Gear Guy

How should I rig my harness for rappelling?

Hopefully you can settle a debate regarding the use of climbing harness belay loops. When rappelling, a climbing guide said that the carabiner should be clipped through both the leg loop and waist belt where the rappel loop was threaded, not to the rappel loop itself. Others have told me that the 'biner should be clipped through the gear loop, not the leg loop and the waist belt. What's the correct answer? Tim Glastonbury, Connecticut

A: Sure, I can settle this debate: Both opinions are right. Next question?

Oh, wait. You probably want more than that. Well, as I said, they're both right. On the one hand, the rappel loop is designed to pull the harness together so the leg loops and waist belt work to support you. That can be important on very long rappels, or if you have to stand in your rappel halfway down for some reason.

But in climbing, it's always smart to be as conservative as possible. The guide thinks that, also. That's why he or she was right, too. Rappelling is a single-point failure exercise. If ANYTHING goes wrong, then the result is very, very bad. That's different from lead climbing, where, if you fall, you (theoretically) have a range of backups to save you—multiple placements, a belayer, belay anchor, and so on. So, for safety's sake, it's prudent to loop that big carabiner around as much harness material as you can, just to utterly eliminate any risk if the rappel loop is worn, chafed, or otherwise compromised. Heck, when I climb I often add to my waist belt a chest harness made of one-inch webbing that is attached to the harness, and the rappel 'biner goes through that AND the rappel loop. This way, I have two systems on line, a main one and a backup. It also ensures that I can't somehow tip upside-down, which is always a slight risk when using a waist harness alone.

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