ago-the keylock gate. This uses the geometry of the pocket of the gate to interface with the
'nose' of the carabiner to provide its strength in closed gate. The advantage of this design is that it alleviates the chance of the hooked part of
the carabiner to get hung up on something (like a bolt hanger, Stopper wire or sling). Nose hooked carabiners are surprisingly weak, and it's by far
the most common scenario for carabiner failure in the field. Check out an old QC Lab post on the subject HERE.
The manufacturing process for making keylock gates is slightly more expensive, but you gain the benefit of a snag-free carabiner.
Until recently, if you were the type of person that really liked the snag-free keylock design, but also the lighter weight and no whiplash of the wiregate,
you had to make a choice. But now BD's HoodWire Technology kills two birds with one stone. You get the functionality of a wiregate carabiner as well
as the snag-free benefits of a keylock thanks to the carabiners simple wire hood. HoodWire Technology is available on both the HoodWire carabiner,
as well as our updated Oz carabiner.
Heavy vs. Light
When our Oz carabiner first came out, my buddy Travis called me up all excited, "I'm going to order a full set of Oz quickdraws for my new sport climbing
kit. They're so light!" It's true the Oz is a super-light biner at one ounce (hence the name), but is it the right choice for your sport climbing draws?
Sure, if you're doing a multipitch sport route in the Canadian Rockies, or going for a hard, 22-draw onsight, go for it. But for a workhorse sport
climbing carabiner, it's probably not the best choice. Why? In order to get the weight out of these lightweight biners, manufacturers are removing
material, and though ultimately all carabiners are strong and meet all CE requirements, less material can mean a few things. The smaller size makes
is slightly harder to clip. There can be less material in the spine, which makes it more susceptible to bending if loaded over an edge, and there oftentimes
is less material on the rope-bearing surface, which means whippers are harder on your rope.
A quickdraw that is more optimized for daily cragging would likely have a snagfree carabiner on the top so it doesn't get up on bolt hangers, and a nice
large biner on the bottom for ease of clipping. Something like the sport climbing specific Livewire Quickdraw, Nitron Quickdraw or Hoodwire Quickdraw.
We headed down to the drop tower to do a quick comparison of a few different manufacturer's workhorse-type biners side-by-side with several different lightweight
rigs. The intent was to determine how many gnarly factor-1.7 drops, with a static belay, without moving the rope at all, would it take to trash a rope
or trash the biner.
For most of the larger, heavier biners, the rope actually eventually ended up cutting, and the biner was still in good enough shape to throw on your rack
and keep climbing. Whereas with the lightweight, smaller biners, after anywhere from 3-5 drops, the biner was severely deformed and was what I would
consider non-functional (gate wouldn't open), and on a few occasions, the 10mm Dynex sling eventually cut.
Obviously this test is brutally harsh-no one in their right mind would (or could) take repeated gnarly fall factor-1.7 whippers with a static belay onto
the same section of rope—but comparatively speaking, the lightweight biners got thrashed earlier. What's the moral of this story? Use the right
tool for the job. Heavier biners with a greater cross section have their place as they are burly and can take abuse. Use something like this for your
daily cragging quickdraws where you're more likely to fall repeatedly working the moves on your big proj. Whereas the smaller sized, lightweight biners
aren't designed to withstand the same level of abuse and are more appropriate when weight is a concern, and you're not as likely to be taking huge
lobbers repeatedly, like in the alpine, or when ice climbing.
Climbing gear shouldn't be used in industrial applications—it just isn't designed, rated or certified for those types of loads and applications.
Stay safe out there,
Kolin Powick (KP) is a mechanical engineer hailing from Calgary, Canada. He has over 20 years of experience in the engineering field and served as Black Diamond’s Director of Quality for over 11 years. He is currently their Climbing Category Director. If you have a technical question for KP, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will TRY to respond.
To help make more climbers safer climbers, Rock and Ice has teamed up with Black Diamond Equipment to present the information here.