How to Rig a Carabiner Brake (Emergency Rappelling Method)

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Step 1 to Rig Carabiner Brake

Make sure the carabiners are reversed and the gates are opposed.
The first step to rigging a carabiner brake is to clip two reversed carabiners with gates opposed onto your harness belay loop. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

To be a competent climber, learn how to rig a carabiner brake so you can safely rappel if you drop or forget your rappel device.

Practice Before Using

The carabiner brake was the safest way to rappel before the use of belay and rappel devices in the 1970s. It is, however, complicated to set up with six components and can be rigged incorrectly, especially in bad weather or darkness. Practice rigging and using the carabiner brake before you actually use it in an emergency situation.

What You Need

You need six carabiners for rigging. Oval carabiners are best, although D-shaped carabiners also work. Avoid bent gate carabiners unless that’s all you have in an emergency. Locking carabiners are useful. Use a large locking carabiner instead of two regular ones to clip onto your harness belay loop. Locking carabiners are also good for the brake, especially if you want to use a single carabiner for less friction than double carabiners. Auto-locking carabiners are better than screw-gate ones since they won’t accidently open.

Always Oppose Carabiner Gates

Always reverse and oppose all carabiner gates when you rig the system so they can never accidently open. Also don't set up the carabiner brake directly on your harness belay loop. Always use two carabiners or a locking carabiner to rig the brake on, otherwise, you risk abnormal wear and damage to the belay loop.

Step 1 to Rig Brake

Take two carabiners and clip them onto your harness belay loop. Make sure the carabiners are reversed and that their gates are opposed so they never accidently open at the same time. Alternatively, use a single large locking carabiner, auto-locking preferred, to clip onto the belay loop.

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Step 2 to Rig Carabiner Brake

Make sure the carabiners are reversed and the gates are opposed.
The second step to rigging a carabiner brake is to clip two more reversed carabiners with gates opposed onto the first two carabiners. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Take two more carabiners and clip them onto the two carabiners that are already attached to your harness belay loop. Reverse the carabiners so they face in opposite directions and make sure the carabiner gates oppose each other so they cannot accidently open and cause the set-up to fail. These two carabiners form the frame of the braking system.

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Step 3 to Rig Carabiner Brake

A bight of rope is simply an open loop.
The third step to rigging a carabiner brake is to push a bight or loop of your rappel ropes up through the frame of two reversed carabiners with opposing gates. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Take a bight or open loop of your rappel ropes and push it up through the outside carabiners which forms the frame of the carabiner brake system.

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Step 4 to Rig Carabiner Brake

Use locking carabiners so the brake crabs never come open by accident.
The fourth step to rigging a carabiner brake is clip two brake carabiners across the frame of carabiners and below the bight of rope. Tighten up and you're ready to rappel!. Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Now for the most important step to rig your carabiner brake system. Take two more carabiners and clip them across the carabiner frame and below the bight of rope. Make sure the carabiners both face down and away from the rope and are reversed to each other with each carabiner gate opposed to the other. Use locking carabiners if possible to avoid any possibility of the gates accidently coming open. Pull down on the bight of rope and let it run across the top of the carabiners. Add additional carabiners or another frame of two carabiners and two more brake carabiners on the end to create even more friction in the system.

Ready to Rappel!

Now you’re ready to rappel. But first, double-check your whole carabiner brake system. Make sure all carabiners are reversed to each other and all gates are opposed. This rappel system builds up lots of heat while rappelling. The brake and frame carabiners might be too hot to handle when you reach your next rappel station or the ground.