Rappel Without a Belay Device

Get down safely with the double carabiner brake rappel

You’re lying if you say you’ve never dropped your belay device and watched it go “tink, tink, tink” all the way down to the base of a route. That’s where you want to get, and you just let go of the one piece of gear that will get you there most conveniently. It can happen to anyone. But have no fear: If you have four carabiners of any shape or gate type, plus a locking belay biner, you can make it to the ground. The double carabiner brake rappel is the best way to descend without a traditional rappel device. It is far more practical and efficient than sharing one device between two people, and it puts fewer twists and kinks in your rope than a Munter hitch does. Plus, you can set it up with the gear you’re already carrying.

Illustration by John McMullen

BINER TYPE

Climbers used this setup to rappel in the 1970s, before modern belay devices became the standard. Back then, solid-gate (not wire), oval-shaped carabiners were the norm. While a carabiner brake with ovals is still the easiest to set up and smoothest to rappel with, they’re not necessary; you can rig this with any type of biner: non-locker, locker, wire-gate, or bent-gate. To set up, you need four non-locking biners and one locker (you can use two opposite non-lockers in place of the one locker). However, you shouldn’t use micro-biners, which might not be big enough, or biners with sharp spines, which can damage the rope. Radically bent-gate or pear-shaped biners will suffice if that’s all you have, but they won’t feed as smoothly; the closer to full-sized, oval- or D-shaped, the easier the setup and smoother the rappel.

SETUP

If you have a locking biner, clip it to your belay loop. If you don’t, clip two non-lockers to your belay loop, oriented with the gates facing opposite directions and opposed (head of one biner is matched with tail of other biner, and vice versa). Now clip two more non-lockers with gates opposite and opposed to the biner or biners on your belay loop (A). Push a bight of both rappel ropes through these two non-lockers (B). Then clip two more non-lockers around both sides of the other two biners and through the bight of rope (C)—make sure the rope runs over the spine of these biners (not the gates). These biners are what act as the brake, and they should have the noses opposed—facing in opposite directions, so one sits on the right side and one sits on the left.

TIPS

This rappel gives you a ton of braking power, but it doesn’t feel as smooth as rappelling with a normal belay device. To brake, you still change the angle of the rope by pulling it down (and vice versa for speeding up), but the angle change doesn’t correspond as directly to changing the speed of the rappel as it does with a typical device. It feels a little more erratic, so be aware of your speed and positioning.

A downside is that it’s pretty much impossible to go back up the rope. With a tube-style belay device, you can often quickly “hop up” a short section by pulling rope up and through your device before quickly locking off again to gain upward progress. You can’t do this maneuver with the carabiner brake rappel because there is too much friction, but it will help you succeed at your most immediate concern: getting down safely.


Comments

Could you make the same thing with 3 lockers? It seems like it would work. Are the extra two just for redundancy? Thanks Rob

Rob - 09/19/2014 1:19:36

Correct me if im wrong but couldn't you usetwo Italian hitches, one for each rope,each on a separate caribiner attached Anyour harness. And for all the people saying about people not knowing basic skills, skills need to be learnt and this is a way of learning them. If you that fussed about the knowledge of basic skills,why don't you go teach them yourself.

Nathan - 09/02/2014 5:25:53

Talk about basic skills. Can you not start a fire with matches?

Stino - 06/30/2014 9:32:47

or just use a hitch. I am not an expert, but i believe that this puts pressure on the biners in a way that manufacturers have repeatedly prohibited.

Instaclimb - 11/19/2013 3:38:23

If you ever find that your rappell does not have enough friction and you are in danger of going too fast, use both hands to stop the rappell. Then, keep it locked off with one hand while you use the other hand to wrap the rope around your leg. Now, continue the rappell using the hand that is on the rope after it goes around your leg. Practice this somewhere safe before you try it in the wild.

Todd - 10/01/2013 2:37:09

For all of the older climbers complaining about the next generation lacking basic skills, please stop. You're painting far too broad a brush stroke of my generation of climbers. Yes, a majority of NEW climbers lack basic skills. Perhaps it is because they are still LEARNING? The majority of new climbers are young. I started as a gym rat, and feel that I'm a fairly accomplished alpine climber now with a well rounded skillset in the mountains. I learned as I went, just like you all did at some point. I learned from people willing to share and teach, instead of sit on the internet and complain about "those damn kids", or to openly scoff at young/inexperienced people while they're climbing nearby. You're not doing the rest of the climbing community a favor by doing that. Every one of us learns something new when we go out. It's usually because we screw up and we don't want to screw up again. I'm sure that there are plenty of people who have dropped their belay/rappel devices and swore they would learn how to rappel without it just in case. I've almost fumbled mine a few times, and it was after the first time that I learned this method of rappelling without one.

Lonememe - 08/25/2013 8:59:43

For you folks that suggest a Munter hitch, you can get away with rappelling one pitch with a Munter but multiple rappels will twist the rope to the point that it will be unusable. If rappelling with the Munter, the hitch is in the worst possible orientation for twisting the rope. It does not twist the rope when used as designed and that is for a belay or lower where the strand is brought parallel to the other strand, this not being the case when rappelling. At one time in the not so distant past, the carabiner break was the standard for rappels. As indicated by Ian, some form of carabiner break is a great solution, but as Rgold pointed out, it is very difficult to clip in the way described unless using oval carabiners. See link as Rgold pointed out for details.

Rob Hess - 08/24/2013 8:48:41

Aswer to Dr. Jones: "Basic skills" are all but gone. Gym rats, Sport Climbers and most trad crag climbers have not learned about, much less practiced those "basic" techniques. I have taught them but with little interest and few students. Retro, old, last century is not appealing until things get dropped, forgotten or otherwise become unavailable at such time the response is to use a cell phone (there is service, isn't there?) to get rescued. Just sayin'.

Peter - 08/23/2013 11:23:32

Wow! Next we'll hear you can make fire without matches. Has the climbing community sunk so low that all basic skills are gone?

Dr. Jones - 08/22/2013 3:05:06

Yeah, just a munter or a carabiner wrap does the trick

climbsvertical - 08/22/2013 8:49:09

With today's carabiners, step C can be very awkward to carry out, and there is a much smoother way to achieve the same final configuration. A site with step-by-step photos is http://www.mountain-guiding.com/newsletters/tech-2002-09/ .

rgold - 08/21/2013 10:17:24

I just had to use this (and a munter for belay) on Culp- Bossier last weekend after I left my atc-guide at home on my sport harness. Worked like a charm... but I was glad I had gloves.

Jon Lachelt - 08/21/2013 8:29:03

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