by Brad

July 4, 2020

How to Use a Figure 8 Rappel Device

The figure 8 rappel device, also known as the figure 8 descender and belay device, has been in use for rock climbing for well over 50 years. It is regarded as one of the most important tools of the trade. It can go a long way in keeping you safe and controlling the speed of your descent.

It is a simple device, a safe one too, but be aware that when you buy one of these figure 8 descenders, it usually won’t come with instructions. We will be discussing  to use a figure 8 rappel device in this article.

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.

How to Use a Figure 8 Rappel Device

Today we want to talk about the standard figure 8 rappel device configuration, how to use a figure 8 rappel device, and touch on some of the others too. 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.

The 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.

How to Use a Figure 8 Rappel Device

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


Buy Strings


Black Diamond Super 8 Belay/Rappel Device
50KN Rescue Figure 8 Descender
AOKWIT Rescue Figure 8 Descender

Using the 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 breaking 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.


Using The 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.

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.


Remember, this 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 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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