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Rappel Without a Belay Device   

Tagged in: Alpine Climbing, Rappelling, Skills, Sport Climbing, Trad Climbing
by Ian Nicholson
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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.


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.

Rock Climbing Photo: Rappel without a belay device by John McMullen

Rappel without a belay device
by John McMullen

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.


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.

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Comments on Rappel Without a Belay Device Add Comment
By Robert Hall
From: North Conway, NH
Mar 23, 2015
Personally, I would try very hard to have (at least) the two "A" biners (the ones that run parallel to the rope in the diagram) be non-wire-gate biners.
By tomW
Aug 20, 2015
Robert Hall, with all respect, why would you want the carabiners not to be wiregates? I agree that locking carabiners could be best, but if you're stuck with non-locking carabiners I think wiregates would be best. Their low-mass gate has a higher natural frequency than solid gate carabiners, so they are less likely to open up due to vibrations when rappelling. Is there something else that I am not considering?
By Ben May
From: Escondido, CA
Dec 20, 2015
I personally prefer the munter. It uses less gear and is easier to set up. On the downside, it does twist the rope into a corkscrew... it's best to rap with the munter if the running end of the rope isn't tied off. And for a rescue load, you can always use the super munter.
When using this hitch, remember: break to gate! The break strand should always be toward the gate so that the load strand should be butted up next to the spine of the carabiner.
By frank minunni
From: Las Vegas, NV
Feb 9, 2016
Don't forget. If you pull the rope all the way the through, your biners will fall to the ground. The Munter is my last resort. They really can twist up a rope.
By rgold
From: Poughkeepsie, NY
May 19, 2016
You can do with just two (or, in a pinch, even one) carabiner by using an even older method. Clip the carabiners (or carabiner) to the belay loop, clip the rappel ropes through the biners, and then pass the ropes around your hips just below your waist so that they wrap around to your brake hand. If you are lightly clad, a great trick is to take off your t-shirt and stuff it down the back of your shorts to pad the hip area where the rope will be running.

A number of us used this method for years before carabiner brakes became the norm. I learned it from Bob Kamps.

Something like this that was much more popular and in all the climbing books, but which was much worse, was called the "swiss seat" rappel. The swiss seat referred to a double-length sling that was used to make leg loops, since swami users didn't have leg loops. After passing the ropes through the carabiners clipped to the seat sling, they went over the shoulder opposite the brake hand and diagonally across the back to the brake hand. Probably 2/3 of active climbers had rope-burn scars on their shoulders from this. Passing the rope around the hips and padding that area with a t-shirt eliminates the burning problem.
By Jim Urbec
From: sevierville, TN
Oct 18, 2016
I dropped my reverso last weekend and was about to revert to exeactly this....

instead my son lowered himself down on his ATC then i pulled rope back up with ATC still attached.

But that "oh shit" moment as we both watched Reverso sail through the air and tink off the rocks below.....
By Jim Amidon
Nov 29, 2016
I ALWAYS carry a second one right on my harness...

And have had to use it from time to time....

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