How to Use a Carabiner Brake Rappel

Learn How to Rappel

Make sure the carabiner gates are opposed to each other so they don't accidently open.
The carabiner brake method is the best way to rappel if you drop or forget your rappel device. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

What do you do if you drop or lose your rappel device on a climb? If you’re a savvy, knowledgeable climber then you know a variety of emergency rappel methods that will get you safely down the cliff, including the Dulfursitz or body rappel, the Münter hitch, and how to rig a carabiner brake. The standard carabiner brake method is the best and safest one to know and use if you have to make an emergency rappel.

Carabiner Brake Method is Best

The carabiner brake method, a mechanical system that uses free carabiners, is, despite its shortcomings, superior and much safer than other emergency rappel methods. Plus it requires only a handful of carabiners, which you always carry with you on every climb, to create. The drawbacks to the carabiner brake system are that it is complicated to set up, has lots of components, is easy to rig incorrectly, especially if you’re tired or it’s dark and can malfunction.

Münter Hitch and The Dulfursitz

While the Münter hitch is fine for rappelling in a pinch, it’s only good for short rappels because it not only twists and kinks the ropes but also allows the double rappel ropes to run across each other, creating additional friction and danger. The Dulfursitz is simply a no-frills body rappel with the rope wrapped around your hips, butt, and shoulders. It is strictly a last-resort rappel since it is not only uncomfortable but also risky since you can fall out of the rope.

Standard Climbing Lore

Every climber needs to learn how to rig and practice using the carabiner brake method so he knows how to use it. Before the days of sewn climbing harnesses and rappel and belay devices, which came in the 1970s, every climber knew how to tie one-inch webbing into a sit harness and how to rig a carabiner brake for rappelling. It was a standard climbing knowledge that was taught in every instructional book and climbing class.

What is a Carabiner Brake?

A carabiner brake is simply a group of interlocking carabiners with their gates reversed and opposed to each other so they don’t accidently open or a group of locking carabiners in the same arrangement. The best method to learn is the six-carabiner brake since there is more redundancy in the system than with single locking carabiners. Locking carabiners can, of course, be used in the system rather than regular carabiners, creating, even more, redundancy and safety.

Which Carabiners to Use

It’s best to use oval carabiners rather than D-shaped or bent gate ones. Since the ovals have the same dimensions on each side, they’re easier to rig correctly. The contrasting shape of the opposites sides of the D’s and bent gates make it harder to push the bight of rope through the biners and to clip the brake carabiners over them. Some of the modern ultra-light, small carabiners are inadequate for creating a carabiner brake rappel system. Always practice the system ahead of time with your rappelling equipment so you’ll know what works best and what its limitations are.

Braking Carabiners Create Friction

The beauty of the carabiner brake method is that it’s easy to add more braking carabiners, which create more friction for your descent. Usually, one brake carabiner provides enough friction to control your rappel. If you do use one carabiner, make sure that it’s always a locking carabiner, preferably an auto-locking one that will never come open. You can, however, add a second or even a third braking carabiner to the rappel system to create more friction for long, overhanging rappels and for thin ropes and heavy climbers.