Carabiners used for belaying and/or were designed to be used for belaying are most often called belay carabiners. Though a ‘belay carabiner’ is literally any locking carabiner that you use to belay with – there are no official certification rules or requirements.

Some climbers, and some belay devices, work better or feel more comfortable belaying with a certain style of locking carabiner. These style differences could be the features of the carabiner, the shape of the carabiner, or even the material. Or the preference may come from where it is used, indoors versus out or on a remote multi-pitch versus single pitch cragging close to the car.

Note: We won’t go over the different gate actions for how a locking carabiner locks (screw, 2-stage auto-locking, or 3-stage auto-locking) because we cover those details in a different post.

In this post we’ll cover what makes some locking carabiners better than others for belaying – so you’ll be able to find the best belay carabiner for your climbing styles and preferences.

The Belay Keeper

The belay keeper is a feature that most yells out “Belay with me, I’m a belay carabiner!”

Belay Carabiners with and without Belay Keepers
Many brands make different versions of the same carabiner with different gate options as well as with or without belay keepers. This makes it easier to choose a shape and carabiner type with the options we need.

Belay keepers are specifically meant to hold the belay loop of a harness to ensure the carabiner maintains the correct orientation on the belay loop and keeps it from cross-loading.

Cross-loading? Carabiners are strongest along the spine and belay keepers make it easier to make sure they stay in that orientation. They keep the carabiner from turning sideways where they are weakest, across the gate, which is also called cross-loading. Read more about carabiner strength in this post.

Many folks consider locking carabiners with belay keepers to be safer/better belay carabiners because they prevent cross-loading. This is why you’ll see most brands offering carabiners with keeper options, though they tackle this issue in a few different ways.

Wire Gate Belay Keepers

The most common belay keeper is the addition of a small wire gate at the bottom/narrow end of the carabiner basket. Depending on the design, these gates can open upward or downward to allow the belay loop to be clipped and ‘kept’ in place, maintaining the strongest orientation of the carabiner. The belay device can now easily stay away from the climber at the opposite end and cross-loading is avoided.

This design is simple and usually made of a single piece of wire so it adds minimal weight. This option is also the least rugged and can sometimes be opened in extreme circumstances or if used in areas that move around a lot.

Swing Gate Belay Keepers

Less common are the addition of a plastic molded swinging gate that pivots to create an impassable barrier between the top and bottom of the carabiner. These can be part of the gate’s function like the Austrialpin Ovalock, which opens as the carabiner is unlocked, or a second plastic gate that flips over once the carabiner is closed like the DMM BelayMaster2 or Mammut Smart HMS 2.0. One advantage of this style of keeper is that they completely prevent the main carabiner gate from opening (they can’t be accidentally rubbed open) when they are engaged, adding an additional layer of safety.

These can take a bit of getting used to, but are also a great option when you need to lock a carabiner that might be out of sight or near the prying hands of kiddos.

Specialty Belay Keepers

There are still other unique designs like the popular Gridlock from Black Diamond or the Madrock Gemini that use specialty gates to keep things in place any time the carabiner is locked. These designs come down to a preference in terms of ideal operation.

The Mad Rock Gemini is particularly unique where the gates work independently and dependently of eachother (video is worth a 1000 words here).

Below you’ll find an example of setting up the Black Diamond Gridlock. The one-piece gate & belay keeper move at the same time, so it can take some extra work to coordinate the opening.

The Black Diamond Gridlock in action
The unique one-piece design of the keeper gate on the Gridlock means a bit of an extra step to make sure the carabiner sits correctly on your belay loop. This also means that it is extremely secure as it cannot come off without unlocking and opening the carabiner.

Note: The example pictured above is a little misleading in that, when using the Gridlock with a GriGri (specifically this combo), it’s best to use the carabiner upside down, so the GriGri is attached to the belay keeper area. Otherwise, using the Gridlock in the “normal” configuration, the GriGri can still find itself in a cross-loaded situation.

Overall: Belay Keepers, good or bad?

Belay keepers can add extra security by preventing cross-loading (the pro!). The only downside is they can sometimes be cumbersome to operate (we’re talking about seconds here, so it’s all relative). Some belay keepers are also heavier, if weight matters (typically not while gym climbing, often when there is a long approach). Pricing is all over the place – some more / less than similar alternatives.

Overall, wire gate belay keepers are typically very light, adding 0-1 grams according to our scales. They also offer a lower profile and simple operation. It is possible for the belay loop to come out of the keeper, but this is rare, and is not a safety concern. It can also be quickly fixed.

Other designs are more stable and less likely to unclip vs the wire gate option. They’re also often bulkier and can feel harder (more pressure or operations needed) to open/close.

How Carabiner Shape Affects Belaying

When choosing a carabiner for belaying, you’ll need to consider what type of belay device you’ll be using. Depending on the situation there can be one or more carabiner shapes that will perform adequately, some that won’t be very good or difficult to use, and some will feel like they were just made to be together.

BelayCarabiners1 1
Here are a few examples of three very different carabiner types that are all great for use with a mechanical assisted braking device like the Petzl GriGri. A compact screw gate locker, an autolocking HMS carabiner with a steel insert and wire gate keeper, and a screw gate HMS with molded keeper gate.

The most traditional carabiner shape for belaying is/was using an HMS shaped carabiner. This is for a few reasons:

  • This shape pairs especially well with tube belay devices with 2 ropes slots (a popular belay device style for outdoor climbing).
  • Many are made with wide gate openings and round stock that makes feeding rope while belaying or rappelling smoother and easier to manage.
  • This shape also allows for a munter hitch (a RARELY used, but often mentioned hitch that allows you to belay without a belay device. Most climbers will never use this.)

When belaying with a mechanical assisted braking device like the popular Petzl Grigri, many climbers prefer a more compact approach and go for a D shaped locker. Since there are no ropes running over the carabiner, why not go for a more compact carabiner? The D shape also helps the carabiner stay oriented as it encourages the device to stay at the top end/narrow area.

Important Note: Many brake assist tube devices do not work as intended (they will not fully brake) with D carabiners. We only recommend belaying with D carabiners if you are belying with a mechanical belay device.

Less common is using an oval locker for belaying. In rescue and guiding situations, it is often a requirement to belay from a device far away from you, either at an anchor out of reach or as part of a complex system built to safely lower or haul injured or incapacitated climbers. Oval lockers tend to keep all forces in the center of their symmetrical baskets, adding even more security that your carabiner cannot become cross-loaded.

Horns and Spurs!

There are a couple of brands that make belay carabiners with mechanical belay devices specifically in mind. These belay carabiners are designed with a protrusion or ‘horn’ on at the top which keeps the device correctly oriented and makes it difficult or impossible for a mechanical device to rotate around onto the spine or cross-load the carabiner.

A favorite among the mechanically-assisted belay device crowd, the Freino from Petzl is specifically designed to pair with the GriGri (though you can absolutely use it with most any device). The extra ‘spur’ on the spine provides a place to quickly clip the brake end of the rope to add extra friction into the system, which can be particularly helpful for lowering heavier climbers or descending fixed single ropes.

They’re pretty pricey for a single-use bit of kit, but the folks who spend real time behind a GriGri have a (un)healthy obesession with them, so we just had to mention it.

Steel in Belay Carabiners

In recent years the idea of incorporating steel into carabiners has been on the minds of designers, particularly at Edelrid. Steel is much harder than aluminum and is not worn away even a fraction as quickly by the rope. So when we belay over steel we greatly reduce the amount of oxide dust that gets in our ropes, as well as significantly increase the longevity of our carabiners.

Edelrid has all steel models which will likely last for decades, though they are the heaviest belay carabiners (about twice the weight of an aluminum version). To combat the weight, they also make versions of aluminum carabiners with steel inserts on the rope basket (highest wear area) to get the best of both worlds of wear resistance and weight reduction. These models come in versions with or without belay keepers.

This tech is a more sustainable and longer lasting approach than traditional aluminum carabiners. The only downside is a higher cost.

Choosing The Best Belay Carabiner

When choosing a belay carabiner, here’s the key tips to remember:

Your belay device will influence which shapes will work best.

  • If you’re using a tube style belay device, an HMS carabiner is usually the better option, preferably one with round stock or a steel in the basket for smoother feeding.
  • Mechanical devices can use most carabiners, though a belay device with a horn is most intentionally designed. D or HMS are most common.
  • Do NOT use a D shape for a tube style brake assist device. A round stock HMS is most appropriate.
  • Almost nobody belays with oval carabiners, partly because they have the smallest gate opening (can be hard to get the device in/out) and have a small rope area (less good for tube belay devices).

A belay keeper is an option that helps increase safety and handling by keeping the carabiner in the strongest orientation. They are nice to have if you want a dedicated carabiner for belaying, but usually mean you won’t be using that carabiner for much else (a consideration mostly made by outdoor trad/ice climbers).

Not all belay keepers operate or open the same way, and some provide extra locking protection. When comparing models, test them out! Note how they operate and make sure that vibes with how you expect to use it.

There are options that incorporate stainless steel that offer longer wear and reduced mess from oxide dust. They do come at a higher upfront cost, but will likely outlive your need to use them (easily 20 years of climbing).

To Find The Best Carabiner

We recommend trying out the carabiners your climbing partners and visiting as many gear shops and handling as many carabiners as possible. Often, you will know ‘the one’ after you test it, it’ll either fit in your hand really well, or somehow just make life easier.

Want to See All The Carabiners (over 1000)?

At WeighMyRack, we list every carabiner and give you filters for shape, gate type, gate opening, price, weight, brand, and features like visual warning, keylock, available in a rack pack, or if it has a belay keeper. You can also filter by on sale carabiners with discounts >20%.