What’s the Difference Between Abseiling and Rappelling

Abseiling and Rappelling are two different terms used to describe roping down off of a structure, but what do they mean? Are they the same thing?

What is the difference between abseiling and rappelling? There is no difference. Both words, in essence, mean the same thing. Rappelling is what is commonly used in the United States. Abseiling is a word used by the UK and the Germans which means the same thing.

Abseiling and Rappelling: Are They Different?

Rappelling has a French origin that is used in the United States. Abseiling comes from a German origin and is used in the UK and Germany. They are synonymous.

So there you have it, rappelling is American and abseiling is English. The only difference between the two is the Atlantic Ocean.

“Abseiling” Origin

“To Abseil” means “to rope down.” It comes from the German word abseilen. It made its way to the UK and now the name has stuck in both regions.

“Seil” is German for rope. Similar phrases in German are also used to informally suggest someone leaving quickly and suddenly.

“Rappelling” Origin

In French, the verb, “rappeller” is used a lot more out of rock climbing than in. It can mean a variety of things involving recollection of something in the mind or to call out for a dog to come back to you like if you were playing catch.

You can see how this plays into the word that we use now for rock climbing. To rappel is to descend back to the earth. The word connotes the idea of coming back to what once was. It is incredible how words work.

What is Rappelling/Abseiling?

Now that we have figured out that these two words are exactly the same thing, what is rappelling/abseiling?

By definition, it is a controlled descent off the top of a rock face using a double rope coiled around the body. The rope is attached to a fixed point higher up.

It is a fantastic way to see the world at a new angle. You go at your own pace, fast or slow. I love doing this. It helps me appreciate the world around up and the great heights which rock faces are.

For any adrenaline junkies out there, this is a great way to feel alive. This is not the craziest thing you can do but it is fun. Going up real high and then moderately moving downwards is a really fantastic feeling you everybody should try sometime.

This sport is very safe. Everything is controlled. All of the hooks and ropes are set up and generally put in place before you come to rappel/abseil. You will always have a belay to help you down the mountain carefully.

Besides recreational purposes, this is an excellent technique used by rescue services, military and the police.

Related Questions

Is rappelling dangerous? It can certainly be. It is not as dangerous as rock climbing. There can be ropes that jam or equipment failure. If you, you will be injured badly depending on the height of the fall.

Is rappelling a sport? Rappelling/Abseiling is a sport. It is a sport where you scale down a mountain face or a crag. It is a great experience that gives you a little bit of a rush going down.


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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