Carabiners are incredibly strong. They can easily last 10, 15, 20 years or even a lifetime when properly maintained. Manufacturers don’t actually give a retirement age or recommended lifespan for their carabiners because there is no natural deterioration for metals – unlike for slings and ropes where there is a 10 year retirement recommendation.

8 Reasons to Retire Your Carabiner

If your carabiner has any of these problems, retire it. 

If the gate does not function correctly after cleaning and lubrication.

“Not functioning” means if the gate or locking mechanism is “sticky” or if it does not open/shut consistently as expected after cleaning.

Worth noting: A sticky/imperfect gate action can easily happen if dirt, sand, or other debris finds their way into the rivet area – so it’s worth trying to clean your carabiner (soapy water) before you officially retire it.

Also, if your carabiner has had minimal use (say less than a year old) and has a faulty gate action, it’d be worth contacting the manufacturer directly. They might replace your carabiner in exchange for you sending it to them so they can inspect and test it.

If there is significant wearing like deep grooves, sharp edges, burrs, very thin material.

This problem is either from rope wear (a sandy rope can do a lot of damage) or contact with other metals (like bolts). Most often wear can be seen as grooves on your rappel carabiner or anchor carabiners that you use to lower a climber. It also happens on hard routes, with gear that is left in place, on sections of the climb where falling and lowering is common.

Burrs and sharp grooves are deadly for your rope. They might happen after a really large fall(s) where the steel bolt has impacted the aluminum carabiner. This is also why many climbers dedicate their quickdraws to have a “bolt side” and “rope side.”

For the most part, the bigger risk in all these situations is that the carabiner will cut the rope, versus the carabiner breaking (though the carabiner is still weakened). You can read more about grooved carabiner testing in is Black Diamond QC Lab post.

Note: This does not include color (anodization) wearing off the carabiner. Worn off color is 100% still good to climb on and has no impact to the strength.

worn carabiner examples

If the carabiner body, gate, or nose is deformed, bent, or elongated.

Most often this is the result of cross-loading or misuse. This elongation means that the gate may not close properly and/or that the body is weakened as its no longer in the original structurally intended shape.

If there are cracks or cracking on the body or gate.

This does not include light scratches, which are quite natural as the carabiner slides across rocky surfaces. You can see examples below showcasing the type of cracking that can occur. It is not common for a carabiner to crack and is usually found in older carabiners.

cracked carabiner examples

If the rivets are loose, deformed, or missing.

Rivets (coincidentally pictured above) are where the gate is connected to the carabiner body. If they aren’t working correctly the gate may not close or could even fall off (if the rivet was broken/missing). Problematic rivets are uncommon in this current age, but if you are using hand-me-down gear of an unknown age, it is something to keep an eye on.

If the carabiner has survived a fire.

The heat of a fire can structurally change the carabiner in unexpected and unknown ways. It’s not worth the risk to climb on carabiners that have survived a fire / intense heat. Hopefully, you have insurance to cover the replacement.

If the carabiner has constant sea-water exposure.

Climbing at a seawater cliff and having the carabiner splashed with the waves and mist is OK. Leaving carabiners and quickdraws on a route for them to be constantly splashed, or carabiners that are submerged in sea-water for any prolonged period can cause corrosion and degrade the metal.

If the carabiner is exposed to battery acid, fuel, or other corrosive chemicals.

If the chemical is known to cause corrosion or eat away at metals, and it gets in contact with your carabiner, retire it. Corrosion usually occurs first where the steel pins/rivets come in contact with the aluminum carabiner body, but clean pins don’t ensure there isn’t damage elsewhere.

Spilling fuel on your carabiner and wiping it off instantly, is not the issue. The issue is if your carabiner is stored in an area with direct contact to the chemical or chemical fumes.

This is also why you should never store your gear on the floor of your garage or the back of your car. Who knows what was spilled there before and is still around. Rule of thumb: don’t put your gear in the same places you transport a car battery, lawn mower, refill tank of gas, etc.

Here is an example of what happens storing mixed metals + damn conditions in a sealed container (these hard goods spent 1.5 years together):

Is my carabiner too old to use and climb on?

No. Metals, like aluminum, do not degrade like textiles do, so there is no lifespan or retirement age of a carabiner.

If you have gear from 40 years ago, it’s possible the craftsmanship wasn’t going through the same quality control, so definitely check for cracking and ensure the rivets are still in great shape aka: Check for all the above reasons of when to retire a carabiner.

Should I retire a dropped carabiner?

A dropped aluminum carabiner should be perfectly fine, even if it drops over 20 or even 100 feet, as long as the gate still functions correctly, the steel pin/rivet didn’t get smashed, there is no other obvious damage (like a blatantly cracked nose), or it’s not deformed in any other way.

There are rumors about retiring your carabiner if it’s been dropped because of potentially invisible “micro fissures” or “micro cracks.” We have seen no evidence that this is true for aluminum carabiners. Steel is a much harder metal and is more prone to cracking and may be where the rumors originally started (when steel was a more common carabiner material).

Should I retire a carabiner if I take a huge fall on it?

Even if you fall repeatedly on the same carabiner, from a high distance, the strength does not diminish (assuming the carabiner was in the proper up/down orientation to catch the fall). Other than checking for burrs and sharp edges that could damage your rope, you’re good to go.

If you’re using “a huge fall” as a euphemism for towing a car with your truck, then no manufacturer (or safety conscious human) would recommend using it for climbing. At minimum you should look for any elongation / structural changes.

Summary – When to Retire your Carabiner

It’s up to your keen inspection to tell if the carabiner should be retired. The above guide serves as a rule of thumb and does not discuss every possible scenario. If a carabiner (or any other gear) makes you nervous to climb with it, replacing it with a new one is worth the peace of mind. It is 100% more fun to concentrate on the climb instead of the distraction of worrying about your gear (and life).

This post is sponsored by REI as part of an Educational / Sustainability Series. This sponsorship means if there are specific products mentioned in the post, we’ll link them to REI’s product pages when possible. Also, if there is a relevant sale period, we'll talk about that too. All words are solely the authors and have in no way been altered because of the sponsored nature of the post.

Other sponsored posts you may find interesting:

  • Sustainable Climbing Ropes
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  • Sustainable Climbing Slings
  • Sustainable Climbing Harnesses

  • And if you need new gear, you can possible save some bucks at REI
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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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