What are 6 Essential Skills for Rappelling?

Learn How to Rappel

Rappelling requires many essential climbing skills to be safe.
Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

After you have climbed to the top of a cliff, you have to descend back down. Sometimes you can hike off the back side of the cliff, which is usually the safest way to descend. But sometimes you have to rappel because it is easier, safer, and faster than hiking to get back to the flat earth below the cliff. Rappelling is basically a simple climbing skill but in that simplicity are many dangers.

Rappelling Requires Essential Climbing Skills

Rappelling is not just the process of making a controlled slide down the climbing rope, but it also incorporates many other essential climbing skills. To safely rappel down a cliff requires you to know basic rock climbing skills.

These skills include:

If you use sound climbing judgment, pay attention to all the details, and always double-check your rappel systems then you’ll stay safe and alive.

Practice Rappel Skills on Small Cliffs

Safe rappelling is totally dependent on your climbing equipment and your skills. If you’re a novice climber then it can be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when you rappel. It is best if you learn and practice all the rappel skills, preferably on a small cliff, before you try to rappel off a big cliff, during a lightning storm, or off a high mountain.

6 Essential Rappelling Skills to Know

Here are the six basic climbing skills you need to learn and know to safely rappel:

1. Rappel Anchors

You need at least two bomber anchors to rappel off a cliff, although three anchors are preferable with their added redundancy. Anchors can be bolts, cams, nuts, pitons, trees, or tied-off boulders. Rappel ropes are always threaded through metal anchor material—carabiners, screw quick links, and steel descending rings—rather than nylon slings, which can melt, break, and fail if they are in direct contact with a rope.

2. Rappel Ropes

When rappelling, you use either one or two climbing ropes, which are threaded through the metal anchor material like steel rings on the anchors at the top of the rappel. It is preferable to use a doubled single rope on short rappels so you don’t have to worry about knot failure or the rope getting jammed in the anchors when you pull it.

3. Knots for Rappel Ropes

Tie your two climbing ropes together with one of these four rappel rope knots: double figure-8 fisherman's knot, square fisherman's knot, double overhand knot, and double fisherman's knot. Tie stopper knots in the ends of each rappel rope strand so you don’t rappel off the end. Also, use an autoblock knot as a safety back-up.

4. Rappel Device

It is best to thread the rappel ropes through a rappel device, like an ATC or figure-8 descender. In a pinch, you can use the old-style Dulfersitz body rappel, a Munter hitch, or a carabiner brake rig.

5. Autoblock Knot

Use an autoblock knot or a Prusik knot as a safety back-up on the rappel ropes to let you stay in control, especially on long steep rappels 

6. Pulling Rappel Ropes

Pulling down rappel ropes is not as easy as it sounds. Lots of problems can occur when you pull your ropes, including getting the knot jammed in a crack, the rope catching in cracks or behind flakes, or too much friction to easily pull the rope down. If any of these problems occur you’re going to have a whole new set of problems retrieving your ropes and they’re not going to be fun.

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