It’s not fair to judge the snag-free merits of a carabiner based solely on whether it’s keylock or not. There are more design features to consider, particularly the curvature of the nose. It’s also possible to get near-keylock performance with some shrouded nose carabiners, depending upon the details of the nose design. Although the keylock design is the easiest way to quickly judge a carabiner’s ability to limit snagging, it’s necessary to evaluate the entire nose design to ensure top performance.

But first, let’s quickly define “keylock”.

keylock nose or hooked nose

“Keylock” refers to the design of the carabiner gate-to-nose interface. Instead of utilizing a pin in the gate, keylock carabiners use a jigsaw-puzzle-like feature on the nose which fits into a corresponding cavity in the gate. Simply put, if there is no notch for the gate pin to rest in, it’s a keylock carabiner. If there is a notch (or “hook”) it’s not a keylock design.

Keylock Benefit: The lack of a hooked nose means there is significantly less snagging on other gear or bolts – a dramatic improvement.

Keylock Drawback: Given that they’re more complicated to manufacture, keylock designs often come at a higher price.

Officially, keylock carabiners have a very specific technical implementation. The “key” feature on the nose of the carabiner fits within the corresponding keyhole or “lock” in the gate. The keylock design is the same on both locking and non-locking carabiners.

Note the nose shapes around the gate of the carabiner. On the left it looks like a key, and on the right it looks rectangular.
Note the nose shapes: the keylock design on the left, and the traditional hooked-nose design on the right

Technically speaking, the only keylock wiregate carabiners are Petzl’s Ange S and Ange L which are actually a reverse keylock, with the gate acting as the “key” and the nose as the “lock.”

Other notable wiregate carabiners that feature keylock-like functionality (often called “clean nose” carabiners) include the Wild Country Helium, DMM’s Alpha Trad, Alpha Light, Shield and Chimera, and Black Diamond’s Hoodwire, Oz, and Livewire. And new for 2017 is the CAMP Dyon. Surprisingly, the Wild Country Heliums, arguably the most popular clean nose carabiner, were the first wiregate to display the clean nose design and have been on the market since 2004.

Nose Angle

A keylock nose itself does not ensure snag-free clipping. The severity of the nose angle has a significant impact on whether it will catch, particularly while clipping bolts. The more continuous and smooth the curve of the basket-to-nose interface, the less catching and ultimately the easier the carabiner is to clip and unclip.

Carabiner Nose Angle
The smoother the curve and flatter the arc, the lower the snag potential.

Knowing that a dramatic nose angle can be a downfall, keylock or not, we can’t simply endorse all keylock carabiners across the board. The technology is wonderful and worth consideration when implemented with other design considerations such as nose angle.

Nose Shrouding

Although wiregate carabiners may not have the “keylock” design, increasingly they are incorporating keylock functionality through a fully-shrouded nose, which effectively recesses the hook within a hood to prevent snagging (the right-most carabiner below).

Yet we still tip our hats to those wiregates that add shrouding via a flared nose, that reduces snagging during your handling of the ‘biner and also reduces accidental gate opening when the gate is rubbed against rocks.

Here’s what it looks like from the traditional unshrouded design to some shrouding to fully shrouded (the rightmost carabiner creates a totally clean nose and is considered to have keylock functionality):

Nose Fronts - 3 designs
Front View
Nose Backs - 3 designs
Back View

Generally speaking, the more pronounced the flare, the more it will help to prevent snagging and accidental gate openings. We’ve found that even a slightly shrouded nose, like the middle carabiner in the image above, can have a dramatic effect on reducing snags.

Nose Notch

But the story doesn’t end there. There are many different hook designs from super aggressive to quite miniscule. Often, the deeper and larger the notch, the more likely it will snag. Although, hook snag is also influenced significantly by the carabiner nose angle as discussed above.

Carabiner nose notches
Deeper notches are definitely a warning flag of potential snagging

In Summary

If you’re looking to ensure your climbing experience is as snag-free as possible, start with a keylock (or clean nose) carabiner, but be sure to inspect the nose angle, looking for a smooth and consistent arc. If price is a bigger factor than “perfection,” no worries! You can still find plenty of really great almost-snag-free carabiners: It’s best to start by examining the angle of the nose, then look at the nose shrouding if it’s a wiregate, and take into consideration the size of the nose hook.

There is one scenario in which I highly recommend a non-keylock nose: When racking your nuts. Although my nut set came with a keylock oval and I assumed keylock noses were always better, my mentor cautioned me otherwise. He warned that when placing a nut and giving it a pull test, the nut can mysteriously come off the keylock carabiner. Not understanding how this was possible and with great skepticism I started up my next lead. To my surprize I experienced the situation on that very pitch; during a pull test my nut magically unhooked itself from the carabiner. I swapped out the keylock oval for a hooked nose oval and have never had that problem again.

Since there’s a lot of keylock options for solid gates and those are usually cheaper, I’ve included some tips of where to buy clean nose wiregate carabiners on sale (since Black Diamond keeps the same name for old/new versions of carabiners, some mistakes show up, sorry):

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Alison Dennis

Alison Dennis

Alison (she/her) runs WeighMyRack from her 17' travel trailer. She is currently touring the US and would love if you contacted her to meet up to talk about climbing, climbing gear, or if you have any fun and/or ridiculous adventure in mind.

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