Essential Skills: Pre-Rigging Rappels

Receive $50 off an eligible $100 purchase at the Outside Shop, where you'll find gear for all your adventures outdoors. Sign up for Outside+ today.

Illustration by Chris Philpot

Pre-Rigging Rappels
Pre-Rigging Rappels

Illustration by Chris Philpot

A safer way to set up

Are you a climber who thinks double-checking your partner’s harness and knot is a good idea prior to launching up a route? Me too. That’s why I’m always mystified to see so many climbers ignoring such safety checks when coming back down.

Imagine you’re at the top of a multi-pitch climb and a few rappels are the only thing between you and a nice walk out. Usually what happens is the most experienced person rappels first to find the next station, position the ropes, and deal with any other issues that arise. At the next station she yells “off rappel” and leaves her less experienced boyfriend to fend for himself. This always makes me nervous—it leaves too much room for mistakes due to fatigue and darkness.

Pre-rigging is the solution—it minimizes any chance of a faulty rappel setup.

(1) First, prepare your rappel slings. I like to use a use a 48-inch nylon sling with an overhand knot tied into the middle, creating two big loops. Nylon slings are great for this purpose because they absorb energy and are very durable. This is also a great way to use a personal anchor tether; however, daisy chains were not designed for anchoring and should not be used to pre-rig rappels.

(2) Girthhitch the sling into the tie-in points on your harness, and then clip your rappel device into the inner loop in the sling/

(3) The knot creates a “shelf ” that will hold the device about 20 inches away from you.

(4) The outer loop can be clipped to your harness (preferably to your belay loop), ready to clip into each rap anchor. Using this setup, rig both climbers’ rap devices onto the rappel ropes, one above the other. With the extension, the climber waiting at the top station will have room to move a bit and won’t be jerked around by the ropes as the first person descends.

(5) A secondary advantage to extended slings is your auto-block backup cannot slip up and hit the device, thus rendering the backup useless.

Knot the ends of the ropes to avoid rapping off them. My preference is a barrel knot (half of a double fisherman’s). If there is much wind, consider saddle-bagging your ropes by looping them through a sling clipped to a gear loop on your harness, and thus keeping them with you as you descend.

Both people are now rigged to rappel, and two sets of eyes have double-checked all the set-up. Down you go.