Surpassing chalk, harness, and beer (OK, and ropes too), carabiners are the most essential pieces of the climbing life. These small metal clippers are both the staple of any rack and the icon by which non-climbers identify our sport.
Carabiners have been around for almost 150 years, with certain designs dating back to around 1868. Soldiers carried carbine rifles with a strap that was connected by a hook with a gate, leading to the original German title karabinerharken, meaning “spring hook.”
Before carabiners, climbers ensured “safety” by tying and untying slings directly around the rope and the protection, whether it was a piton or a rock horn. Around 1911, German climbing legend Otto “Rambo” Herzog started experimenting with steel carabiners.
Herzog noticed a fireman’s rescue tool that he used in construction work, and he began making biners with spring-loaded gates. They were designed so mountaineers could open and close them with one hand, however, the gates in early prototypes were unreliable.
In the 1950s, French alpinist Pierre Allain, known for pioneering bouldering in Fontainebleau, entered the climbing gear scene. He created one of the first aluminum carabiners, which wasn’t produced until much later. He designed carabiners with more of a D-shape, as it added strength and efficiency, and made a gate that was less likely to snag on ropes. This new shape could be opened even while under the weight.
In 1957, Yvon Chouinard began hand-forging D-shape carabiners, branding them as "Chouinard Equipment, and selling them out of the back of his car.
Decades later in 1991, Black Diamond (formerly Chouinard Equipment) created the wire-gate biner, although the design had been used in sailing previously. It wasn’t sold on the market until 1996. It was a considerable improvement: it didn’t get clogged with debris nor unhooked under force like other models, and it is still used nowadays.