Rock climbing is one of the most popular active hobbies in the United States, and it’s easy to see why.
It’s impressive to watch person after person scale up a huge vertical wall or cliff, showing no fear of heights.
It’s a great way to demonstrate your strength and skill and once you are up the top, you can get a great feeling of victory and pride.
But…how exactly do you get back down?
You may have been told to start learning how to rappel just as quickly as you start to learn how to properly climb, but rappelling is a technique that requires certain gear.
Without it, you could end up stuck or in trouble – so how do you know what gear to take with you when you start learning how to rappel?
Well, don’t worry – we have pulled together a list of all the gear you need and why. Check it out down below and use it as a checklist when it comes to making sure you have everything read so you can start learning how to rappel.
What Is Rappelling?
Rappelling refers to the controlled descent down a rock face by using a fixed rope.
It is a technique often used by rock climbers but also by mountaineers, cavers, military, and emergency response units to descend down cliffs and slopes.
It is a way easier way to descale tall vertical climbs than actually climbing down. This is because not only are you probably tired from the climb, but it is also very difficult for you to see and find your climbing holds.
This means that you are more likely to struggle and fall while climbing down than you are climbing up.
Rappelling makes heading back down the ground less tiring (and less painful). So, if you are thinking of trying out rock climbing,
cave exploring, spelunking or even becoming a firefighter – it is definitely highly recommended you learn how to rappel properly.
But before you even start learning how to rappel, you are going to need to make sure that you have all the right equipment otherwise you might end up stuck or your practice may end with disaster.
What Gear Do You Need To Rappel?
Being able to rappel actually requires a fair amount of equipment, so make sure that you have all of these on hand before you start climbing. Here’s our shot at a minimum rappelling equipment list.
This way, you won’t be caught out and you can enjoy your rock climb without worrying about getting back down.
Safety should always come first so before you even start, make sure you have the basic protective gear so you can climb with a lower risk of injury.
First, you will want to find a good climbing helmet. This is probably the most important part of your gear as it protects your head and neck from any serious bumps and injury.
It should feel comfortable to wear but fit around your skull securely. To find the right helmet for you, take a trip to your nearest climbing gear store to find the right size and material for you.
Some materials are lighter than others so depending on your preference, strength and size, you may be more suited for heavier or lighter helmets.
Another important thing to wear while rappelling is a pair of proper rappelling gloves. Not only do they protect your hands from burns, but they also allow you to keep a good grip on the rope as you descend.
Without them, you end up descending way faster than you should, putting yourself at risk of injury.
Rappelling gloves come in a bunch of different materials, including leather. Leather is ideal if you want a good grip and they are more durable than synthetic rappelling gloves.
However, they are heavier and more difficult to flex your hands – but they will help you keep a tight grip on your rope so you don’t end up falling.
A rappelling harness is just one part of the gear that helps you actually rappel. It’s an essential piece of equipment so you will want to make sure that you get the best one for you.
Using a harness while rappelling makes the whole process smoother and more comfortable, so make sure you have one.
The rappelling harness can be one individual segment of your climbing harness, so you will want one that feels comfortable to wear and is secure to your body.
The leg loops should attach to the waist belt for stability, and the more gear loops you have for extra accessories the better.
As for materials, you will want one that is durable and long lasting. Synthetic materials are fine as long as they feel sturdy, breathable and are high quality.
Because the harness is such an important part of your rappelling gear, it is not something you want to cheap out on.
Not only is it unsafe, it can also make rock climbing an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience so make sure that your harness is the right fit for you.
Just like with the harness, using the right rope is instrumental to learning how to properly rappel.
Each rappel rope is unique as they come available in different lengths, widths, and materials. The best kind of rope to rappel with is static rope as they do not stretch very well due to their braided design.
This means it is easier for you to control your descent and you are less likely to bounce around.
On the other hand, dynamic rope is far more flexible and while this is more advantageous for climbing, rappelling with dynamic rope will make descending tricker to control.
It is possible to rappel on dynamic rope but it is not recommended unless you are truly stuck without some static rope.
As for rope thickness, make sure that you check the specifications of your belay device so see what kind of rope thickness it is designed to use.
Remember that while thicker ropes are more durable, they are a lot more heavy than thinner ropes and this will affect the overall weight of your gear.
Belay Device And Carabiner
Belay devices are also sometimes known as rappel devices as they are vital when it comes to controlling your descent.
They are rather small pieces of mechanical equipment yet vital when it comes to learning how to properly rapel.
Belay devices control the rope by acting as friction brakes, meaning that if you fall with slack in the rope,
the fall will quickly stop and prevent you from hitting the ground. So you can see why this little device is so important to have.
For the right belay device, you are going to want something sturdy. There are types of belay devices that are not designed for rappelling,
so look for a passive-assisted belay device as they have no moving parts and can accommodate two strands of ropes. On the other hand, active-assisted belay devices are not suitable for rappelling.
Belay devices are attached to a climber’s harness through the use of a carabiner, so you are also going to need one of those so you can actually attach your belay device to your harness.
Without it, you might as well not have brought your belay device and rappelling is going to be very tricky.
Remember when we said you should get a rappelling harness with a few extra gear loops? That’s because there are a few accessories that come in handy when rock climbing – including when it comes to getting back down.
Make sure you carry a lanyard knife just in case things go wrong. They can really help you out when you are stuck in a bind, plus the lanyard stops you from dropping your knife and losing it.
Attach it to your gear loop on your waist and you will always have that option open to you if you are in a pinch.
You should also consider getting a rappelling ring as it helps you to build your anchors. They are especially designed to cause as little damage to the rope as possible and are very durable.
It is also worth keeping one of these with you in case you are in need of a little help.
Can You Rappel Without A Harness?
Yes, it is possible to rappel with only a rope – but we do not recommend you try this method out until you are a very confident and skilled rock climber.
Rappelling is much safer and easier to do with the above equipment, but if you do find yourself stuck with only a rope – you can try this method out.
You will need to find a natural anchor such as a tree or boulder. Then, send down the rest of your equipment as they will only get in the way.
You will have to wrap the rope around you by straddling the length, pulling them around your hips, through your legs and over your shoulder.
The friction of your body should slow your descent but things will get very uncomfortable. When you are descending, go slowly to avoid injury and keep your knees bent and feet apart.
Use your dominant hand to control your descent – but watch out for rope burn if you are not wearing any gloves!
Obviously, this method is nowhere near as safe and as comfortable as rappelling with a harness and belay device is, which is why we do not recommend you use this method unless you are stuck.
So there you have your rappelling equipment list for all the rappelling gear you need!
Once you have it all prepared and packed, you are ready to head out and start rappelling. Remember to make sure that there are other people with you, like an instructor, in case of a medical emergency or if you end up stuck.
But if you have got yourself the high quality gear and you listen to your instructor’s steps carefully, you will have rappelling nailed down in no time!