Everything You Need to Know on How to Rappel with a GriGri


In the climbing and rappelling world, many people have found multiple functions for their gear. This helps minimize the amount of equipment and weight they have to carry with them in their adventures. I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz around the GriGri. I’ve even heard it be called magical because of all of its different functions. The one question I hear most is, “Can I rappel with a GriGri?”

I had never thought of this at first, but the short answer is, “Yes, you can single rope rappel with a GriGri.”  If you get on message boards, you will see that there are a lot of people out there that won’t try it and think it is unsafe. My advice is to ALWAYS try it first at a climbing gym. It takes some practice to get comfortable pulling the lever, and controlling speed with the GriGri. If you feel like you are going too fast, you simply let go of the lever, which also takes some getting used to because it is counter-intuitive. Once you’re comfortable with a GriGri, it is a great device to single rope rappel.

What is a GriGri and How Does it Work?

A GriGri is a belay device, manufactured by Petzl, with an assisted breaking mechanism. You can see the GriGri here on Amazon. Traditional belay devices do not have an assisted braking mechanism. GriGris have a friction plate and a cam that will lock when the clutch is closed and will break your fall under a shock load.

The GriGri will allow the rope to pass through when you are moving slowly. If the rope starts moving faster, the internal cam mechanism, will rotate and pinch the rope, bringing you to a halt, or at least slow you down. There tends to be slippage, especially with smaller width ropes.

With the GriGri’s camming mechanism, a rappeller or climber can work in one place or hang on the rope, after they have tied a backup knot.  It is a handy device and can have many uses. Some people even call it magical, although Petzl only recommends using the GriGri for its intended purpose of belaying. That being said, let’s talk about exactly what Petzl told us NOT to do.

How to Rappel with a GriGri

  1. Set up for your rappel by running your rope through your anchor set up, per usual. Make sure both ends of the rope are touching the ground. In the middle of the rope, tie a big knot, such as a figure 8 knot, on a bight. Anything big enough to stop the rope from pulling through at the top of your anchor and sending you down the cliff for a hard fall. Clip a carabiner on to the bight in the figure 8 knot, and lock it into the side of the rope you are rappelling on. For more on how to set this up, see our article on how to retrieve your rappelling rope.
  2. Thread your rope through the GriGri on the side of the rope you will be rappelling down. The directions will be on the GriGri itself. I’d be sure you’r are confident preforming this task BEFORE you are on the side of a cliff.
  3. Clip the GriGri into a locking carabiner that is also attached to your harness.
  4. Do your safety check and be sure you are on the correct side of the rope. Always clip your rappelling device into the rope, apply your weight to your rope, be sure your knot is secure at the top, then and only then, should your unclip from your anchor and begin to rappel. These are crucial steps and being careless will cause a serious accident.
  5. When you are ready to descend the rope, gently and slowly lift up on the clutch with your left hand and you will begin to descend. Always keep your right hand on the rope as your break hand.
  6. If at any point you need to stop, let up on the clutch, and slowly let go. If you need to do anything more than a quick adjustment, tie a stopper knot on the break side of the GriGri.

Seems simple enough, right? As simple as it is, GriGri’s are not a substitute for keeping your hands on the rope and using proper techniques. You will need to practice regulating speed and braking with the clutch.

As mentioned below in the “Pros” section, you can also ascend a rope with a GriGri. Should you ascend the rope, tie a knot at safe distances. The knot that is most commonly used is an overhand on a bight. For extra safety, clip in to the bight with a carabiner.

The Pros To Rappel With a GriGi

  • If you have a situation where you need to ascend the rope, it will be easier with a GriGri than a different rappelling device. Examples of when you would need to ascend the rope is if you can see the rope got caught on a branch or got stuck in a crack, or your just need to get back up to where you started.
  • If you need or want to stop while you rappel with a GriGri, you simply let go of the latch on the GriGri. This is great if you need a moment to adjust your ropes, if you are along a waterfall and you want to stop and touch the water, whatever your reason for stopping, it is easy to do with a GriGri. Keep in mind there can be slippage on smaller ropes. If you are stopping for more than just a few seconds, tie a back up knot.
  • If you are rappelling and would like to retrieve your rope by pulling it down, instead of hiking back to collect it, this is a great device to single rope rappel.
  • Once you are set up, it is pretty fast, if you are mutli-pitch rappelling.

The Cons to Rappel with a GriGri

  • Well, first and foremost, some people will give you flack for being unsafe. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, practice this technique at a gym, and don’t do anything you are uncomfortable with.
  • The knot and carabiner can get stuck while you are retrieving your rope if there are a lot of roots, trees, or cracks on the side of the cliff. If this is the case, it is best to use a normal rappel device.
  • The initial set up can take a little bit longer, as you have to find the middle of your rope. Once you set up and find the middle of your rope, it is very fast. If you are doing multiple rappels, down a canyon, you only have to find  the middle of your rope once, and then it becomes faster.
  • You will need a wider rope to rappel with a GriGri. Thinner ropes will slip. The current model, the GriGri 2, is designed for ropes from 9mm to 11mm. I have found the GriGri 2 works best with 10 to 10.5 mm ropes.
  • The GriGri is heavier than other rappelling devices.

Conclusion

While GriGris seem to have some kind of magical powers, and they are used at many climbing gyms because of their auto-locking technology, If I am doing anything that is just a simple rappel, I prefer just using a normal rappelling device like the Stop by Petzel.

The GriGri is simple too, but I personally just like to use the equipment for what it was made for. If you need to rappel with a GriGri, it is great in a pinch or if a GriGri is just what you happen to have and you don’t normally rappel.

The GriGri with all of its magic does not replace a proper rappelling device. Both types of devices will need proper training before use outside a climbing gym.

See our article on other single rope rappel devices.

Jacob

I love the great outdoors. I've tried to write the go-to info for all the Rappelling enthusiasts out there. Whether you finished your climb or hiked and rappelled down you will find tips, tutorials, and additional resources to help you. I live in Idaho with my wife and three kids and the great outdoors is our playground.

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