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 come 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 – The locking mechanism is a 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 – Mammut Smart HMS
– Best Belay Carabiner For GriGri – Black Diamond Magnetron Gridlock
– Best 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 the 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 of 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 into 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 well-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 its Major Axis. This is where the carabiner is its 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 of force on its Major Axis and as little as 7kN on its Minor Axis.
In theory, a carabiner 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. 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
|Weight: 102g||Major / Minor / Open Ratings: 24 / 12 / 7 kN||Gate Opening: 28mm|
A brilliant design that presents cross-loading, and makes sure it is impossible to close without properly closing the gate. The Mammut Smart HMS has a nice rounded top for smooth belaying and lowering but features cutouts to save weight where possible. The gate is a screw-lock but an extra piece of hard plastic adds another layer of safety.
This plastic gate does two things: Stops cross-loading, and prevents closure unless the screwgate is locked. It physically won’t clip on to the gate unless it’s properly screwed up so you know when its safe to call “on belay”. It’s also very easy to check its set up correctly. For pairs of beginners, this is really helpful.
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. Our previous top pick was the Edelrid HMS Bulletproof, which seems now to be out of production.
Best Belay Carabiner UK / EU
|Weight: 95g||Major / Minor / Open Ratings: 25 / 10 / 8 kN||Gate Opening: 22mm|
If you’re in the UK or Europe, you might not find the Mammut biner above on sale. That’s not a problem though as a carabiner with a really similar (even a bit better) design is on sale. The Belay Master from DMM is our personal favorite belay carabiner and after years of using it in different situations, the design is literally perfect – if a little heavy.
The top end is chunky and rounded, meaning it doesn’t wear very fast and is kind on ropes. It can only be done up or locked if the plastic clip is closed, and the clip on this biner completely covers the screw part of the gate. This means even less wear on ropes and gear.
To us, DMM are the best climbing carabiner producer and you’ll very rarely go wrong with any of their equipment. Unfortunately, this model isn’t often found in the US but it’s sometimes available on Amazon. If you find it, we prefer it over the Mammut Smart HMS.
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 latest versions of the Grigri and works really well. It operates a little differently to standard as you load the GriGri into the 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 in 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 into 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 screw-lock 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 Budget 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 instant 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. The RockLock works brilliantly with an ATC or Air Traffic Controller style device, or as an all-rounder.
At this size and smoothness, 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 on sale for under $10.
Awesome header photo by Peter Stevens / nordique on flickr.
Other Great Climbing Gear Guides
– Best Belay Device For Beginners
– Best Beginner Climbing Harness
– Best Beginner Climbing Rope
– Best Beginner Climbing Shoes
– Smallest Climbing Carabiners
– What Is A Carabiner?