Choosing a Belay Carabiner

Study up on belay 'biners and get yourself set for safe sending sessions.

When it comes to belaying, all carabiners are created equal as long as they’re correctly clipped to your harness and belay device… right? Well, actually, no. While technically any locking carabiner that is rated for climbing could be used to safely belay, there are ‘biners specifically designed for belaying that offer a few important safety measures and ergonomic design features that make them a great addition to any rack.


Again, most rated, locking carabiners will do fine for belaying, but belay-specific ‘biners make the process as safe and comfortable as possible one or more of the following features:


HMS stands for ‘halbmastwurfsicherung‘ – a German term which roughly translates to ‘half clove hitch belay’, referring to a belay system developed in the 1950s which used a Munter hitch knot (which is essentially half of a clove hitch). This belay system requires a large, pear-shaped carabiner with a durable, rounded top bar to allow the rope/s plenty of space to move smoothly during the belay. While our belay methods and devices have evolved, this shape still serves as the ideal design for clean, safe belaying.


Most belay-specific ‘biners include a gate or clip that close off the section of the ‘biner holding the belay loop in order to prevent cross-loading the ‘biner. Cross-loading occurs when the carabiner rotates in the belay loop and thus the force is loaded onto the minor axis of the device (think about drawing a cross through a carabiner from top to bottom, left to right – the minor axis is the shorter line). When this happens, either the belay loop or the belay device is resting on the carabiner gate, which is NOT ideal. Cross-loading reduces the strength of the carabiner by around 65%… which is also very not ideal.

“A carabiner loaded on the minor axis is weak: only 35% of the major axis strength”

It make seem like a small addition that just adds extra fuss to your set up, but it could save your life, and that’s always worth it. Plus, most carabiners with an internal gate that opened inwards, so that the gate can be opened and shut around the belay loop by simply tugging the device forward once you’ve loaded it onto your harness.

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Obviously all climbing-rated carabiners are designed with durability in mind, but it’s great to invest in a carabiner that is specifically created to withstand a great deal of rope wear for your belaying. As mentioned above, the HMS shape is ideal for belaying partly because of the rounded top bar; and the smoother this bar, the better. Some devices take it to the next level, like the Edelrid HMS Bulletproof which has a polished stainless steel insert to reduce friction, resist abrasion and improve durability.


As long as you’ve got the above features in place, you should enjoy a hassle-free belay, BUT it is important to note that some carabiners might not work so well with certain rope diameters or belay devices. You should be especially careful to check compatibility with assisted-braking belay devices – such as the Petzl GriGri, Mammut Smart and Edelrid Giga Jul – which require a carabiner of a certain size to fit through the device or jam into a notch to properly lock the rope in place. There are also carabiners that are ideal for use with specific devices – for example, The DMM Rhino and Ceros have a horn (hence the names… rhino-ceros ?) that will prevent the device from moving onto the incorrect axis.

When choosing your ‘biner, along with asking ask the staff in your local gear store for their expert opinion, find out if you can test out the different options with your belay device and/or rope to make sure they function well together – rather find out before you’re stuck on a mountain!

A DMM Mantis belay device paired with a DMM Ceros screwgate carabiner.


As long as you keep all of the above in mind, you should be fine – but just to set you on the right path, we’ve put together (in no particular order) our top five favourite belay ‘biners:


The name says it all – this baby is designed to get you set for a stellar catch. A special taper lock nose offers increased strength, while an external clip not only keeps the ‘biner correctly oriented, but also requires the gate to be locked in order to close for an extra dash of safety.


Available with a twist-lock or screw gate closure and fitted with an internal wire gate, the DMM Ceros is less bulky than the Belay master, but just as reliable and durable. This device is highly recommended with the use of the Petzl GriGri (and other appropriate devices) to prevent the device shifting onto the carabiner spine. Do note that, because the belay gate is internal, it is possible to load the carabiner when it’s unlocked, so consider getting the auto-closing twist-lock for some extra security (and remember to always do your checks!).


Lean, comfortable to handle, and fitted with a lightweight internal gate, the Condor is great for your rope and your adventures. It’s available as a twist-lock, triple-lock or screw gate, allowing you to choose the ideal closure for your preference and needs.


The Gridlock’s unique hot-forge design creates an internal gate when you open the main ‘biner gate. This is one of the lightest belay ‘biners out there, making it ideal for use on multi-pitch routes and hard trad climbs where every gram counts – classic BD.


This is the only ‘biner on our list that doesn’t have an internal gate, because if you prefer a gate-free design then you can’t do any better than the HMS Bulletproof. Made to last, this is a great device to have in your rack if you are a frequent belayer – we’re looking at you crag dads and gym rats!

Whatever carabiner you choose, even if it is perfect for the job, risk is never eliminated and you need to keep up safety-first habits like buddy checks, squeeze tests and proper belaying techniques. Remember to do your research, chat to the experts, and find the ‘biner that best suits your needs. Happy belaying!


One comment

  1. […] Being a good belayer is about more than watching your climber and holding the dead end – an alert, dynamic and smooth belay can mean the difference between a send and a very irritable partner – and belay devices play a key role in your belaying experience­. Here we break down the factors to look at when you’re choosing a belay device to help you figure out what will best suit your particular adventures (If you’d like to go one step further in giving the perfect catch, you can grab yourself a belay-specific carabiner with advice from this blog)… […]

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