Abseiling Techniques | 10 Climbing Skills Everyone Should Know
From tandem abseiling to Aussie rappels, the abseiling styles that you need to try
Abseiling techniques are many and varied, from abseiling with a friend to abseiling alone or even abseiling face first towards the ground Whatever floats your boat we've probably got it here along with some abseiling techniques you might never have heard of...
1) Rescue Style/Basic Abseil
This is the simplest form of abseiling. One abseiler uses a rope fixed at the top of a drop to descend under their own control to the bottom. Abseilers control their speed by using a belay device attached to a harness round their waist.
Abseilers hold the rope with one hand above and one hand below the device to slow control their speed while the belay device causes friction in the rope making sure that they don't fall too fast.
The classic pose for abseiling in this way is to lean backwards over the drop and walk slowly down the wall but once you have mastered this form of abseiling and got familiar with your equipment then you'll be able to tackle most of the other abseiling techniques on this list.
2) Fireman's Belay
The Fireman's Belay is a great way to start abseiling but you need a friend to try out this abseiling technique. When belaying the abseiler has the rope attached to their harness but this time the it runs through a belay device fitted on a partner's harness instead. Your partner, the belayer, can stand at the top or bottom of the drop and will then control your rate of descent for you. All you have to do is watch out for anything sticking out as you abseil down.
This is a great way for beginner abseilers to get used to the feeling of descending without worrying about controlling their own speed and it's also the most common form of abseiling that you will see at your local climbing wall.
3) Tandem Abseiling
If you have a friend that you just can't bear to be separated from then tandem abseiling is for you. Also known as spider rappelling, this pally technique involves you and a partner being attached to the same piece of rope and abseiling down together, side by side.
Both abseilers can either be belayed from the top or a more experienced abseiler can use this technique to help a less confident partner get down, with both abseilers working off the same belay device. The key to this abseiling technique is to make sure that you both step in time with each other, and try to co-ordinate your landing!
4) Simul Rappelling
Simul rapelling is a tricky abseiling technique that allows two people to descend at the same time from one rope. Unlike tandem abseiling where both abseilers share a belay device and are attached at the same point on the rope, in this setup both abseilers can use their own belay device and control their own speed.
In simul rapelling abseilers use one rope for short runs or two ropes tied together for longer distances. The rope is run through an anchor point at the top of the descent with half of the rope length being assigned to each abseiler. Both abseilers then put weight on the rope simultaneously and then abseil down close together trying to match each other's speed.
This is a much faster way of getting down a drop because both people can abseil at the same time instead of taking turns but it is risky too. It's important to communicate clearly with your partner at all times and if possible use self breaking belay devices so that if anyone slips their weight will still be counterbalanced with their partner.
For simul rappelling you need a really secure anchor point that can take both people's weight, and some deft rope tying skills both if you're joining two ropes together and to ensure there is a good knot at the end of each strand of rope to stop it running completely through either harness and dropping both abseilers at the same time. It also goes without saying that this abseiling technique is never practiced on difficult descents unless there's no other choice.
5) Counterbalance Rappelling
Counterbalance abseiling is usually used by a leading climber to reach an injured team mate. The idea here is to abseil from one strand of rope while the other end is still attached to your friend, using your injured partner's weight on the other end of the rope to counterbalance yourself.
This is a risky form of abseiling only to be used in extreme emergencies by climbers and abseilers who really know what they're doing.
6) Fan Descender Abseiling
This abseiling technique is for particularly lazy abseilers who are looking for a quick abseiling fix without having to think too much. As its name suggests, fan descender abseiling requires a special piece of abseiling kit (KIT LINK) which is normally only found at climbing centres, high ropes courses and movie shoots.
In a fan descender the rope you abseil with is wrapped around a drum which controls your rate of descent for you, paying the line out at a predetermined speed. In a descender the friction is created by using a fan uses air resistance against large fan blades to slow you down.
This means that you can simply attach yourself to your abseil rope and then just step off a drop, letting the machine do all the work for you while still enjoying the thrill of heading earthwards at speed. The descender was originally invented by Hollywood stunt legend Vic Armstrong, back in the 1980s, to allow stunt men to make epic falls safely, and they're still being used today for breath taking stunts like this:
7) Australian Rappelling
Abseiling facing forwards, otherwise known as Aussie rappelling, is a technique invented by the Australian SAS and favoured by the military and other show-offs the world over. The technique works just the same as regular abseiling but this time you face the ground, giving you a tactical advantage if you are a soldier and extra style points if you're just trying to impress your mates.
The important thing in a successful Australian abseil is to make sure that your rope belays cleanly behind you and that you don't trip over the loose end on the way down.
Like many of the advanced abseiling techniques heading down a wall face first can go pretty wrong if you don't know what you're doing, leading to some truly hilarious abseil fails.
Way back in the 1800s when abseiling was invented there was no such thing as the high tech climbing harnesses we use today. Thankfully climbing genius Hans Dülfer was around to pioneer a form of abseiling that only required a rope.
The Dülfersitz method works by passing the rope under one leg and then diagonally across your shoulders to your braking hand behind you, essentially using your whole body as a belay device. The technique is great in a pinch if you've some how lost all of your other climbing and abseiling gear, but the wear and tear on your body from the friction of the rope makes this an unpopular technique today.
9) Headfirst Abseiling
Abseiling headfirst might just seem like showing off but it is a key military technique. Soldiers abseil upside down so that they can keep a gun trained on the ground, ready to fire at anything below them. This style of abseiling is rarely practiced in mountain regions but it is vital for urban assaults where a soldier will be able to peek through windows to spot enemies before they enter a building.
The key things to consider when using this abseiling technique are to make sure your harness is fitted as close to your centre of weight as possible, this will make it easier to flip over on the wall and to flip back to your feet as you land.
It is also important to remember that as all that blood is rushing to your head there is a chance that you might pass out, so abseilers using this technique should be careful to make short descents or to use a self-stopping belay device that will kick in if they let go of the rope.
10) Rap Jumping
Rap jumping is basically Australian abseiling's bigger, crazier, adrenaline-fuelled brother. To rap jump you use the same face down position as in the Aussie method but this time you take giant leaps down the wall, sometimes not touching anything with your feet until you land.
Rap jumping is obviously the fastest and most insane form of abseiling imaginable, but it's not limited to our Antipodean cousins. In fact there's an abseiling spot in London where you can try it if you like.