You might think carabiners are basically all the same - but a dedicated belay biner can make a world of difference for paying out slack, lowering safely, and preventing accidents. Read our top picks for the best belay carabiner and treat your partner to the deluxe belay experience.
Carabiners comes in all shapes and sizes - HMS, Pear, offset D and more. While many are good at doing multiple things we always recommend having specific carabiners per use case. While it's great to have an all-in-one for some situations, a dedicated belay carabiner is incredibly helpful for a few reasons.
First off here is what we think you should look for in the best belay carabiner: -
- HMS or Pear Shape - Best shape for a belay carabiner
- Rounded top edge for smoother belaying and lowering
- Has to lock - Locking mechanism is personal choice
- Doesn't cross load - Important for safety
- Versatility is a bonus
Don't Need A Full Guide? These are our top picks at the cheapest prices
- Best Belay Carabiner Overall - Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Triple FG
- Best Belay Carabiner For Grigri - Black Diamond Magnetron Gridlock
- Best Belay Carabiner On A Budget - Mammut Smart HMS
- Dirtbag Budget Belay Carabiner - Black Diamond RockLock Screwgate
Why Is Carabiner Shape Important?
The HMS or Pear shaped biner (essentially the same thing) has one smaller end and one larger/wider end. The gate opens towards this larger end. There are a couple of advantages to this shape. First off having a large area for the rope to run over and move around in decreases the amount of wear concentrated onto one area of a carabiner.
If you use an offset D shape carabiner - commonly used in quickdraws - the rope normally settles into a specific corner. For a quickdraw or other uses this makes sense but also creates a specific area of wear which turns into a "groove". This leaves sharp edges that increase rope wear and can in some instances cut rope on a fall.
Secondly, a larger top end means the gate opening is bigger. That means easier loading of a rope/belay device and easier to set up a quick munter hitch.
Third, having a wide top end means there is space to set up either a couple of clove hitches which are useful for locking off a belay, or tying in at the top of routes on multi pitch. Mainly this large area will be for an emergency rappel or belay using a munter hitch.
What Does HMS Mean? What Is An HMS Carabiner?
HMS is German for "Halbmastwurf-Sicherung", roughly a munter hitch (half mast hitch) belay. Pear shaped is an easier visual description. This type of carabiner was designed for easily setting up a munter hitch to belay or rappel with. A munter hitch is a simple knot that gives some friction along with manually pulling or feeding through a rope.
Why would you ever need to do that? So, you're halfway up the "fun" local nine pitch wall with your partner, just about to swap the belay. You grab your device to pass it over and it slips from your hands, falling in to No Man's Land to be picked up by a roving dirtbag - as nature intended. How do you get down, or how do you carry on?
Here's where learning to belay and rappel using a munter hitch comes in handy. It's simple but requires constant attention and both hands - get an instructor to show you how. Here's also where a wide top carabiner comes in handy. It gives you enough space for a doubled rope munter hitch to go on and run freely without snagging.
Lastly on carabiner shape, a rounded top edge is better for rope life and for smoother lowering. Smaller lightweight carabiners often have a more thin rectangular shape if you were to cross section the top. Fully rounded carabiners are the smoothest but weightiest.
Some belay carabiners have a rounded top and bottom edge with a cutout middle known as an "I" or "H" beam for the visual similarity to a capital I or H. This gives a good rounded edge but still saves some weight. They're a little more expensive to make but lighter for the same functionality.
Best Belay Carabiner Locking Mechanism
Really this is up to personal preference. Screwlocks are generally the cheapest and easiest to use but in some cases can come undone. Keep an eye out for "gravity loading" where the lock is at the top of the carabiner and can slowly unscrew downwards. Also watch out for where a rope rubs against the screwgate and opens it.
Twistlock and triple-action gates require you to twist them open or add an extra pull up and twist before opening. Some carabiners have a lever or buttons to push before they'll open. We prefer two buttons just because it feels like a single button could be pressed accidentally. In our own testing it's very hard to do this.
What Is Cross Loading A Carabiner?
Carabiners are rated for three ways of being loaded. If you set up to belay correctly you'll have the belay device at the top thick end with the bottom thin side going through your belay loop. When there is pull at both ends the carabiner is loaded on it's Major Axis. This is where the carabiner is it's strongest and how it should be used.
If the carabiner slips sideways it is then loaded at the closest two points as in the diagram above. This is what is called cross loading where the forces act on the Minor Axis - one of the weakest points of a carabiner. A typical carabiner is rated to take 25kN or force on it's Major Axis and as little as 7kN on it's Minor Axis.
In theory a carabiner that used to catch a large fall when cross loaded could break. Even if it doesn't, repeated falls when cross loaded can deform and weaken that carabiner without obvious signs. Basically you never want to cross load a carabiner.
Belay devices drop up and down during belaying and can often become cross loaded. Many belay specific carabiners have different ways of preventing this. In general a large, rounded and smooth carabiner without any snag points doesn't cross load much - but some are designed so it never happens.
Best Belay Carabiner Extra Features
Our favorite extras are a snag free nose for less fumbling when loading and unclipping. A color or other visual indicator that the carabiner is locked or unlocked is great for quick buddy checks. Being able to belay on the harness or in guide mode, as a master point to clip in with or to redirect a belay are all helpful.
Most carabiners are made of aluminum to save weight and money and are perfectly fine for years of use. A steel carabiner is heavier but wears way slower. You can also get carabiners with steel inserts where rope commonly rubs for the best of both materials.
Best Belay Carabiner
Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Triple FG
|Weight: 91g||Major / Minor / Open Ratings: 25 / 9 / 9 kN||Gate Opening: 24mm|
This carabiner satisfies all the requirements for our best belay carabiner. It's got the right shape with a nice wide top for distributed wear. It automatically locks and only unlocks with a twist, pull up, and open - meaning it's safe by default.
It's surprisingly easy to open on purpose with a minutes practice and almost impossible to do accidentally.
The big draw of this carabiner is the steel insert at the top where the rope runs through while belaying. That steel will wear much less than standard aluminum and won't be as likely to get cut by sharp edges. This means you get a great trade off between light and hard wearing.
It also has a little spring lever at the bottom - the FG bit - which clips onto your belay loop. It slots in easily and prevents cross loading with a tube style device really well.
As a bonus, with Grigri's you'll often find small sharp grooves left on carabiners you use to belay with. The steel insert helps to prevent this as well.
Though the price is double that of a standard locking biner it will last much longer while doing the job at hand. It's also versatile enough to work with a munter hitch or as a master point and has a keylock snag-proof nose. Overall, the Edelrid HMS Bulletproof Triple FG is an excellent buy.
Best Belay Carabiner For Grigri
|Weight: 78g||Major / Minor / Open Ratings: 22 / 7 / 8 kN||Gate Opening: 21mm|
We wrote a full article on the best carabiner for the Grigri and found that the Black Diamond Magnetron Gridlock was perfect for the job. It's designed specifically for the the latest versions of the Grigri and works really well. It operates a little differently to standard as you load the Grigri into smaller end of the biner and clip the large end into your belay loop.
It works perfectly to stop cross loading as well as keeping the belay device is an upright position. The Magnetron lock requires you to push either side of the gate at the two red buttons. It's really easy to open when you choose to and also almost impossible to accidentally open.
The gate snaps shut when you release it and magnets lock the buttons in to place so you're always by default locked and safe. It's brilliant if you mainly climb indoors and want to feel safe and reassured by your gear. This and the Grigri Plus we recommend as the best beginner belay device are a great choice for boosting you and our partner's confidence.
Some reviewers used to screwlocks have found this a little awkward to use because you need to flip the biner when loading and unloading the Grigri. When you do, the Magnetron lock closes automatically.
Personally we've found once you are used to loading the Grigri on and off it's really fast and easy. The advantages are that you always know you're locked in and won't cross load the device. If you think it might annoy you too, you can also get a screwlock version.
The almost "figure eight" style of the biner looks a little odd but works great. As rope doesn't go through the biner with a Grigri you don't need a smooth edge on the small end. However the larger end is big and rounded. So you can also use it for belaying with a standard tube style device as well as for an emergency munter hitch belay, or rappel.
Best Belay Carabiner On A Budget
|Weight: 102g||Major / Minor / Open Ratings: 24 / 12 / 7 kN||Gate Opening: 28mm|
This is another great box ticker but on a budget. The Mammut Smart HMS has the nice rounded top for smooth belaying and lowering but features cutouts to save weight where possible. The gate is a screwlock but an extra piece of hard plastic adds another layer of safety.
This plastic gate does two things: Stopping cross loading, and won't close unless the screwgate is locked. It physically won't clip on to the gate unless it's properly screwed up so you know when you it's safe to call "on belay".
Designed to work great with Mammut's own Smart 2.0 belay device as well as all tube style devices. It's also versatile enough for the Grigri, munter hitches and master points, and if the plastic clip is annoying it can be removed with a bit of force.
The nose is a nice keylock so it won't snag and overall comes in at a great price. At only a couple of bucks more than similar size/weight biners this is a really good buy.
Dirtbag Price Belay Carabiner
|Weight: 85g||Major / Minor / Open Ratings: 24 / 8 / 8 kN||Gate Opening: 24mm|
You've read an entire article about the advantages and disadvantages of various systems and why the best belay carabiner should have them. You also live in a van/sofa surf and eat packet noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We get it, we've been there.
The BD RockLock Screwgate is there for you as a classic belay carabiner that's also versatile and cheap. It's totally rounded for smooth belaying, big enough for a munter hitch when a belay device is out of the budget, and still has a snag-free keylock nose.
At this size and smooth it's less likely to cross load than other lighter cut-out style biners but it still could happen. Keep an eye on the device while belaying and you'll be fine. Because it's so popular and BD update their range yearly you can almost always get one of these one sale for under $10.
Awesome header photo by Peter Stevens / nordique on flickr.