Best Belay Carabiner

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Posted August 11, 2014 by Joel Schopp in Climbing
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In our extensive field testing we find the Omega Pacific Jake Keylock Quik-lok is the best rock climbing belay carabiner.

Some history

Back in the day climbers in the US used to belay by wrapping the rope around their hip.  This hip belay style was very tricky to do and often ended with the belayer getting rope burn while catching a fall.  The Germans figured out that if they made a carabiner just a bit bigger they could belay with a munter hitch on a carabiner attached to their harness and not get rope burn.  The German system was much more effective at holding falls than a hip belay, and pretty much eliminated the belayer getting rope burn.  In German the name for the clove hitch is called a throw around the mast or “mastwurf,” and the munter hitch is called a half clove hitch or “halbmastwurf.”  The extra large carabiner for the munter hitch is then called a half clove hitch securing or “HalbMastwurf Sicherung.”  All that makes a poor English speaker’s head hurt, so we just call it a HMS carabiner.  Despite practically nobody belaying off a munter hitch today, modern belay carabiners retain this HMS carabiner shape and name.

We’ve talked to several Germans who still prefer to belay with a munter hitch, but most Americans think a belay device will twist your rope less and feed easier. We think belaying with a munter hitch is a skill all climbers should learn in case they forget/lose/drop their belay device.  Sometimes practising old ways can get you out of a bind.

What we look for in a belay carabiner

Autolocking

We think that having your belay device gate locked automatically when it closes should be a mandatory feature.  We’ve seen a lot of screwlock belay carabiners unlocked on belayers while their partners were climbing, so we just can’t recommend any non-autolocking belay carabiners for safety reasons.  If the belay carabiner gate comes open the strength of the carabiner is dangerously low, and even worse the rope can come out altogether.  Having the gate auto-lock means there is one less thing to go wrong, one less thing to forget that can cost you your life.

Large Diameter

Large diameter (thickness) of the carabiner results in smoother feeding of the rope.  It also results in higher breaking strength.  There are a lot of companies pushing “ultralight” belay carabiners.  These ultralight carabiners have smaller diameters that tend to bind more when feeding rope and have reduced (but still safe) breaking strength.  We think the weight difference is not noticeable and would gladly pay a few grams for a carabiner that works better.

Durability

We’ve worn out probably a dozen belay carabiners in our climbing career and out of everything we have tried the Jake is the longest lasting; we’ve never actually had to retire one.  We aren’t sure why it is more durable than others.  It could be the larger diameter spreads out the wear over a larger area or reduces the friction on any one point.  It could be the cold forged aluminium is more durable than hot forged aluminium.  It could be they anodize the carabiner better than other companies.  We don’t know what the secret is, but this carabiner is very long lasting.

No Catch Nose

Like other carabiners we highly prefer if the nose of the carabiner doesn’t have a big notch in it that catches on everything from your belay loop to your gear loops to the rope.  Belay carabiners are notorious for this notch being extra deep and annoying because of their increased thickness.  Carabiners like the keylock Jake have a smooth nose that clips easily.

Wide Gate Opening

The belay carabiner should open wide to make it easy to fit in a rope and belay device.  It may also end up with multiple ropes at one time on multi-pitch.  The Jake has an offset gate that opens really wide, allowing it to pass the other side of the carabiner.

Also Very Good

Black Diamond Magnatron Rockloock – We really like the magnet locking system, even better than twist-locks.  However, the extra price, slightly narrower diameter, and decreased durability of the carabiner lead us to still prefer the Jake even though we think this is a solid choice as well.

Black Diamond Twistlock Rockloock – Again the slightly narrower diameter, and decreased durability of the carabiner lead us to prefer the Jake even though we think this is a good choice, too.  For an extra $5 the magnatron version above has a unique locking mechanism we like and is otherwise identical.

The Future

Companies are now working on making belay carabiners that avoid cross loading and with novel gate locking mechanisms.  We’ve started long-term testing some of these in the field. Here’s a quick overview of some innovations we are seeing.  Some we have enough experience with now to recommend or rule out, some haven’t been around long enough for our long-term testing.

  • The Black Diamond Magnetron gate locking mechanism gets a thumbs up, though we hope the price can drop to the same as a normal twistlock.  We also hope they will license the technology to other manufacturers.
  • The Black Diamond Gridlock is one of the first attempts to solve the cross loading problem, but we find it too cumbersome for normal use.
  • The Eldrid Strike Slider attempts to solve both the gate locking and cross loading problems at once.  The thumb slide lock is novel and promising and the spring bar also looks great.  We wish the biner itself was a bit larger, but overall are impressed enough with the technology that we’ll be doing longer term evaluations.
  • The Petzl Wirelock is novel, but we think it is going to be too likely to unlock itself in normal use.  It is better suited to Via Ferratas.
  • We really like the promise of the secondary gate and widened spine on the Metolius Gatekeeper, but wish it had a wider diameter on top and an autolocking gate instead of a twistlock.
  • DMM has a plastic clip you can put on one of their belay carabiners that prevents cross loading.  We aren’t fans of plastic clip on pieces or the fact that the carabiner itself is a screw gate, but we like that they are thinking about the problem.
  • Mammut also made a plastic piece on one of their belay carabiners, but we’ve seen evidence that this piece can twist the twistlock to open and don’t recommend it.

About the Author

Joel Schopp

Joel is a a rock climber, canoer, backpacker, camper, father, skiier, programmer, swimmer, cyclist, zipliner, kayaker, and adventurer in no particular order. He is president of the Central Texas Mountaineers, Texas regional coordinator for the Access Fund, and sits on the board of the non-profit Ascend Outdoor Adventures. Joel wants you to have the best gear so you don't think about your gear and instead focus on the wonder that is the outdoors.

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