All carabiners are made of at least 2 basic parts: an aluminum or steel body, and a spring-loaded gate or gates made of solid aluminum or formed wire. This connection between the gate and the nose is crucial to the carabiner’s strength and of course allows us to open the carabiner and clip things to each other, such as a slings, harnesses, ropes, gear, or bolts.

Then the question is often whether or not we want a carabiner to stay closed and for how long, or really: do we want a locking or non-locking carabiner?

All the brands that sell these carabiners

What is a Locking Carabiner?

WeighMyRack defines a locking carabiner as something that has more than one step to open the gate. This can mean a simple switch or button that keeps the gate from opening, a screwing or sliding mechanism, multiple gates, or any combination of these. Essentially, if you need to do anything other than push the gate to open it, it is a locking carabiner.

Locking carabiners exist in many shapes and sizes, but all of them are built for situations where we want the gate to stay closed after the carabiner is clipped. There are several ways brands tackle the whole ‘locking’ issue, depending on the situation the carabiner is built for.

The majority of carabiners currently on the market are classified as locking, and are nearly split down the middle between auto lockers that close and lock by themselves and manual ones which require some extra human input to open. We did a deep dive into lockers specifically which you can find here.

Where to Use Locking Carabiners

Regardless of their shape, lockers are the carabiners that we trust to clip things that we want to stay closed, no matter what. Think of things that constantly support weight (like the carabiners used to build a toprope anchor) or that attach non-redundant pieces of gear like a belay device to your harness. We wouldn’t want the anchor way up out-of-reach to be able to open on its own (this can sometimes happen to a non-locking carabiner if it is dragged across rock) just as we wouldn’t want our sole method for controlling slack in the system to easily disconnect from the belayer. So we use carabiners that require extra steps to help mitigate those situations, even if they are unlikely.

Lockers add security and peace of mind, and help us maintain a solid climbing system from end to end.

How Many Lockers Do I Need?

Depending on the type of climbing you are doing, you may only need a handful of locking carabiners. As we mentioned above, clipping a belay device with anything that doesn’t lock is pretty unsafe, so if you’re belaying any type of climbing with your own belay device you need at least one locker. Many folks prefer those made for the situation that include extra gates called belay keepers to keep them oriented correctly on your belay loop.

Single Pitch – Sport, Trad, Ice (+4 to 6)

Many folks who climb outdoors find themselves in need of a few extra lockers for setting up top ropes where there are bolted anchor stations. These can be smaller lockers for clipping to the bolts and one or two larger ones to create the masterpoint for the rope. Even if you aren’t planning on setting up anchors this way (many climbers toprope through a couple of quickdraws) you likely will also use a couple of locking carabiners for a personal anchor system for attaching to the anchor while cleaning gear.

If the ethic at your crag is to rappel rather than lower off after a climb, having an extra locker for your rappel device is also good. Trad climbing in single pitch situations can also require a few extra locking crabs for building anchors on trees or slung boulders. These more complicated anchors may involve joining multiple anchoring arms together. Many prefer to use auto-locking carabiners in these cases, as they will likely be out of sight while in use.

Multi Pitch Climbing – Sport or Trad (+10 to 12)

When climbs get tall, there are often a lot of logistical concerns that can require more lockers. For one, you need twice as many lockers as a single pitch climb because you’ll have twice as many anchors (one for belaying the leader and one for the leader to build at the top of the next pitch). Personal anchors or anchoring with a clove hitch require extra clipping points (another good place for auto-lockers) and emergency ascenders or rappel devices need to be locked as well. Also consider adding extra locking krabs for items that you must not drop such as water, radios, shoes, and bags.

Alpine climbs have similar requirements, and many folks who go into the wilderness prefer to use the lightest gear they can get away with. Some may prefer to cut back on lockers a bit, and trade a bit of extra security for the fast and efficient approach. It’s important to understand those risks before deciding to leave gear behind, so we usually recommend folks err on the side of more weight and more safety in the alpine.

Aid Climbing – (20+)

Along with all the typical connectors needed for multi pitch climbs, aid climbs involve a ton of extra systems and anchoring setups for things like hauling, fixing lines, setting up portaledges, and jugging. Ascenders, belay devices, and hauling devices all require locking carabiners, and complex systems often have to be moved around or modified, making anchor stations quite the cluster of ‘things that should not fall’. Most aid climbers we know have stories of, “never having enough lockers.”

What is a Non-Locking Carabiner?

A non-locking carabiner is any carabiner that opens with a simple press of the gate. In contrast to the locking version mentioned above, these connectors are a much cheaper, lighter, and simpler to operate, but do not offer the extra security of staying closed without human intervention. As we noted above, non-locking carabiners can sometimes be pulled or pushed open by things like rocks, sharp edges, tree branches, and even ropes, so they shouldn’t be used alone in a system, or anywhere that you can’t keep an eye on them if they are.

carabiners and cams on slings

Where to Use Non-Locking Carabiners

Non-locking carabiners are used for a ton of applications, basically anywhere you want to be quick and don’t need to be 100% sure that the gate stays closed. You may be thinking, “don’t we always want the gate to be closed?” and absolutely you’d be correct.

But in the world of climbing there are many applications for connecting things together via carabiners that have very little chance of opening, or that are themselves a single connection in a system with many others, creating redundancy.

For example, a quickdraw usually has two non-locking carabiners, (one for clipping the bolt, and one for clipping the rope) because quickdraws are typically used on sport climbing routes where there are several bolts that get clipped in succession, greatly reducing the risk if a single piece fails. The same goes for carabiners used to clip the rope to trad gear.

Speed is also a consideration. Climbing often involves moving quickly and efficiently to stay safe, and a carabiner that can be quickly clipped and moved from can sometimes be safer than something that is locked. So anywhere where clipping fast is important is a great place for a non-locker.

How Many Non-Lockers Do I Need?

Again this depends a bit on the type of climbing you do, but non-lockers tend to get specialized a bit, and usually as a matter of taste and preference for the climber.

Sport Climbing – Quick Draws (10 to 15)

Quick draws are usually purchased as a set of 5-6, they come in a variety of carabiner combinations. Since they come as a set, we don’t traditionally think of these as a number of individual carabiners but we thought we should mention their use here. Some folks like a solid gate for the top and bottom, wire gates for both, or even mix and match. You can also choose to build your own quickdraws by purchasing single carabiners and dogbones that have the features you want from the brands you prefer (aka building a franken-draw).

Trad, Aid, or Ice Climbing – (1 per piece of gear +12 or more)

Many carabiner brands sell their non-lockers in multicolored ‘rack packs’ so climbers can match the color of their racking carabiners with the color of cam or other trad gear. It’s helpful to look down at your gear loop and know that a red carabiner means a red cam, etc. so most trad climbers have at least one non-locker per larger piece of pro (cams, big bros, etc.).

When it comes to smaller and passive gear like nuts and tricams, rather than individually racking them, which would take up a ton of space on a harness, climbers clip them all together and use a handful of spare non-lockers to clip them to the rope. It is also common to extend gear placements with slings to help the rope run straight, which means using quickdraws, or building alpine draws out of slings and 2 non-locking carabiners. The number of alpine draws you need depends on how wandering the routes are, but 5 to 10 alpines is common.

Ice climbers who lead ice also bring along alpine draws and quickdraws for each ice screw they plan to place, as well as extras for clipping bolts or pitons in mixed environments. They can also be handy for attaching tethers or to temporarily hang ice tools while at belay stations.


The type and number of carabiners climbers need can vary widely from climb to climb and situation to situation. This is one of the reasons many of us tend to end up with massive gear walls of specialized gear as we grow through our climbing experience, learn what we like, what we need and what we prefer to leave at home.

It’s a good idea to have a handful of locking carabiners for all the situations where human safety and gear security is a must. No matter the type of climbing this usually means belay and rappel devices and anchor setups.

Non-lockers become specialized to the type of climbing you do but are just as important to have for each piece of gear you need to clip, and this includes your jackets, shoes, water bottles, and radios.

Both types of gear have a ton of models that are designed for special purposes as we as multi-function masters that seem to be useful anywhere. Depending on your preferences, you can use the custom carabiner filters on WeighMyRack to sort, sift, and compare them all side by side.