We could have made this blogpost one sentence: The majority of your non-locking carabiners will be Offset D shaped, while your locking carabiners will likely be Pear/HMS shaped for belaying and/or making anchor power points.

But why? We’ll discuss each of the 5 (+1) carabiner shapes in order from most available and popular to the least including best uses along with pros and cons. You’ll soon be able to tell the best shape for each area of climbing from belay to quickdraws to anchors. And you’ll be able to ignore some classic shapes until you delve into niche climbing styles like aid climbing (less than 1% of climbers).

This graph shows each carabiner shape in terms of their share of the market (2023).

Nerd Stats: Compared to 2014, the market share of shapes has shifted quite a bit.

From 2014 –> 2023

  • Offset D’s 60% –> 42%
  • Pear/HMS 22% –> 31.4%
  • Ovals 8% –> 17.4%
  • D’s 7% –> 6.4%

D and Offset D Carabiners

Combined, close to 50% of the carabiner market, 250+ options click to see them all.

D carabiners were the second carabiner shape to exist commercially and their shape looked exactly like the letter D. The classic D shape is symmetrical and naturally sets the rope closer to the spine, putting the load on the spine (versus sharing the load with the weaker gate side, like an oval). Since the strongest part of the carabiner (the spine) carries the weight, D’s are the strongest shape. This is also why safety industries, like search and rescue, still use a more classic D shape.

Over time the shape changed enough to earn the name “modified D” and now the more descriptive “offset D” title is used.

Classic D shaped carabiner 1
At 31kN (almost 7000lbs) the Force D is one of the strongest aluminum carabiners in the world.

Offset D’s are now the most common shape and look like if you took the letter D and squeezed the bottom. The top is kept wide, to allow for a larger (better) gate opening and the bottom is narrowed to reduce weight. Examples:

Offset Pros

  • largest gate opening (providing the easiest clipping)
  • stronger than most other carabiner shapes (with weight directed to the spine) – D is the strongest shape
  • the lightest carabiner option (in part thanks to the narrow bottom)

Offset Cons

  • generally more expensive than other shapes (more complicated to design/forge)
  • not as strong as standard D-shaped carabiners (D’s allow even more weight to be transferred to the spine)

D Pros

  • Higher strength

D Cons

  • Smaller gate opening than offset D’s
  • Heavier than offset D’s

Best Offset D Uses

  • top and bottom carabiners on quickdraws (shape maintains the correct orientation on a quickdraw, high strength-to-weight ratio, and a large gate opening for easy clipping)
  • clipping into bolts or gear for multi-point anchors (similar to use on ‘draws)
  • racking cams on your harness (low weight and volume)
  • a lighter alternative to Pear/HMS for belaying with a mechanical brake assist device

Best D Uses

  • for friction hitches, like a Bachmann knot (thanks to the straight back, that other carabiners also have)
  • anchor power points (extra piece of mind with maximum strength) – though there is no normal climbing situation which would actually require this extra strength

Price Range: $6 – $50

Weight Range: 19g – 250g (D’s start at 43 grams)

How Many Offset D’s Do you Need?

  • Sport Climber: Most likely all of your non-locking carabiners will be offset D’s. For an effective sport climbing rack you’ll need a minimum of 14 offset D’s used in 6 quickdraws (2 carabiners per quickdraw) and 2 carabiners for anchoring into bolts/chains. Depending on the length of routes you climb, you may want 20+ quickdraws (through 12 quickdraws is pretty standard starting out – especially if your partner has the same).
  • Indoor Climber: Most climbing gyms have permanent draws in place for lead climbing so you won’t be using any for personal quickdraws. If you climb exclusively indoors (top rope and/or lead climbing), the only carabiner that is required for leading is your belay carabiner which will likely be a Pear/HMS shape, so technically you don’t need any offset D’s. However, we’ve seen many folks use them for their chalk bag. Note: If your gym is pre-rigged with GriGri’s, an offset D locking carabiner is a fine option.
  • Trad/Alpine Climber: Most likely all your non-locking carabiners, including your alpine draws and racking carabiners, will be offset D’s to keep weight down. If you own cams and slings, we envision a minimum of 24 offset D’s but that number is entirely dependent on the number of pieces you own and will increase as your rack grows.

How many D’s Do You Need?

None. You’ll find D’s don’t really have an exclusive use but there are times when they can be helpful. When we asked our 85k followers on Instagram what they use D’s for the vast majority of replies were for non-climbing uses (clothes line, hammocks, tire swing, etc) or were carried as the “emergency leave behind” carabiner.

Bottom Line: There’s no incredibly compelling reason to purchase traditional D shaped carabiners for rock climbing. Historically they were an improvement upon ovals as they were significantly stronger. But with the development of the Offset D, the standard D quickly became less desirable.

The advances in forging technology have allowed this shape to be incredibly light and strong, making offset D’s the most common carabiner shape. Most of your non-locking carabiners, will be an offset D, especially since they dominate the market.

Pear / HMS Carabiner

31.4% of the carabiner market, 200+ options click to see them all.

It’s easy to visually understand the pear shape, wide on one end and narrow on the other end. The most classic pear shape equally loads the gate and the spine so like ovals, they’re not as strong as D/Offset D carabiners. That is why Pear/HMS shaped carabiners are generally heavier: they utilize more material to gain back the lost strength.

Some Pear/HMS shaped carabiners are a little offset. This allows them to be lighter by shifting some of the force to the spine. Examples:

Climbing culture uses the word Pear interchangeably with HMS. The Pear/HMS carabiner shape is used primarily as a belay carabiner or anchor power point. These carabiners are almost exclusively locking carabiners, and are essentially the hybrid combination of an offset D and oval.

HMS as an abbreviation for the German word “Halbmastwurfsicherung” meaning “half clove hitch belay” – or Münter hitch. The Münter hitch requires enough room on the carabiner to take two turns of rope while still being able to easily close the gate, which is the driving design criteria for these carabiners.

Pros

  • large gate opening (easy to clip into)
  • plenty of room for clipping multiple items (ropes, knots, slings, etc)
  • often have rounded rope-bearing surface for smooth belays and reducing rope wear

Cons

  • less strong than D’s/Offset D’s
  • heavier than most other shapes
  • price range starts higher as they use more material

Best Uses

  • belay carabiner (wide top reduces rope binding especially during rappel, larger rope-bearing cross section for smoother belaying and less kinking)
  • anchor power points (larger size allows for easier organization)

Typical Price Range: $11 – $40

Weight Range: 44g – 250g

How Many Do You Need?

  • Sport Climber: 1 for your belay device, perhaps another for an anchor powerpoint
  • Indoor Climber: 1 for your belay device
  • Trad/Alpine/Mountaineer: 2, one for belay, and one for your anchor powerpoint

Bottom Line: Although you can use Offset D locking carabiners to hold your belay device, history has made a Pear/HMS the most popular choice. One reason that a Pear/HMS is touted superior is: if you, unfortunately, dropped your belay device you could still use a Münter hitch to belay/rappel. Today many climbers don’t know how to tie a Munter hitch, so this is of little help. Often the Pear/HMS shape can sit better in your belay loop than an offset D, and particularly because when there is a rounded edge, it will provide a smoother belay.

Oval

8% of the carabiner market, 100+ models click to see them all.

Ovals are called so due to their oval shape and they are classic (read: old, debatably timeless). They used to be the go-to workhorse and used for everything, before there were other shapes. Ovals can have straight sides or the sides can be bowed slightly. Examples:

Ovals were the first carabiner shape to be mass produced (in the US we thank Chouinard and SMC). Today, other than racking your nuts, aid climbing, or as part of a rescue kit, most climbers don’t use ovals.

When loaded, the pressure is shared equally on both sides (spine and gate) of the carabiner. Since the weaker gate shares the load with the spine, oval carabiners aren’t as strong as offset D’s that direct the load to the stronger spine.

Pros

  • flips/rotates easily when unweighted, minimal movement while weighted
  • inexpensive

Cons

  • weaker than other shapes
  • smaller gate opening than most shapes
  • heavier than most shapes

Best Uses

  • racking your nuts (nuts spin around the curves easily, no catching points)
  • aid climbing (reduces shifting under load due to the symmetry)
  • to hold a pulley (the pulley will sit smoothly at the end)
  • best shape for a carabiner brake rappel system (not commonly used, but the symmetric shape is key)
  • straight spine for tying knots like a Bachmann knot

Typical Price Range: $9 – $35

Weight Range: 37g – 260g

How Many Do You Need?

  • Mountaineer: 1 for carrying your rescue gear (pulley, prussic, small knife), that could also be used to hold the pulley in crevasse rescue
  • Trad/Alpine Climber: 2-3, one for your rescue kit, the rest to rack your nuts/hexes/tricams
  • Aid Climbers: The sky is your limit
  • Sport Climber: If you climb multi-pitch and have a rescue kit, then use an oval to carry it (an oval can act as a pulley better than other carabiners in a rescue situation), otherwise, you don’t need ‘em
  • Indoor Climber: No need for an oval

Oval Link (aka Quicklink, Maillon)

1% of the carabiner market, ~15 models click to see them all

Although most climbers wouldn’t refer to this shape as a “carabiner” they are certified by the same EN standard as all the other carabiners. These semi-permanent links ensure the gate will not accidentally open. They are not used while climbing up, though they can assist when setting up a semi-permanent rappel station or on fixed quickdraws.

Pros: small and inexpensive

Cons: infrequently used (no need to carry extra weight for most climbers)

Best Uses: rappel stations (nature-based or bolted anchors)

Note: Non-Climbing brands make these types of links as well, if you’re buying from a non-climbing brand, make sure it is certified EN12275

Price Range: $3 – $12

Weight Range: 21g – 151g

How Many Do You Need?

  • Most climbers: None.
  • Alpine/Trad/Mountaineering: If you’re setting up your own anchors, and rappel stations (say around trees) this can be helpful so you don’t rappel on webbing alone. These links are lighter than rappel rings.
  • Sport Climbers: None. If you saw a super worn out chain link, you could add an oval link to act as a stronger chain link for a safer rappel (not a common practice).

Bottom Line: The only common use is in anchor situations. If you do not set up rappel anchors/improve rappel stations, particularly in the alpine, then there is no need to carry ’em.

Semi-Circle Carabiners

Less than 1% of the market, we only catalog four options.

Semi-Circles: In rock climbing, these carabiners are best paired with a chest harness or full body harness (like when climbing while pregnant).

Buy if you need to secure a chest / full body harness where you would end up cross-loading any “normal” shaped carabiner.

Price Range: $40 – $70

Weight Range: 84g – 92g

Summary

In the most broad sense, you could grab most any carabiner and use it in most any circumstance. A climber could still climb hard even if their rack was exclusively ovals or D’s. However, you may be disappointed in the performance, especially if you’ve ever experienced using a carabiner specifically designed for the purpose you’re using it for.

Choosing the best carabiner comes down to knowing what job you want your carabiner to do. Is it going to primarily be for clipping bolts while sport climbing or racking nuts while trad climbing? Will you be using it for a belay carabiner or to make anchors? And, what’s your budget?

Each carabiner style has (or had) a purpose and a scenario where it performs better than any other shape – though that difference usually only matters in niche situations, like racking your nuts as a trad climber, or holding aiders as an aid climber.

Our bottom line is similar to our top line: The majority of your non-locking carabiners will be Offset D shaped, while your locking carabiners will likely be Pear/HMS for belaying and/or making anchor power points. Exception: Offset D locking carabiners can be a lighter alternative to Pear/HMS and will work well with mechanical belay devices but don’t tend to work well with traditional tube style devices or newer tube style brake assist devices).

Share
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.

All author posts

We’re @weighmyrack

 

Get Climbing Gear News

You can expect 0 – 52 updates per year.


About Us

We’re a bunch of gear nerds who set out to level the playing field. Screw the media bias of marketing budgets, we treat all brands equally. You won’t find elitist or gatekeeping writing here, we welcome all climbers.

 

When we write specific place names we will give a land acknowledgement.
To avoid assumptions we’ll ask to share gender pronouns.
#BlackLivesMatter
#StopAAPIhate

Our Location

We’re often mobile. Do inquire for a current shipping address.

Our business address is:
30 N Gould St
Suite 23131
Sheridan, Wyoming 82801

Instead of featuring distracting ads or creating a paywall to monetize our site, Weigh My Rack LLC links to relevent products via affiliate marketing (if you click a link and then buy, we get a commission). Weigh My Rack LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Weigh My Rack LLC also participates in affiliate programs with Avantlink, AWIN, Bergfruende, CJ, FlexOffers, Webgains, and other sites.