Steel Vs. Aluminum Carabiners

Updated April 17, 2017

When it comes to extreme sports, there is nothing more important than having the right gear. For rock climbing and rappelling, there is no piece of equipment that is quite as important or versatile as a carabiner. Small and simple in design, a carabiner is one of the more convenient and easy-to-use pieces of equipment on the market. There are several different types of carabiners and they are made of either steel or aluminium.

What is a Carabiner?

Boiled down to its most basic components, a carabiner is a metal loop that has a hinged side that either screws or springs shut. Favoured by rock climbing enthusiasts and other extreme sport athletes, carabiners are also used in rescue missions that involve raising and lowering people and equipment with a rope. A carabiner has one solid side, known as the spine, and one side that swings open, known as the gate. Used properly, a carabiner can safely support the weight of a person and her gear for an extended time.

Carabiners have also proven useful in everyday life, finding their way into luggage aisles and onto camping gear across the country. Many water bottles come with a small carabiner attached to allow you to clip it to a belt or bag.

Different Types of Carabiners

There are several different types of carabiners. The most common type is known as a D ring, named for its shape. A D ring is an extremely versatile and basic design. Available in both locking and non-locking models, D ring carabiners can be used for most any application. The larger spine makes this type of carabiner especially strong. A locking D ring carabiner has a gate that snaps shut and a locking mechanism as well, to ensure that it remains closed, even under the greatest load. This makes it the most versatile and useful of all carabiners.

Oval carabiners are a basic oval shape and very easy to manoeuvre. The one big disadvantage of an oval carabiner is that the weight is dispersed evenly across both the spine and the gate. These carabiners are less ideal for great strain and weight.

Carabiner Materials

Just as there are different shapes, sizes and locking mechanisms for carabiners, there are also different materials. While all carabiners are constructed of metal, not all metals have the same strength. Depending upon the purpose of the carabiner, different metals may be more advantageous. The most common metals used in making carabiners are steel and aluminium. Both have distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Steel Carabiners

There is no denying the strength of a steel carabiner. Made from a steel metal alloy, a steel carabiner is heavier than an aluminium one, and can handle a greater amount of weight for a longer period of time. For this reason, steel carabiners are the favoured choice of firefighters and rescue operations. The greater weight of a steel carabiner is not as big of an encumbrance in these situations.

Aluminium Carabiners

There have been many advances in aluminium technology over the last several decades and these advances have led to a sharp uptick in the use of aluminium carabiners for recreational purposes. While steel carabiners have a very low strength-to-weight ratio, aluminium carabiners enjoy a very high ratio. This means that they are very light and very strong. For rock climbers, tree climbers and other outdoor adventure seekers, their light weight makes them preferable to the heavier steel version. The lighter your gear, the easier it is to haul to the spot that you intend to use it.

Choosing the Right Carabiner for You

Choosing the right carabiner really boils down to what you intend to use it for. Carabiners that will be used for sailing or other operations that make the weight of the equipment inconsequential may opt for steel carabiners that will last longer. Those seeking high adventure and planning to create life safety systems will likely prefer the lightweight convenience of aluminium. In the end, both will get the job done safely as long as they are used properly.

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About the Author

A seasoned freelance writer, Ilana Boyum got her first writing job in the sports department at the "Sun Sentinel Newspaper" in 1993. In 1998 she began working as a copywriter at a small ad agency, and was quickly promoted to head copywriter. Boyum attended Florida Atlantic University.