Climbers Soon To Trust Life To Magnets

They won’t be available to consumers until July 2012. But this week Black Diamond Equipment announced an unusual and potentially game-changing piece of gear for climbers. The RockLock and GridLock Magnetron carabiners will use “magnetic fields” instead of screw gates or spring-loaded sleeves to lock shut. The company touts the ‘biners as “more secure versus other spring-locking mechanisms on the market” and “a stronger and more reliable system than possible with springs.”

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Black Diamond Magnetron carabiners

As described in the press materials, unlocking the carabiner requires overcoming the magnetic force between the “locking arms” on the gate and a steel insert in the nose of the carabiner. As the carabiner opens, the magnets repel each other, keeping the tiny locking arms from dragging. This allows it to close and lock again easily and without interference, the company says.

There are two independent actions required to unlock the gate: First, a climber must squeeze the levers on either side of the ‘biner gate. Then, the climber has to push open the gate and “overcome a magnetic force on each side of the carabiner” in order to release the gate. Once open, the opposing magnets will hold the arms apart until you’re ready to clip and “lock” the carabiner again.

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Pinch the tiny arms and push in to overcome the magnetic field and open ‘biner gate

A neat innovation for sure. By the looks of it, Black Diamond has put a ton of engineering horsepower into the Magnetron carabiners. But would you trust your life to magnetic fields and tiny locking arms? By next summer, climbers will have that option, trading long-used spring-loaded ‘biners for the magnet-activated type.

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Close-up: Magnet arms and tiny steel insert in nose of ‘biner

More information and a demonstration video are here on BD’s “Journal” blog.

—Stephen Regenold

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