Stuck Carabiners

contributed by Harmony Lambert

We’ve all been there: you’re climbing and go to unlock a carabiner, only to find it stuck closed. It’s frustrating and can lead to a dangerous situation. Here, we’ll explore ways to deal with a locked carabiner that won’t budge.

Why it happens

This common problem is usually the result of screwing down your carabiner while you already have weight in it.

A stuck carabiner is usually the result of screwing the gate closed while you already have some weight in it — carabiners flex and stretch slightly when under tension.


Once you lock it down and unweight it, this small shift of weight jams the gate even more shut (dramatized in this image), resulting in a stuck carabiner.

When unweighted the carabiner returns to its resting state. This small change in shape jams the gate even more resulting in a stuck carabiner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Deal

Put weight into it

The easiest way to unlock most stuck carabiners is by trying to unscrew the gate while putting weight into it. Sometimes you can simply pull the carabiner apart with your hands (applying force in line with the spine) while another person tries unscrewing it. Other times you’ll need to sit into it—possibly even bounce on it—while working the gate.

Use some cord

If weighing it doesn’t work, you can get a better grip by clove hitching some spare cord (accessory line, shoelace, etc.) onto the stuck gate. Pull in the direction you’re trying to unlock while lifting the gates sleeve. The more textured the gate, the easier this will work. The hitch may slip a few times, but with enough friction, it will eventually grip.

You can also use a sling or tied loop to fix a friction hitch onto the gate.  Snug it up tight and turn it in the direction needed to unlock the gate — make sure to tie the hitch in the correct orientation.

Hit it

If troubleshooting up to this point hasn’t worked, a last ditch effort is to hit the gate. It’s recommended to try to hit the gate in the direction you want it to move, but that can sometimes be hard. Often, just wailing on it in any way will do the trick.

I’ve seen this work before, and it’s pretty surprising how much force it can take to get the screw unlocked. While setting up scaffolding at a climb training camp a carabiner on a safety lanyard became stuck and nothing was working to get it open. “Just hit it,” my friend shouted. The climber above tapped the gate against some metal but it didn’t budge. “Really hit it. Like, don’t hold back. Just nail it.” A couple solid hits against metal frame of the scaffolding and it finally unlocked.

This method has been met with concern about hairline fractures compromising climbing equipment. Richard Delaney of RopeLab summarizes his lab test (Dropped Carabiners) thusly:

“From these tests, the lack of manufacturers related recommendations, and the lack of any credible account of a carabiner having ever broken in normal use, I am satisfied that the often quoted ‘dropped carabiner causing micro-fractures’ statement appears to be unfounded. I feel confident to say that, regardless of history, a carabiner which passes a rigorous inspection undertaken by a ‘competent person’ should be considered fine for normal use.” — RopeLab

Take your time researching hairline fractures, then deciding for yourself exactly what kind of protocol you want to take for dropped carabiners and other hard PPE that has generally taken a beating.

Screw Links

A problem I’ve run into a handful of times is a screw link jamming up and being hard to open. A spare makes for a great wrench — simply open the link and match it to the gate you’re trying to unlock. It’s one of those beautifully simple solutions you stumble upon once in awhile.

Prevention

As with most problems that come up in life, the best remedy is preventing them from happening in the first place. In the case of stuck carabiners, this can usually be done pretty easily. Simply screw it down (finger tight) when unweighted. If you have to lock a weighted carabiner, then it’s especially important to not over tighten.

Tightening screw lock carabiners as much as you can may feel good and more secure but it’s unnecessary. You only need to tighten it enough to keep the gate locked; the strength of the carabiner will remain the same here as when the screw lock is tightened down all the way.

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One Comment

  1. Another method I use is to carry a Leatherman-type multi-tool with me when I’m working. The shape of the pliers is usually good for getting a stronger grip on the carabina gate and also improving the amount of torque you can get.

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