by Roger

July 3, 2020

Rappelling Equipment and Technique

Getting to the top of any route you take while climbing is a major success for climbers of all kinds. That being said, it is still only half of the task to get to the top.

The other half consists of getting back down and that is just as important as making to the top. This requires specific rappelling equipment and techniques.

In order to descend back to where you started or somewhere else through single and multi-pitch routes, there are several ways you can go for but as a climber, rappelling is the most viable option. It gets you down with relative speed and puts less wear on the fixed anchors.

The process of rappelling might seem like quite a simple technique. The thing is, rappelling equipment and technique need to be navigated skillfully because the actual practice of rappelling down is more complicated than it looks. 

Another thing you should know about rappelling is that it is quite easy to make mistakes and unfortunately, accidents do happen a lot of the time – they can also end up being fatal mistakes.

This is the reason why you need to familiarize yourself with rappelling equipment and techniques which can help you descend quickly and more importantly, safely. Of course, we need to take a look at some of the basics about abseiling vs rappelling before we can move on to the different techniques.

Guide to the Best Rappelling Equipment and Techniques

The Basics Before Exploring Rappelling Equipment and Techniques

The following are some instructions based on the premise that you have set up the ropes, the ends are knotted (or touching the ground) and the ropes reach the next anchor.

  1. With the ropes set up through the anchor, you need to clip into the anchor with a personal anchor tether. You also need a backup tether aside from the rope. Clip the rappelling device to the belay loop with a locking carabiner and pull up a few feet of both ends of the rope so you can clip it in.
  2. Using the slack, make a couple of small bights in each of the two strands, push them through the device and keep the brake end of the rope going through the friction grooves. Make sure that you set it up in a way that the brake is on your dominant side. Clop the carabiner on the belay loop, clip it through both ropes and then lock it.
  3. Pull the brake strands up and through the device as much as you can before you let go of the rope. Anchor your body up and keep pulling at the anchor to lift your body up. The rappel should be able to hold your weight properly.
  4. Check both the strands of the rope again to see if they are threaded through the device properly. The carabiner has to be clipped through the belay loop and everything is locked properly.
  5. Set up the auto-block. This is a safety measure which helps keep you locked in place and prevents you from falling in case you lose grip for whatever reason.
  6. Once you’re completely clipped in, it is time to move downwards. Lower yourself slowly with one hand and use the top hand to move the auto-block down the rope with you.

Rappelling Equipment and Techniques to be Aware of

1) Basic Rappelling

The simplest form of abseiling, there is a fixed rope at the top of the drop which you use to descend under your own control to the bottom like explained in the basics above.

You use a belay device attached to the harness around your waist to control your speed of descent. You hold one hand above and one below the device to slow control your speed while the belay device causes the friction that allows you to control the speed.

You lean backwards over the drop and walk slowly down. Also known as the rescue style abseiling, the rappelling equipment and technique is the first one you should master so you can move to any others.

2) PETZL - GRIGRI 2, Belay Device with Assisted Braking

If you carry enough climbing experience and want to pick the best of all belay devices, look no further than Petzl GriGri. It undoubtedly makes your best choice. In my opinion, the product comes with everything you may want in a traditional belaying device. Despite this fact, its higher price might make you cringed.

2) Dulfersitz

This is an interesting one. Back in the 1800s, rappelling was invented but there were no hi-tech rappelling equipments and techniques – only the rope. Hans Dufler pioneered a technique that compensated for the lack of a harness using only a rope.

The method works through passing the rope under one leg and diagonally across the shoulders to your braking hand which you will keep behind you. This effectively makes your whole body the belay device.

The use of this rappelling equipment and techniques is essentially for the most skilled, experienced, daring and bored climbers.

This Dulfersitz technique can be a great way to get yourself out of a sticky situation if you have lost all the other gear and equipment but remember that it take a toll on your body to use it as a belay device because of all the friction. It is rarely used today.

3) Fireman’s Belay

The fireman’s belay refers to rappelling equipment and technique which is typically employed by firefighters. It is only possible if you have a friend with you while you are rappelling.

The rope is attached to your harness but the rope does not run through a belay device on your harness. Instead, it passes through the belay device on your partner’s belay device.

Your partner stands at the top or the bottom of the drop and controls your rate of descent for you. All you need to focus is on any possible obstacles on your way down and navigating around them.

Beginners are recommended to go for this technique paired with experienced climbers. This is actually the most commonly used setup with rappelling equipment and technique at local climbing walls where people practice the craft before going for the real thing.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the basics about the sport itself and the rappelling equipment and techniques is essential when you are taking up the sport. While you might feel tempted to take on more sophisticated techniques of rappelling, these are the most basic methods you should be aware of.

Remember that whenever you head out into the great outdoors for the activity, you need to go with climbing buddies that are experienced with the sport so they can help you learn the ropes.

Once you apply these techniques a few times, you will find rappelling a lot easier and nothing will be able to compare to the experience. Have fun and stay safe!

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About the author 


Roger was born into a family of climbers. As the youngest of his siblings, he was also the most ardent climber of them. Small and agile, he practiced climbing all day. Today, Roger teaches children how to climb the large rock walls safely.

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