Rappelling with a Belay Device

The Thrill of the Descent: Mastering Rappelling with Belay Device

Have you ever wondered how to rappel with a belay device? Rappelling is one of the most important skills in climbing. We’ve all heard the adage, “what goes up must come down.” This certainly rings true in the world of rock climbing. Rappelling with belay Device is the safest and most standard way to get back down from multi-pitch rock climbs and can also be enjoyed for its own sake, such as with canyoneering. As safe and simple as it can be, rappelling is also one of the most common causes of accidents in rock climbing. Read on to find out how to use your belay device to rappel safely.

What Belay Device is Best?

A tool is only as useful as good as its user, and many belay devices can be safely and efficiently used for rappelling. However, a guide plate is the standard rappelling device in the climbing world. There are a couple of reasons this belay device shines above the rest. First, it can be used either for single or double strands, making it incredibly versatile. Secondly, the guide plate can be used to quickly switch to an auto-locking mode, which can be used for ascending back up the rope in case of emergency. Another device you might want to consider is the GriGri Belay Device.

Black Diamond ATC Guide

Black Diamond ATC-Guide
  • Excellent protection without hindering activity
  • Purpose designed and built
  • Cutting-edge climbing equipment is designed and built for the send across the full spectrum of climbing pursuits

Black Diamond designed and manufactured the original ATC belay device. A fun side note is that ATC stands for air traffic control– a clever name that adequately sums up the device’s purpose! On top of being an excellent device for rappelling, it is equally useful for belaying, especially from the top. Black Diamond is a reputable company for climbing gear and is always a solid choice. At this point, many companies design similar guide plate devices, but you can’t go wrong with the original. Follow the link above to order your own.

Rappelling with Belay Device Safely

Rappelling can be done with a very high degree of safety; unfortunately, it is commonly messed up, resulting in many accidents each year. Here are three vital principles to follow that will significantly mitigate the risks of rappelling. If these were followed and understood by everyone, we would see an enormous decrease in rappelling-related accidents.

1.    Close the System

One of the biggest risks and most common accidents in rappelling is descending off the ends of the rope. This risk can be completely and easily avoided by tying off the rope ends with a triple barrel or similar knot. You can rappel with peace of mind, knowing that you won’t leave the rope even if you miss the next anchor station.

2. Use a Third Hand

A third hand is a term used for a friction hitch to back up the rappel device. The third hand is held open while rappelling. If it is released, the rappeller will be stopped, meaning if they lose control of the rope for any reason, they will stop in place rather than free falling. You may feel it is easy to keep your hands on the rope, but there can always be unpredicted risks in the vertical world, and rappelling without a third hand is essentially free soloing.

3. Double Check Everything

Before detaching from the anchor, always double-check every component of your rappel system. Is your rappel device loaded correctly? Is your third hand tied? Did you remember to close the system? These are all questions you should ask yourself before every rappel. Keep in mind two sets of eyes are better than one; if a partner is present, have them look over your setup before descending.

Step by Step

Now for the nitty-gritty business. Here, we will go over exactly how to rappel with a belay device. But first, note that rappelling has many nuances that change in different contexts. This is a basic explanation of rappelling in its simplest form and should not be taken as a replacement for qualified in-person instruction. With that being said, let’s get started.

1.    Setting Up the Anchor and Rope

First, set up a quad or other anchor system on the bolts of your first rappel station. Attach to this using a personal anchoring system (PAS) with a locking carabiner. Before untying, secure your rope to the anchor using a knot on a bite with a carabiner to ensure you don’t accidentally drop it. Now, untie and thread the rope’s end through both rappel rings all the way to the middle mark, coiling each side as you go– it helps to have a partner for this. Tie stopper knots on both ends of the rope. If there are any parties below you, give them a warning you are about to throw your rope and make sure they are ready. If it’s all clear, you’re ready to toss.

2.    Setting Up your Rappel Device

Now that your rope is set up, it is time to get ready to rappel. Start by tying your third hand. Tie a friction hitch, such as an autoblock or prusik, around both strands of the rope and clip it to your belay loop with a locking carabiner. Pull some slack up through the friction hitch and hook it into your rappel device. (Another plus of the third hand is that it will hold this slack in place while you get your device situated.) Clip a locking carabiner through both strands of the rope and the rappel device and secure it to an extended point on your PAS.

3.    Descend!

After double-checking your systems, you can unclip from the anchor and transfer your weight to the rappel device. Sit back in your harness, keeping one hand on the third hand and one below it on both strands of the rope. Hold the hitch open to allow the rope to slide through the device and descend at a comfortable speed. Once you reach the ground, undo your friction hitch, unclip from your device, untie the stopper knots and pull the rope all the way through, first giving a warning to those around you.


Rappelling with a belay device is a critical skill in rock climbing– after all, every meter climbed is a meter that must be descended! Take the time to learn it correctly from the beginning and develop good habits. This will benefit you and keep you safe throughout your entire climbing career. Have fun rappelling, and remember to always double-check!

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