April 2, 2021

How to Rappel without a Harness

by Jullie

Rappelling and mountain climbing gear did not exist until late 1879. Jean Charlet-Straton figured out how to rappel securely after a couple of terrifying climbing endeavors. 

He depended on the strongest rappelling rope he could find at the time to rappel back to the ground during his first risky climb. About 50 years after Charlet-Straton’s climb, a mountain dweller named Hans Dülfer concocted the body rappel, or the Dülfersitz, which is truly a work of art. 

This newly developed non-mechanical rappelling includes folding a rope over your body to control your journey back to ground level.

Table of Contents

What You Need to Rappel without a Harness

The only items you really need to rappel without a harness is you, rope and gloves are highly recommended. You should only attempt delicate inclines or short declines when attempting to rappel without a harness. 

1st – Choose a Rope

Ideally, you should choose a static rope. Dynamic ropes are not utilized for rappelling. More stretch in the rope would be dangerous as stretch increases “play” or movement when rappelling without a harness. Further, you can read more about static vs dynamic rope for rappelling.

2nd – Lower Your Gear

Since you will fold the rope over your body, you do not need anything cumbersome in your way. Lower your stuff to the ground so you will not have anything to move while you are descending.

3rd – Find a Sturdy Anchor

Pick a thick tree, enormous stone, strong rock, and ensure the item is strong and will not move. Also, be sure that the rope will not be able to slip off or around your anchor.

Then loop the center of the rope around the anchor but do not tie it. Then throw the two rope ends over the mountain or wall you are looking to rappel down. Check to ensure the rope is the correct length so you do not come up short of the ground. 

There Are 2 Distinct Strategies that Teach You to Rappel without a Harness

The most well-known strategy for rappelling without a harness is the Dülfersitz technique. It includes tactically attaching the rope to your body to give you control over your drop to the ground.

The Dulfersitz Rappel strategy is a non-mechanical rappelling method or harnessless. This method is really not suggested today, since harnesses are easily purchased at an outdoor store or online. Rappelling with a carabiner and modern harness provides significantly more security. 

The Dulfersitz Rappel strategy is based on the rope being twisted around the body so the speed of the climber descent is slowed down by the grinding of the rope against the body. In the event that you do end up in a crisis circumstance, rappelling with just a rope is feasible, as long as you use this method accurately.

When using this technique the rope will not endure a huge amount of wear and tear. The drawback is that contact and grinding against the body makes heat, which can possibly hurt your shoulders and thighs. 

The South African Rappel Method

The second rappelling method, the South African Rappel method was created in 2000 by a South African mountaineering educator named Andrew Friedemann.

While participating in a Mountain Leader course in Mooi River, South Africa he created a strategy that improves rope control and reduces the stress and grinding of the rope against the body. 

Later in 2000, in Chamonix, France, the South African Rappel method was examined during a UIAA International Training Standards Working conference. Even though UIAA members had not seen the technique in action it was widely accepted.

This acceptance was mostly due to the similar fundamental standards as the Dülfersitz strategy. But the South African Rappel has a progression of benefits. For example, the climber can have one hand totally free during their descent. Other methods require two hands to be on the rope.

This implies that the client can more readily zero in on the actual plunge to the ground. The rope goes around and over the back then underneath the armpits. Subsequently, this reduces the climber’s possibility of falling backward. 

Lastly, wrapping the rope around the body as indicated in the South African Rappel method will diminish the friction of the rope on the body and will help in protecting the integrity of the rope itself. 

Whichever method you choose to use to rappel without a harness be careful! Not using a harness is fun and exhilarating but it is extremely dangerous. Be sure to have an experienced buddy with you when attempting to rappel without a harness. Learn the fundamentals of how rappelling works.

Be sure to review and study the many online accredited climbing guides that cover “how to rappel without a harness.” Practicing on an indoor climbing course with plenty of safety crash pads is highly recommended.

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About the author 


Jullie is a professional indoor climber. She loves speed climbing competitions. This style makes her feel like she's flying. Maybe because her other passion is flying airplanes. Obviously, high speeds are her thing.

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