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A carabiner (//) or karabiner is a specialized type of shackle, a metal loop with a spring-loaded gate used to quickly and reversibly connect components, most notably in safety-critical systems. The word is a shortened form of Karabinerhaken (or also short Karabiner), a German phrase for a "spring hook" used by a carbine rifleman, or carabinier, to attach items to a belt or bandolier.
The carabiner has been improved several times over the decades, making it more lightweight, reliable and durable.
Carabiners are widely used in rope-intensive activities such as climbing, arboriculture, caving, sailing, hot air ballooning, rope rescue, construction, industrial rope work, window cleaning, whitewater rescue, and acrobatics. They are predominantly made from both steel and aluminium. Those used in sports tend to be of a lighter weight than those used in commercial applications and rope rescue. Often referred to as carabiner-style or as mini-biners, carabiner keyrings and other light-use clips of similar style and design have also become popular. Most are stamped with a “Not For Climbing” or similar warning due to a common lack of load-testing and safety standards in manufacturing. While from an etymological perspective any metal attaching link with a spring gate is technically a carabiner, the strict usage among the climbing community specifically refers only to those devices manufactured and tested for load-bearing in safety-critical systems like rock and mountain climbing.
Carabiners come in four characteristic shapes:
- Oval: Symmetric. Most basic and utilitarian. Smooth regular curves are gentle on equipment and allow easy repositioning of loads. Their greatest disadvantage is that a load is shared equally on both the strong solid spine and the weaker gated axis.
- D: Asymmetric shape transfers the majority of the load onto the spine, the carabiner's strongest axis.
- Offset-D: Variant of a D with a greater asymmetry, allowing for a wider gate opening.
- Pear/HMS: Specialized oversized offset-D's used in belaying. These are usually the heaviest carabiners.
There are three broad categories of carabiner: auto locking, manual locking, and non-locking.
Non-locking carabiners (or snap-links) have a sprung swinging gate that accepts a rope, webbing sling, or other hardware. Rock climbers frequently connect two non-locking carabiners with a short length of nylon web to create a quickdraw.
Three gate types are common:
- Straight gate: The most utilitarian, and hence most popular.
- Wire gate: The lightest type, with a strength roughly equal to the others, allowing more to be carried for a given weight. Wire gates are less prone to icing up than solid gates, an advantage in Alpine mountaineering and ice climbing. The reduced gate mass makes their wire bales less prone to 'gate flutter,' a dangerous condition created by irregular impact forces generated by the climbing rope or contact with hard surfaces in a fall which momentarily opens the gate (and both lowers the breaking strength of the carabiner when open and potentially allows the rope to escape).
Life supporting carabiners such as those used in tree climbing need to be strong (thus strength ratings), but also secure against unintentional opening under use. All carabiners with a spring loaded gate "are self closing" (single action). Several are also "self locking" (double action), some even "self double locking" (triple action).
Locking carabiners have the same general shape as non-locking carabiners but have an additional mechanism securing the gate. These mechanisms may be either threaded sleeves ("screw-lock"), spring-loaded sleeves ("twist-lock"), magnetic levers ("Magnetron"), other spring loaded unlocking levers or double-gates ("Twin-Gate"),.
- Screw-lock (or screw gate): Have a threaded sleeve over the gate which must be engaged and disengaged manually. They have fewer moving parts than spring-loaded mechanisms, are less prone to malfunctioning due to contamination or component fatigue, easier to employ one-handed. They, however, require more total effort and are more time-consuming than pull-lock, twist-lock or lever-lock.
- Twist-lock, push-lock, twist-and-push-lock: Have a security sleeve over the gate which must be manually rotated and/or pulled to disengage, but which springs automatically to locked position upon release. They offer the advantage of re-engaging without additional user input, but being spring-loaded are prone to both spring fatigue and their more complex mechanisms becoming balky from dirt, ice, or other contamination. They are also difficult to engage one-handed and with gloves on.
- Multiple-levers: Having at least two spring loaded levers that are each operated with one hand action to unlock the next ones movement, the last (third or later) action opening the gate.
- Magnetic: Have two small levers with embedded magnets on either side of the locking gate which must be pushed or pinched simultaneously to disengage. Upon release the levers pull shut and into the locked position against a small steel insert in the carabiner nose. With the gate open the magnets in the two levers repel each other so they do not lock or stick together, which might prevent the gate from closing properly. Advantages are very easy one-handed operation, re-engaging without additional user input and few mechanical parts that can fail.
- Double-Gate: Have two opposed overlapping gates at the opening which prevent a rope or anchor from inadvertently passing through the gate in either direction. Gates may only be open by pushing outwards from in between towards either direction. The carabiner can therefore be opened by splitting the gates with a fingertip, allowing easy one hand operation. The likelihood of a rope under tension to split the gates is therefore practically none. The lack of a rotating lock prevents a rolling knot, such as the Munter hitch, from unlocking the gate and passing through, giving a measure of inherent safety in use and reducing mechanical complexity.
- Recreation: Carabiners sold for use in climbing in Europe must conform to standard EN 12275:1998 "Mountaineering equipment – Connectors – Safety requirements and test methods", which governs testing protocols, rated strengths, and markings. A breaking stress of at least 20 kN (20,000 newtons = approximately 4,500 pounds of force which is significantly more than the weight of a small car) with the gate closed and 7 kN with the gate open is the standard for most climbing applications, although requirements vary depending on the activity.
- Industry: Carabiners used for access in commercial and industrial environments within Europe must comply with EN 362:2004 "Personal protective equipment against falls from a height. Connectors." The minimum gate closed breaking strain of a carabiner conforming with EN 362:2004 is nominally the same as that of EN 12275:1998 at around 20 kN. Carabiners complying with both EN 12275:1998 and EN 362:2004 are available.
- Fall protection: Carabiners used for fall protection in US industry are classified as "connectors" and are required to meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard 1910.66 App C Personal Fall Arrest System which specifies "drop forged, pressed or formed steel, or made of equivalent materials" and a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 lbf (22 kN).
American National Standards Institute/American Society of Safety Engineers standard ANSI Z359.1-2007 Safety Requirement for Personal Fall Arrest Systems, Subsystems and Components, section 220.127.116.11 (for snap hooks and carabiners) is a voluntary consensus standard. This standard requires that all connectors/ carabiners support a minimum breaking strength (MBS) of 5,000 lbf (22 kN) and feature an auto-locking gate mechanism which supports a minimum breaking strength (MBS) of 3,600 lbf (16 kN).
- Rescue: Minimum breaking strength requirements and calculations for rescue carabiners are set out in National Fire Protection Association standard 1983-2012 edition Fire Service Life Safety Rope and Equipment. The standard defines two classes of rescue carabiners. Technical use rescue carabiners are required to have minimum breaking strengths of 27 kN gate closed, 7 kN gate open and 7 kN minor axis. General use rescue carabiners are required to have minimum breaking strengths of 40 kN gate closed, 11 kN gate open and 11 kN minor axis. Testing procedures for rescue carabiners are set out in ASTM International standard F 1956 Standard Specification of Rescue Carabiners.
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