July 4, 2020

A Guide to How to Use a Figure 8 Rappel Device

by Brad

The figure 8 belay device, also known as the figure 8 descender and figure 8 rappel device, is a metal piece shaped as 8 with one small end and one small end. The figure 8 rappel device is the tool to keep you safe and in control of the speed while you are rappelling.

When you buy a figure 8 descender, it usually won’t come with instructions. We will be discussing how to use a figure 8 rappel device in this article. It is considered one of the best rope rappelling descenders.

Remember that the figure eight (figure 8) belay device is different from the figure eight knot, and the figure 8 device is one of the essential rappelling gear kit pieces of equipment to carry with you.

Something to keep in mind is that there are a few different configurations, or in other words, ways of lacing the rope through the figure 8 descender and ways of using it too. Which technique you use can depend on your skill level, size and weight, the rope type, conditions, and the device itself.

Today we want to talk about how to use a figure 8 rappel device and how to use the different types of configurations. Remember, whichever technique you use, test it out in a controlled environment first; you don’t want to do this for the first time while on a rock face.


Table of Contents

How to Rappel with a Figure 8 Device?

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to rappel using a figure 8 rappel device.

  • Feed the rope via the anchors, and ensure the harness and anchors are properly set up, with the carabiner connected through the harness loops. The gate of the carabiner should be facing upwards. 
  • With the rope on your right, grab a portion of it and feed it via the larger section of the figure 8 rappel device from the bottom. Haul the loop through towards the neck of the figure 8 belay device. If you’re double-strand rappelling, loop both rope strands through the large hole and across the neck. 
  • Connect the figure 8 small hole via the carabiner, then lock the carabiner
  • Double-check everything, ensuring that you’ve locked the carabiner via the bottom hole and the ropes are sourced from the anchor via the larger hole, across the neck, and out through the top hole. 
  • Adjust the figure 8 descender such that it doesn’t lean on the carabiner’s gate to ensure the system doesn’t fail. 
  • To stop, hold the right side of your rope using your right hand and haul it around your back. Your other hand can lie on the rope over the figure 8 belay device if you like. 
  • Recline into the rappel, and lower hastily by sliding your left hand (brake hand) away from the body. Haul the rope on your back to halt. 

What is the Rappel Device Used for?

The figure 8 rappel device is used as a rappelling or belaying device. Also known as an 8, the figure 8 descender is utilized with a locking carabiner and climbing harness to belay a climber or when lowering yourself when rappelling. 

Photo credits: https://www.yogicllama.com/about

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What are the Advantages of a Figure 8 Device? 

The figure 8 belay device comes with several advantages, which we have listed and explained below.

Practicality 

Figure 8 descenders are relatively easy to use, and there is close to no room for mistakes. You simply have to ensure that the rope moves via the smaller hole across the neck.

These devices don’t lock similarly to tubular devices such as the ATC devices, since the rope constantly moves through the device’s neck without moving up the carabiner and back. 

Moreover, figure-eight descenders give a smooth rappelling experience and don’t tend to be as bumpy compared to other rappel devices. The user-friendliness, precisely setting up, makes them relatively common among ice climbers and mountaineers since they can’t take off their gloves to deal with the rope in cold surroundings. 

Heat depletion 

Regarding heat dissipation, figure 8 rappelling devices do it better than ATCs, thanks to their increased surface area. There are fewer chances of you ending up with an imprint of the 8-figure burn on your arm after an extended rappel than an ATC, as they tend to heat up more. 

Affordability

A figure 8 rappel device is relatively cheap, generally from $10 to $15, and it will serve you for a long time. You can easily alter the speed and friction; hence people of all sizes with various luggage can comfortably utilize it. 

Another upside in terms of price is that rope will only move through and wear out the device. On the other hand, the rope moves through the carabiner and tuber when utilizing an ATC, gradually wearing out both metals. 

Besides, some deep canyons filled with mud and sand can come close to wearing out the figure eight belay device within a day; hence it’s convenient to have an affordable product. 

Friction

Compared to an ATC, a figure 8 descender has reduced friction; hence it’s more effortless for a young person or child to lower. You can make various adjustments to set it up and substantially impact the lowering process with this device. 

Versatility 

Whether you’re rappelling using the double-strand technique or have a narrow rope, the figure 8 rappelling device will come in handy. All rope types are ideally compatible with a figure 8 device. 

Again, you can use it for belaying; however, you should not set it up the same as when rappelling. The popular use for figure 8 when canyoneering is to lock one end of the rope to an anchor by threading the device into an eight-block. This way, you can easily make a retrievable rappel without needing to double up the climbing rope. 

Passability

When using a figure 8 belay device, it’s rare to find moss or mud clogging your lowering mechanism when canyoneering, which is quite common when using a tubular device. The spacious hole at the top of the figure 8 device, the unrestricted rappelling experience, and less friction let muddy rappelling rope and tiny knots move through effortlessly. 

Quick-release 

When lowering yourself into deep water, you can adjust the figure 8 descender, reducing the chances of dropping your equipment inside the water. Therefore, you will have a rappelling device and won’t get suspended mid-rappel. 

Setting up a rappel with figure 8 device

What are the Disadvantages of a Figure 8 Device? 

The figure 8 belay device has several disadvantages, which we have listed and explained below.

Risk

While this device has been on the climbing scene for a long, some accidents have been fatal and others not-so-fatal. Some fatalities have happened because of cross-loading. Typically, this occurs when figure 8’s force breaks through the locking carabiner. This force exerts pressure on the pins, resulting in them popping out. 

The carabiner seldom bends when the small hole is connected through it. Or the locking sleeve clutches onto the figure 8 rappel device.

The more pressure you apply, the device becomes a lever leading to the force popping up the gate. If it pops out outward, it’s known as cross-loading, though if it happens inwards, it’s referred to as inward loading. 

Climbing belay 

While we have mentioned that you can utilize a figure 8 rappelling device, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should use it. Today, there are many belay-specific devices, like the GriGri or ATC. 

However, if you happen to forget your belay device, you can still use the figure 8 descender, but make sure you know how to set it up properly. While it is safe, it’s not quite convenient. You require utilizing a sling or cord to prevent the device from releasing the rope. 

Less friction

The figure 8 device enerates less friction on the climbing rope than an ATC. This translates to lowering more swiftly and having less control. This is vital to remember, especially for beginner rappelers. Figure 8s would be much handier when rappelling and if the rappelling ropes are thick. 

Rope twist 

The other disadvantage of the figure 8 belay device is that it launches numerous twists into the mechanism. While this won’t harm the rope’s core, it can accidentally tie knots throughout the rope and mess up the system. You can avoid this by setting up the figure 8 sport mode (you can read more about this rappelling configuration below). 

Bad reputation

Figure 8 rappelling devices don’t have a good reputation among climbers. They’re primarily seen as old school and thus not used as much. People have now embraced the new devices. 

What are the Different Types of Figure 8 Rappel Setups?

There are different ways you can set up your rappel, depending on the situation, and they include standard figure 8 rappel configuration, figure 8 sport mode, figure 8 belay mode, figure 8 figure-4-wrap, figure 8 rescue mode, figure 8 canyon mode, and figure 8 auto-stop mode.

Standard Figure 8 Rappel Device (Descender) Configuration

This is the most standard figure 8 descender configuration out there, the one that tends to be the easiest to master, the most reliable, and most commonly used. In order to get your rope correctly attached, first, remove the device from the carabiner.

Second, pass the bight of rope through the big loop of the figure 8 descender, and now pull the bight of rope over the small hole of the device and allow it to locate within the shank of the descender as the bight is pulled tight.

To finish it off, clip the carabiner back onto the small hole of the figure 8 descender. This is a great configuration because you can use your hand, the one holding the free brake, to control the tension and therefore the speed of your descent.

Use your main brake hand to grip the brake rope, and then use your other hand to grip that same part of the rope directly below.

When you go to descend, make sure to hold the rope tight and never hold it loosely, especially to the point where the rope easily passes through your hands and through the figure 8 device, as this is also known as free falling.

Be sure to use rappelling gloves when using one of these devices, as you can still get rope burn or get your fingers jammed.

Always be sure to take things slowly, use a good anchor that is solid and can hold your weight, and always keep your feet at shoulder width, with the knees bent. Rappelling can be dangerous, and neglecting any safety tips can result in disaster.

Figure 8 Descender and Sport Mode Configuration

This setup comes in handy as a top-rope climbing belay choice. While there is substantially less friction via the device, you can still manage to lower yourself because there is additional friction via the connectors at the top. 

This less friction facilitates effortless rope take-in as the top-belayed individual climbs. This setup should be avoided, especially when belaying a lead climber since there is not sufficient friction in case the lead belayer falls. 

That said, there are occasions where reduced friction is ideal when lowering off, particularly with light climbers. Climbers weighing not more than 40 kg will easily loosen the rope via the basic configuration on overhang descent, though this might not be the case with other descents. 

Figure 8 Belay Mode Configuration

This mode is the only one that allows a climber to belay another climber using a figure 8 belay device. If adequately executed, this setup should offer enough friction to hold the leader if they fall and allow the belayer to feed the rope easily. Descending using this setup needs ample practice since the rope doesn’t easily feed through the device when laden.

Figure 8 Descender with a Figure 4 Wrap

The standard configuration may not be for everybody. If you are heavier, let’s say over 200 pounds, the standard configuration might not provide you with enough tension, friction, and overall braking power. In other words, your weight will pull that rope right through the descender and leave you rocketing towards the ground.

In this case, you want to start off with the standard configuration, and then add an extra step where the brake rope is also passed through the carabiner. This will provide a heavier person with extra friction and braking power to control the speed of the descent.

Figure 8 Descender and Rescue Mode

If you happen to have to rescue somebody, if you are hauling lots of gear, or if you are just a heavier person, you can also try the rescue configuration for rappelling.

This configuration is similar to the standard configuration but takes it one step further as the rope is passed through the big hole twice, thus effectively going through it twice. It just helps to provide a lot more friction and will slow down the descent substantially.

Figure 8 Rappel Device and Canyon Mode 

While the figure 8 rappel device comes in handy in many situations, it might be challenging to connect and remove in cold, dark, and wet surroundings such as canyons. Indeed, this is an advanced method though you have the option to use it without opening the primary carabiner. 

It is doable, though; the climbing rope can accidentally come out of the eight if you halt and unweight the mechanism. Similarly, this technique does sacrifice ease of use and security. 

Figure 8 Auto-Stop Mode

This is a simple yet effective technique. It is similar to canyon mode though there’s an intentional twist within the rope before feeding it via the smaller hole. This tweak causes the loaded part of the rope to pinch the brake rope when handled incorrectly. 

You can make this twist in two ways, and only one way will ensure you execute this mode properly. To free the twist, you need to cautiously haul down the rope on the smaller ring of the device, similar to a hand working the brake handle on automatic locking devices. 

Figure 8 descenders come in different shapes, and every one of them will offer a different feel when setting up the auto-stop mode. For instance, the shorter figure 8 rappel devices will be more difficult to unlock because the operative lever is short. 

Much like canyon mode, this technique is possibly less safe; therefore, you might want to fasten a lanyard to the smaller hole to reduce the chances of the pinched loop popping out of the smaller hole. 

How to Lock Off a Figure 8 When Rappelling? 

To lock off your device when rappelling, you should move the rappelling rope on your left hand around your body, allowing it to cross the uphill strand. Fasten it tightly between the rope and the figure 8 rappel device and keep the mechanism loaded. 

You’ve not tied the system, though the friction is sufficient to hold you provided you don’t unload, reload or bounce on it. This will come in handy if you require untying the rope beneath you or halt, and a typical ATC won’t achieve this. 

How to Set up an 8 Block for Canyoneering? 

The figure 8 rappel device is most suitable for rappelling when canyoneering (yes, canyoning and rappelling are often connected activities), precisely when you set it up a retrievable rappel as an eight-block.

This technique establishes a stop within the rappelling rope on either side of the anchor that can’t feed through a quick link allowing you to lower yourself on one rope strand. 

So, when you reach the bottom, you can haul the other rope strand, where you’ve set up the eight-block. Again, you should utilize the eight-block and lower using one rope strand, if doable, so that in the event that the climber on the rappel has an emergency, you can lower with the other rope strand and help them out. 

Besides, it’s rather convenient for a rappel that doesn’t need a long rope as you only need to get what you require and leave the rest in the backpack. As opposed to utilizing a figure-eight descender, you can make a large knot, though the pressure on the mechanism will make this knot highly challenging to undo. 

It is vital to understand how to set up an 8Block, and always ensure you’re tied to the strand of rope without the eight-block. Here’s how to set it up:

  • Take a section of rope and feed it through the larger hole of the device and tie it across the neck. 
  • Take one side of the rappelling rope and take a portion back via the large hole on the other side, winding it across the neck. 
  • Pull the rappelling rope till the eight-block is tightly set up against the anchor’s quick link. 
  • Loop the rappelling rope on the anchor’s opposite side as the eight-block, and begin lowering.
  • Once you’re on the ground, detach from the rappelling rope, and haul the other rope strand, making sure that the figure 8 descender doesn’t get stuck on anything or hit you. 

Can You Belay Rock Climbers with a Figure 8?

Yes, you can belay rock climbers with a figure 8 device. The original belay devices, such as the Stitch plate, were extremely simple and easy to use. However, eventually, manufacturers have integrated several features to deal with the main issues with every device, making your belay experience that much more convenient. 

The figure 8 belay device works the same way as a stitch plate, utilizing the smaller hole as the slot to connect the carabiner. However, you shouldn’t set up as you would when rappelling in this situation, as it is unsafe due to the absence of friction and the risk of cross-loading, as mentioned previously. 

The smaller hole in the figure 8 device adds substantial friction though it facilitates smooth belaying. That said, belaying using a figure 8 descender is safe, provided you set it up correctly. 

How to Choose between Figure 8 vs. ATC Devices?

There are a few differences between the ATC and figure 8. For instance, figure 8 is universal; hence it will fit all diameter ropes, and you can use it for climbing and rappelling. Moreover, you can conveniently adjust the friction or speed. 

On the other hand, tubers come in handy when rappelling and climbing though you cannot adjust the speed and are only compatible with ropes of less than 11 mm diameter. They are safer and smoother than figure 8 descenders since they generate more friction and pose restricted cross-loading risks. 

A figure eight descender is a masterpiece that will serve you in multiple situations. Regardless of the device you go for, utilize it as directed by the producer, and be safe. 

How Do You Use a Figure 8 Device When Rappelling?

You can use a figure 8 device together with a lockable carabiner and climbing harness to control your or another belayed individual’s lowering when rappelling. 

How Do I Rappel with the Rescue 8 Device?

To rappel with a rescue 8 device, move the rappelling rope on your left hand around your body, allowing it to cross the uphill strand. Fasten it tightly between the rope and the figure 8 rappel device and keep the mechanism loaded. 

You’ve not tied the system, though the friction is sufficient to hold you provided you don’t unload, reload or bounce on it. This will come in handy if you require untying the rope beneath you or halt, and a typical ATC won’t achieve this. 

How Do You Lock a Figure 8 Descender?

To lock a figure 8 descender, pull the loop and movie across the neck of the device. When double-strand rappelling, feed both rope strands via the larger hole and across the device’s neck. Fasten the carabiner on the smaller hole and lock it. There you have it, everything you need to know about using a figure 8 rappel device.

Concluding thoughts on how to use a figure 8 rappel device

Remember, rappelling is not something you want to test out for the first time on a rock face. You first want to get the hang of these techniques and configurations in a controlled environment.

Remember to always be safe and take things slowly. You do not want a climbing accident to occur due to the improper use of the figure 8 descender. 

If you are interested in belay glasses, read my comprehensive guide on the best belay glasses and how a belay device is made.

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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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