Deep Dive into Used Climbing Carabiners

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Deep Dive into Used Climbing Carabiners

Can I buy used climbing gear? 

Short answer– maybe, but only sometimes and only certain things. 

Climbing gear, especially soft goods, degrades over time. Things like ropes and webbing should almost never be bought used simply because of the risk of not knowing if they are damaged. 

Okay, well, what about used carabiners?

It depends. Carabiners are still a part of your safety equipment, but it’s possible to buy used carabiners safely. Like any equipment, a carabiner has a lifespan, so first knowing when to retire a carabiner and how to look for imperfections is necessary. 

Buying used climbing gear of any kind should be done with a bit of caution, know-how, and understanding about the best carabiners for climbing. 

How to tell if a carabiner is worn out and no longer safe

If you’re browsing used carabiners for sale, you need to know how to confidently identify a safe carabiner versus a carabiner that should be retired. 

So, how do you tell if a carabiner still has some life let in it?

Look at a few key factors: 

  • The gate pin(s) are still functioning and in good working and physical condition
  • The gates open and close easily and without sticking 
  • If there is a lock, the lock still functions, is aligned, isn’t loose, doesn’t stick, and there is no cross-threading
  • The body isn’t bent in any way
  • There are no visible cracks or deep scratches on the body of the carabiner
  • There are no metal burs
  • If there is any wear from a rope, it is minimal and does not create any grooves or sharp edges
  • There is no corrosion 

When evaluating the carabiner for these imperfections, also lay it on a flat surface to ensure it isn’t bent or uneven in any spots. 

It is best to see the used carabiner in person before the purchase. That way, you can inspect it much closer, test the gates, and feel the body of the carabiner to ensure you’re buying a quality piece of gear. 

When to retire climbing gear

If you are the one that is looking to sell old carabiners or if you want more guidance on choosing used ones, then you’ll also need to know when to retire climbing gear. Although soft goods like ropes, harnesses, and slings tend to need replacing faster than hard goods like carabiners, all of our climbing gear needs to be replaced at the correct time to ensure safety for use while climbing. 

Some circumstances require you to retire a carabiner immediately. If you notice a crack, there is visible or extensive wear, or the gates no longer function, the carabiner needs to be retired from climbing. 

If you drop the carabiner from a significant height, it should be retired even if there is no dramatic physical damage. When dropped from certain distances, the carabiners can appear to be okay on the surface, but be fractured and damaged inside, compromising the ability to perform safely. 

Now, you can still use that carabiner for other purposes, like storing gear in a closet, on a dog leash, as a water bottle keeper, or hanging things in the garage. However, once the safety of the carabiner is compromised, it should no longer be used while climbing. 

If you are unsure, then use the criteria we listed in the last section to decide if you should keep a carabiner in action or not. 

Contact local gear shops and your recycling facility if you don’t have a way to reuse a climbing carabiner. Some of these places may accept metal carabiners for recycling. 

Increase the lifespan of your carabiners with proper maintenance 

Whether you buy a new or used carabiner, there are things you can do to help them last longer. Proper storage, maintenance, and routine checks are not only great to elongate the life of that gear, but they can also help you catch any safety issues early. 

First, consider cleaning your carabiners, especially if you climb in sandy or salty environments. Dirt can build up in gates, and saltwater mist can corrode the metal. So, regular cleaning is essential to prolong the life of the carabiner. 

The best carabiners are the most intact. So, while you are cleaning, this is a great opportunity to check for any imperfections or safety concerns. 

Start by cleaning the gates. If you have an air duster, these work well to blow and dust and debris from hard-to-reach areas. Otherwise, you can usually wipe them down with a cloth to remove dust. 

If the gate is sticky or exposed to saltwater/air, use warm, soapy water to remove grime, rinse it, and dry it. Once the carabiner is dry, you can also lubricate it with dry graphite or any dry, wax-based lubricant. 

Be sure the carabiner is completely dry before storing. 

If your carabiner has gotten a few metal burs, remove these to prevent any damage to ropes. Not all burs will be removable, and you should avoid filing carabiners to do so. To safely remove a bur from a carabiner, use 220-400 grade sandpaper. Sand it down gently and slowly. 

Sometimes sandpaper doesn’t cut it, and the bur will still be there. If that’s the case for you, it is time to retire that carabiner from climbing. 

Finally, how you store your carabiners matters:

  • Do not store them in salty or humid environments. 
  • Do not store them with any damp equipment or clothing. 
  • Do not store them near any corrosive chemicals (so be careful when storing them in a shed or garage). 

Finding the best carabiner for your needs

The best carabiner for climbing will be the carabiner that fits the activity and use. Several shapes of carabiners, types of gates, and even different weights can all influence their intended use. 

We will go through the best carabiners for certain activities to sort through all of this information. So, if you are looking for a carabiner to rack your trad gear, you can jump to that section. Or, if you want the best carabiner for a grigri, you can look at the section about carabiners for belay tools. 

Best carabiners for belay devices

Whether belaying or rappelling, the best option is a large pear-shaped carabiner with a locking gate. 

pear HMS carabiners

Pear-shaped carabiners (HMS carabiners) have large gate openings, making them great for clipping to ropes and knots. Although they tend to work best for activities like belaying and rappelling, they can also be effective for anchor points when multi-pitch climbing or top-rope climbing. If the pear-shaped carabiner is marked with an HMS indicator on the spine, these are designed with a more symmetrical top to work better with a Münter hitch knot.

The type of lock you choose for your carabiner will depend on personal preference. Screw lock carabiners tend to last a bit longer than traditional auto-locking ones, but if you are someone that often forgets to lock your carabiner, an auto locker might be worth it. There are also magnatron auto locking carabiners that use a magnetic locking system. 

Having a dedicated locking carabiner for your belay device can be nice, but consider getting one that is versatile enough to be used for rappelling, can be used in emergencies, and can function with several styles of belay devices. 

When you are belaying, take the type of belay device you’re using into account. For auto-locking devices, some carabiners work better than others. The issue with carabiners and grigri belay devices is that the carabiner will often slide and then cross load the device. This can lower the strength of the carabiner. 

Because of the issue of cross-loading or other movements while belaying means that a pear-shaped carabiner may not be the best option. Asymmetric D-shaped locking carabiners tend to help the grigri stay in place, but it does not eliminate the movement. 

asymmetric d carabinermodified d carabiner with auto lock

Asymmetric D-shaped carabiners (offset D, modified D) are among the most popular shape of carabiners out there. They are asymmetric and slightly smaller/lighter than regular D-shaped carabiners. The shape allows for a larger gate opening, making them great for clipping ropes.

Carabiners with a somewhat pear-shaped design but taper down with an extra wire gate at the bottom have become very popular among grigri users to prevent cross-loading. 

Examples of this shape include:

  • Black Diamond Gridlock Magnetron
  • DMM belay master
  • DMM Ceros
  • the Grivel Clepsydra S

By loading the grigri on the small bottom side of the carabiner and the wider portion on your belay loop, you prevent any cross-loading. 

Other grigri specific carabiner designs look very similar to a standard carabiner but have a horn on the spine. An example of this is the DMM Rhino. These prevent the grigri from cross-loading on the horn side of the carabiner, and they allow for a bit more versatility in application overall. 

Best carabiners for anchors

d shaped carabiner

The most commonly used carabiner shapes for anchors are the D-shaped or asymmetrical D-shaped carabiners. When using them to build anchors, they should have a locking feature. 

In the last section, we discussed asymmetrical D-shaped carabiners, and a D-shaped carabiner is similar. They work well for many climbing applications, and they will hold the load off-center to provide more strength and a traditional oval carabiner. 

Oval carabiners are the original carabiner style, and they are very versatile (and affordable). They do not tend to be as strong as other carabiner shapes, but they offer a uniform top and bottom shape to limit any load shifting. You can hold more gear on these, allow for carabiner-brake rappels, and are most commonly seen used in aid climbing. 

Asymmetric D-shaped carabiners are designed to make it easier to clip ropes, and they tend to be smaller and more lightweight than pear-shaped. Whatever you choose, a locking carabiner of some kind is ideal. 

If you are top-roping, you can get away with using a twin or bent gate carabiner if you need a non-locking anchor carabiner option. 

Best carabiners for quickdraws

Whether you are trad or sport climbing, the quickdraw carabiner you choose may differ. For either type of climbing, carabiners on quickdraws will not have a lock. 

For trad climbing quickdraws, the most commonly used carabiners styles are asymmetric D-shaped carabiners with wire gates. 

trad climbing quick draws

Wiregate carabiners have a gate made from a loop of stainless steel wire. The use of the wire provides a stable close to the gate while decreasing the overall weight of the carabiner. Usually, wire gates allow for a larger gate opening, and they are far less likely to freeze when used in cold or wet weather conditions. 

Although wire gates appear to be more “flimsy” than other styles of gates, they are less likely to vibrate open during a fall because of the lower mass of the gate. 

For sport climbing quickdraws, the most commonly used carabiners are asymmetrical D-shaped with straight gates, bent gates, or wire gates. 

Wire gates are also standard for sport climbing and help cut down overall weight. However, straight and bent gates are equally as common. 

Straight gate carabiners are very easy to use and, as the name suggests, are straight from the pivot point to the end of the gate. These are most often spring-loaded and close automatically when released. They are sometimes paired with a key lock that keeps the carabiner from hooking or catching on a harness gear loop, slings, or bolt hangers. 

Bent gate carabiners typically have an asymmetrical shape. The concave shape of the gate makes it easy to clip the rope and generally are found on the rope end of quickdraws. Some bent gate carabiners also have keylock carabiners. 

Best carabiners for racking trad gear

The best options when racking trad gear include asymmetrical D-shaped carabiners, D-shaped carabiners, or oval carabiners. These will not have a locking feature and can be any gate styles listed above. However, wire gates continue to be common in trad climbing because of their lower weight. 

What’s the verdict? Can I buy used carabiners?

Yes, you can, but you shouldn’t always. Safety should be the priority when you are investing in new climbing equipment. While you may save a few bucks on the front end by buying used gear, and you’re potentially saving that carabiner from a landfill, that doesn’t mean that it is the safest option in all cases. 

Don’t go out looking solely on price or for the best cheap carabiner. Look for the best carabiner for your needs and one you can ensure will keep you safe when used correctly. 

That said, it can be done safely if you know the history of that carabiner and are confident in identifying when a carabiner needs to be retired and is no longer safe for climbing. 


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