How to use a figure 8 descender

Best Figure 8 Descenders

For those of you who don’t know what a figure 8 descender is, it’s a small belay device used as climbing equipment for controlling a rope during climbing. It’s designed in such a manner to improve the safety of the climber during belaying. Usually, aluminium alloy is used for its construction and it has a shape of the number 8 with one small and one large end.

You can either use it for belaying or rappelling. Sometimes referred to as just 8, climbers use it in tandem with a climbing harness as well as a locking carabiner for safety. They use it to control their own descent while rappelling and others’ descent during climbing. It’s a very useful piece of equipment and can be very effective if you know how to use it.

This Article Will Cover:

Positives and negatives
How to use a figure 8 descender While Climbing
3 Tips Regarding How to Use a Figure 8 Descender
Closing thoughts

Positives & Negatives


Figure 8 descenders can provide a very smooth, controlled descent when lowering climbers or rappelling once you know how to use a figure 8 descender.

The good thing is that you can use figure 8 descenders with any type and diameter of rope you’re using during climbing. Figure 8s have a good ability to dissipate heat. They don’t get hot due to friction as compared to a number of other climbing devices. Once you have figured out how to use a figure 8 descender, you’ll notice you are able to use them with doubled ropes as well. It’s possible with a rack but not with a bobbin.


However, despite all the positives, figure 8 descenders do have some flaws too.

You can’t remove a figure 8 descender from your rope without detaching it from your harness. This means that you can accidentally drop it as well, especially when you want to tackle a rebelay. These devices also tend to twist your rope which is an issue, especially where your rebelay stops the rope from untwisting. During a rebelay, you cannot lock your descent temporarily.

Ice climbing using a figure 8 descender
You certainly want to make sure you know how to use a figure 8 descender in this situation…

How to Use a Figure 8 Descender While Climbing

There are different ways to use a figure 8 descender. And these methods will vary according to the user experience, body weight, rope type as well as the physical attributes of the figure 8 descender device. These techniques are for experienced personnel who have used this device previously.  If you are not experienced then we urge you to try these techniques in a well-controlled and monitored environment for safety in the case of any unexpected performance or error. Even better, try using your figure 8 descender with an experienced climber who knows how to use a figure 8 descender device.

The Standard Configuration

This is the normal way in which climbers use a figure 8 descender:

  1. You need to remove it from your carabiner then pass one bight of your rope from its big hole
  2. Now pull this bight over the small hole of the device
  3. Then allow it to locate the shank of the 8 as you pull the bight tight
  4. Now clip the device’s small hole back to your carabiner
  5. Now you can control your descent by altering the tension by your hand holding the rope below

Make sure that you grip the brake rope with your primary brake hand as well as your second hand almost immediately just below the device. You can do so by holding down the spine of your carabiner.

To solve the issue of dropping the device while descending during the disconnection, you should pass the rope from the big hole instead of disconnecting it. It should go over the small hole. After that, you can open the carabiner and flip your figure 8 device to clip the small hole to your carabiner. When your descent completes just reverse the entire process and easily walk away with the rope clipped to the big hole.

Best Climbing Carabiners

The Other Configurations

There are various other configurations in which a figure 8 descender is very useful. These include the likes of rescue mode, sport mode, canyon mode, etc. Each of these has its own strengths and weaknesses. You must only try them if you have plenty of experience and know how to use a figure 8 descender. All of them vary in terms of holding power and for this reason, they are best for different types of activities.

3 Tips Regarding How to Use a Figure 8 Descender

Here are three tips that you need to consider whenever using a figure 8 descender device during rappelling or climbing.

  • For locking off the device you need to bring the strand from your brake hand over the top of the device and snug fit right in between the body of your figure 8 device, and your rappel strand.
  • Make sure that you pass it over your head to get the rope in the right position. Keep in mind that by bringing your strand up above your head, you will also reduce the friction within the device.
  • For solving the issue of rope twisting you can alternate right and left-handed threading of the devices for reversing any of these twists.

It is essential that you follow these tips to make sure that you are using your figure 8 device to its fullest potential.

Closing Thoughts

A figure 8 descender is a very effective tool that you can use in climbing. If you know how to use a figure 8 descender then this will become your go-to device for climbing as well as rappelling. It’s truly a versatile piece of equipment and a lot of experienced climbers have developed their own methods to use it. For this reason, they have been able to use it way beyond as a one-individual descent device.

It has become slightly obsolete as more and more devices are entering the market. However, people who have been used to working with, and know how to use a figure 8 descender device are still a huge fan of them and they prefer to use it more than anything.


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