Rappelling Basics

Rappelling Basics
Rappelling is the act of using ropes to make your way down the faces of steep rock formations. Done correctly, rappelling can be a very quick and safe way of getting from the top of a rock to the ground. Rappelling also can be extremely unsafe if you lack experience and patience. The basics of rappelling are simple enough to understand in theory, but always use caution when applying them.

Anchor Points

Tie your rope to an anchor point, making sure your anchor point does not obstruct the rope. The anchor point also should not have sharp edges that could cut through the rope or compromise its strength by fraying it. Make sure your anchor point is solid and firmly grounded and that you can retrieve the rope from below. Common anchor points include trees and rocks.


Always wear gloves when rappelling to prevent rope burns. Make a slow descent, using small steps, to avoid losing your footing and sliding down the rope. You can seriously damage your hands on the thick ropes used for rappelling.

Rope Inspection

You can't inspect your rope too much. Check for frayed, weakened or worn sections, cuts and burns. Also, never step on the rope, which can cause tiny pieces of rock to gradually cut the fibers and weaken it.


Beginners should practice on a short rock face no more than 10 feet high. Make sure there is room for a safe landing if you make a mistake; even a 10-foot drop can be dangerous. Use a rope with a belay device attached around your waist. A belay device essentially acts as a break to stop the friction if you fall. Tie the belay rope with a simple bowline knot or a two-loop bowline knot looped at the end of the rope for increased safety.


When you first begin rappelling you may swing back and forth. The way to prevent this is to plant your feet firmly apart. Keep your feet flat against the face of the rock and keep your spine straight. Always look down at the route you are following and ease up on your guide hand to reduce friction. Your guide hand is placed above the belay device friction brake.


Some people seem to glide down the face of a rock while others take much longer. You can control the speed of your descent, but rappelling should never become a race; at least until you are very experienced. Control your speed by adjusting the grip on your brake hand--the hand that grips the rope below the descending device. The hand that holds the rope above the guidance device is used to maintain your balance.

Article Written By Timothy Sexton

Timothy Sexton is an award-winning author who started writing in 1994. He has written on topics ranging from politics and golf to nutrition and travel, and his work appears online for Zappos.com, Disaboom and MOJO, among others. He has also done work for "Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy." He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of West Florida.

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