Rappelling is all about the descent so you have to have something to descend with. There are a few great and affordable options available to you. As you go through this article, you’ll notice I reference a lot of Petzl rappelling descender products. Petzl makes quality products that are dependable. I’ve really grown to appreciate their descender’s and will point out a few of the pros and cons for each of one. Depending on your needs and activities, pick one that will be best for you based on the information provided and you’ll be glad you made the investment. Each rappelling Descender has something unique about it, from the safety features, to being an all around work horse, to controlling friction, each one is so different from the other. I am amazed at what Petzl has come up with.
The Petzl Stop (see on Amazon) was originally designed for caving and has a strong record for dependability. The Stop is lightweight, easy to inspect, and comes at a reasonable price. The Stop is the most popular rappelling descender in construction jobs because of these features.
One of the features that I love most about this rappelling descender is the self-braking mechanism. The Stop comes with this self-braking mechanism, but in my experience, and ironically, the Stop doesn’t stop all the way. It slowly slips and will need to be tied off to stay in one place on your rope so you can work or maneuver in one spot.
Lastly, The Stop will function smoothly from vertical to low angles. Although it is advertised on Amazon that The Stop can be used to help during an ascent, it literally means “help.” You will need to buy additional equipment for this to help in your ascent. It will also not work well as a belay device.
That being said, the Stop can be your right hand man. There are many rope access companies that solely use the Stop and because of its durability and easy of use. Obviously it is great for recreational use as well for any low angle and vertical rappels. If I’m going down a rope, its right there with me.
Now, here are a few items just to be aware of. First, the Stop does not come with a panic lock or what is called a positive locking mechanism. This device will not work if it is threaded backwards and will cause an accident. You should seek training and use this device under supervision until you are comfortable threading and using this device on your own. As with any rappelling gear, it will wear out over time, and quickly under extreme conditions and should be inspected on a regular basis. The Stop can be used with rope from 9mm to 12mm wide.
The Petzel I’D (see on Amazon) rappelling descender is another great choice for any rope access applications and recreational use. It has many safety features and because of this, it is included in many rescue kits as well.
The safety features include a positive locking mechanism, unlike the Stop, a self-braking system that does indeed stop (so no tying off or slowly slipping down the rope, when you’re trying to maneuver or work), and lastly, a panic lock. A panic lock will stop your descent if you pull back on the lever too hard.
With all these extra features included, the I’D is a bit more expensive than the Stop and a little heavier as well. This also won’t work well on low angled rappels. The Petzl I’D can accommodate ropes between 10-11.5 mm wide which is why it is ideal for rescue work.
The Petzl Rack (see on Amazon) is
The rack also won’t get your rope twisted which also helps for a smooth, controlled rappel. Another plus for the Rack is the heat control. Sometimes a rappelling descender can get hot from the friction but this dissipates the heat really well. You can control how fast you rappel by adjusting the bars. So if you drop one bar down, you’ll have less friction and a faster descent. You can lock off by using a carabiner on the top of the rack. The Rack is made of aluminum and will leave aluminum deposits on your rope.
This descender is great for cave rappelling. Check out our article here on cave rappelling if that sparks your interest.
The Rack is lightweight and also the cheapest rappelling descender I am recommending. As always, consult someone who has used this device successfully as you learn how to use it. This device may not be very intuitive to a first time user. For more information on how to use a rappelling rack, we have just the article for you.
Epic Peak Figure 8 Descender
Now, I mention the Epic Peak Figure 8 (click to see on Amazon) because a Figure 8 Descender is a very common rappelling descender. It’ll get the job done on those quick rappels. It has so many uses in the recreational world.
If you’re using rappelling and you don’t already have a figure 8, just go ahead and get yourself one because you’re going to use it eventually, not just for rappelling. Again, I like to use one of the Petzl Descenders on longer rappels. Some come with the ears, again use whatever you are comfortable with. And as always, go to a gym and learn how to hook one of these ups to your rope appropriately so you don’t cause any serious accidents.
Other Rappel Devices
Many people have tried using belay devices to rappel such as an ATC and a GriGri. Many people have hesitated to rappel with a GriGri, but it can be done. I advise you to practice controlling your speed in a gym before taking it out with you to rappel down a cliff. Here is a detailed article on How to Rappel with a GriGri.
Weather you are using your rappelling descender for caving, canyoneering, or rope access applications, the Stop will be your work horse. The I’D is also great for rope access applications or recreational use and has many great safety features that the Stop lacks. With some practice the Rack could become your best friend on the ropes if you are doing descents that don’t require much stopping.
As always, go to a gym to learn how to use all of your gear appropriately and seek guidance and training from a trained professional. Reading the manual is not enough when it comes to safety and rappelling. Make sure you are threading your rope correctly, and go slow while you start. You can always spare a few extra checks for your safety. Always inspect your gear before going out. The I’D is impossible to inspect once you are out on site and you will NEED to inspect your descender before you pack it up to go. A rule of thumb is to retire your rappelling descender after 3 years of use, sooner if it has been exposed to harsh conditions.
I have truly enjoyed having my rappelling descender along as my