Whether you are rappelling in Maui, Canada or most other places, bringing the right gear with you is essential to having a safe and fun journey. Let's look some of the most essential pieces of gear to have in your bag.
Also called snap links, carabiners are mostly made of an aluminum or steel. These devices work by utilizing a spring-loaded gate latch which enables them to be linked to line or rope and other devices like descenders. The Carabiner or biner for short, uses a pin on the upper side of the gate. The pin would slip in notch form when you close the gate.
Most Biners have threaded sleeves on their gates which is fastened upward to stop the gate from inadvertently opening. Some biners have gates which will auto-lock when closed. These types of carabiners are called Locking Carabiners. Using these biners will give you added safety and are highly recommended. We recommend Black Diamond for most of your rappel pitches. If you don't use a locking biner, then you can use two regular ones by keeping their gates on opposing sides.
You will find biners to come in loads of shapes and sizes however the most prominently used biner is the D and O (oval shaped) biners. Another type is called the snap hook which is utilized at the end of the line for quick linking!
A word on the gate:
A little History
Older types of biners were usually made from mild steels and they typically never leverage anything 3k+lbs in weight. Despite repeated rappels having been performed with mild steel, we recommend using aluminum for added safety. With aluminum, the range is more 4500-7500 lbs of leverage. If the aluminum biner is U.I.A.A approved then rest assured you will be much safer! The load will be supported on the major axis of the biner. Even when the gate is opened you will have about 2500-2700lbs of leverage. Look for the U.I.A.A. Symbol on the biner to ensure you are protected, and make sure you get the locking kind.
When you are pitching extremely large loads (Over 7k+) then we recommend stainless steel carabiners. They will tend to support over 15k+lbs of weight. They will be larger in size to link onto litter frames and or ladder rungs. You can usually put your whole hand through them.
Lock Links can be used in place of biners. The threaded nut acts as the lock and the gate. This variation is typically screwed opened and screwed closed. When you get grime in the threads, you can have big issues. These come in both steel and aluminum.
You will notice that your biners will degrade with time/use and will weaken from repeated stress. When a carabiner shows tons of age make sure you replace immediately- don't risk your life to save a few dollars! Please refrain from oiling them too! The gates and locks will jam on you so don't take any shortcuts.
Also termed flat rope or tape, webbing typically is manufactured in solid or tubular forms. You would use it with your slings, harness, line protectors, etc. With a solid web, you can think of it like wearing your seat belt inside a vehicle. Tubular webbing on the other hand is hollow. Webbing can also be used as line in emergencies when your primary rope fails.
We recommend nylon for it's practicality but make sure you don't keep your nylon webbing in the sun too long, as it tends to have durability issues if exposed to too much UV. If you are pitching in places where the sun is consistently beating down on you then go with Dacron instead.
Most tubular webbing can leverage up to 4k lbs of load. That being said it is not constructed to handle shock absorption like your line will. One or two inch webbing can tear from a small 5 foot drop. Make sure that when you use webbing while rappelling, to rappel at a slow steady pace.
Webbing will lose its durability much faster than your line. It also wears faster when exposed to rough edges such as on clifftops. Make sure to keep your webbing new and bombproof! When you are piecing your webbing, be fully aware that even the best made knots will not hold that great. Use water or double fisherman knots if you have to but we suggest sewing the webs together before going out to your pitch!
#3 Rope Protector
Anytime your line runs across a sharp edge, you should make sure to use one of these! Make sure your protector is made atleast 2.5 feet long and that you are using tubular nylon webbing or that of a garden hose. Each work well especially if the material is reinforced. Garden hose material can be bulky and tends to slip down the line if not properly fastened.
If you are using a rope protector, make sure you don't use tubing that splits on one of its sides. Despite being simple to use , the line tends to roll out of them if there is any movement from side to side.
Other than shielding rope from sharp edges, protectors do a good job at keeping your line durable over the life of it. They do this by increasing the radius of the edge itself.
One flaw in a rope protector system
The biggest issue when using rope protectors would be when you have to ascend back up. Tubular nylon protectors are need easy to climb over so we would advise using an ascender knot or a mechanical ascender to make for smooth ascension. Hose material protectors cannot be ascended over, and will have to be crossed over. Make sure your protector is short enough not to be nuisance if you needed to ascend back over it.
Make sure to always have a great set of gloves (we prefer Petzl for most pitches) with your gear whenever you are rappelling. Especially on long speedy rappels, leather gloves may be scorched through. Had you not been wearing those gloves, the burn would have passed straight through your hands touching bone!
The two best materials rappelling will be leather and Kevlar, although you can get away with cotton or wool gloves when you are desperate. We advise never to use synthetic or plastic gloves as friction from your rope will quickly burn through those.
#5 Descender rings
Routinely called Abseil rings, these rings help accelerate the rope retrieval process. They are also devised to help construct special types of gear. They usually come in either steel or aluminum and will more often than not be between 1.3-2.7in in diameter. The most prominent rings you will find will be comprised of aluminum sheet which gets hollowed out into tube form. These rings do not have a weld joint and is super lightweight, able to leverage massive loads.
These descender rings can be very very helpful in their versatility. They are also pretty cheap. Descender rings will:
- Keep your slings from getting sliced open
- Help with your line pull-down, especially when you are dealing with a damp rope
- Utilizing two rings alongside one another makes retrieving your line a breeze and 2x's your safety!
A knife comes in handy in your gear when you are dealing with a jammed rope. Keep it closed in your bag (refrain from carrying it open until you need it). Use a knife that can be open with one hand since you may need it while you are descending down a cliff, for example. If your paranoia runs high, you can instead use a sharp pair of scissors. You will need something to get you out of jams, especially if your hair were to get caught on the descender or other piece of gear.
Make sure that you only use a knife if there is no other option to unjam! Make sure you are careful not to cut your line! We use a foldable multi tool piece (Kilimanjaro) before using a button press auto engage knife for safety purposes! You get more versatility with a multi-tool and it has been proven to be a safer option.
This is a "No-Brainer"! If you are rappelling without a helmet, chances are you will eventually bump your head on solid rock and that will not feel good. Big rocks/boulders may also randomly fall from the cliff and you want to make sure you are prepared to protect your noggin for obvious reasons.
The helmets we recommend are molded with Kevlar, Lexan or EPS Foam Foam. There are some fiberglass helmets that also work well but they aren't as durable. Make sure that the cushion grade meets all the latest specs in terms of energy absorption. Make sure that the helmet's straps and suspension are also graded accordingly.
If you are doing tactical rappelling then we advise a full shield helmet. For tree work, get a bubble shield so that you avoid branch hazards especially at night.
#8 FIFFI HOOKS
Comprising of heavy-duty steel, these hooks are mainly devised to be utilized at the tail end of your line. Make sure you are using ONLY heavy duty FIFFI's and avoid any that are not made of heavy duty steel.
They have been known to crack on pitches and that is the last thing you want to happen when you are ready to retrieve your rope, especially on dual rope multi-station pitches. If you have any doubts, make sure to link two hooks together or use a different methodology to retrieve your line altogether.
Etriers should be used for most of your technical rappelling. It is primarily used as a rope ladder for times when you need to go over an overhang. They are lightweight and don't pack a punch as far as storing them in your bag. A few Etrier's are made with 4-5 aluminum rungs but most are made of nylon webbing or cord.
Always be prepared for the type of rappelling you plan on doing! You don't need to spend an exorbitant amount of money on rappelling gear when you don't need to. Be safe and have fun on your pitches! Rope!