Abseiling and rappelling require less gear and equipment than rock climbing. When you are hanging from a cliff, you need to have the right supplies. What do you need to rappel? We’ll look at the complete gear list required for rappelling, and also the recommended clothing.
What Equipment Do You Need to Rappel or Abseil?
- Rappel Anchor
- Rappel Device (Belay Device)
- Locking Carabiner
You’ll get to the point where you have a mental list of everything you need to throw into the car as you are preparing for your rappelling adventure. Believe me when I tell you to always double check your gear. Everyone has a story about when they forget something crucial– you never know when you’ll forget the simplest thing. I should know, I forgot a sleeping bag on a camping trip one time. It happens to the best of us….. even when we’ve been doing it 100 times. So don’t be that guy without a harness or rappel device (read our post on rappelling without a harness. NOT recommended, but possible).
What follows is a list of the necessary equipment required for rappelling. Rappelling equipment is mostly the same as rock climbing equipment, with a few exceptions. Here’s the essential equipment for rappelling or abseiling:
Easily the number 1 most important piece of equipment. Don’t go anywhere near the edge of that cliff without a rope. Rock climbers use their dynamic climbing ropes for rappelling. These ropes stretch and aren’t recommended for more serious rappelling- but for getting down a climb they would work.
Static ropes work a lot better for rappelling because they don’t stretch and they have less chance of getting damaged by sharp rocks. If you are going to be serious about rappelling, you need a static rope. See our post about different types of ropes. Make sure it is in good condition and make sure it is long enough.
The standard length for most ropes is about 60 meters or 200 feet. This should be enough for most rappels, but always make sure you check the length before you go down. Keep in mind that with most rappels, the rope is doubled up so you need twice as much rope as how tall the rappel is. With a 200 foot rope you can do a 100 foot rappel.
2. Rappel Anchor
The anchor is the only thing that is holding you while you are rappelling, so you really need to make sure you have a good one (two). You don’t usually bring this with you- you find it when you get to the rappel. Most of the time, on well-known rappelling spots, there are anchors constructed for you made out of bolts driven deeply into solid rocks. These are ideal for a safe rappel, but always test that these are sturdy and structurally sound before rappelling.
Bring a few feet of your own webbing and a quick link or rap ring in case you need to make a new anchor. Sometimes you can also use natural features such as thick trees or large boulders to make your own anchor. Anchors can also be made from cams, nuts, bolts, and pitons (back in the day). Don’t make your own if you are a beginner. When in doubt, don’t use an anchor that doesn’t seem sturdy. Check out our article on creating rappelling anchors for more information.
My dad talks about making his own harnesses out of old seatbelts. He cut seatbelts out of junkyard wrecks and then sewed them together on his mom’s sewing machine (true story). I am very grateful that there are better options for harnesses nowadays!
Having a harness is necessary, as it is the most comfortable and safest way to secure your body to the rope. Make sure you have one that fits around your waist and upper legs and is in good condition with a belay loop on the front. There are some options to make a harness out of extra webbing as well, but it won’t be as comfortable. We also have a post about different types of rappelling with only a rope– but that is only suggested for emergency situations.
4. Rappel device
There are many different choices of rappel devices or belay devices. Some are faster, some have more friction, some are easier to use. Rappel devices generally double as belay devices for climbing. Read our post about the different belay/rappel devices here. ATCs and figure 8s are some of the more simple rappel devices.
5. Locking Carabiner
Make sure you have a sturdy locking carabiner to connect the rappel device with the rope to your harness. You want to make sure this is secure. The options are auto-locking devices or screw-gate carabiners.
The auto-locking carabiners are newer and generally accepted as safer, though they can still lock in the open position. It does the work for you so you don’t always have to “triple check” that the carabiner is screwed closed (you should still double check it though). They can get gummed up going through canyon sludge, so lots of canyoneers prefer screwgates.
Emergency Gear to Have on Hand:
- Pocket Knife- In case something gets caught in the rope as you are rappelling or something gets too tangled in the ropes- your hair, your jacket, etc.
- Extra Webbing- You never know when you will need extra slings for anchors
- Ascenders- In case you ever have to reverse and go UP the rope
- Walkie Talkies or Cell Phones- If you have cell phone service where you are rappelling, great. If not, you should think about picking up some walkie talkies. For a number of reasons it can be difficult to hear each other if you need to yell at your friends at the top of the rappel when you are at the bottom. Yelling doesn’t always work- walkie talkies work great
- First Aid Kit- Most injuries are just cuts and scrapes, so gauze and triple antibiotic ointment are good to have around
What to Wear Rappelling or Abseiling
Choose clothing that isn’t too loose or tight, but comfortable enough to move around in and not get caught in the rope. You probably want to be a little more covered up just because it is possible to get a little rope burn. You probably don’t want to wear really short shorts unless you want to be the first rappeller each time…
Choose some comfortable and sturdy closed toed shoes with good grip. Consider the rest of your day’s adventure when deciding if you need specific hiking or rock climbing shoes.
How much do you think your brain is worth? Helmets are essential for any activity with rock climbing or rappelling. You never know what could happen with loose rocks, and a head injury is the last thing you want out in the wild. If you don’t have a climbing helmet- just wear a bicycle helmet. The only problem is that it will definitely look nerdy in pictures…
Not completely essential, but definitely recommended. You can wear 1 or 2, it’s useful to wear a glove at least on your braking hand. Gloves will keep you from getting rope burns or getting too dirty while providing more grip (especially if the rope is wet- check out waterfall rappelling). Leather gloves work the best, but you can even use gardening gloves if you have a pair.
Other things to consider-
- Girls (and dudes) with long hair, remember to wear it tied back, or even better- in a braid or bun. I was doing a free hanging rappel into a cave and I had to stop in the middle because my long hair got caught in the rope. I quickly realized my mistake and tried to brush my hair back awkwardly and tuck the ends into my shirt collar. It could have been worse and gotten so tangled that I would have needed an emergency haircut.
- Sunglasses are also a really good idea to always bring rappelling. Make sure they aren’t loose enough to fall off during the rappel.
- Leave your jewelry at home, even wedding rings. You can get really cool silicone wedding rings so you don’t need to worry about your nice ones getting caught on anything while rappelling (it can rip your finger off).
Rappelling is a great activity to get you outdoors for some fun exercise to explore your area. You can keep all your gear in a backpack so you can easily grab it and have it all ready to go when you are going rappelling. There are climbing gear bags that can be used to transport everything you need without being too bulky or awkward. It’s possible to rappel down while wearing these on your back, or you can also throw it down or lower it down with the rope. Don’t forget your snacks, water, sunscreen, and cameras.