Carabiner Design
By Andrew McLean

Back to Writings Index
Originally published by Black Diamond Equipment

Perhaps the best way to appreciate a tool’s shape and design is to try to use it for a purpose that it wasn’t intended for. Ever tried to slice bread with an X-acto? knife instead of a bread knife? If you consider carabiners tools of the climbing trade, the same theory applies - try racking some pitons on a LiveWire or using Ovals on your redpoint attempt on Children of the Light. Biners are multipurpose, but like most any tool, they’re are certain shapes and designs that are more suited for the task at hand. But, unlike cutting bread, climbing has a more serious side to it and using the right biner can not only make it safer, but more enjoyable as well. 

Unless you are specializing in one type of climbing, a good assortment of biners makes for a healthy rack. Bent or wire gates for speedy clipping, high strength biners for belays and long run-outs, lockers for those must-not-fail situations, affordable biners for the Big Wall mega rack and belay biners for your ATC. Have you ever noticed how in certain situations, specific biners will gravitate to the front of your rack? Maybe the last bolt before a long run out might require something to inspire confidence such as a Big Easy/Quicksilver quickdraw. Or maybe HotWires for alpine or ice climbing when you’re looking for a strong, light, non-icing rig.

“Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradles.”
 Virginia Woolf

Confidence in your biners & gear translates into confidence in your climbing. A quick clipping biner might be an integral part of success or failure on a route. Which direction the biner is facing, if it’s hanging correctly, how tightly the draw is attached, etc., can all play a part in making it through a hard climb. Imagine the difference between being 30’ out on a suspect biner that you found at the base of El Cap, or looking down and seeing a shiny new Quicksilver II gleaming up at you. Confidence in your biners is key. Climbing is all about calculated risks and the desire to succeed. Quality gear can help simply those calculations and free you up to concentrate on making the move. The “click” of the biner’s gate shutting as the rope drops into it is your last tactical connection with your protection before you commit to a hard sequence. How it sounded and felt can tug at your subconscious as the crux move looms ahead. Was it a mushy little “cleeck” or a secure sounding “snap”? Or was it a battle to even get in and wasted precious time and energy? 

Biner Philosophy
You can and should expect a lot from your carabiners. First and foremost, they should run interference between you and the pull of gravity. Secondly, they should work so well that you never even think about them - they should be invisible. Carabiners are your ticket to adventure - they can take you to some of the most wild and exciting places in the world. In short, biners are just damn cool. For the price of a fast food lunch, they’ll allow you to dangle 1,000’s of feet off the deck and calmly survey the world, serene in the confidence that they aren’t going to spontaneously explode. But, this hasn’t come without effort. At BD, Biners R Us and We R Biners.

Design Theory
There is nothing extraneous on a carabiner - take away any single part or manufacturing operation and they are just be a pile of useless parts. Every little bump, bend, ridge and ripple is called in question - does it have a purpose? Does it help or hinder? Yet despite this, carabiners have an aesthetic beauty that comes from their raw functionality - they have been stripped down to their bare essentials. 

There are four basic elements to a carabiner - function, strength, weight, and price. Most biners are a blend of all these, with one or more of the factors playing a more dominant role. Biners exist for every purpose - high strength, lightweight, economical, dedicated function, multipurpose, trad, rad or otherwise.

Wall of Confusion
You’re faced with a wall of biners - some are on sale, some are twice the price of others, some are colored, some are plain, some are sold in sets and some have weird looking gates. Where do you start? The question becomes a lot easier if you know what you’re looking for , even if it’s just “a general all around biner”. Or, what do I want to climb? Sport climbing needs a quick clipping biner with a large rope bearing surface that’s easy on ropes after repeated falls. Big walls need massive amounts of affordable, multipurpose biners. Alpine climbing needs a small number of lightweight, high strength biners that won’t ice up. Top roping at the local practice rock requires locking gates for anchors and belay devices. Almost any biner will connect your rope to a piece of gear, but, using the wrong one can be like using a sledge hammer to drive a Lost Arrow, there are some tools that work better then others.

Biners are all about semi intangible subtleties - the feel of the body, the gate action, the fit and finish, polish, anodizing. Like any fine tool, a kitchen knife, a finishing hammer or a writing pen, how a carabiner feels in your hands is an important part of deciding which biner is right for you. If it feels good, it is good. Things like the size and strength of your hands can make a huge difference in whether or not you like a biner. At Black Diamond, we run all of our biners through a computerized testing machine that measures the opening, closing and side to side resistance. We set tight standards that ensure that each BD biner is going to feel like all others - no nasty surprises as you grab that sticky gated biner at the wrong moment.

Copyright - Andrew McLean Back to Writings Index