How to Rappel Upside Down: Safety Tips and Guidelines

How to rappell upside down safety

Rappelling upside down is risky. Let us learn how to do it safely.

Although I have decided to include this post in my blog’s beginners section, I strongly advise you not to rappel upside down, unless you have a profound practical experience of rappelling and have a flair for adventures.

Rappelling upside down is an advanced technique. It is best-suited for rappellers who want to pump up their adrenaline. Even soldiers practice this technique for rescue efforts and military operations.

Rappellers usually find traditional rappelling quite exciting, but some of them still rappel upside down. Therefore, I have decided to teach you how to do it safely by creating this quick guide.

You can practice rappelling upside down on overhanging faces. I am not saying that it is too challenging. But it may be a bit challenging to see things from a changed perspective.

It implies that you may then find it a bit troublesome to identify potential risks. But you will get used to it with some practice. After you get the hang, you will find it much more manageable.

Rappelling upside down guide

Do You Require Special Gear for Rappelling Upside Down?

You can use the standard gear for rappelling upside down. But please ensure to watch out for how you build the harness. Remember that you will be shifting your weight by 180 degrees. It means that you need to fit your harness tight. It should be closer to the center of your body weight to the extent possible.

Apart from that, you got to have a sturdy and fitting helmet. You also require a reliable belayer just in case of any eventuality. If you need additional insights on belaying devices, you may check my article on how manufacturers build them and why they are crucial for rappelling.

There are two key risks inherent in inverted rappelling. Firstly, you may feel or become unconscious a little for a while because of a sudden rush of blood towards your head. Secondly, there is a risk that you may fall out of the harness. Therefore, please ensure to strap it tightly.

You will also require a pair of high-quality rappel gloves. They will provide you with the necessary comfort and grip strength. I suggest choosing synthetic gloves for inverted rappelling. 

They will provide additional breathability to you with the required lightweight feeling. The best thing is that you will be able to feel the rope in your hands. You may not get such a rope feeling in leather gloves, even if they feature extra protection.

How Can You Practice Inverted Rappelling Properly?

How to rappell upside down safety

By now, you know the inherent risks in inverted rappelling. The next step is to learn how to do it safely with minimal risks. Traditional climbers rarely use this technique, but military people often use this method.

Soldiers get the proper training to practice it frequently. This technique allows them to face the enemy and point a gun while rappelling down. It is also helpful in an urban setting when they may need to rappel down a building and peek through the windows to surprise their enemy.

I practiced this technique in a controlled scenario and experienced its strategic benefits. But as a conventional rappeller, I may not try it just for kicks.

Here Is How to Rappel Down Safely:

  • Start rappelling calmly and slowly as you usually do. Before turning your position, please ensure that you are off the cliff and hang free.
  • After you hang free in the air, swing up your legs to angle your head downwards. Place the belay a little higher on the body to make it easy for you. It is something that you do while you wear a caving harness.
  • Now cross the legs on the rappelling rope. You can rappel down gradually by controlling it carefully. That’s it. You have successfully rappelled upside down.
  • Some rappellers prefer doing it facing their back towards the wall. However, some other rappelers choose to do it by facing their chest towards the wall. Both styles have their merits and demerits. For instance, if you rappel upside down against a building, you can balance yourself with one hand. You can do so while facing your chest toward the wall. It will feel natural to you, and you may keep a safer distance from windows and ledges, etc.
  • Also, be careful to control the speed of your descent. Try keeping your head facing down.
  • After reaching near the end of your rappelling, you should be mentally prepared to pop up into the usual position.
Rappel upside down but be careful

Finally, I suggest that beginners learn with baby steps. When you see others doing it quickly, you may take it casually. Please note that a sudden feeling of going upside down may not be pleasant at all. It may lead to severe physical uneasiness.

You can try it a bit and check if it goes well with you. If you ever feel a little dizzy or losing control, immediately switch your position back to a standard rappel.

Let us see someone else practicing inverted rappelling and try to analyze the technique carefully.

To get better insights into this technique, I have included a small video. It demonstrates a person rappelling upside down against an old building from a window ledge. Although the video is quite old, it is still relevant in today’s world.

You can see in this video that the rappeler casts both the ropes down. The rappeller is preparing to start rappelling using the window ledge as a beginning. If you start the activity from a window or the rooftop of a building, you get the advantage of starting from firm ground. Comparatively, it may be a little tricky when you try it from the face of a cliff.

The rappeller seems to be starting with his back towards the wall of the building. He quickly turns around to face his chest towards the wall. Please note that it allows him to use one of his hands for support and guidance. He uses the left hand for directional guidance, and the right hand firmly holds the rope.

He crosses his legs around the rope to improve balance and aerodynamics. His back is straight, and he faces the ground now. He is not looking at his hands. He is carefully watching in the front while going down.

It seems to be relatively quick. I think that if you have less experience, you should take your time and go down gradually. In this video, the building has 6-7 floors. The height of the building is around 35 meters (114 feet). It is a decent height for any beginner.

How to rappel upside down SAFETY TIPS AND GUIDELINES

While coming to the end of the descent, he uses his left hand (guiding hand) to create momentum. He suddenly turns around and comes back to the classic rappel position. 

He is ready to touch the ground with his feet – this happened while covering the last story of the building. You may remember this as a reference point when you complete your descent in some other setting.