I’ve enjoyed rappeling a lot in the last few years and it got me thinking about the many types of rappelling so I did some research.
The most common types of rappeling are the standard rappel, Australian rappel, tandem rappel, military rappel, and free rappel. The biggest difference between these rappel types is the way the belay devices are rigged to the system followed by the orientation of the person rappelling. The standard rappel is the safest and most widely recommended rappel. The military rappel is typically the most dangerous and only used for emergencies.
With the standard rappel typically being considered the safest, that is the type of rappeling I recommend using after receiving instruction on how to do so from a professional. However, you may be considering learning other types of rappeling or you may be wondering what the differences are. That’s where this article comes in. I highlight the most common types of rappelling and share some details about each so you can have a more educated decision with your rappeling journey moving forward.
The standard rappel is the most commonly recommended type of rappel. It is used around the world by cannoneers, climbers, and recreational rappelers. The biggest distinction between this rappel and others is that you are in a sitting position facing the wall and the belay device is easily accessible and within easy eyesight.
Pros of the standard rappel:
- Your orientation to the wall and foot contact with the wall can help you maintain your body position very easily.
- Due to your orientation, you also have the option to use auto-locking belay devices such as the Grigri to descend, which can enable you more speed control and peace of mind in case something happens and you let go of the rope.
- Your orientation also gives you the option for additional back-ups such as the prusik knot for safer descents.
- This is the easiest type of rappel to have a back-up belayer at the bottom of the rappel in case the rappeller needs help.
Cons of the standard rappel:
- This type of belay typically takes a little bit longer to get to the bottom.
- Because the end of the rope is behind the rappeller, it is unlikely that they would see the rope ending before it gets through the system. This means that it is crucial for rappellers to add a stopper knot to the bottom of each end of the rope.
The Australian rappel is among the fastest rappel styles and requires training and experience for safe descents. In order to rappel fast, the rappeller is in a standing position facing the ground. With the belay system to their side and back, the rappeller runs toward the ground as quickly as they can. This is not the safest rappel and should only be used after significant experience with the standard rappel as well as specific instruction.
Pros of the Australian rappel:
- Due to the speed of the rappel, it is easier to do a lot of rappelling in one day with this technique.
- This technique enables you the rappeler to look at the ground, which can be beneficial for military assaults or even avoiding animals or dangerous plants such as cactuses at the bottom.
- Rappellers who use the Australian rappel recreationally, typically suggest that it is the most fun and exhilarating way to rappel.
Cons of the Australian rappel
- Since the belay device is around the back of the rappeller, it is more likely to get hair or clothing stuck in the device.
- Due to your body orientation, there is a higher risk of falling out of your harness.
- If you fall, you are forward-facing, which comes with a number of concerns. For example, your spine isn’t built to bend backward very much so you’re more likely to break bones, you’re more likely to damage organs, you’re more likely to hit your face.
Tandem / Simul Rappel
A tandem rappel, also known as simul-rappel, is similar to the standard and free rappel regarding the lowering process, except there are two rappellers lowering at the same time. Typically, rappellers are lowering off of the same rope with one rappeling on one end and the other on the other end of the rope. In addition, rappellers lower at a similar speed with careful communication to ensure a safe descent.
This type of rappel is mainly used to assist other rappellers that may not be comfortable lowering on their own. However, it is also used to minimize the time needed to lower multiple people at a time. In addition, the rappel is typically dependent on the climbers being similar sizes so each rappeller can use each other as a counterweight instead of using a stopper knot at the top.
Pros of the Tandem Rappel
- A tandem rappel is a faster way to lower multiple people at a time.
- When done safely, rappellers can lower off the same anchor without the need of additional knots at the top of the anchor.
- Cleaning the anchor system can be faster when using a tandem rappel instead of a stopper knot at the top.
Cons of the Tandem Rappel
- This type of rappel requires significant communication and body control to ensure a safe descent for both rappellers
- If something happens to one rappeller that removes them from the system while the other rappeller is still descending, the other rappeller will fall.
- There is only one rope running through the rappel device, which uses less friction and thus, may be harder to control the speed of the rope running through it.
Free rappel is similar to the standard rappel in that you are in a sitting position and the rappel device is in front of you with your brake hand to the side. The difference is that you don’t have contact with the wall as you are freely dangling down the rope. This type of rappel is more advanced and based on the type of rockface you are rappelling down.
Pros of Free Rappel
Free rappeling enables you to lower into caverns or down overhangs, which wouldn’t be possible with the other types of rappels.
Cons of Free Rappel
- Free rappelling takes additional experience to ensure that you are able to maintain body position. If you don’t maintain your position, you are at a higher risk of falling out of your harness.
- There isn’t an easy way to prevent yourself from spinning around, which can be disorienting.