Gearspeak:  What’s an “HMS” carabiner, and why do you want one?

 
 

Note: thanks to Richard Goldstone for some German proofreading in this post.


A techie climbing term you may come across is an “HMS” carabiner.  What ‘da heck does this mean? (Hint, it’s not “Her Majesty’s Ship.”

If you don’t speak German, it’s a reasonable question.

It’s actually an acronym for “Halbmastwurf sicherung”, which loosely translates as “Munter hitch belay carabiner.”

In German, means “Halbmastwurf” means “half clove hitch”, another name for a Munter hitch. The last bit, “sicherung”, means “to protect or secure”; in climbing it refers to the belay.

So “HMS” is, roughly, the “Munter hitch belay carabiner”, a large locking pear-shaped carabiner, suitable for belaying with a Munter hitch.

(Side note - belaying the second with a Munter hitch directly off the anchor might seem a little old-school, but it’s a very useful technique that every climber should know. Read more about how to do it here.)

In American climber slang, this sometimes gets shortened to a “pearabiner”, which is certainly more descriptive.

 

Look, they’re almost cousins!

"pear"-a-biner.JPG

One of the advantages of using a pear-shaped carabiner like this is that the bottom edge is wide and relatively flat. This offers a few benefits.

One, as the name implies, you can easily belay off of this with a Munter hitch, because the wide gap in the bottom allows the knot to flip back and forth as you take in or let out rope.

Two, the wide and flat bottom allows you to clip other carabiners onto it, and add them and remove them fairly easily, even if one carabiner is loaded. If you were to use an asymmetric or “D” shaped carabiner on your master point, the loaded carabiner will often pinch down on the other ones, making removal much more difficult.

This can be especially helpful on big wall climbing, when the first step to build an anchor is usually clipping a large pearabiner into each of the bolts, and locking the gates. Everything else you add to the anchor typically gets clipped into those primary carabiners.

And, there are some old school safety police out there reading this, who are probably having a FREAKOUT right now that I’m advocating clipping one carabiner onto another. Don't worry, they’re lockers, and it's fine to do it at an anchor. But if you don't like it, you don't have to.

 

Close up of master point with an HMS / pearabiner, showing 2 carabiners clipped to it under load.

HMS biner with 2 loaded biners.JPG
 

I first heard of the German origin of the term “HMS” from the excellent book, “The Mountaineering Handbook” by Craig Connally