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Wiregate Carabiner Review

16-Dec-2010
By

Live Wires

Once an anomaly, wire-gate carabiners are taking racks by storm. With more than 40 models swelling store shelves, choosing the right one is no longer an open-and-shut case.

Carabiners are like Rodney Dangerfield - they get no respect. When you fall, you thank your rope. When you tweak a thin high step, you bless your shoes. Yet, who pays homage to climbing's most ubiquitous - and crucial - hardware, the unassuming carabiner? Without these wall flowers, a rope would be nothing more than a hank of braided nylon, and cams would amount to little more than highly engineered scraps of aluminum. It is the carabiner that pulls it all together, connecting the links in the protection chain. It is the carabiner, too, that carries your smegmus sneakers and water bottle, racks gear, and even keeps tabs on your car keys.

So bow your head and repeat in humble unison: "Dear carabiner, we are sorry if we overlooked you. We now recognize that you are the great giver of life, without which we are nothing."

The name says it all: A wire-gate carabiner has a length of bent steel wire that serves as the gate. Unlike a bar-stock carabiner gate, which has multiple moving parts, including a small internal spring, a wire-gate is but one piece. The wire itself functions as both gate and spring. Its simplicity yields many benefits: These units are less apt to gunk- or ice-up, are inherently easier to clip, open wider, and weigh less than bar gates. On the safety side, a wire-gate doesn't give up any strength, and, since the wire has less mass than a bar, it is less likely to whiplash open, a phenomenon that can occur when a carabiner vibrates or smacks against the rock in a fall.

In essence, wire-gates are better mousetraps - not perfect, but better. Because wire-gates are easy to clip, they are also easy to unclip. Wire-gates aren't as ideal for carabiner-brake rappelling, where the cross-load torque might tweak the wires. No company has yet produced a true wire-gate locker.

BENT VS. STRAIGHT GATE

Unlike regular, bar-stock carabiner gates, where a concave bend in the gate makes clipping the rope a smidge easier, bent wire-gates aren't necessarily easier to operate than straight wire-gates. Every wire-gate naturally has a wide, flat face that is invariably easy to clip. "Clipability" is determined largely by how deep or shallow the carabiner's rope cradle is, the frame's nose design, and gate-spring tension. If the sum of all parts operates in harmony, the carabiner will be clip-friendly, regardless of gate shape. Nevertheless, climbers who prefer bent gates will be pleased to find more than half a dozen offerings to mull over. As with bent bar-stock gates, never use a bent wire-gate to clip directly to protection; it could unclip itself.

PRICE

One carabiner won't deplete your IRA, but the dozens you'll need for even the most humble project, and the hundreds obligatory for big-walling, can ding your purse. Maddeningly, there's neither rhyme nor reason to carabiner prices: $7 will land a nicely finished, top performer, while $10 or more might actually earn you a mediocre crab. Go figure. For pure nickel-squeezing, the Rock Empire Superlight (non-anodized) is a modest $3.95. Though the gates on the Superlight samples we tested varied in spring tension, and the rope-bearing surface is on the narrow side, the frame is a utilitarian shape and size, and at 1.3 ounces, the model is bantamweight.

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DRAW SETS

You can buy most wire-gate carabiners individually, but Cassin and Fixe only sell their wire-gates pre-packaged with quickdraws or runners. Packages of this sort can save you a few bucks - typically they are priced so you get the draw component for free. Note: Only the draw sets that don't let you purchase individual carabiners are listed in the chart as packages. Many other companies do offer packaged sets, but are not included in this review.

ANODIZED

Anodized carabiners - those coated with a protective/decorative oxide - are sportier, and moreover, faster to visually locate, helping you better organize belay and rappel anchors, where you often have clusters of biners nested together, each one clipped to something or other. The chart notes anodized carabiners. You'll pay $.30 to $1.50 more for these models.

WEIGHT

Often, only a tenth of an ounce (the weight of a dime) separates one carabiner from another. Though you are unlikely to notice a single dime in your pocket, a trouser-full of change will yank your pants right off. The moral? Carabiner weight matters, but only in proportion to the number of carabiners you carry. On a long sport route, where you might load up with a dozen or more draws, the difference between the 1.1-ounce Trango Superfly and any middle-of-the-pack 1.5-ounce biner is more than half a pound, i.e., noticeable. Yet on shorty routes, say the four-bolt Z Clip at Independence Pass, Colorado, the weight difference is negligible.

Be mindful, too, that "superlight" carabiners can have a smaller-diameter rope-bearing surface, increasing rope wear, and, because they contain less metal, won't take as much abuse as larger-gauge models. They also won't rack as much gear, and can be difficult to grab. One exception is the Wild Country Helium, a full-bodied biner that weighs 1.2 ounces.

SIZE

Carabiners, like your extended family, come in all shapes and sizes. They also fall into quantifiable categories: small, medium, large and extra-large. Small carabiners - the Black Diamond Neutrino, Omega Pacific Doval and JC, and the Trango Superfly - can be significantly lighter and less bulky than their bigger brethren. The tradeoff is that they won't rack as much gear, are tougher to grab, can cramp large fingers when you try to clip in a rope, and won't accommodate as many ropes/slings. Smaller biners aren't necessarily lighter, either (see chart). These diminutive designs are most useful on the gear-clipping end of a draw or runner, and for racking wires. Of the four smallest carabiners, the JC is an aberration, having a rope well that rivals large carabiners, and a rope-bearing surface that is the widest (i.e., most rope friendly) of any biner in this review.

Most carabiners herein are medium to large, and represent the real workhorses of any rack. Only one carabiner, the Omega Pacific Five-O, qualifies as an XL. This behemoth dwarfs all contenders - its giant frame gobbles up rope and rack like no other. It is ideal for organizing belays and rigging, and is the easiest of all carabiners to handle when wearing gloves. Surprisingly, this monster only weighs a tenth of an ounce more than the average large biner, and is even lighter than some.

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TESTED

Every carabiner in this review is Comité Européen de Normalisation's (CEN) approved, passing the organization's minimum standards for safety and quality control. In layman's terms, a "CE-approved" non-locking regular carabiner must hold 20 kiloNewtons (kN) when its gate is closed and it is pulled lengthwise (major-axis strength); 7 kN when pulled the same way with its gate open (gate-open strength); and 7 kN pulled from spine to gate (minor-axis strength). Oval carabiners, of which there are only two in this review, have slightly lower standards, owing to their naturally weaker shapes. A CE-approved oval must withstand 18 kN major-axis; 5 kN open-gate; and 7 kN minor-axis.

While all CE-approved carabiners meet strict standards, a number of manufacturers go further by either individually testing each biner and/or testing a sample from each batch to destruction. Individually testing can catch manufacturing snafus, such as a frame that hasn't been properly heat-treated, while destructive batch testing can also ferret out flaws, such as inconsistencies in materials and manufacturing. Both tests increase a carabiner's price, but consider it money well spent.

ROPE-BEARING DIAMETER

The diameter of the surface over which the rope will travel - and where it rubs when you hangdog or rap - dictates how mean or kind that given biner is to your long-suffering cord. Though any carabiner's "rope cradle" is round, think of it as an edge. The smaller the edge, the more wear it will put on your rope. Alongside weight and clipability, rope-bearing diameter is a key deciding factor in carabiner selection. In this case, bigger really is better.

GATE STIFFNESS

With few exceptions, the majority of carabiners have similar-feeling "medium-stiff" wire-gate action. Next to carabiner aesthetics, gate action will determine whether you love or loathe your biner. The chart (pages 90 and 91) ranks carabiners as having either "medium" or "stiff" gates. Use these as reference points only. The real test will be in your hands.

GATE OPENING

A carabiner's gate opening will help determine how much gear and rope you can cram into it. Wide-mouthed gates will swallow myriad ropes and anchors. Don't, however, equate gate-opening size with clipability.

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Comparison Chart.  Us Scroll bar at bottom to see additional information.

Model Price Anodized Weight Size Rope-Bearing Diameter Gate Stiffness Gate Opening CE Approved Individually Tested Batch Tested Major Axis Minor Axis Gate Open Comments
Black Diamond Neutrino $7.95 yes 1.3 oz S 9.4 mm Medium 22.8mm yes to 50% strength yes 24 kN 7 kN 8 kN Smallest biner tested; great for bolt/gear-clipping end of quickdraw; small gate opening; hard to grab; grade-A finish.
Black Diamond Hotwire Editor's Choice $6.95 yes 1.6 oz M 9 mm Medium 25mm yes to 50% strength yes 25 kN 7 kN 9 kN Exceptional all-arounder; huge racking capacity; easy to clip; grade-A finish.
Black Diamond Livewire $8.50 yes 1.6 oz L 8.9 mm Medium 26mm yes to 50% strength yes 25 kN 7 kN 9 kN Great all-arounder; large racking capacity; easy to clip; thick nose won't fit old 1/2-inch bolt hangers; grade-A finish.
Black Diamond OvalWire $5.95 no 1.6 oz L 8 mm Medium 26mm yes to 50% strength yes 23 kN 7 kN 7 kN Great wall biner; inexpensive; racks 4 pins; only full-size wire-gate oval; grade-A finish.
CAMP Steelkar (straight gate)** $6.80/6.50 yes/no 1.6 oz L 9.2 mm Medium 29mm yes to 75% strength yes 25 kN 8 kN 10 kN No-frills utility biner; rope can hang up on gate notch; easy to grab.
CAMP Steelkar (bent gate)** $6.75/6.40 yes/no 1.6 oz L 9.2 mm Medium 30mm yes to 75% strength yes 25 kN 8 kN 10 kN No-frills utility biner; rope can hang up on gate notch; easy to grab; inconsistent gate action from biner to biner.
CAMP Wiregate Safelock (bent gate) $8.75 no 1.7 oz L 9.2 mm Medium 27mm yes to 75% strength yes 25 kN 8 kN 10 kN Specialized design with unique partly locking gate; intended for use on first and second bolts, but not as a true locking carabiner; tricky to clip.
Cassin Cosmos Wire Draw *** $16.95* no 1.8/3.9 oz L 10 mm Medium 32mm (b); 31mm (s) yes to 50% strength yes 25 kN 9 kN 10 kN Easy to clip, big biner; only sold as draw package, with straight- and bent-gate biners and 4-inch Spectra sewn sling; heavy; grade-A finish.
Cassin Eco Wire Draw*** $11.95* no 1.3/3.2 oz M 9.6 mm Medium 29.5 (b); 24mm (s) yes to 50% strength yes 21 kN 7 kN 7 kN Inexpensive package with straight- and bent-gate biners and 4-inch sewn draw; easy to clip.
Cypher Mantis (straight gate) $6.10 no 1.6 oz L 9.2 mm Medium 29mm yes yes yes 26 kN 8 kN 10 kN No-frills utility biner; rope can hang up on gate notch; easy to grab.
Cypher Mantis (bent gate) $6.10 no 1.6 oz L 9.2 mm Medium 30mm yes yes yes 26 kN 8 kN 10 kN No-frills utility biner; rope can hang up on gate notch; easy to grab.
Cypher Dragonfly $6.85 yes 1.3 oz M 9 mm Medium 27mm yes yes yes 23 kN 8 kN 8 kN Great all-arounder at great price; easy to clip; grade-A finish.
DMM Revolver $24.95 yes 1.8 oz M 11.2 mm Medium 23mm yes no yes 27 kN 7 kN 9 kN Innovative roller reduces rope drag and is kind to rope; easy to clip; works well as emergency pulley; heavy for size; grade-A finish.
DMM Prowire $8.95 no 1.2 oz M 8.5 mm Medium 26mm yes no yes 24 kN 8 kN 8 kN Lightweight, full-size biner; easy to clip; excellent all-arounder; huge racking capacity; grade-A finish.
DMM Wirelock $10.95 no 1.5 oz M 9 mm Medium 23mm yes no yes 24 kN 9 kN 10 kN Hooded nose helps keep gate from accidentally opening; thick nose won't fit old 1/2-inch bolt hangers; grade-A finish.
Fixe Clip Nylon*** $10.95* yes 1.7/4 oz L 9.5 mm Stiff 34mm(b); 30mm (s) yes to 50% strength no 23 kN 7 kN 7 kN Big all-around biners; inexpensive; only sold as package with 4-inch nylon draw.
Fixe Clip Dyneema*** $11.95* yes 1.7/3.7 oz L 9.5 mm Stiff 34mm(b); 30mm (s) yes to 50% strength no 23 kN 7 kN 7 kN Big all-around biners; ine pensive; only sold as package with 4-inch Dyneema draw.
Fixe Clip Dyneema Alpine*** $14.95* yes 1.7/4.4 oz L 9.5 mm Stiff 34mm(b); 30mm (s) yes to 50% strength no 23 kN 7 kN 7 kN Big all-around biners; inexpensive; only sold as package with shoulder length Dyneema runner.
HB Clipper $5.25 no 1.6 oz M 8.8 mm Medium 30mm yes no yes 24 kN 7 kN 7 kN Solid all-arounder at great price; easy to clip; large gate opening for its size.
Kong Ultratop (straight gate)** $12.50/11 yes/no 1.5 oz M 9 mm Stiff 25mm yes 75% strength yes 26 kN 10 kN 10 kN Cramps large fingers; limited racking capacity; grade-A finish.
Kong Ultratop (bent gate)** $12.50/11.25 yes/no 1.5 oz M 9 mm Stiff 22.3mm yes 75% strength yes 26 kN 10 kN 10 kN Jerky gate action; small gate clearance for size; limited racking capacity; grade-A finish.
Mammut Standard $5.25 no 1.3 oz M 9 mm Medium 27mm yes no yes 24 kN 8 kN 8 kN Great all-arounder at great price; easy to clip; grade-A finish.
Metolius Wire-Gate $7.50 yes 1.6 oz M 9.6 mm Medium 29mm yes to 9 kN yes 22 kN 7 kN 8 kN Solid utility biner; large-diameter stock is kind to rope; easy to clip; grade-A finish.
Omega Pacific Doval $6.95 yes 1.3 oz S 9.2 mm Medium 25mm yes to 50% strength yes 25 kN 7 kN 7 kN Lightweight micro-oval good for aid climbing; rope/fingers can bind in small gate; limited racking capacity; grade-A finish.
Omega Pacific Five-O $6.95 yes 1.7 oz XL 10.4 mm Medium 32mm yes to 50% strength yes 25 kN 7 kN 8 kN Massive biner with massive clearance and gear capacity - only one of its kind; easy to clip; lightweight for its size; grade-A finish.
Omega Pacific JC $6.95 yes 1.5 oz S 12 mm Medium 22mm yes to 50% strength yes 21 kN 7 kN 9 kN Massive finger/rope clearance - even more than most large biners; very easy to clip; kind to rope; hard to grab; grade-A finish.
Rock Empire Superlight* $4.95/3.95 yes/no 1.3 oz M 8.5 mm Medium 23mm yes na yes 23 kN 8 kN 8 kN Amazingly inexpensive; good no-frills biner; inconsistent gate action from biner to biner.
Stubai Wire Clip (straight gate) $9.20 no 1.5 oz M 8 mm Stiff 27mm yes yes yes 25 kN 8 kN 8 kN Solid utility biner; hard to clip.
Stubai Wire Clip (bent gate) $9.50 no 1.5 oz M 8 mm Stiff 29.8mm yes yes yes 25 kN 8 kN 8 kN Solid utility biner; hard to clip.
Stubai Supreme (straight gate) $12.50 yes 1.4 oz M 9.2 mm Stiff 28.8mm yes yes yes 25 kN 10 kN 11 kN High minor- and gate-open strength; won't fit old 1/2-inch bolt hangers; grade-A finish.
Stubai Supreme (bent gate) $12.50 yes 1.4 oz M 9.2 mm Medium 31.5mm yes yes yes 25 kN 10 kN 11 kN High minor- and gate-open strength; medium biner with large gate clearance; grade-A finish.
Trango Directional (bent gate) $9.95 no 1.8 oz M 10 mm Medium 31mm yes to 50% strength yes 22 kN n/a 10 kN Unique design incorporates slot to secure quickdraw; easy to clip; easy on rope; heavy; grade-A finish.
Trango Classic $4.95 yes 1.5 oz M 8 mm Medium 26mm n/a to 50% strength yes 24 kN 8 kN 7 kN Inexpensive all-arounder; easy to clip.
Trango Lightweight $5.95 no 1.3 oz M 9 mm Medium 27mm yes to 50% strength yes 24 kN 8 kN 8 kN Great all-arounder at great price; easy to clip; grade-A finish.
Trango Superfly $7.95 no 1.1 oz S 8.5 mm Medium 25mm yes to 50% strength yes 24 kN 7 kN 9 kN Lightest-weight carabiner made; great for bolt/gear-clipping end of quickdraw; hard to grab.
Wild Country Helium Clean-Wire $11.50/10.95 yes/no 1.2 oz M 8.4 mm Stiff 25.7mm yes no yes 24 kN 9 kN 10 kN Lightweight, full-size biner; hooded nose helps prevent accidental opening; thick nose won't clip old 1/2-inch bolt hangers; grade-A finish.
Wild Country Wild Wire $7.50/6.95 yes/no 1.4 oz M 8.5 mm Medium 26mm yes no yes 23 kN 7 kN 9 kN Exceptional all-arounder; easy to clip; grade-A finish.

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