Mark Glaister takes a look at 5 screwgate karabiners each with an added feature that improves the safety of the belay system - the Petzl Universo, Black Diamond Gridlock, Mammut Element Smart HMS, Climbing Technology Concept SGL and the DMM Belay Master 2.
Climbing Technology Concept SGL
More info on the Climbing Technology website
The Concept SGL is a simple looking HMS screwgate karabiner that comes in either a polished or anodised finish. The karabiner has a substantial feel in the hand and its i-beam construction gives it great strength, although its weight does not seem as light as might be expected from the marketing claims. A spring loaded wire gate at the base of the karabiner allows the belay loop to be retained in the correct position when using belay devices and reduces the risk of cross loading the karabiner or crow-barring the barrel, although there is still a possibility of these happening when used with the Edelrid Eddy. As with the Gridlock, the barrel is not covered and therefore the gate is susceptible to the rope rubbing over it and the gate unscrewing. In use the Concept SGL handled well and would work as a more conventional multi-pitch tradding/sport screwgate for those who want a simple added safety feature - it hangs on gear loops (resting on the wire) and there is no need to take off the belay device or unclip a cover when clipping onto the belay loop and loading the rope into the belay device.
Black Diamond Gridlock
More info on the Black Diamond Website
The Gridlock is a screwgate karabiner with a unique design feature (see pic) which helps keep the device in the correct position for belaying. The design is pleasingly simple and ergonomic to handle, with no fiddly plastic or wire to flip over or twist lock mechanism to contend with. You simply pull to clip it neatly into the belay loop, where it is held in place in a way that prevents rotation. The design greatly reduces the risk of cross loading the karabiner and the crow-barring effect on the barrel of the screwgate. It doesn't eliminate the problem altogether though - when used with both the Gri Gri 1 and the Edelrid Eddy there is the possibility that the device may catch on the lower rim of the barrel (the Eddy) and in the kink towards the base of the spine (Gri Gri 1). In use the Gridlock proved a good belay karabiner when used for sport climbing but awkward to manipulate when multi-pitching on trad routes. A potential downside of the lack of plastic covering is that rope rubbing across the barrel could potentially unscrew it. This didn't occur during testing. There is also a new 'Magnetron' version of the Gridlock which auto-locks using magnets, priced at £26.99.
More info on the Petzl Website.
This device is basically a new take on the old Stitch Plate with a wire loop that linked the plate to its accompanying screwgate karabiner. On the Universo the belay plate (the Petzl Verso), which is suitable for single, half or twin ropes, is linked to the screwgate karabiner (the Petzl Attache 3D) via a plastic runner that is clipped to the spine of the screwgate. The plastic runner moves up and down the groove of the i-beam constructed karabiner allowing the device to lock and unlock and to stop the plate detaching from the screwgate. I used this device for multi-pitch trad climbing on double ropes and it does what it is designed to do – the plastic runner working unimpeded and the plate staying exactly where it should do. The belay device itself (the Verso) can be adjusted for either a left or right-handed feed. I found the Universo fiddlier to use than the conventional (separate pieces) both when loading the ropes in to the device and generally when handling it. It also has a tendency to sit proud of the harness when racked and could possibly snag in tight spaces or when udging up against a wall. Never-the-less it is a very well engineered piece of kit that will appeal to those of nimble fingers and or those prone to dropping things en route!
DMM Belay Master 2
More info on the DMM Website
DMM's Belay Master 2 (the original DMM Belay Master was the first to use a plastic guard) is a clean nose screwgate karabiner that has been modified to incorporate a hard plastic cover which can be pushed open and closed over the barrel, keeping the belay loop in its correct place to prevent cross loading. The plastic cover is wide and this gives the added advantage of covering the entire barrel, which eliminates the potential for the crowbarring of the barrel and of the rope rubbing over the barrel. The karabiner has a recess in the spine that houses the plastic guard, reducing the possibility of it catching and/or being flipped off, it also ensures correct alignment so the guard cannot be pushed into place unless the screwgate is done-up adding another important safety feature. In use the Belay Master 2 has a quality feel to it and the plastic guard is robust. The Belay Master 2 also performed superbly with all belay devices that I used with no sign of crow barring or cross loading. The device is not really suitable for multi-pitch climbing, especially trad, as it is fiddly to use and time-consuming. Should the Belay Master 2 be required for multi-pitch climbing it can be modified see this page on the Needlesports website. It is also of interest to note that the Belay Master 2 has been reccomended by the Gernman Alpine Club as a 'Safe Biner' for attachment of top ropes to harnesses.
Mammut Element Smart HMS
More info on the Mammut Website
This is a large twist-lock karabiner with a broadened upper section. The Element Smart HMS is fitted with a plastic bar that is attached to the spine of the karabiner and folds across to clip below the twist lock barrel when it is closed. The bar stops the karabiner rotating and cross loading when using a belay device. However, because the plastic bar does not cover the barrel, the Eddy belay device can slip over the barrel (this does not occur with the Gri Gri 1). The plastic bar does not cover the twist-lock barrel but rope rubbing over it will not allow the barrel to move as it is held in place by the plastic bar clipped below it. The plastic bar clips into a recessed narrowing in the spine of the karabiner in order to reduce the possibility of it snagging and accidentally being ripped off. The twist lock has a swift and positive action and the device as a whole has a high-calibre feel about it. The karabiner is not suitable for multi-pitch trad climbing although the plastic bar is removable so that the karabiner can be used without it.