Use this guide as a general overview for how to rappel if you drop your belay device. Remember, learning about rock climbing online serves as a tool, but in no way are written articles a substitute for hands-on instruction. Failure to follow appropriate safety measures could result in serious injury or death. If just getting started, seek professional climbing courses offered by AMGA-certified guiding services. Be smart, and climb safe.
Introduction to rappelling without a belay device
The sheer thought of dropping your #2 Camalot C4 on a multi-pitch climb inspires enough fear on its own … but have you ever considered what you would do if you dropped your belay device from several hundred feet up; seemingly leaving you no means of rappelling?
Fear not, climber—there’s another way to rappel safety to the ground, even if your belay device goes tumbling to the bottomless depths below you. And before you think to yourself:
That’s never gonna happen to me!
Think again; because it can happen to even the most experienced climber. Instead of ever finding yourself stranded in the midst of climb, we recommend you learn the backup approaches for lowering to the ground. Luckily, the procedure and gear you need to rappel without a traditional belay device are quite basic.
Varying methods for rappelling without a traditional belay device
There are three primary methods for rappelling without a traditional belay device:
- Pursuing a single rope rappel with your partner, using only one belay device.
- Using a munter hitch, using only one locking carabiner and the climbing rope.
- Using a double carabiner brake rappel with four carabiners.
Which rappelling method is best?
While you can share a belay device with your partner and each rappel on a single rope strand, this method presents an additional margin for error;
- it doubles the load on the anchor,
- requires maintaining weight between partners,
- and gives less friction during lowering than a traditional double rope rappel
Use of the munter hitch is a good option as a backup belay device, and also as a rappel device, should you only have one locking carabiner at your disposal. This method, however, tends to create unwanted kinks and twists, and requires use on a single fixed line when being used to lower during rappel.
The mechanics of a munter hitch:
How to belay with a munter hitch:
For these reasons, you may consider using the double carabiner brake rappel approach when you drop your belay device—as it serves as a safe, practical, and efficient method that also avoids unwanted risk and having to deal with a kinking rope.
How to use the double carabiner brake rappel
The gear you need:
All you need to have amongst you and your partner are,
- Four carabiners of any type (all shapes and gate types will work)
- One locking carabiner (or two opposite non-lockers)
More likely than not, you probably have these items on your harness already. The ideal carabiners to use are oval ‘biners, given their large rope-bearing surface; however, you can use any type of carabiner to set up this rappel.
- Clip your locking carabiner (or two non-lockers placed in opposing directions), to the belay loop on your harness.
- Clip two non-locking carabiners opposite and opposed to the carabiner(s) on your belay loop.
- Make a bight with two ends of the rope, and push it through the two non-locking carabiners.
- Then, clip two more non-locking carabiners around both sides of the other two carabiners through the bight of the rope.
- Check that the rope runs over the spine and not the gate component of the carabiners.
A simple video demonstration for creating a double carabiner brake rappel:
Together, with noses opposed, these carabiners create a braking mechanism as you rappel. This double carabiner braking rappel method gives you considerable control as you lower—but as expected—will not feel as smooth as a rappel from a traditional belay device. The motions for breaking and speeding up your rappel are the same, but can feel slightly more unstable.
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