April 11, 2022

Top 7 Best Rope and Rappelling Descenders

by Brad

There are different types of rope and rappelling descenders in climbing. They range from figure-8s and bobbins to racks. Usability and choice of the descender work hand in hand.

Thus, descenders may be designed for quick rappelling, lofty heights, firefighting, and law enforcement jobs. The post below is a guide aimed at helping you understand descenders. 

What are Rappelling Descenders?

A rappelling descender is a rappeling mechanism that assists you when climbing down a mountain or a cliff using a rope and the rappelling descenders are usually used in any type of rappelling where ropes are engaged.

And here is a bit more sophisticated explanation of how descenders convert energy to move the rappeller’s body down the rope.

The rappelling descender converts rappel of friction generated from rappelling into heat energy. For one to rappel, the power on the descent needs to be channeled somewhere else to stabilize the descent.

When friction-generated heat is dissipated on a fixed rope, rappelers can position themselves on any rope part, aka going down the rope.


Table of Contents

How Do You Use a Rappelling Descender?

How you use a rappelling descender is hinged on the type of descender you are using and the outcome you are looking forward to. Most climbers are comfortable with the figure 8 descender for rappelling.

To use a descender, you have to fix your rope in it properly. Start by disengaging the device from the carabiner and sending the rope’s bight through the figure 8 bigger hole. Again, send the bight through the small hole and leave it inside the shank of the descender as the bight is tightly pulled. 

Now clip the carabiner at the base of the small loop of the descender. The setup allows you to use your hand for braking and controlling the tension.

As a result, you can control the speed of your descent. Your barking hand should grip the braking rope while the other one grips the part of the rope below it. 

What You Should Know Before Buying Rope Descender?

Rope descenders are the next generation of descenders that are designed to provide a safe descent. They have been designed to do this in situations where there is a need for controlled descent, and they can be used as an alternative to rope ascenders.

There are many factors that should be taken into account before buying a rope descender. These include the type of rope, type of terrain, and the level of difficulty in climbing/descending.

In this article, we’ll explain how a rope descender may make your climbing experience a little bit easier and when and if you might need one.

What are ascenders and descenders?

A descender is a device that slides down a rope or cable to control the descent of a person or object, usually in an emergency. The name comes from the action of sliding down. An ascender is a device that assists in ascending a rope or cable, usually in climbing.

What is a Descender in Rappelling and Climbing?

A descender is a device that allows a climber to safely control the rate of descent. Descenders are used in climbing, rappelling, and caving.

Climbers use them to descend from the top of a climb or rappel down from an anchor point. Rappellers use them to descend from the top of a cliff or other more vertical structure. Caving enthusiasts also use them for descending into caves and mines.

Rope-descenders are another means of safely descending a rope, either after a route is completed or when mountaineering in general.

Precautions while using a rope descender

This first point cannot be emphasized enough, so we have bolded and underlined it.

Never rappel without tying a knot at the end of the rope.

Be sure to tie a knot in both ends if you’re rappelling down both sides simultaneously. Climbers, both novices and professionals, forget this little detail every year and end up paying the cost of their lives.

Even though covering every single situation is impossible (remember that rappelling is considered a dangerous activity), it is worthwhile to figure out how you will protect yourself. Before you begin your rappel, consider the following tips.

  • If you are rappelling using a descender, it is a good idea to use a prusik loop to keep the rope close to you and stop you if you loosen some rock from above and fall unconscious.
  • Ensure that all the weight-bearing equipment does not break during operation due to wear and tear.
  • Before you bet your life on your knots, double- and triple-check them.
  • The rope should either touch the ground or extend beyond the next anchor point from which you intend to rappel.
  • Make sure no rocks or trees block your descent.
  • Before descending, make sure that all of the equipment and processes are familiar to you. If possible, try setting the system up at a very low height at home to get some practice before your life is at stake.

What are the Types of Descenders Used for Rappelling?

There are three different types of descenders – figure-eight device series, bobbings, and racks

What’s the Best Rope Descender for Rappelling?

Rope descenders are available in many different styles, ranging from more traditional figure-8 metal loops to complex automatic braking mechanisms.

An individual may find a conventional descender perfect, but another might not find it intuitive enough. Our list of the seven favorite rope descenders is created by comparing product specifications and reviews from other climbers with our personal experiences.

  1. AOKWIT 50KN Rescue Figure 8 Descender
  2. PETZL Zigzag Plus Descender
  3. Ito Rocky Climbing Gear Ascender and Rappelling Descender
  4. AOKWIT Rescue Figure 8 Descender
  5. Epic Peak Rescue Figure 8 Descender
  6. GM CLIMBING 40kN Rescue Figure 8 Descender
  7. NewDoar Climbing Stop Descender

1. AOKWIT 50KN Rescue Figure 8 Descender

AOKWIT 50KN Rescue Figure, 8 Descender Large Bent-Ear Belaying and Rappelling Gear Belay Device Climbing for Rock Climbing Peak Rescue 7075 Aluminum Alloy (Red)
1,886 Reviews
AOKWIT 50KN Rescue Figure, 8 Descender Large Bent-Ear Belaying and Rappelling Gear Belay Device Climbing for Rock Climbing Peak Rescue 7075 Aluminum Alloy (Red)
  • Keep Your Safety: It uses the friction between the rope and the Descender device to slow down the descent or brake. Extra thick with ears and belay slot will keep your safety, even in a rescue or emergency situation.
  • Superior Braking Resistance: Breaking strength 11,000 lbf (50KN/5000kg). Allows for smooth rope action while descending or belaying, offers superb control on rope.
  • Figure 8 Descender: Big Wall Climbings Terminal 8 with Ears is an improvement over standard figure 8 devices with improved breaking and safety features.

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

AOKWIT 50KN Rescue Figure 8 Descender Usability

  • Has modernized features for the streamlined application. 
  • It’s versatile and can eve used for rock climbing and descending. 

AOKWIT 50KN is modernized rappelling gear mechanized for superb usability and maximum braking capabilities at a cheaper price. It has a larger loophole to maximize rope positioning and gliding.

Further, its additional ears increase the locking efficiency. Learning to use it takes time but once mastered, the 50-kilonewton resistance is good enough to ensure your safety. 

2. PETZL Zigzag Plus Descender

Sale
PETZL Zigzag Descender for Arborists D022AA00
22 Reviews
PETZL Zigzag Descender for Arborists D022AA00
  • Intuitive to use: - technique identical to classic Prusik pulley system - the device locks automatically on the rope once the friction chain extends
  • For efficient movement within the tree: - rope feed is smooth and precise thanks to the release lever, allowing the user great control over his/her movements. Adjusting the pressure on this lever controls the speed of movement - easy to take up slack, thanks to the pulley mounted on sealed ball bearings and the separated and curved side plates - lower attachment hole is fixed to ensure alignment of the device with the axis of the worker and optimize grip
  • Versatile: - for use on either doubled ropes or a single rope, thanks to the CHICANE accessory, which offers more friction on the descent, and the KNEE ASCENT assemblies, which facilitate the ascent - upper attachment hole for the rope end when using a doubled rope or for the CHICANE auxiliary braking device when using a single rope. It has a flexible positioning ring that helps keep the connector oriented along its major axis - auxiliary attachment hole for adding a ZILLON lanyard or connecting

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

PETZL Zigzag Plus Descender Usability 

  • It can be used for ascends and descents on the rope.
  • It’s small and lightweight for greater mobility. 
  • It’s intuitive and can move in any direction. 

PETZL Zigzags are super-efficient and easy-to-use rappelling descenders. They are perfect for arborists working on lofty trees or needing to move from tree to tree with ease. Petzl zigzags are also applicable to walls and rappelling from trees.

It’s not as strong as the figure 8 systems, but it’s also designed for falls. Again, if you are searching for a product that allows easy movement on any end of the rope, you have to select the PETZL Zigzag.

3. Ito Rocky Climbing Gear Ascender and Rappelling Descender

Ito Rocky Left Hand Ascender Arborist Climbing Equipment Gear Rock Rappelling Equipment for Tree Rope Clamp Climber for 8-13MM Rope
318 Reviews
Ito Rocky Left Hand Ascender Arborist Climbing Equipment Gear Rock Rappelling Equipment for Tree Rope Clamp Climber for 8-13MM Rope
  • [ Wide Application] - Ito Rocky hand ascender is elaborately design for SRT climbing and tensioning / rigging / hauling / pulley system.
  • [ Ergonomic Design ] - Non-slip molded grip provides the powerful support for climbing.
  • [ Protection ] - Ascender slids up smoothly while gets stopped when move in the opposite direction by tooth cams.

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

Ito Rocky Climbing Gear Ascender and Rappelling Descender Usability 

  • It’s an efficient product.
  • It’s intuitive and easy to manage. 
  • It’s simple to put up without removing the ropes from the harnesses.

The Ito Rocky rappelling descender can be used for climbing and descending. It’s a contemporary tool intended to make descending smoother than the older figure 8 devices. Thus, it features an auto-closing mechanism that works as a lever to drop the load securely. 

It may be quickly mounted on a rope network without having to untie the ropes from the harnesses, making it fast yet safe to arrange in those situations when your full attention is required.

It is, nevertheless, somewhat costly, and it isn’t as powerful as figure 8 descenders mentioned before. Its pros are versatility; use on ascents and descents. 

4. AOKWIT Rescue Figure 8 Descender

AOKWIT Rescue Figure 8 Descender Climbing Gear Downhill Equipment 35KN/3500kg 7075 Aluminum Alloy Rigging Plate for Climbing Belaying and Rappeling Device (Grey)
691 Reviews
AOKWIT Rescue Figure 8 Descender Climbing Gear Downhill Equipment 35KN/3500kg 7075 Aluminum Alloy Rigging Plate for Climbing Belaying and Rappeling Device (Grey)
  • Keep Your Safety: It uses the friction between the rope and the Descender device to slow down the descent or brake. Extra thick with ears and belay slot will keep your safety, even in a rescue or emergency situation.
  • Superior Braking Resistance: Breaking strength 7716 lbf (35KN/3500kg). Allows for smooth rope action while descending or belaying, offers superb control on rope.
  • Figure 8 Descender: Big Wall Climbings Terminal 8 with Ears is an improvement over standard figure 8 devices with improved breaking and safety features.

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

AOKWIT Rescue Figure 8 Descender Usability 

  • Its working is similar to the AOKWIT 50KN Descender though it is less expensive than the AOKWIT 50KN stated earlier.
  • It offers a force strength of 35kN, which is on the average level.
  • It is light for portability, minimalist, and designed. 

The AOKWIT Rescue figure 8 is a traditional figure 8 rappelling device, equipment that’s existed for ages before even rock climbing became superior.

To use this figure 8 rappelling descender correctly requires considerable patience and practice. But, once you nail it, they’re great sets of hardware to have. They also require time for safety checking before and after every use. 

It is significantly less expensive than the 50KN since it is basic and lighter, yet it offers enough support to climbers, devoid of the 50KN toughness. It’s made in different colors as well.

5. Epic Peak Rescue Figure 8 Descender

Epic Peak Rescue Figure 8 Descender - Gear for Belaying, Rappelling, Rock Climbing, Training, Emergency - Serious Rope Action and Control - Large Bent Ears, Belay Slots - 40 KN, 9000lbs. Limit
168 Reviews
Epic Peak Rescue Figure 8 Descender - Gear for Belaying, Rappelling, Rock Climbing, Training, Emergency - Serious Rope Action and Control - Large Bent Ears, Belay Slots - 40 KN, 9000lbs. Limit
  • ⛰ HEAVY DUTY, DURABLE BUILD - Take this rescue 8 descender with you on all your outdoor climbing adventures. With its sturdy design, enjoy safe and worry-free descents every single time.
  • ⛰ SUPERB ROPE CONTROL - This rappelling descender features ears and belays slots that make handling of heavy loads easier. The ears allow you to tie off your rope and use both your hands freely.
  • ⛰ HOLDS MORE WEIGHT - With its 40 KN break strength and 9000lbs. weight limit, this belaying device is ready to hold up heavy weights without showing any signs of weakness or cracking.

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

Epic Peak Rescue Figure 8 Descender Usability 

  • It is cheaper than the comparable AOKWIT 50KN.
  • A force resistance of 40KN is impressive.
  • Braking power is improved with the ear design.
  • An optimized rope positioning shape.

Almost identical in shape to the AOKWIT 50, the Epic Peak Rescue Figure 8 Descender may be used precisely as the AOKWIT 50. Emergency braking is enhanced by the ear design.

The rope glides through the larger loop in the optimal position. Although it is a minor detail, some people might find it difficult to see against their dark harnesses as the color of this rope descender is quite dark. This might cause some frustration in some challenging situations.

6. GM CLIMBING 40kN Rescue Figure 8 Descender

GM CLIMBING 40kN Rescue Figure 8 Descender with Bent-Ear Rappelling Gear Belay Device (Figure 8, One Unit)
284 Reviews
GM CLIMBING 40kN Rescue Figure 8 Descender with Bent-Ear Rappelling Gear Belay Device (Figure 8, One Unit)
  • BENT-EAR DESIGN! GM CLIMBING rescue figure 8 with bent-ears works as a versatile rappel device, the upgraded version of standard eight.
  • LARGE MAIN SLOT! The principle slot is large enough for you to double, even triple your single rope to increase frictions for slow descent or better descent control.
  • ROPE-FRIENDLY! Thick body largely decreases the abrasion or wear of rope to a minimum level.

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

GM CLIMBING 40kN Rescue Figure 8 Descender Usability

  • Force resistance of 40KN.
  • A simplified figure 8 design.
  • A vibrant color.

A modified figure 8 descender, the GM Climbing Rescue 40KN descender also features a rear brake and is shaped for maximum ease of use. While slightly weaker than the AOKWIT 50KN, it can handle most climbing situations.

7. NewDoar Climbing Stop Descender

Sale
NewDoar Right Hand Ascender Rock Climbing Tree Arborist Rappelling Gear Equipment CE Certified Rope Clamp for 8~12MM Rope(Right Hand)
1,833 Reviews
NewDoar Right Hand Ascender Rock Climbing Tree Arborist Rappelling Gear Equipment CE Certified Rope Clamp for 8~12MM Rope(Right Hand)
  • [Safty Guarantee]:UIAA & CE Certified:1019-435 EN 567:2013 ensures its security.Hand ascender you can trust.Weight limited:140kg/ 308Ib,Breaking strength8.5KN.Tension:4KN,for 8~12MM Rope.
  • [Light Weight Ascender]:The aluminum alloy frame is light yet durable,Weighs only 0.52 lbs (237g)
  • [Great Grip]: Comfortable rubber handle adds the friction and protects climber's hand.

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

NewDoar Climbing Stop Descender Usability

  • Easy to use and intuitive.
  • Easy to install on an existing rope system without disconnecting.
  • You don’t have to learn how to use a figure 8 product.

NewDoar’s Climbing Stop Descender resembles the Ito Rocky’s Climbing Gear Ascender in many ways. Although it can take slightly more weight and costs slightly less as well, it is pretty difficult to distinguish products. Despite its simplicity, it is hard to control the speed of your descent using the lever system.

Despite the availability of products with clever levering capabilities to make setup and use easier, we still believe there is no substitute for a figure 8 design due to the strength and versatility that these products offer climbers.

By far the strongest product on the list, the AOKWIT 50KN is relatively inexpensive compared to similar products. Rock climbers will find its bright color easy to see against most harness systems, and its streamlined design is ideal for the climbing environment. Even though the product requires users to learn how to use it safely, we believe the payoff and additional safety make it worthwhile.

AOKWIT 50KN Rescue Figure, 8 Descender Large Bent-Ear Belaying and Rappelling Gear Belay Device Climbing for Rock Climbing Peak Rescue 7075 Aluminum Alloy (Red)
1,886 Reviews
AOKWIT 50KN Rescue Figure, 8 Descender Large Bent-Ear Belaying and Rappelling Gear Belay Device Climbing for Rock Climbing Peak Rescue 7075 Aluminum Alloy (Red)
  • Keep Your Safety: It uses the friction between the rope and the Descender device to slow down the descent or brake. Extra thick with ears and belay slot will keep your safety, even in a rescue or emergency situation.
  • Superior Braking Resistance: Breaking strength 11,000 lbf (50KN/5000kg). Allows for smooth rope action while descending or belaying, offers superb control on rope.
  • Figure 8 Descender: Big Wall Climbings Terminal 8 with Ears is an improvement over standard figure 8 devices with improved breaking and safety features.

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

Questions and Answers About Rope Rappelling Descenders

Is a Figure 8 Descender a Better Option?

Figure 8 descender is a versatile piece of equipment that has a multitude of uses beyond just descending.

The lack of moving parts does mean it is considerably more durable than some of the newer designs on our list, but it does take a little longer to understand how it works before you can use it safely.

Comparing its design to other designs is purely a matter of personal opinion and will largely depend on how you intend to utilize it.

What is a Rappel Ring?

A rappel ring is a piece of equipment used in rock climbing, often at anchor points. Rappel rings are typically made of metal, aluminum, or stainless steel. They are used to attach ropes to the rock face and can be used as a safety measure if the climber falls.

What is Figure 8 Rappelling Descender?

The figure 8 rappelling descender is metallic equipment shaped in an 8 form with one loophole larger than the other one.

This gear takes advantage of a big surface area connected with ropes to produce enough friction and greater efficiency when rappelling. The figure-8s work uniformly with harnesses and locking carabiners to guide the descending climber on rappels. 

Can You Use a Belay Brake as Descender for Rappelling?

Yes, climbers may use belay brakes when rappelling. Rappelling with belay brakes is safe. However, you must understand how to use them correctly. There are several various belay brakes models, with their advantages.

Internal parts are used to halt rope from going thru the shaft in a belay brake. This would be usually accomplished by including a camalot into the mechanism that enables the ropes to travel in a single direction but prevents it from going opposite. One of the most standard belay brakes is the Petzl Gri-Gri

However, when using the belay brake when rappelling, you will have to use it in the same manner used when belaying. But there is no spotter on the other end.

The braking hand is not to be loose on the rope, just as in belaying. Then conduct all the safety checks, such as checking if the carabiner will attach the belaying brake to your harness. 

Also, check if there is a stopper knot on the end of your rope. The techniques you perform using a belaying brake will differ depending on the make of the brake. It would be wise if you take your time to familiarize yourself with the brake before attempting to do a full rappel

What Descender Device is Used for High-Speed Rappelling?

The 3M™ DBI-SALA® Rollgliss™ is a renowned top-speed rope descender. It’s applicable in emergency rescue rappelling. The descender features a snap hook, braking trolley, and friction bars made from steel. It’s perfect for high-speed rappelling involved in extractions. It can be used on slopy parts if there are challenging points on the rappelling path. 

DBI/SALA Rollgliss 3327100 Rescue Unit, 2 Carabiner, 4-Feet Anchor Sling, Rope Bag, 100-Feet
1 Reviews
DBI/SALA Rollgliss 3327100 Rescue Unit, 2 Carabiner, 4-Feet Anchor Sling, Rope Bag, 100-Feet
  • Integrated RFID identification tag for recording and storing information on inspections and tracking safety equipment
  • Offers a fast and reliable rescue solution that requires minimal training for added safety
  • Enables fast, safe and effective descent at 2-3 ft (06-09 m) per second with no manipulation required by the user for complete ease of use

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

What is Rappelling Descender Used for Firefighting?

The figure-8 rescue rappelling descenders are used by firefighters when rappelling and search and rescue teams in rescue operations. It has extra ears that aid in shutting off the descender. The figure 8 rescue descender’s key benefits are its lightweight nature, affordability, massive weight resistance, and simplicity of operations. 

What Does “50kn” Mean for Rappelling Descenders?

50kn on rappelling, also called 50 kilonewtons, is the amount of force that a rope descender can handle without breaking. For instance, 50kN, which is equivalent to 5000kg, means the descender can resist 5000kg force. If the weight is somewhat exceeded, then it will break off. 

What is Rappelling Rescue Descender?

Rappelling rescue descenders are descenders purported for specific use in rescue operations. They are descenders common with firefighter rappelers, and unlike other descenders, they are made to resist huge amounts of weight as an add-on to the high efficiency. 

Which is the Best Canyoneering Rappelling Descender?

While canyoning, the best rope descenders are the CRITR2 and the ATS. Additionally, the Hoodoo-SL has proven pretty functional in modern rappels. They all work similarly, are adaptable to any environment, and are pretty safe if applied to the proper purposes.

They adapt to various resistance levels, which is the most important characteristic of good canyoning equipment. Also, they are designed for a different angle on overhangs. 

Sale
Sterling ATS Device - Black
32 Reviews
Sterling ATS Device - Black
  • Weight: 3.5 oz
  • Length: 5 in.
  • Width: 2 in.

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

What is an Automatic Rappelling Rope Descender?

Automatic rappelling rope descenders are descenders that have a self-braking mechanism. They are vastly deployed in search and rescue and normal descents. 

What is a Rappelling Descender Plate? 

Rappelling descender plates are similar to descenders, only that they are made to be lightweight and can be used in different scenarios. They are normally below 8 ounces with descending configuration for double or single ropes.

Also, a rappeler may choose not to use extra friction by using a locking carabiner. Descender plates are common equipment associated with first responders, SWAT, and the search and rescue teams. 

What is a Stop Descender in Rappelling?

A stop descender in rappelling is a self-braking descender. They are designed to stop a descent when the braking hand is released. It has an asymmetric bottom which constricts the rope. This configuration protects the user should he fall unconscious during the descent.

Is an ATC Belay Device a Descender Safety Outdoor Rappelling Device?

You can rappel with almost every device used in belaying, including the ATC. The techniques involved are similar to the belaying techniques. The ATC device provides friction to allow the handling of bodyweights when rappelling. It’s the same design that will also catch in the event of a fall. 

Black Diamond Equipment - ATC - Black
183 Reviews
Black Diamond Equipment - ATC - Black
  • Unique, smooth-handling geometry
  • Minimalist design is durable in all conditions
  • Large surface area dissipates heat when lowering or rappelling

Last update on 2022-10-01 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

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About the author 

Brad

Brad is a professional climber in the discipline of traditional climbing. He often jokes that he can get a book to read during the long climbs. Of course, it always goes well with a good cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is his safer hobby.

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