Most climbers assume a keylock carabiner is the best. But, 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 – and we’ll show you how in this post.

First, let’s quickly define “keylock”.

keylock nose or hooked nose

“Keylock” refers to the design of the carabiner gate-to-nose interface. 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.

Why? 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 carabiner gate. This requires more precision manufacturing to create, and is why it hadn’t always been the standard.

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. But most climbers just think of this as a “snag-free” carabiner nose.

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 carabiner is the CAMP Dyon. Petzl’s Ange S and Ange L are close, and would be more like a reverse keylock, with the gate acting as the “key” and the nose as the “lock.”

We have a whole post describing all the wiregate clean nose carabiners. The rest of the carabiners in that post are considered to have a “clean nose” that provides keylock-like functionality though they technically aren’t using keylock functionality. For example, many of them have hooded/shrouded noses to prevent the carabiner from snagging on the notched nose. There’s no right or wrong here, we just want to share the correct terms and definitions 🤓.

Nose Angle

Nose angle is often overlooked, but as we see it, the carabiner nose angle has the biggest impact on the carabiner snagging or not.

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.

Below, the carabiner on the left has a beautifully smooth nose angle (nice job, Petzl). The retired carabiner on the right has such a sharp nose angle that it snags on everything and also is a pain to get into bolts (you have to rotate the carabiner considerably for it to enter a bolt).

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

So the two carabiners above, although both keylock, will have very different experiences. The chances of right carabiner on the left snagging are near zero, while the carabiner on the right will snag the majority of the time, even though it has a keylock nose.

Since a dramatic nose angle can be such a downfall we simply cannot 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-like, clean nose, functionality through a fully-shrouded (or hooded) nose, which effectively recesses the hook within a hood to prevent snagging (the right-most carabiner below).

We tip our hats to those wiregates that add shrouding via a flared nose, which reduces snagging and also reduces accidental gate opening when the gate is rubbed against rocks.

Below you’ll see (left to right): traditional, no shrouding -> some shrouding -> fully shrouded (aka a clean nose carabiner).

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.

Today, the vast majority of solid gate carabiners have a keylock gate. Since there are so few “keylock” wiregate options, I’ll list them below. And, since clean nose wiregates are typically the most expensive option, we’ve included sale banners that will appear when they’re on sale with a retailer that we track.

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%.

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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