If you are a rappelling beginner or a novice there is always room to learn something new. Your bag of tricks and general knowledge should be running over and not kept at the bare necessities. The intent is to offer 51 must know rappelling tips, tricks, and techniques that can aide in a successful rappel.
Rappelling Tips – Rappelling Knots, Hitches, and Bends
To learn the step-by-step instructions on how to tie these specific techniques visit How to tie Rappelling Knots, Hitches, and Bends.
1. Overhand Loop – The simplest knot that can be tied to form a loop. This knot forms a fixed loop in a rope. The overhand loop is used to attach clips, hooks, and other rope. However, this knot can jam tight when the rope has been pulled and the knot often has to be cut off when this happens. This knot should never be used as an alternative to the bowline.
2. Bowline – This rappelling knot is typically used to tie the rope around objects such as a rock or tree. The advantages of this knot are that it is once you learn how to tie this knot, it is easy to tie and also untie, even after it has been under pressure. While it is not an easy knot to learn how to tie, with some practice, it is possible to tie this knot with one hand. This knot can be used to secure your rope to just about anything. A bowline knot requires a back up. When the bowline is weighted and unweighted, the knot will losen. Use a half-double fisherman’s knot as a back up.
3. Figure Eight Loop – This is a standard climber’s knot and is universally used to tie off the end of a rope, the bight, or middle, of a rope.
4. Webbing Water Knot – Webbing is flat material, unlike rope which is round so the same knots are not going to work for webbing. Most often with webbing, we will use overland loop knots, often called water knots with webbing. All webbing knots must be dressed and tightened carefully as they tend to untie if you are careless with the tightening. The water knot is used two tie two ends of webbing together, also known as an overhand bend.
5. Stopper Knot – This rappelling knot is highly recommended to rappel and is a simple way to protect oneself from potential danger. It is a knot placed at the end of the rope to STOP one from rappelling off the end of the rope if they do not have enough length to complete the descent. A stopper knot can also be used to prevent the end of the rope from slipping through a knot, a block, or belay. The stopper knot can pass through a figure eight descender device. If you are using that device, you will need to use a larger knot as your safety knot. You can also use an overhand loop as a stopper knot.
6. Klemheist Knot – This is a friction knot and can be used to ascend a rope. The cord will tightly grip the rope when pressure is applied and moved easily when the pressure is released. It is quick and simple to tie and can be used with a sling if a cord is not available. This knot uses a cord and a rope. The difference between this knot and the Prusik knot (below) is this knot will still slide when weighted.
7. Autoblock – Much like the name, this rappelling knot is meant as a backup to your brake hand. This knot slides over the rope during a safe, controlled rappel. In case the rappeler loses control and there is a sudden drop, the autoblock will clinch around the rope and stop the fall. You will need a short, thin cord or a nylon sling. This knot wrapped around the rappelling rope with a cord. Also known as the Machard knot. This should always be combine with other safety equipment.
8. Prusik Knot – Commonly used for ascending a rope. Think cave rappelling, you get in a cave but now you need to get back out of it. The Prusik knot will be used to ascend up the rappel rope while maintaining control. Tests have shown that the Prusik knot can carry the most weight which makes it a great choice when the knot will hold more than just body weight.
9. Double Fisherman’s Knot – Also known as the grapevine knot. This rappelling knot is commonly used to join nylon cords into a loop to make a cordelette (cordelette is a large sling that uses accessory cord and is created using the Double or Triple Fisherman’s Knot). The Double Fisherman’s knot can also be used to securely join two ropes together in a double-rope rappel. This knot has been tested as the best joining knot and is commonly used as a backup knot after you have tided yourself to your harness using a Figure 8 follow through knot.
10. Triple Fisherman’s Knot – This rappelling knot has similar functionality to the Double Fisherman’s knot but has been tested to be slightly stronger.
11. Figure Eight Bend – This rappelling knot is commonly used to tie two separate ropes together because of its superior strength and ease to untie after use.
Rappelling Tips – Dress for Rappelling Success
12. Shirts/Tops – When the weather is nice and warm, many men go shirtless and women often wear a sports bra or tank top. Remember if you choose to go shirtless, you will be exposed to more scrapes. If you aren’t the shirtless type, cotton is sturdy fabric that will provide a lot of protection and is perfect for a mild-temperature day. That being said, cotton can become hot quickly, so if your adventure for the day includes hiking or a long climb along with your rappel, consider a shirt made from a different material. Cotton t-shirts also tend to be loose fitting. The clothes you wear should always be slim fitting. Lose clothing can potentially get caught in the equipment or ropes. That is a quick way to ruin a fun day. There are shirts made from a synthetic-spandex or wool-spandex mixture. These have become popular to control moisture, and are also stretchy so you can move comfortably during your rappel and other activities.
13. Pants/Shorts – Again, weather always plays a huge factor in what I am wearing no matter the activity. If you chose to wear shorts for the day, the women should especially pay attention to length. You’ll be much more comfortable if you have a layer of clothing to completely cover your skin over the harness, so be sure to pick shorts that will provide you that protection. You’ll also want to chose shorts or pants that you will be able to stretch and will
One Last Tip – Make sure your pants aren’t too long. With any kind of climbing or rappelling situation, you don’t want your pants getting in your way. This could create a potentially dangerous situation if you need to do some footwork. My advice is to roll up your pants if they are getting under your shoes.
14. Shoes – This brings me to the next item. If you will only be rappelling, and your activities don’t include rock climbing, a durable pair of shoes will do. However, consider all your activities and the nature of your rappel. If at any point there will be footwork along rocks, I’d recommend wearing a good pair of rock climbing shoes. These are some of my favorite shoes I have found. It is an all-around great shoe. Read my article here on How to Choose Rappelling Shoes. Again, consider all your activities, and shoes your shoes from there.
15. Sunglasses – I always recommend bringing sunglasses. That sun can really glare off those rocks sometimes. I’ve been in situations without sunglass and I just could not see because of the reflection of the sun. At the end of the day, I had a bad headache from squinting the whole time, and an overall unenjoyable experience. My recommendation for sunglasses is to make sure they will stay firmly on your head, but not squeezing over your ears too tight. That’ll cause a headache too. When you try the sunglasses on bend over and begin rocking out. You want to shake your head up, down and all around to make sure they don’t wiggle on your face. You may look a little silly, but mimic the movements you make when you are rappelling. You don’t want them to fall off your face mid-rappel.
16. Helmet (Read Product Review) – I cannot stress this enough. Wear a helmet! Even on the easy rappels. You never know what may happen with your equipment and unpredictable situations happen. Not every day, but they happen. You never know what rocks or debris may come falling. Our bodies need protection and our head is the most vulnerable! So always wear a helmet that meets all safety requirements. You can read our article on how to pick out a helmet here.
17. Harness (Read Product Review) – You will obviously need a harness to put on during your rappel. With the harness, you will tie yourself into the ropes and lower yourself. There are many harnesses to chose from, heck you can even make your own with rope. Although, I’d always recommend using a traditional harness if you can. The harness is the most important item that you will wear during your rappel. It should meet all safety standards, and be worn correctly. If you are a beginner, have your harness checked by a safety instructor to be sure you have put it on and adjusted it correctly. You can read our article on harnesses here. All harnesses should have a label proving that it has meets all levels of safety standards, and there are quite a few.
18. Jackets and Sweaters – If you are going out on a chilly day, you’ll want a jacket. Be sure this jacket is again, not loose, and stretchy to allow you to use your full range of motion. Many sweaters and jackets come with strings around the hood. Be sure your outerwear is free from a hood or any strings to avoid the risk of getting caught in the equipment and ropes. This is the last area you’d want to get caught!
Rappelling Tips – Proper Rappel Form
19. Position 90 Degree Angle – When rappelling you should be sitting completely in the harness with your hips bent at a 90 degree angle. In this form your legs should be outstretched, pressing you away from the cliff surface.
20. Light on Feet– As you descend you should be light on your feet to maneuver around obstacles, such as slabs, chimneys, plants, steep verticals, etc. Being light on the foot provides great control in the descent and broadens the ability to safely navigate down.
21. Guide Hand – The left hand will be the guide hand and will loosely hold onto the rope above the head, secured to the anchors.
22. Break and Rope Feed Hand – The right hand will be holding the loose rope leading to the ground. This will be the break and is supported by the ATC. Never ever let go of the rope with the break hand. To break as you descend lower the right hand below the waist while holding the rope, it will stop the rope from running through the ATC. If the right hand is raised slightly up the rope will begin to run freely allowing you to descend. Never raise the right hand straight up entirely as the rope will begin to run freely and place you in grave danger of free falling. Maintain control by keeping the right hand close to the hip with slight movements up and down to control the speed of the descent based of your experience.
Rappelling Tips – Rappelling Safety
23. Buddy System – ALWAYS bring a buddy when rappelling. A well trained buddy will lend a second pair of eyes and ears that can be absolutely crucial when descending a cliff or vertical obstacle. They can navigate your next steps depending on the difficulty of the rappel. A rappel buddy will also be an added safety net by checking all of your gear and knots to make sure everything is in good working order, a buddy can backup your rappel with a fireman belay (read the next tip), provide emergency response if an incident occurs, or get help. A buddy can be a life saver which is why I recommend to never rappel solo.
24. Fireman Belay – To perform the fireman belay a rappel partner will be at the base of the rappel. The partner will lightly hold the rappel rope elevated in front of their face. The partner will not grip the rappel rope tightly but let the rope dangle loose between their hands, keeping their hands in a cupping shape where the open portion of their hands will be facing their body. The partner can choose to stand directly below the rappel or stand back. I recommend standing slightly back to have a clear view when the rappel is taking place. This is to avoid any potential falling debris. That being said the fireman belay partner should be wearing a great helmet if debris were to fall.
If during the rappel your grip is lost or another accident occurs that requires the partner to stop the descent they will grip the rope tightly and pull down with their hands, engaging the fireman belay. The hands will now be lowered to the waist or lower and may even be in a semi-squat for added footing stability. This motion is causing the rope to pull down on the rappellers ATC or belay device causing the descent to completely halt. When in the fireman belay the rappeller is no longer able to control their descent. At this point the partner can loosen their grip slightly to safely lower the rappeller or wait for direction that the rappeller has regained total control and is now ready to continue a safe descent down. This form of rappel is highly recommended for difficult terrain such as waterfall rappelling.
25. Protect from Anchor Fails – An anchor fail can be avoided by anchoring to at least 3 points. This provides multiple points of protection if one anchor gives way. Also, make sure to take the time to check that any anchor used is secure. Examples of secure anchors can be full grown living trees(don’t trust your life on a dead tree), mapped routes with bolt anchors, a protruding rock, etc.
26. Brake Hand Let’s Go of Rope – To avoid this simple mistake just follow the basic step of always holding onto the rope with your brake hand. As the rope glides through the brake hand you are able to maintain total control and determines how fast or slow the descent will be. The break hand can also stop the descent completely if necessary.
27. Track Rope Usage – Maintain a simple journal with facts about your rope. When did you buy it and times of use since its purchase? Were there any significant falls that impacted the rope or unusual obstructions that caused extreme wear on the rope? Spend time before and after your rappel to examine the ropes condition. The more familiar that you are with your rope and equipment the more blemishes or wear will stand out to you.
28. Avoid Rope Contact to Sharp Edges – Also, make sure that wherever you descend that the weight of the rope is not pressing against any edges or sharp surfaces. It is unwise to descend this type of surface. This is why your rope goes through carabiners where it can glide seamlessly through without being worn down on a rough surface or sharp edge.
29. Buy Quality and Replace Worn Rope – Do not be cheap with your rappelling rope. If it is worn and you have had it over its timetable then it should be time to retire the rope and getting a new one. For recommendations on quality static rope read Choosing the Right Rappelling Rope.
30. Falling Debris – To protect against significant harm anyone rappelling must wear a helmet. It may not protect from everything but a good rappel helmet is made to withstand significant impact from falling debris. This saves your head from potential injury. I personally recommend this Helmet for rappelling or rock climbing.
31. No Autoblock – As added safety, take the time to tie the autoblock for your rappel which is added security in the event of a fall. Other advantages of this knot would be to stop midair to free up your hands to untangle ropes, knots, etc. This knot is especially useful during free rappels to assist in a slow rappel. It is also a last line of defense if debris does fall and strikes the individual in the head mid-rappel as it will stop descent completely, even if unconscious. Just this simple technique can assist when it is least expected. If you plan to do something, make sure you do it right. Learn to tie the Autoblock.
32. Tie Correct and Secure Knots – Take time to train under the tutelage of a trained climbing and rappelling professional. Learn all the knots you need to know and then practice, practice, practice. Like everything in rappelling, each step you learn and apply will support you in a safe rappel. Knowing how to tie and using rappelling knots could be the difference in a safe descent. The following link is a list of Recommend Rappelling Knots.
33. Tie a Stopper Knot – A stopper knot is once again one of those need to know rappel knots. You simply tie the knot at the end of each end on the rope prior to tossing the loose ends over the edge. The intent is to stop any fall that takes place unexpectedly, potentially protecting from significant injury or death. The Following link instructs on how to tie the Stopper Knot.
34. Loose Clothing or Hair – To protect this similarly happening to you make sure to tie up any long hair and wear clothing this is tight fitting.
35. Rappelling Rope Stuck – To protect yourself in the event the rappelling rope becomes stuck tie an autoblock; hands can be freed up to untie or untangle anything. Taking a buddy could also assist in this situation by guiding you on how to untangle the rope or they can seek emergency assistance.
36. Gear Overuse – Always examine and know the limits of your equipment. Do not press your luck or be cheap. Retire equipment based off use recommendations or visible wear. Rappelling equipment is not like your favorite shirt that is worn until it is paper thin. Don’t be stingy and replace when necessary. There are manufacture guidelines on use and you can request further direction from trained climbing professionals. If in doubt, throw it out.
37. Exhaustion – To avoid any harm from exhaustion be aware of personal limits. Don’t push more than needed. Take a break if needed. Constantly hydrate before, during and after. Take time to relax and prepare mentally prior to rappelling, this allows time to assess the needs of your body and to properly prepare for a safe rappel.
38. Rappel Verbiage – These are common phrases that are instructed to be said when rappelling. This is for your personal protection as well as for the protection of anyone else. Yell, “On Rappel” when descending. This will raise awareness to anyone in the vicinity that there is an active rappel taking place. When the rappel is completed yell, “Off Rappel.” This gives the go ahead for the next participant to rappel, if there is another waiting at the top.
Rappelling Rope – Rope Care and Disposal
38. Properly Carry Rope – Never drag any part of the rappel rope on the ground, indoors or outdoors. Always properly carry your rope so it doesn’t get damaged and dirty unnecessarily because of your laziness to properly coil and carry the rope. I highly recommend this rope bag (Amazon link).
39. Resting Rope – Never leave your rope lying on the dirt or an unclean surface. The previously recommended rope bag can also be unfolded to form a protective tarp that the rope can rest on while stetting up the rappel.
40. Watch Your Step – Avoid stepping or placing any other objects on top of your rope. The rappel rope is your baby and should be treated as such.
41. Static Rope Use – Only use the static rope for rappelling. Never use it to tie off anything at home, to pull, or drag anything, etc. Rappel ropes are not intended for tug-o-war. towing cars, or as a pulley. The rope will last longer when used properly.
42. Clean Rappel Rope – Rappel ropes can be cleaned if they become excessively dirty but be gentle when doing so. Read more at How to Clean Rappelling Rope.
If a rope cannot be cleaned or is excessively worn as listed in the following tips it may be time to dispose of the rappel rope.
43. Dispose Rope – It has come into contact with chemicals, especially acid.
44. Dispose Rope – The sheath has become damaged and the core is visible.
45. Dispose Rope – The sheath has worn and has become frayed.
46. Dispose Rope – The sheath is beginning to slip.
47. Dispose Rope – The rope has become stiff, has indentations, has hard or weak spots.
48. Dispose Rope – The rope has been subject to heavy loads and hard falls.
49. Dispose Rope – The rope has become dirty and you are no longer able to wash it completely clean.
50. Dispose Rope – The rope has had sun damage, heat damage, or has been damaged by abrasions or friction.
51. Dispose Rope – Lastly, the recommended service life stated in the instruction manual has expired.
Rappelling is a complex, active sport that requires a broad understanding of the equipment, proper positioning, and even rope usage. These rappelling tips are just a starting point and this list will continue to be expanded to create a broad and helpful rappelling resource for your use.