Abseiling Vs Rappelling – What is the Difference?

Abseiling Vs Rappelling

When someone first starts getting into Rappelling, it takes some time to get used to all the different terms.  I often get the same question from most people just starting.  What is the difference between Abseiling and Rappelling?

Abseiling and Rappelling are different terms for the same thing.  Both terms refer to descending a mountain or other objects using a rope.  These terms are interchangeable, but if you are in the US, you will typically use Rappelling, and in Europe, they generally use abseiling. 

As you can see, the meaning of the two words is the same, but the origin and how they are used today is where it gets interesting.

Where Did The Terms Come From?

The term abseiling came from the mountaineers of Europe in the early 1800s.  It continues throughout Europe and the UK to describe when someone is descending a large surface like a mountain or building by a rope.

Rappelling originated in France, but they tend to use both terms.  From dictionary.com, “To descend a steep or vertical drop using a rope with a mechanical friction device or (classic abseil) by wrapping the rope around the body.”

The use of Rappelling is used primarily in the United States and surrounding countries.  The meaning of Rappelling is the same as abseiling.

There are a number of countries like New Zealand and Australia that also use both rappelling and abseiling frequently.

So the next time that you are on the mountain, and you hear someone use either team.  You’ll know what they are talking about.

Are There Any Differences in the Equipment and Style?

Now that we know the terms are interchangeable, we have to ask.  Are there any differences in the equipment or climbing styles between rappelling and abseiling?

This is also a pretty simple answer, no.  Overall the type of equipment between the two isn’t different.  You will have various manufacturers and maybe a few different looks.  But those are not because of the “style” of descending the rope.  Those are regional based.

Abseiling Vs. Rappelling Summary

As you can see from what we described above.  Abseiling and Rappelling are the same things, from the terminology to the style and equipment.

So next time that you are talking to your fellow climber, use the terms interchangeably to see if they know the difference or see how many confused looks you can get.

Need Gear for Your Rock Climbing Trip?

If you are planning a rock climbing adventure, you want to make sure that you have the right gear.  Check out our beginners guide for rock climbing equipment.


Lee G.

I love the outdoors! Everything from hiking, climbing, rappelling, and caving.

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