We are Explaining All Different Types of Rappelling

All Different Types of Rappelling Explained

Rappelling has come a long way from just a technique of descending a mountain or a cliff to becoming an adventure sport on its own. It is also used for spelunking and gaining access into a canyon.

It has added a lot of fun to the sport of climbing while also making it safer since it is a better option than down climbing, where you cannot see the holds under you. Down-climbing is also physically draining, making rappelling an excellent option when you are tired from climbing. 

It is, however, important to remember that rappelling is still dangerous given the nature of the activity. It typically uses two ropes and two people, which creates a significant margin for error from mistakes if you do not have sufficient skills.

It is thus not something you will learn safely on the internet but rather requires in-person training from a certified and experienced professional, or taking in-person rappelling courses.

Here you can learn about the various options available to you and where each suits different circumstances best. Part of this learning is knowing the different kinds of rappelling and their uses.

There are seven main types of rappelling listed below.

  1. Standard rappels
  2. Military rappels
  3. Australian rappels
  4. Simul-rappel 
  5. Hanging rappels
  6. Tandem rappels
  7. Fireman’s belay 

Additionally to the seven main types of rappelling listed above, there are a bit more unconventional types of rappelling, which we have covered at great length. Below, we have listed nine additional rappelling types.

Types of Rappelling

1. Standard rappels

Why should you use standard rappels?

  • It is easy to grasp.
  • It is simple to perform.
  • It is versatile; thus, you can use it in several circumstances.

What are the limitations of using standard rappels? 

  • It is slower than other rappelling types. 
  • The amount of load limits its use.
  • It requires a steady surface for you to brace against.

As the name suggests, standard rappelling is the most common form of rappelling. You use this technique when you lower yourself down a vertical or near-vertical surface.

The belay device is tied around your pelvis, and you use it to generate friction on your way down. Your back is to the ground while your feet are up, bracing against the wall. 

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It is an excellent skill and technique to use in most simple circumstances that require you to lower yourself to the ground. Hence, anyone interested in rock climbing, caving, canyoneering, and other related sports will benefit from the skill.

It is also perfect for beginners since it is easy to learn and execute and offers more control over your descent. There is also little else to worry about or focus on during a standard rappel. 

The main setback with this rappel is that it limits the amount of load you can carry. If you have any backpacks, they can be tricky to execute. Standard rappelling is also slow and will not be the best option in a scenario that calls for fast movement. 

As for risk, the main risk comes because people get over-confident given the technique’s simplicity. For instance, they forget about tying stopper knots at the rope’s end or creating a brake hand backup and other safety checks and precautions.

This technique should be the first skill you learn, but regardless of the experience, you gather, never get lax with your safety precautions. When learning how to rappel, it will be helpful to learn what is belaying, what is a belayer, and how to belay.

2. Military rappels 

Why should you use military rappels?

  • It offers plenty of speed.
  • Places you in a good position to fire back at enemies. 

What are the limitations of using military rappels? 

  • It has a higher danger risk.
  • It has minimal practical use. 

A military rappel (aka rappelling upside-down) is a hybrid between an Australian rappel and a hanging rappel. That means you are performing an Australian rappel (descending head first) without any surface to brace your legs against. It is also different from an Australian rappel in that a military rappel emphasizes speed. 

The military rappel was originally designed to help the Australian military descend from aircraft fast while still in a position to fire quickly.

Besides its military uses, it does not have much practical use because of its inherent risks of fatal injury. However, with plenty of training and learning, it is a perfect skill for those seeking an adrenaline rush and those who may be doing an Australian rappel over an overhanging cliff. 

The risks of this technique outmatch its benefits of speed unless used in a military context. You have all the dangers of an Australian rappel and the dangers of a hanging rappel, only that their combination significantly increases the likelihood of an accident happening.

It is even harder to control your position as you are face-first and more at gravity and momentum’s mercy. There is more risk of something getting caught in the belay and jarring stops that could injure your back or harm your equipment. 

3. Australian Rappels 

Why should you use Australian rappels?

  • It is faster than the standard rappel.

What are the limitations of using Australian rappels? 

  • The general climbing community dislikes it. 
  • It has a higher danger risk than the standard rappel.
  • It does not have specialized equipment. 

The Australian rappel is a technique purely for fun though it is not so popular among rappelers. In this technique, you descend to the ground face-first with your feet bracing/walking on the surface you are rappelling on while your waist serves as the anchor to your rope.

In this position, your descent is faster, especially compared with the standard rappelling method, and you can even run on the surface. 

There are two ways to set yourself up for an Australian rappel. In the first method, you attach the belay as you would in a standard rappel and then turn your body 180 degrees to come face-to-face with the surface.

There are several challenges with this option, including the fact that you will be working against the rope, which will constantly be trying to pull you back into a standard rappel position. There is also a risk of any loose clothing or items getting entangled in the belay device. 

The other alternative is to wear your harness backward and tie the belay device there. This option is more comfortable though it also has its fair share of challenges.

First, climbing harnesses are not designed to be worn backward, and as such, the load distribution is off, which increases the risk of back injuries.

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Another problem is that wearing it backward renders most safety features useless, and if you have to make a sudden stop, you place your lower back under immense pressure. 

The lack of a safe way to wear the harness and belay device points to one of the nagging issues about Australia rappelling.

There is no specialized equipment for this technique. The only option you have is to modify the use of standard equipment, which places you at risk of injury and increases the risk of damaging the equipment. 

These challenges explain why this technique is not popular, as there is very little you can do to mitigate the risks of injury. However, it is a skill that can come in handy when you are looking for a thrill or have to get down faster. 

4. Simul-rappel 

Why should you use simul-rappels?

  • It makes it easy for climbers to get down faster without leaving behind any gear. 
  • It is the perfect technique for descending a narrow ridge without any anchor points. 

What are the limitations of using simul-rappels? 

  • It is an advanced technique making it harder to execute. 
  • It requires a climbing partner with approximately the same weight, size, and skill level as you. 

A simul-rappel is among the types of rappeling where you and your partner descend from the same rope length, or two rope pieces tied together, from the opposite sides and use each other’s weight to counterbalance.

The setup involves you and your partner tying into the opposite ends of a rope, which you then drape over an anchor. The climbing anchor serves as a pivot point of the rope, and you and your partner then lower on the opposite sides.

The scenarios you can use this technique include any that require you and your partner to get down faster. It holds the advantage over alternative options since it allows both you and your partner to get down faster with your gear, so you leave nothing behind. 

The only challenge with the simul-rappel is its difficulty in execution. It is an advanced technique meaning you will spend more time learning and perfecting it.

Because both of you are descending from opposite sides simultaneously, your partner should also be equally skilled and know how to handle their end. If they are not, you are at risk of a serious accident.

Even skilled rappelers can make mistakes if they are not careful, as was the case of Brad Gobright, a climbing legend who died when his partner erred during a simul-rappel. 

To try and mitigate the risks in simul-rappel, you should often practice with the partner you are going to rappel with. You should perfect your skill first in a safe environment before moving on to stressful scenarios.

You should do the checks for each other and practice enough time to build trust. Another important factor is to build excellent communication skills at all points during the rappel.

You should both know when you will be weighting and unweighting the ropes to prevent one person from descending to the ground at dangerous speeds. 

5. Hanging rappels 

Why should you use hanging rappels?

  • It is easy to learn and perform.
  • It makes for plenty of fun.
  • You can descend from anywhere.

What are the limitations of using hanging rappels? 

  • It is not reversible. 
  • It is more difficult to learn than a standard rappel.

Hanging rappels are quite similar to standard rappels, only that you do not have a surface or wall to brace your feet against and thus rely on gravity to do much of the lowering down. You are essentially hanging out in the space, which gives this technique its other name; free rappels. 

There is not much difference with a standard rappel in the initial setup, making this technique easier to learn. There are two main differences, though, you should be aware of.

First, once you get in a hanging rappel situation, you will not have much control over your body’s position. It is highly likely that you will start spinning in one direction, which is normal, so you should not panic or worry about it.

Rather, you should stay calm and not fight the spin since it will only worsen the spin and risk getting the ropes tangled. 

The other difference is that you cannot reverse the process, and it is thus more committing. You can almost always stop the rappel and attach it to the cliff for support or using much effort and your belay device in a standard rappel.

You can make your way back up top. In a hanging rappel, you only have going down as the option. You still retain control over your momentum, but while you can stop the rappelling, you will be left dangling in the air until you finish your downward course. 

There is only one risk with hanging rappels: if your ropes are too short, you will be left dangling somewhere on your way down until help comes your way. To prevent this, make sure your rope’s ends touch the ground before you start rappelling.

Learning hanging rappels is essential since you are likely to come across situations where you have to rappel without a bracing surface for your feet. It allows you to explore most climbing and canyoning options. 

6. Tandem rappels 

Why should you use tandem rappels?

  • It is excellent for descending a rappel fast. 
  • When descending a rappel with a load. 
  • Lowering an injured climber who may not be able to rappel by themselves. 

What are the limitations of using tandem rappels?

  • It is difficult to control the rappel. 
  • It can place a high strain on the equipment. 

This type of rappel involves you and a partner clipping into the same belay equipment (hence the name tandem) so that you are lowered simultaneously.

It is also an excellent way to move heavy loads down a piece of rope. It is an essential skill you should learn before going off to challenging descents like mountains. 

Tandem rappelling has several applications. First, you can use it as an alternative to the fireman’s belay to help your partner get down if they are injured or incapacitated to do it themselves. It has two advantages over the fireman’s belay; it is faster, and secondly, it offers you more control over elements on your descent. 

The other use of the tandem rappel is when you and your partner need to get down quickly. Using the same belay device cuts the time taken by almost half, which is useful, especially when the weather turns suddenly.

Finally, this technique is useful when you are hauling bags or loads too large for you to comfortably rappel while wearing them

Tandem rappelling does come with its risks. The first obvious one is you have increased the amount of weight the belay device is handling, and in most cases, you have doubled it. As a result, the person handling the rope deals with more weight in the system, making braking or lowering at a safe speed challenging.

You can mitigate this risk by using cam-locking belay devices such as the gri-gri or sophisticated rappel-specific devices like SQWUREL. Tandem rappels also strain your rappelling equipment because of your extra weight. this poses two risks.

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First, if you create an anchor, all the gear, from webbings to slings, has to be able to handle twice as much weight as normal, which makes finding a place that can support tandem rappelling a challenge. The extra strain also wears out your equipment faster, decreasing its lifetime. 

The final risk is that tandem rappels can make navigation harder since it is harder to make side-to-side movements with another person.

Thus, it will be more difficult to execute on a multi-pitch route. However, it is still an essential skill that can potentially save a life, so while you cannot do it for fun, you should learn it nonetheless.

7. Fireman’s belay 

Why should you use a fireman’s belay?

  • It is best for beginners learning to rappel. 
  • If you want to be extra safe, especially when rappelling in dangerous conditions.

What are the limitations of using fireman’s belay? 

  • It requires you to have a partner who should be able to descend first. 
  • The person waiting on the ground has a high risk of rockfalls and other debris.

In a fireman’s belay, the belay is set up as per the normal procedure, with the difference being that there is someone on the ground with access to your ropes. They thus can pull the ropes and impact the speed of your descent.

The person at the bottom has the same control as the person rappelling, and by pulling on the ropes, they create friction in the rappelling system, which brings you to a halt. 

A fireman’s belay can be set up for other rappelling types like Australian or military rappels and standard and hanging rappels. This technique can serve in several situations.

First, it can help lower an injured or incapacitated climber. Because the person at the bottom has equal control, they can take charge and safely lower the injured rappeler without the risk of them falling or getting stuck halfway.

You can also use the fireman’s belay when spotting someone learning to rappel. They get the opportunity to practice lowering themselves, but you can assume control and check their speed if they are coming down quickly. It makes for an excellent way to teach rappelling while minimizing the risk of injury. 

You, however, should take certain precautions to prevent injury. First, you should understand that your tightening the rope and the rappeler coming to a halt is not necessarily instantaneous.

If you have a rope with poor static or a long rope, it could take five seconds before the rappeler stops. You should thus have this in mind if you are expecting to prevent a fall so that you can time your action earlier. 

Secondly, if you are the person at the bottom, you risk being hit by falling rocks and other debris. If this happens while you are controlling the rappel, you could lose control and cause an accident. You should thus stay aware of this risk and take necessary precautions. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the skills and safety measures for rappelling?

The skills and safety measures needed for rappelling are listed below.

What is free rappelling?

Free rappelling is where you hang in the air as you descend with no wall or surface to brace your feet on, so you just rely on your hands to get down the rope.

Why is rappelling so dangerous?

Rappelling is dangerous because of the high risk of accidents. You rely on the anchors and rope to support you on your way down. Should the anchors fail or the ropes become untied, it could cause a serious accident. 

What is a rappel route?

A rappel route is a path you are following when rappelling. 

What is the difference between a belay and a rappel?

Rappelling is the action of lowering yourself down a rope while belaying is the action of catching someone else who is attached to the same rope as you. Rappelling is mostly used for canyoneering and caving while belaying is mostly used for alpine journeys and climbing. 

What is the best device for rappelling? 

There is no singular best device for rappelling. It depends on what you want to form your gear as the specific situation demands. However, the general rappelling gear includes rappelling ropes, a harness, belaying device, a helmet, carabiners that lock, and a top anchor. All items in the set should be durable and comfortable and have the best quality. 

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