March 21, 2022

Is Rappelling Dangerous? Our Tips on How to Stay Safe

by Brad

Table of Contents

All safety measures put in place and the beautiful environments make rappelling seem like the safest activity you can do while out in the mountains. However, this isn’t usually the case, especially for climbers who don’t follow the instructions to the latter or those that use the substandard gear.

Is Rappelling Dangerous?

Rappelling is dangerous. It’s considered the fourth most common reason for climbing accidents. There are a few things that make the sport dangerous.

Rappelling is an extreme sport. As such, only a small percentage of individuals get minor injuries. Most rappellers either get to the bottom fine or sustain fatal injuries.

Thus, rappelling (as simple as it is) is responsible for a huge amount of fatalities. So, the question on most people’s minds is why is rappelling dangerous?

Why is Rappelling Dangerous?

As mentioned before, rappelling seems dangerous and confusing since there’s minimal dynamic movement involved, minimal strain on equipment, and easy executable motions.

So, why do so many rappellers hurt themselves when rappelling?

The available data isn’t clear enough; however, it claims that the difficulty level depends on the individual’s state of mind rather than how difficult and hard rappelling is.

Often, rappelling is a means to an end, not the main goal. Very few people leave their homes only thinking about rappelling.

Thus, they tend to take rappelling for granted and fail to see it as a dangerous activity that requires careful planning.

They focus more on the main activity they are involved in rather than the whole climb, including rappelling.

Why is Rappelling Dangerous

The descent effect also causes injuries because most injuries happen when rappelling down rather than climbing up since climbers are too tired to concentrate fully.

They are more likely to make mistakes since they aren’t paying enough attention because they’ve completed their climb or failed to complete the climb.

Thus, we can assume that most rappellers get into accidents because they can’t make correct decisions. Often it’s because they are too eager and don’t expect any problems to go down.

The best advice you can follow is to assume that you aren’t safe until you are in your vehicle heading back home.

What are the Main Causes of Rappelling Accidents?

Accidents usually happen due to a string of incidents that often end up in a disaster.

For instance, you may be extremely tired or unmotivated, forget to tie a simple knot, and find yourself at the bottom of the drop. Rappelling accidents work similarly.

You could prevent this by practicing safe habits like tying back-ups, double-checking your knots, and ensuring that you have enough experience and have a ready backup plan for any eventualities.

Understand what you’ll need to do to avoid any accidents and stay as safe as possible. The main causes of rappelling accidents are a combination of the factors listed below.

  1. Human error
  2. Not using an auto-block knot
  3. Not backing up the rope
  4. Rope getting caught on a sharp edge or stuck
  5. Losing control
  6. Anchors failing
  7. Incorrect use of a rappel device
  8. Letting go of the rope
  9. Extreme weather
  10. The carabiner fails to lock

1) Human error

Most rappelling accidents can be traced back to human error. Thus, rappellers must double and triple check everything, including their equipment and knots, before making their drop.

Don’t get lazy even when you have rappelled down the same spot hundreds of times before. Listen to your gut and check to see if your anchors are steady and you’ve worn your harness correctly.

You should also check to see if your knots are proper, that you’ve worn a helmet, have a sturdy and safe rappelling gear kit, and have the backup gear to use in case of a crash.

PETZL, Vertex Vent Helmet, Black
255 Reviews
PETZL, Vertex Vent Helmet, Black
  • Comfortable ventilated helmet
  • Headband: 53-63 cm
  • Weight: 490 g

Last update on 2022-10-06 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

You should also ensure that you have enough rope to reach the ground. In addition, you should tie a stopper knot big enough that it can’t slip through the belay device, preventing you from rappelling over the end.

You could also use a friction hitch below or above your rappelling device. You can go the extra mile to learn rappelling from rappelling classes and courses.

2) Not using an auto-block knot

Many climbers have lost their lives by using fast and long rappels without enough experience.

Often auto-block knots could have helped catch them when they were going too quickly; however, they didn’t set up the knot. Backup knots help keep the rappeller safer.

The autoblock knot is meant to grab a climber’s rope and stop their uncontrolled descent. It’s quite important for beginners and should be used often (or always).

You could add a prusik knot above your rappel device as a backup; however, the best practice could be to add it below the rappelling device.

GM CLIMBING 8mm (5/16') Prusik Loop Pre-Sewn 18 inches
848 Reviews
GM CLIMBING 8mm (5/16") Prusik Loop Pre-Sewn 18 inches
  • GM CLIMBING 18” 8mm pre-sewn prusik loop is made of double braid 8mm polyester rope which features excellent abrasion-resistance, high strength and long lasting performance.
  • Supple in handling, flexible and easy to tie knots. Simple While Powerful! You could find it an amazing gear in 100 outdoor applications.
  • With heat shrink tube over solidly sewn stitching part, the prusik loop is safer and better than prusik cord with knots.

Last update on 2022-10-06 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

3) Not backing up the rope

The problem of falling off the end of your rope is an easy one to avoid. As part of the rappel setup, make sure there is enough rope to reach the ground.

Tie a stopper knot that won’t slip through your belay device so you don’t fall off the end. When you can’t see the end of the rappel, this is especially important.

Another way to back up the rope while you are rappelling is by using a friction hitch above or below the anchor. This way you ensure that any mistakes you make do not cause you to fall.

4) Rope getting caught on a sharp edge or stuck

It would help if you always tied a stopper knot at the end of your rope when rappelling. However, it would be best if you did not forget to untie it.

In addition, when using two ropes, you shouldn’t tug on the wrong rope. You could tie the rope’s ends together and remember the stopper knots.

Suppose your rope gets caught on a ledge or tree when rappelling or in the heavy wind; you have some options. You could pull the rope gently or flip and whip or around.

Stop on a ledge and try to free the rope if you can. Take care not to disturb any loose rocks in the process. You could cut your rope in an emergency, ensuring you have enough rope to perform an emergency rappel down safely.

5) Losing control

You should avoid going too fast if you don’t have enough experience rappelling. Use protective backup knots such as prusik knots.

You should also prepare and ensure that you rappel with an experienced individual if you don’t have enough experience.

It would help if you were also attentive to your actions and devices to avoid any accidents due to loss of control.

You should also be cautious and pay close attention to your actions. Follow all safety tips as stated throughout the article.

You should also practice and use a friction hitch if you pass out or lose control in any other way. Lastly, you should always wear a helmet.

6) Anchors failing

You can’t eliminate the risks. Even experienced mountain climbers get into difficult situations, and rappelling is quite dangerous no matter how hard you try to protect yourself and prevent accidents.

Thus, you have to be prepared to face challenges as they arise. You should test the anchors carefully.

Please put all your weight against them and ensure that it’s sturdy enough to hold you. You can then go ahead and use the anchor system after performing your test.

7) Incorrect use of a rappel device

Incorrectly using your rappel device could get your clothes or hair stuck in the mechanisms.

Often, further struggles will get you even more stuck, placing you in need of rescuers. You could use a rappel extension that keeps the device further from anything loose that may get caught.

CyberDyer 35KN Figure 8 Descender, Rescue Figure 8 Rappelling Gear Belay Device Aviation Aluminum Rigging Plate for Climbing Belaying and Rappelling (Black)
139 Reviews
CyberDyer 35KN Figure 8 Descender, Rescue Figure 8 Rappelling Gear Belay Device Aviation Aluminum Rigging Plate for Climbing Belaying and Rappelling (Black)
  • HEAVY DUTY & SAFETY ASSURANCE - Made of 7075 Aircraft-grade Aluminum Alloy, CyberDyer figure 8 descender has sturdy design with two big belay loops to create sufficient friction between the rope and the descender device to slow down the descent or brake to keep you safe.
  • SUPERIOR BRAKING RESISTANCE & FROSTED SURFACE - Tensile strength 7716 lbf (35KN/3500kg). Due to frosted surface design, it helps the rappelling descender increase enough friction, which features superb rope control to handle the heavy loads while belaying or descending.
  • HANDS FREELY & DECREASE HEAT - With two big belay loops, CyberDyer figure 8 descender allows you to tie off your rope and use both your hands freely. Due to the outstanding design, it can decrease the heat of descender to reduce the rope wear and tear, which will save the life time of the descender and rope and make your safety while climbing or rescuing.

Last update on 2022-10-06 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

It would be best if you also had a pocket knife with you. You could use this to cut any clothes or hair caught up in the rappelling device.

It would also help if you dressed appropriately and watched out for your gear so that your clothes don’t get caught up in it.

Wear fitting clothes and proper safety equipment. You should also tie your hair in a ponytail, braid it, or keep it in a bun.

8) Letting go of the rope

We shouldn’t mention this, but you shouldn’t let go of your rope. Use some form of backup when stopping and lock your rope around the belay mechanism.

Ensure that you wear some rappelling gloves to prevent rope burns and tie a friction hitch to prevent falls when you have to let go of the rope.

PETZL CORDEX PLUS Gloves - Lightweight, Breathable Leather Belay Gloves for Climbing and Rappelling - Tan - XS
565 Reviews
PETZL CORDEX PLUS Gloves - Lightweight, Breathable Leather Belay Gloves for Climbing and Rappelling - Tan - XS
  • UNCOMPROMISED DURABILITY: Sometimes 'durable' gloves are bulky, stiff, and uncomfortable. With the Petzl CORDEX PLUS gloves, you don't have to compromise. The CORDEX PLUS features more leather in than our CORDEX glove, especially in the back of the glove and the palm. Soft, premium leather requires no break in period — striking a perfect balance between dexterity and durability.
  • PROTECTION WHERE YOU NEED IT MOST: A double layer of leather provides enhanced protection in high-traffic areas (fingertips, between thumb and forefinger) help prolong the CORDEX PLUS's lifespan. Extra padding in the palm of the glove helps prevent protect against heat generated during multiple rappels.
  • EASE OF USE: Simple, yet durable velcrohook-and-loop closure. Carabiner hole for easy storage and/or racking. No break-in period. Easy on and off.

Last update on 2022-10-06 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

9) Extreme weather

You should always have friends that you inform when going somewhere and when you expect to return. In addition, you should also double-check the weather before you go out.

Avoid doing your climbs or rappelling in bad weather. You should search for another way down a mountain if you are caught by snow, rain, or a storm.

Most accidents are caused by human error, like not packing appropriate gear, checking the weather, or rescheduling when the weather gets too rough.

Often, the afro-mentioned acts of nature are not thought of as the major cause of rappelling accidents. Make proper judgments to avoid such situations.

10) The carabiner fails to lock

Ensure that your harness fits you perfectly, is of good quality, and is in perfect condition. You should also ensure that you’ve set the correct type of rope for rappelling through your harness.

Ensure that the rope attached to you through the rappel device is on a locked carabiner. Check to ensure the rope is steadily locked.

You could use an auto-locking carabiner when rappelling. They are usually safer and quicker than screw-gate carabiners; however, they are tricky when opening them with one hand.

You could also use a screw-gate carabiner since they are cheaper; however, they are only safe when you remember to lock them.

Sale
RHINO Produxs 2PCS of 12kN (2697 lbs) Heavy Duty Lightweight Locking Carabiner Clips - Excellent for Securing Pets, Outdoor, Camping, Hiking, Hammock, Dog Leash Harness, Keychains
4,380 Reviews
RHINO Produxs 2PCS of 12kN (2697 lbs) Heavy Duty Lightweight Locking Carabiner Clips - Excellent for Securing Pets, Outdoor, Camping, Hiking, Hammock, Dog Leash Harness, Keychains
  • Durable, Lightweight & Strong - Not For Climbing - Rhino Carabiner Clips are crafted out of top-grade aerospace Aluminum 7075 while offering 12kN (2697 lbs.) of strength (2697 lbs. equals the total weight of a Black rhinoceros). Never rusts. Each Carabiner weighs only 1.02 ounces (29 grams)
  • Saftey Screw Lock - Manual screw gate reduces the chance of open-gate failure. There is a smooth screw action on the locking mechanism. This carabiner has a compact palm-sized design to give the ability to be operated with one hand.
  • All Purpose - Rhino Produxs locking Carabineers are suitable for: hammock, camping, fishing, hiking, backpack, paddle, traveling, swing, punching bag, dog leash, attach sports bottles, keychain, small travel tools, fix heavy object on a pickup truck. Not For Climbing.

Last update on 2022-10-06 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

Rappelling Safety Checklist

How To Stay Safe While Rappelling?

After discussing some ways that rappellers place themselves at risk, we should go ahead and discuss how to mitigate said risks.

Here are some steps you could take to ensure your rappel is as safe as possible. The first one is the simplest and safest.

  1. Skip the Rappel
  2. Before Rappelling, Learn How to Rappel
  3. Practice Rappelling
  4. Back-Up Your Rappels
  5. Use a Checklist that Encompasses Best Modern Practices

1) Skip the Rappel

This may seem dumb to some people; however, it’s the easiest way climbers can prevent injuries when abseiling.

The American Alpine Club recommends that all climbers avoid abseiling at any cost because of its fatality rate and the number of incidences.

If you are leading on a sports route, you could have your partner lower you down instead of rappelling. You could also choose to hike out when climbing a multi-pitch route instead of rappelling and making a mistake.

It won’t work in every situation; however, if you have the option to hike out, then you should go ahead and do it.

2) Before Rappelling, Learn How to Rappel

Do thorough research and take all steps required to ensure your safety. It would be good to ensure that you learn how to rappel and create good habits before going to the extreme limits.

You should also find someone more experienced to train you properly and provide you with tips and tricks regarding how they rappel.

You could also use your online resources; however, you shouldn’t rely on them as your sole source of information. Go for comprehensive guides, sign up for lessons, and get help from a trained guide.

You should also do lots of practice with indoor abseiling and ensure that you are confident with your skills.

3) Practice Rappelling

You should repeat the steps and practice your steps as often as possible. Ensure that you do it as often as possible until the steps become second nature.

It would be best to do this in a safe and controlled environment to prevent any accidents.

It may seem like something not worth practicing; however, the number of fatalities and injuries says otherwise.

Doing this helps keep you safer and provides you with the necessary skills to make and use a rappel. This helps you save a lot of time, and you’ll reach the bottom sooner.

4) Back-Up Your Rappels

Using backup knots is like using a seat belt when traveling by car. They take a short time to set up and could save your life in case of any eventuality.

It’s safer for you to learn how to make and create a backup knot. Learn from a comprehensive guide and ensure that you are excellent at it.

5) Use a Checklist that Encompasses Best Modern Practices

There is so much information that it can be difficult for beginners to understand what to do when rappelling. It would be best to get a comprehensive guide on steps you’ll need to apply to ensure your safety.

You should practice, follow the checklist that covers best modern practices and ensure that you are up to par.

  • Know and understand your route.
  • Pack all the gear that’s required for the climb.
  • Wear protective gear, i.e., a helmet.
  • Double-check your harness’ buckles.
  • Ensure that you extend the rappel device.
  • Have and use a rappel prusik set below your rappel device.
  • Employ a plaquette-style belaying device when rappeling.
  • Ensure that all systems except your belay loop and rope have a backup.
  • Use a redundant anchor fixed with two bomber pieces.
  • Ensure your rope doesn’t go over sharp edges.
  • Tie your rope tails together.
  • It would be best if you also used saddlebags for carrying the ropes down.
  • Ensure your rope reaches your next rappel station.
  • Ensure your carabiners are locked.
  • Tie all knots properly.
  • Weight the system before unclipping from your anchor.
  • Ensure you have enough gear to ascend the rope when needed.
  • Establish a communication system with your partner.
  • Ensure the rope pulls if you are the first person down.
  • Ensure the second anchor is correctly sheltered.
  • Ensure your partners know how to perform rescues in case of a stuck rope.
  • Ensure your partner checks and understands this list.
  • Work to fix any mistakes that happen before they snowball.
  • Check your items and understand the motions.
  • Weight your secondary anchor before rappelling.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rappelling

Is it safe to rappel alone?

Rappelling is relatively safe compared to other extreme sports. However, it would be best to rappel with experienced partners rather than rappel yourself to increase your safety chances.

What happens if you let go while rappelling?

Letting go of the rope while rappelling places you at risk of falling, especially if you don’t have any backup.

How do rappelling accidents happen?

Rappelling accidents occur due to the following three major factors.

  • Dependence on equipment
  • Risks caused by natural disasters
  • Human error

How difficult is rappelling?

Rappelling isn’t a difficult activity. All that’s needed is enough strength to pull your weight and hold yourself up. Most people that hike can rappel fairly easily; however, those who don’t hike have to practice and boost their core strength to abseil more easily.

What can go wrong with rappelling?

Some common mistakes that can cause rappelling accidents are listed below.

  • Carabiner accidents (failure to lock)
  • Human error
  • Not backing up your rope
  • Failure to use an autoblock knot
  • Using the rappel device incorrectly
  • Having lost items
  • Having lost gear
  • Getting stuck in the rappelling device
  • Losing control

Why do we need to learn to rappel?

Learning how to rappel helps climbers learn how to descend cliffs safely and properly.

Why is abseiling so dangerous?

Abseiling or rappelling can be dangerous for climbers because of failed anchors for abseils, detached carabiners when abseil ropes cut through, or abseil devices that don’t control the descent speed.

Why do people die rappelling?

Most people die when rappelling because they think it’s easy and safe. However, the sport isn’t as safe. You should practice, work out, and ensure that you have enough physical strength to handle your weight effortlessly. You should also ensure that you are in the right state of mind and are attentive before going abseiling.

You could be fatally injured due to the following three major factors.

  • Dependence on equipment
  • Risks arising from natural disasters
  • Human error

The rankings on rappellingequipment.com are curated to save you time by aggregating the best reviewed products from the most reputable companies. We may receive a commission if you buy something using a link on this page.

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.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

DOWNLOAD

eBook: Rappelling Equipment Guide

 $ 29.99  FREE

Download our Rappel Rapport eBook: a Rappelling Guide for Beginners. It's free.