Anyone who has tried to rappel down a mountainside knows it can be daunting. It’s not something that should be taken lightly – there are many things to consider before you even take your first step off the edge. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know so you know how to rappel safely and effectively, from what gear you’ll need to how to tie the perfect knot.
Table of Contents
What is Rappelling?
Rappelling, also known as abseiling, is used to descend a steep slope or cliff, perfect when rock climbing. It can be done for recreation, work, or emergency purposes. Rappelling requires a rope and anchor point, such as a tree or rock.
The rope is attached to the anchor point and then threaded through a rappel device clipped to the climber’s harness. The climber then leans back and uses their feet to control their descent.
There are many rappel devices, but figure-eight is the most popular one. This device is easy to use and can be attached or removed from the rope without having to tie any knots. Other popular rappel devices include the tube-style device and the plate-style device.
How To Rappel – A Quick Guide
Rappelling, or abseiling, is a way to get down from a high place without jumping. It’s also a great way to get down quickly if you’re injured or tired. Rappelling can be dangerous if you’re not careful; learning how to rappel safely is essential.
Once you have all your gear (which we’ll dig heavily into in the next section), you’re ready to rappel! Here’s how to do it:
- Tie the rope into your harness using a figure-eight knot. Make sure the knot is secure!
- Attach the belay device to your harness with a locking carabiner.
- Thread the rope through the belay device, and clip the other end of the rope to the anchor with a locking carabiner.
- Put your weight on your feet, and lean back into the rope to control your descent.
- When you reach the bottom, unclip the rope from your harness, belay the device, and lower yourself to the ground.
Rappelling is a great skill to have in your climbing toolkit. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to rappel safely and efficiently.
What Do You Need to Rappel?
Here’s what you’ll need to rappel:
- Rope – A static rope is best for rappelling, as it doesn’t stretch like dynamic ropes. You’ll need about 60 feet (18 meters) of rope for a standard rappel.
- Harness – You’ll need a climbing harness to tie into the rope.
- Belay Device – A belay device is used to control your descent. The most common type is the ATC (air traffic controller).
- Carabiners – You’ll need two locking carabiners to attach the rope to your harness and belay device.
- Anchor – You’ll need something to anchor the rope to. This can be a tree, a rock, or even a screwdriver jammed into the crack of a wall.
Let’s discuss the gear in some more detail…
When rappelling, it is essential to use a rope designed for the purpose. There are different ropes for different activities, and rappelling requires a particular type of rope.
A rappelling rope needs to be solid and durable enough to support your weight, as well as the weight of any gear you may be carrying. Choosing a rope that is the right size for your needs is also essential.
There are two main types of rappelling ropes: single ropes and double ropes.
Single ropes are thicker and stronger than double ropes, but they can only be used for one person at a time.
Double ropes are thinner and weaker than single ropes, but they can be used by two people simultaneously. Most climbers prefer to use single ropes when rappelling because they are less likely to get tangled up than double ropes.
When choosing a rappelling rope, there are several factors you need to consider: the length of the rope, the diameter of the rope, and the weight of the rope.
The length of the rope depends on the distance between the starting point and the end point of your descent. The diameter of the rope affects its strength and how easily it can be handled. And the rope’s weight affects how much it will weigh on your shoulders during descent.
Selecting a rappelling rope that meets all of these criteria is essential. Otherwise, you may not be able to safely complete your descent.
It is essential to use a rappelling harness to ensure safety. There are many different types of rappelling harnesses on the market, but all serve the same purpose: to keep you safe while you rappel.
There are three main types of rappelling harnesses: seat harnesses, chest harnesses, and hybrid harnesses.
Seat harnesses are the most popular type of rappelling harness because they distribute the force of a fall evenly across your body.
Chest harnesses are used when you want more control over your descent, and hybrid harnesses are a combination of seat and chest harnesses.
No matter what rappelling harness you choose, always inspect it for damage before using it. If the harness has any tears or rips, do not use it. Also, properly adjust the straps on your harness to fit snugly against your body.
A Rappel Device
Before you go climbing, it’s essential to choose your rappel device. Most belay devices are adequate for rappelling, but a specialized abseiling device may be required if you’re interested in more technical activities.
In some instances, you’ll just have to make do with what you’ve got. If you climb a 13-pitch sport route with a gri-gri, you can either bring a secondary device or use the gri-gri to rappel. Similarly, if simply using rappelling as a second activity isn’t worth your time, it’s probably not worth purchasing an elaborate rappel gadget.
If you’re doing a lot of rappelling (as in canyoneering, mountaineering, top roping, etc.), investing in a device that works for you may be well worth it. Some gadgets on the market have automated braking systems, while others allow you to add extra friction throughout the climb. Investing in an excellent gadget might make your descents safer and more pleasurable.
It’s essential to wear a helmet when rappelling. A fall while rappelling can be fatal, and a helmet is the best way to protect your head in the event of a fall.
There are many different types of helmets on the market, but all serve one obvious purpose: to protect your head from injury.
The type of climbing you’ll be doing will affect the type of helmet you need. For example, if you’re doing a lot of technical climbing, you’ll need a different helmet than just doing some basic rappelling.
The climates you’ll be climbing will also affect the type of helmet you need. If you’re going to be climbing in a cold climate, you’ll need a ventilation helmet to prevent your head from getting too cold.
And finally, your personal preferences will also affect the type of helmet you choose. Some people prefer helmets that are lighter in weight, while others prefer helmets with more features.
No matter what type of helmet you choose, always inspect it for damage before using it. If the helmet has any cracks or dents, do not use it.
Clothes For Rappelling
The clothes you wear when rappelling are just as important as the equipment you use. Wearing the wrong clothing can not only be uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing what to wear while rappelling:
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that won’t restrict your movement.
- Wear pants that cover your knees and shoes that cover your ankles.
- Wear gloves to protect your hands from the rope.
- And avoid loose, flowing clothing that could get caught on something while you’re rappelling.
Your clothes should be comfortable enough to allow you to move freely but not so loose that they get caught on anything. You also want to ensure you’re wearing gloves to protect your hands from the rope and pants that cover your knees in case you fall.
Other gear you may need
In addition to the essential rappelling gear, you may also need other items depending on your climbing type. For example, if you’re doing a lot of canyoneering, you’ll need a wetsuit. And if you’re mountaineering, you’ll need an ice axe and crampons.
It’s always a good idea to bring along a first-aid kit. You never know when you or someone in your group might need it.
What To Do Before You Rappel
Now that you have all the gear you need, it’s time to rappel. But before you do, there are a few things you need to do to prepare:
Check Your Gear
Before you start rappelling, it’s critical to check your gear. Ensure all your knots are tied correctly, and your rope is properly flaked and coiled. Inspect your belay device and carabiners for any damage, and make sure your helmet is secure.
Having a partner check your gear for you is also a good idea. That way, you can be sure that everything is in good working order before you start your descent.
And finally, always test your gear before using it. Rappelling is a dangerous activity, and using faulty gear can be deadly.
Set Up Your Rappel
When you’re ready to start rappelling, there are a few things you need to do first.
First, find a safe spot to set up your rappel. You want to be sure the area is clear of any loose rocks or debris that could fall on you while you’re rappeling.
Next, tie off your rope to a solid anchor. An anchor could be a tree, a boulder, or even your body weight if you’re rappelling from a safe spot.
And finally, attach your belay device to the rope. Be sure to double-check all your knots and carabiners before starting your descent.
How to Rappel – A Step-by-Step Guide
Although rappelling is a relatively straightforward activity, there are still a few things to keep in mind to make the experience as safe and enjoyable as possible. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to rappel:
- Make sure that the anchors you use are solid and correctly set up.
- Attach your rappelling device (such as a figure eight or Gri-Gri) to the rope, ensuring it is properly threaded.
- Check that the rappelling device is properly functioning and secured to your harness.
- Put on your helmet and ensure all your gear is in good condition and within reach.
- Stand next to the anchor, holding the rope firmly in both hands.
- Step backward and lean away from the cliff, ensuring you have a good grip on the rope with both hands.
- Slowly let go of the brake hand (the hand closest to the cliff) and allow yourself to be lowered down the cliff wall.
- When you reach the bottom, hold the rope tightly and signal to your partner that you are safe. They can slowly release the brake hand and let you down the rest of the way.
- Once you reach the bottom, unclip from the rope and prepare to walk back up to the top of the cliff (or belay area).
Rappelling is a great way to get down from a rock face or cliff quickly and safely. By following the above steps, you can ensure that your rappelling experience is enjoyable and incident-free.
When Would You Need To Rappel?
Rappelling is a skill that every climber should have. It’s a great way to descend from cliffs or rock faces and can even be used in emergencies.
There are many scenarios where rappelling might come in handy. For example, rappelling down may be the best way to get back to safety if you’re climbing and get stuck on a ledge.
Rappelling While Climbing
Rappelling can also be used while climbing. For example, if you’re free soloing (climbing without any ropes or safety gear) and need to downclimb a section, rappelling may be the best (and safest) way to do so.
In general, Rappelling is an excellent skill for any climber to have. It can be used in various situations, and it’s always good to have an extra way to get down from a cliff or rock face.
Rappelling is also a common mountaineering technique. It can be used to descend from glaciers, snow fields, and other difficult-to-down-climb areas.
Mountaineers generally use rappelling to get down from an area more quickly or safely than they could by down climbing. For example, if a mountaineer is descending a steep snow field, they may use rappelling to help prevent themselves from sliding down.
Rappelling can also be used in emergencies, such as if someone needs to be rescued from a difficult-to-reach area.
Canyoneering is another activity where rappelling is often used. Canyoneers use rappelling to descend into canyons and other steep, difficult-to-downclimb areas.
Like mountaineers, canyoneers use rappelling to help prevent themselves from sliding down steep slopes and to get down from an area more quickly or safely than they could by downclimbing.
Rappelling can also be used in emergencies, such as if someone needs to be rescued from a difficult-to-reach area.
Rappelling Is Also A Standalone Activity You Can Enjoy
Rappelling is one of those activities that can be enjoyed as a standalone activity or as part of an adventure package.
It is excellent for getting the adrenaline flowing and providing an opportunity to see some fantastic scenery from a different perspective.
And while it may seem daunting at first, rappelling is relatively easy and enjoyable once you get the hang of it.
Different Rappel Techniques
Many different rappel techniques can be used depending on the situation. The most common rappel technique is the French Technique, but I’ll be touching on the others in the following section.
In essence, French technique entails keeping your crampons flat on the snow or ice and engaging all of the bottom points versus kicking straight into the ice with your front points. On hard snow or soft ice at angles of up to 55 degrees, it’s the most excellent approach.
The French Technique can still be used on steeper terrain, but as the angle increases, it becomes more challenging to keep your crampons flat and may require more energy. If you slip or front-pointing too much, it may be time to switch to a different technique.
- This method is started by facing away from the edge, with your back to the drop. You will then thread one end of the rope through your harness and tie an overhand knot around the other end of the rope.
- Next, you will take the rope in your right hand and put your left hand through the formed loop. You will then bring the rope up, over your right shoulder, and down your back.
- The next step is to bring the rope under your left arm and up your back again. At this point, you should have a bight of rope running from your right shoulder, down your back, and under your left arm.
- The final step is to take the rope in your left hand and throw it over your right shoulder. You are now ready to rappel.
Double Strand Rappels
A double-strand rappel is when you have two ropes of the same length rigged together. This is useful when you need to rappel a long distance or when the rock you are rappelling from is not very strong and might break if only one rope is used.
- First, to set up a double-strand rappel, ensure both of your ropes are the same length. You will also need two rappel devices or two prusiks if you do not have rappel devices.
- Attach one end of each rope to an anchor, and thread the other end through both rappel devices (or prusiks). Ensure that the ropes go in the same direction through both devices and that the devices face the same way.
- Once both ropes are threaded through the rappel devices, tie a knot at the end of each rope. You can use a double Fisherman’s knot or any type of secure knot you are comfortable with.
- Make sure the knots are big enough that they cannot pull through the rappel device.
- To rappel, put both devices on the rope and hold on to both strands. Lean back and walk backward down the rock face, letting the ropes slide through the devices as you descend.
If you need to stop, apply pressure to both strands of rope with your devices to arrest your descent.
The Australian Rappel is useful when you need to rappel a steep, short distance where a regular rappel might be too unsafe. It can also be used as an emergency brake if you are rappelling and suddenly lose control.
- First, find a secure anchor point to set up an Australian Rappel. You will need two locking carabiners, two non-locking carabiners, and a rappel device.
- Thread one end of the rope through the anchor point and tie a secure knot. Then, thread the other end of the rope through the rappel device.
- Clip one locking carabiner to each end of the rope and clip the non-locking carabiners to the anchor point.
- To rappel, put your rappel device on the rope and clip it to your harness. You will need to hold onto both strands of rope as you rappel down.
- Keep tension on both ropes as you descend by holding them in opposite hands.
If you need to stop, pull both ends of the rope with your devices to arrest your descent.
A military rappel, or simply rappel, is a type of abseil, or descent down a slope, using a rope. It is often used when descending from a higher to lower elevation, such as from a helicopter to the ground or from one building to another.
It can also be used in less extreme scenarios, such as when a person needs to get down from a high place, but there is no easy way.
There are two main types of military rappels: the seat rappel and the body rappel. The seat rappel is the most common type and is what most people think of when they hear the word “rappel.” In this technique, the person rappelling sits on the rope with their legs in front of them. This provides more control and stability.
The body rappel is less common but can be more efficient sometimes. In this technique, the person rappelling stands on the rope and leans their weight back, using their arms and hands for support. This allows them to move more quickly down the slope.
Here is a breakdown of how to perform a military rappel:
- Make sure that the anchor point is solid and secure. If it is not, find another spot to set up your anchor.
- Put on your climbing harness and attach the belay device to your harness loops.
- Clip one carabiner to the belay device and clip the other carabiner to your rappel rope. This will create a closed-loop system that will keep you safe while rappelling.
- Find the middle of the rappel rope and tie a figure-eight knot in it, ensuring it is tight against the carabiner. This knot will keep you from sliding down the rope too quickly.
- Face the anchor point and hold on to it with one hand. With your other hand, grasp both strands of the rappelling rope and tuck them behind your back so they are out of the way.
- Look down at the ground below you and take a step off of the ledge or cliff face. Keep your feet together as you slide down the rope.
- When you reach the end of the descent route, untie the figure-eight knot and unclip from the carabiners.
Congratulations, you have completed a military rappel!
Fireman’s belay is a technique used to stop a climber from falling. The belayer, or person who is securing the climber, places themselves in front of the climber and wraps their arms around the climber’s waist. They then pull down on the rope to stop the climber from falling.
This technique is often used when the climber rappels or descends a cliff face using a rope. It can also be used when the climber belays another climber from below.
- To use this technique, the belayer must first secure themselves to an anchor point. This can be done by tying their rope to a tree or rock or using a carabiner to clip themselves onto a pre-existing anchor point.
- Once the belayer is secured, they wrap their arms around the climber’s waist and take hold of the rope. The rope should be wrapped around the belayer’s hands several times before being held tight.
- When the climber is ready to rappel, they will lean back and lower themselves down the cliff face. The belayer must pay out rope as the climber descends and be prepared to catch them if they fall.
- If the climber falls, the belayer must pull down on the rope to stop them from falling further. The belayer must also be careful not to let go of the rope, as this could cause the climber to fall a long distance.
This technique is called “fireman’s belay” because it is similar to how firefighters catch people falling from burning buildings.
Tandem rappelling is a technique that allows two people to rappel down a cliff or slope together. This can be helpful when there is a considerable distance between the two rappelling points or when one person needs help rappelling down a steep slope.
- To perform a tandem rappel, both people must first clip their ropes into a locking carabiner. This will create a system where both people cannot be pulled apart.
- One person will anchor themselves to an anchor point and take up the slack in their rope. They will then hold on to the rope tightly with their hands.
- The second person will slide down the rope to the first person’s location. They must be careful not to let go of the rope, which could cause the first person to fall.
- Once the second person reaches the first person, they will unclip from the carabiner and repeat these steps until they reach the bottom of the rappelling route.
When rappelling in tandem, it is essential to communicate with each other. The person anchoring themselves should be in charge and tell the other person when to start rappelling and when to stop.
It is also essential to go slowly and carefully. Descending too quickly could cause one rappeller to lose grip and fall.
Hanging rappels are a type of rappelling where the climber is not anchored to the ground. This can be done from various locations, such as tree branches, rock pillars, or even ice cliffs.
When performing a hanging rappel, it is essential to have a partner who can belay you from the ground. This will help to prevent you from falling and getting injured.
- To set up a hanging rappel, your partner must secure themselves to an anchor point. They will then take the rope and wrap it around their waist several times. The rope should be wrapped tightly so that it cannot be pulled loose.
- Once the rope is secured, the climber will clip themselves onto the rope with a locking carabiner. They will then carefully lower themselves over the edge of the cliff or slope.
- As the climber rappels down, their partner will need to pay out rope and be prepared to catch them if they fall. It is essential to go slowly and carefully when performing a hanging rappel.
- Descending too quickly could cause the climber to lose their grip and fall.
Simul-rappelling is a technique where two climbers rappel down a slope simultaneously. This can be helpful when there is a considerable distance between the two rappelling points or when one person needs help rappelling down a steep slope.
- To perform a simul-rappel, both people must first secure themselves to an anchor point. They will then take the rope and clip it into a locking carabiner. This will create a system where both people cannot be pulled apart.
- One person will carefully lower themselves over the cliff’s edge or slope. As they rappel down, the other person must pay out the rope and be prepared to catch them if they fall.
- Once the first person reaches the bottom, they will unclip from the carabiner and repeat these steps until they reach the second rappelling point. The second person will then rappel down to the first person’s location.
It is essential to go slowly and carefully when simul-rappelling. Descending too quickly could cause one climber to lose grip and fall.
Rappelling without a device (friction rappels)
Friction rappels are a type of rappelling where the climber does not use a device to control their descent. This can be done by wrapping the rope around their body or using their hands to create friction.
When performing a friction rappel, it is essential to have a partner who can belay you from the ground. This will help to prevent you from falling and getting injured.
- To set up a friction rappel, your partner must secure themselves to an anchor point. They will then wrap the rope around their waist several times. The rope should be wrapped tightly so it cannot be pulled loose.
- Once the rope is secured, the climber will clip onto it with a locking carabiner. They will then carefully lower themselves over the cliff’s edge or slope.
- As the climber rappels down, their partner must pay out the rope and be prepared to catch them if they fall. It is essential to go slowly and carefully when performing a friction rappel.
- Descending too quickly could cause the climber to lose their grip and fall.
You Need To Learn How to Rappel From A Professional
Despite the great advice I have littered throughout this article, you must learn how to rappel a professional. They will be able to show you the ropes (literally) and get you started on your rappelling adventure!
Practicing this skill in a safe environment is essential before trying it in the mountains.
There are many different types of rappelling, and each has its own challenges. It is essential to learn how to rappel in various scenarios to prepare you for anything when you are out in the mountains.
The best way to learn how to rappel is to take a rappelling course from a certified instructor. This will allow you to practice in a safe environment and learn the proper techniques.
Rappelling is a potentially dangerous activity, and it is essential to be prepared before attempting it. Learning how to rappel from a certified instructor is the best way to become proficient in this skill.
With the proper training and preparation, rappelling can be a safe and fun activity that anyone can enjoy.
Rappelling is a skill that can be used in various scenarios, including mountain climbing and search and rescue operations. Learning how to rappel from a certified instructor is essential to be safe and proficient when using this skill. There are many different types of rappelling, and each has its own challenges.
It is essential to be prepared before attempting any type of rappelling. With the proper training and preparation, rappelling can be a safe and fun activity that anyone can enjoy and can be implemented into your next climbing adventure.