Adventure sports often come with a whole host of specialist equipment – and rap jumping is no exception! From the rope and rappel device, through to the carabiner and helmet, we’ve identified and discussed nine pieces of essential equipment.
There are many different types of rope that are used by those who are abseiling or rappelling. Typically, a low-stretch rope is the best option for recreational abseiling; this type of rope should have around 2% stretch when under load with a person of average weight. Referred to as a ‘static rope’, it helps to reduce bouncing for an easier descent.
In terms of thickness, it’s generally a matter of the thicker, the better. Ropes with 10mm-11mm diameter generate better friction when fed through the rappel device, making it easier to control your descent speed.
Used to secure the rope at the top of the descent, anchors vary depending on the situation. In a natural setting, climbers may use anchors such as boulders and trees or pitons (metal spikes that are wedged into cracks in the rock face); however, in a professional setting purpose-made, fixed anchors are used.
When you join Rap Jumping for a rappelling session, your rope will be secured to a fixed anchor at the top of Urban Central (the seven-storey hotel where we run our rap jumping sessions).
The descender (sometimes called a rappel device) is a friction device/hitch that allows the rope to be fed through in a controlled manner while under load – all while requiring only minimal effort by the person using it.
The speed at which the person descends can be controlled via this device; this is managed by the amount of force applied to the rope below the device, or by altering the angle at which the rope leaves the device. While adrenaline junkies might enjoy a faster descent, others choose to reach the ground at a more leisurely pace!
There are many different versions of this device – some purpose-made and some improvised. Purpose-made mechanical descenders include braking bars, the figure eight (which is the style of descender used here at Rap Jumping), the gold tail, the ‘bobbin’ and its self-locking alternative the ‘stop’, and the ‘sky genie’ – which is often used by firefighters tasked with battling wildfires. Improvised descenders include a carabiner wrap, the Munter hitch, the piton bar brake (often called the piton and carabiner), and the basic crossed-carabiner brake.
The figure eight is popular with abseil companies and recreational rappellers as it is easier to use and makes for a very smooth descent. Shaped like a figure of eight with a large and small hole, the device works via friction; the rope goes through the big hole, around the small hole and then back through the large hole. The carabiner (see below) attaches the small hole to the harness.
A carabiner is essentially a large clip that is used to hold all the different parts of a climbing system together. For experienced climbers, multiple carabiners are often used. Locking carabiners – where the clip part locks shut – are essential as they ensure the clip doesn’t come open during descent.
In a commercial setting, the primary role of the carabiner is to attach the descender to the harness.
Carabiners are also used by experienced climbers to create backup knots (see below).
When abseiling or rappelling, a harness is used around the waist to secure the descender. Generally, a climbing harness is used in this scenario and it secures around your waist and upper legs to form a comfortable ‘seat’.
An autoblock knot, Klemheist knot or prusik may be used as a backup in case the abseiler loses control. Also called friction hitches, these knots are wrapped around the rope below the descender using a short loop of cord or webbing; this is often called a prusik loop. This loop is attached to the leg loop or belay loop of the harness via a carabiner.
At Rap Jumping we always put your safety first. Although a backup knot is commonly used by experienced rappellers, we always use a brake person (who stands at the bottom) to take control of your descent should you lose control or run into difficulties.
Helmets are an essential safety item, especially for experienced rappellers who descend cliff faces where loose rocks are a potential issue.
However, even in controlled settings helmets are very important. Although there are no loose rocks at Urban Central, all participants must still wear a helmet as it’s theoretically possible (although very uncommon) for jumpers to bump their head on the wall during descent.
Gloves serve to protect your hands from the rope as you descend, making the process more comfortable. Gloves are nearly always used by recreational abseilers; however, mountaineers and climbers often go gloveless – especially in higher risk situations – as it gives them greater feel. It also eliminates the risk of the gloves becoming caught in the descender, which could prove very dangerous when not in a controlled setting.
Good sturdy boots are essential. The most important thing is to have soles with an adequate amount of grip, as this allows you to maintain traction with the wall during descent.
As with any extreme sport, having the right equipment is very important – both in terms of comfort and safety. At Rap Jumping we use modern, well-maintained equipment to ensure participants’ safety at all times.
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