Abseiling comes in many different guises. From industrial applications to charity climbs to abseiling skills required when descending from a mountain there will be some variations in the types of clothes you’ll need to wear and in the equipment you’ll need to buy.
If you’re abseiling as part of a climbing expedition, you’ll be wearing the full rock climbing gear but, if you’re simply doing an abseil from a building, say for a charity fundraiser, or abseiling at an indoor climbing facility, then the rules surrounding your choice of clothing will be far more relaxed. Still, even these forms of abseiling require you to dress appropriately.
A recognised standard safety helmet must be worn and it’s also useful to wear thick gloves to prevent rope burn. Boots with a good grip are recommended or a good pair of training or sports shoes can be worn also. However, if you’re abseiling outdoors, even if it’s just from a building, it’s recommended that the soles of your chosen footwear are good at gripping in both dry and wet conditions.
Obviously, if you are abseiling as part of a rock climbing expedition, then proper climbing shoes should be worn and there is an article on the different kinds of climbing shoes available elsewhere in this section. Elbow and knee pads also offer extra protection.
Your clothing itself should be loose fitting and comfortable but not so loose that it flaps around and can get tangled up in ropes or can get jammed in descending devices. Likewise, any zips should be completely fastened or tucked out of sight.
Unless you are abseiling as part of a rock climbing expedition, all the equipment you’d need is usually provided for you but below is a list of the basic equipment you’d need to undertake a controlled descent. Ropes are covered in a separate article on this site.
A harness is probably the most important item in terms of your comfort and their design varies greatly depending on the type of climbing you’re involved with, be that sport, winter, traditional or alpine climbing but whichever you choose, you should ensure that it comes with the trademark safety stamp.
For those who are looking to try out different types of climbing, you can also purchase pretty good ‘all-round’ harnesses these days. A fully padded, adjustable one will prove far more comfortable, especially for hanging in which is very common when abseiling. When buying a harness to suit you, it’s important that you try to get the opportunity to hang in it, as opposed to simply strapping it on, as that will allow you to see just how comfortable it is. It should not restrict your leg movements and the waist belt should fit around your waist and not your hips. Wearing it too low can cause you to fall out of it.
The belay allows you to control the rope so is essential to abseiling. There are various types available for both indoor and outdoor use but some can be quite bulky and heavy and don’t necessarily provide enough friction on the rope which is fine if you’re an experienced climber but not suitable for a beginner.
Carabiners also come in different sizes but, for beginners, you should look for larger ones which enable you to feed the rope through the belay device more easily and are smoother to use. You should only buy carabiners which come fitted with a locking gate mechanism but don’t choose the ones with automatic locking gates as they tend to be more bulky.
Chalk provides you with extra grip on a rope so you’ll need a bag to carry it in. It’s also useful for stowing additional items such as your keys if you buy one with a zip pocket and they come in all kinds of different sizes and designs. It’s probably better to buy one which can clip directly onto the back of your harness or else you’ll need to carry an additional carabiner to do that for you.
A reputable outdoor climbing specialist retailer will be able to offer you advice on buying equipment which is tailored to your specific needs.