best rope descenders

Top 7 Best Rope Descenders

What's the Best Rope Descender in 2022? Here's a list of top 7 Rope Descenders For Climbers based on years of experience, real users’ reviews and safety features

Climbing equipment manufacturers are constantly developing better and safer ways to protect you when going both up and down rock faces, and it is often the down that causes the most problems. Enter the rope-descender – a humble mechanism designed to assist your journey back to planet earth. In this guide, we aim to tell you what rope descenders are, how and when to use them, and to explain our favorite and best rope descenders available on the online marketplace.

What’s the Best Rope Descenders?

Rope-descenders come in many shapes and forms, ranging from the more traditional style figure 8 metal loops to complex mechanisms with automatic braking power. While a traditional descender may be perfect for one person, it might not be intuitive enough for another. We have created the following list of our favorite rope-descenders through a combination of personal experience, online reviews from other climbers, and comparing product specifications. We have highlighted where each product stands out, and where others may be a preferable option. We have also provided some answers to some commonly asked questions after our product comparisons to help you understand rope-descenders a little better.

1. AOKWIT 50KN Rescue Figure 8 Descender

PROS

A huge 50KN of force resistance,

Classic and simple design with modern features for a streamlined use,

Versatile product that can be used for much more than descending in many situations besides rock climbing,

An affordable piece of equipment

CONS

Not as simple and intuitive to use as some more modern designs

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The AOKWIT 50KN Rescue Figure 8 descender is a modern spin on the classic piece of climbing equipment, engineered to increase usability and to maximize braking capacity when in use. The modified shape of the larger loop helps to optimize the rope position for comfort and glide, and the additional ears on either side of the product help to lock off with maximum efficiency. Once you have learned how to use a figure 8 device for rappelling, which does take some attention and time, the AOKWIT 50KN is simple and safe to use and packed with subtle features to maximize your safety.

2. AOKWIT Rescue Figure 8 Descender

PROS

Cheaper than the AOKWIT 50KN Descender listed above,

Provides a more than adequate 35kn of force resistance,

Simple, minimalist, lightweight design

CONS

Not as streamlined as the AOKWIT 50KN and without ears for better braking compatibility

The AOKWIT Rescue figure 8 descender is essentially a classic figure 8 rappelling device, comparable to the equipment that has been used since before rock climbing became such a popular sport. Again, using a figure 8 descender safely takes some time and training, but once you have endured the initial step, they are excellent pieces of equipment to use, albeit at the cost of a little time as you undergo multiple safety checks with each use. As it is simpler and weaker than the 50KN, it is considerably cheaper, and certainly provides enough protection for climbers despite not having the full 50KN of resistance capacity. It is also available in a multitude of colors.

3. PETZL Zigzag Plus Descender

PROS

Can be used to easily ascend as well as descend a rope system,

Small and lightweight,

Intuitive design in either direction

CONS

Designed for arborist work and not for rock climbing,

By far, the most expensive product on this list

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While the PETZL Zigzag is a highly efficient and easy-to-use piece of equipment, it is actually streamlined for arborists who are working at heights and need to move around trees with ease and fluidity. This can be transferred to the climbing wall, but you will be paying a lot of money for features that you may not necessarily need. The resistance is also measured in KG, much like the other two lever systems mentioned in this article, and so it is not as strong as the figure 8 systems which are designed to take a fall. If you are looking for a product that provides the most ease of movement, both up and down the rope, then perhaps this is the one for you, but it comes at a premium.

4. Ito Rocky Climbing Gear Ascender and Rappelling Descender

PROS

Premium, streamlined product,

Intuitive to use via a simple handle,

Can be easily set up without disconnecting the rope from your harness,

CE certified

CONS

Expensive product with many moving parts that can, over time, become faulty and need replacing,

Force resistance measured in KG and not KN, suggests the product is not so safe if resisting a fall

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The Ito Rocky Climbing ascender and descender is a more modern product, designed to make rappelling more intuitive and simple than the traditional figure 8 designs that are featured above. It is an auto-locking device that is operated using a simple lever system to lower the weight safely down. It can easily be installed on a rope system without untying the rope from your harness which makes it quick and safe to set up in those moments which require all of your concentration. It is, however, quite expensive, and not as strong as the figure 8 descenders listed above. The product also doubles up as a rope ascender.

5. Epic Peak Rescue Figure 8 Descender

PROS

Cheaper than the comparable AOKWIT 50KN,

An admirable 40KN of force resistance,

Eared design for better braking power,

Streamlined shape for optimal rope positioning

CONS

Not as strong as the AOKWIT 50KN,

The dark color can be hard to see against your harness

The Epic Peak Rescue Figure 8 Descender is comparable to the AOKWIT 50 as it has an almost identical shape and, therefore, can be used in exactly the same way. The eared design helps with braking in emergencies. The larger loop is shaped so that the rope glides through in the optimal position. The larger loop, however, is a little smaller than the AOKWIT 50, and the product is a little weaker, although more than strong enough to support a fall and any rappelling situation. Some people might find it hard to see against their dark harness as the color is quite dark, which, while a minor detail, can cause some frustration in some very difficult situations.

6. NewDoar Climbing Stop Descender

PROS

Simple and intuitive to use,

Easy to set up on an already installed rope system without disconnecting,

No need to struggle with learning how to use a figure 8 product

CONS

Not designed to take a fall,

Expensive product

See it in your local store:

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The NewDoar Climbing Stop Descender is, in many ways, identical to the Ito Rocky Climbing Gear Ascender. It can take a little more weight and actually costs slightly less as well, but otherwise, it is quite hard to distinguish the products from each other. While simple to use, it is quite difficult to control the speed of your descent using the lever system.

7. GM CLIMBING 40kN Rescue Figure 8 Descender

PROS

40KN of force resistance,

Streamlined figure 8 design,

Bright color

CONS

Not quite as strong as the AOKWIT 50KN

See it in your local store:

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The GM Climbing 40KN Rescue figure 8 descender is another example of a modified figure 8 design, which is eared for braking power and shaped to allow for maximum ease of use. It is slightly weaker than the AOKWIT 50KN, but more than strong enough for almost any climbing situation.

While there are some modern products on the market with clever levering abilities to increase the ease of use and setup, we still feel there is no replacement for the figure 8 design due to the strength and versatility that these products provide climbers. The AOKWIT 50KN is by far the strongest product listed and is not much more expensive than comparable products. The bright color makes it easy to see against most harness systems, and the streamlined design is perfect for rock climbing. While users do have to learn how to use the product safely, we feel that this is by far one of the best rope descenders and the payoff and additional safety are more than worth it.

What You Should Know Before Buying Rope Descender

We understand that purchasing safety equipment can be a daunting experience. After all, you will be literally placing your life into the hands of the manufacturers that produce it, and that is a pretty important thing to risk. To put your mind at ease, we have thrown together this guide to help you understand when and if you might need a rope descender and how it may make your climbing experience a little bit easier.

Best Rope Descenders - blue anchor slings and safeties while climbing

What are ascenders and descenders?

Simply put, it’s all in the name. A rope-ascender will assist you in climbing up a rope. They usually come in the form of either handles with small teeth that will only let the rope slide in one direction or small clips you can attach to your shoes. Some people will also use something called a daisy chain for this instead. A rope-descender is a mechanism that will assist you in safely climbing down a rope, and is often used in rescue, gardening, and any sports that require ropes.

What is a descender in climbing?

While there are many different methods for dismounting a route that you can’t top-out, which include using your belay device to rappel, abseiling with the help of a climbing partner attached on the other end, or just staying anchored to the top of the route for the rest of your life. Rope-descenders are another method of safely coming down a rope, either after finishing a route or in mountaineering in general.

How do you use a rope descender?

How to use a rope descender very much depends on what rope descender you are using, and also what you are using it for. For example, some climbers, particularly those who are slightly older or who have learned more traditional techniques, will comfortably and safely belay their partner using a figure 8 descender, amongst other things. As well as having multiple functions, there are also multiple ways to set up your descender, as seen in this helpful youtube video that displays ten different configurations.

If you are using something less traditional, like a Petzl Zigzag, for example, the setup and functionality are very different, although it can still be used to descend a rope.

The most common use of a rope descender is, as the name suggests, for descending a rope. A simple setup and use can be seen in the following video, which is much simpler to follow than a long explanation in words.

Precautions while using a rope descender

We cannot emphasize this first point enough, so we have put it in bold and underlined it. Always tie a knot at the end of the rope that you are rappelling down. If rappelling down both sides simultaneously, tie a knot in both ends. There are sadly numerous incidents every year of climbers, both novice and professional, who forget this little detail that takes no more than 30 seconds to do and end up paying with their lives.

Furthermore, while it is impossible to cover every single situation (remember that climbing is considered a dangerous sport), it is worth trying to figure out how you will protect yourself as best as possible. Here are a few points worth considering before you begin your rappel.

  • While rappelling using most descenders, it is worth setting up a prusik loop to hold the rope close to your body and stop you automatically should you loosen some rock from above and knock yourself unconscious.
  • Check the wear and tear on all of the weight-bearing equipment so that it doesn’t break in operation.
  • Double and triple-checking all of your knots before you bet your life on them.
  • Check the rope either touches the ground or goes beyond the next anchor point where you intend to rappel from.
  • Check for obstacles such as rocks and trees that might hinder your descent.
  • Check that you are comfortable with all of the equipment and processes before you even consider descending. Maybe set up the system a few times at home at a very low height so that you have some practice before your life depends on it.

Questions and Answers About Rope Descender

Is a figure 8 descender better?

A figure 8 is a versatile piece of equipment that can be used for so much more than simply descending. It does take a little more time to understand the theory behind how it works before using it safely in the field than some of the newer designs featured on our list, however, the lack of moving parts makes it considerably more durable. Whether or not it is better or worse than other designs is purely a matter of opinion, and will depend largely upon how you intend to use it.

How do you use figure 8 descender?

Have a look at the videos posted above under “how to use a rope descender” for a detailed demonstration of setting up a figure 8 descender and how to use it safely.

What is a rappel ring?

A rappel ring is a solid loop of metal that is most often used at anchor points. They are often used when climbers have to quickly bail from a route at the sacrifice of some cheap but trustworthy equipment.

Can you rappel with a dynamic rope?

You certainly can rappel using a dynamic rope, but do be aware that the rope will stretch considerably more than a static rope, so be sure to slow down your rappel before you get to the ground and not to stop suddenly to compensate for this.

Lydia Yang

Lydia Yang

Lydia Yang is a Singaporean city girl who decided to ditch her high heels for hiking boots and become a full-time traveller and digital nomad. She has been to almost 60 countries to date! She has a knack for adventure travel, especially rock climbing, and always hunts down the best climbing spots around the world. Check out her expert advice on the best outdoor crags to climb at or what workouts to improve your climbing performance.

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