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A Review of the SCARAB Rappel, Belay and Rescue Device

Updated on May 24, 2016

The Conterra SCARAB is a Lightweight, Easy to Use, Multi-purpose Piece of Gear

Since joining a Search and Rescue technical team a few years ago, I've used various pieces of gear and methods of rappelling and lowering equipment and personnel over the edge.

For rappelling, I've used a brake rack, a Rescue-8, and a Munter hitch. Most recently, I tried a Conterra SCARAB, which can also be used as a belay and lowering device as well as in pick-offs and guiding line systems. I've found the SCARAB to be very user-friendly and efficient, as well as simple to tie off. It can be used for both a personal and a rescue load, because it's rated at 40kN.

As of now, the SCARAB is my top choice for a rappelling and lowering device.

The SCARAB - Named after Scarabaeidae beetles for its similar look


The SCARAB comes in both stainless steel (pictured above) and titanium. The titanium is lighter -- 6.60 ounces versus 13.8 ounces for the stainless -- but the maximum size rope it can take is 7/16" (11mm) down to a 1/4" (6mm). The stainless steel SCARAB can be used with 3/8" (9mm) to 1/2" (13mm) ropes.

The titanium costs a lot more than the stainless -- about $250 for the titanium SCARAB versus $100 for the stainless at this time.

You can purchase the SCARAB directly from the Conterra website, where you can also read about five years of drop- and slow pull testing as well as the extensive heat and wear studies that were done on this piece of equipment.

You can also find the Conterra SCARAB for sale in both stainless steel and titanium at Rescue Direct and AHS Rescue.

Features and Benefits:

  • The SCARAB is incredibly strong (frame and crossbar rated at greater than 40kN);
  • It doesn't twist the rope;
  • Enables the friction to be adjusted quickly by wrapping more or fewer horns;
  • You can lower 600 pounds with just two fingers;
  • The SCARAB is very easy to lock off;
  • It can be used right- or left-handed;
  • The SCARAB is single and double rope capable;
  • The rope can be attached without unclipping the device from the anchor.

Tying off the SCARAB
Tying off the SCARAB

Locking Off

Tying off or locking the SCARAB is similar to tying off a boat to a dock cleat.

Wrap the rope around all four horns, then form a loop by twisting the rope, and hook that loop over the second-to-last horn you wrapped (towards the load). Form another loop and hook that on the last horn (towards the anchor), pulling snugly.

For added security and peace-of-mind, especially if you'll be working over the edge hands-free for an extended period, you can add a half-hitch and overhand over the SCARAB once you've done the above.

Rappelling with the SCARAB

Excellent control ... something I want a lot of when going down

With the SCARAB, I feel like -- and know -- I have a lot of control over my rate of descent and can easily change the amount of friction on the way down by wrapping more or fewer "horns." It's also quick and easy to come to a stop and tie off.

A definite plus for me with the SCARAB is the security I feel when untying to continue the descent. With the mini brake rack, I experienced a bit of a drop on a number of occasions as I'd remove the final half-hitch of my tie-off to quickly return my hand and the rope to rappelling position. With the SCARAB, I've not dropped at all; I'm in perfect rappel position as soon as the last hitch of the tie-off is removed.

The SCARAB is equally as effective when rappelling with a two-person load when doing a pick-off.

Video: Rappelling with the SCARAB

Lowering with the SCARAB
Lowering with the SCARAB

Using the SCARAB as a Lowering Device

Before acquiring a SCARAB, our technical rescue team used a large brake rack for lowering personnel and equipment on the main line. While we do still use that device, and it works well, I've found the SCARAB to be superior in its simplicity of use, ease of locking off, and also the ease of taking up tension on the line compared to the brake rack.

Like on rappel, it's easier to increase or decrease tension with the SCARAB when lowering, by wrapping more or fewer horns. This can be done with one hand and without stopping the system.

Video: Instructions for Lowering

Video: Lowering with the SCARAB

Other Uses for the SCARAB

Video: Using the SCARAB with a Guiding Line

Video: Using a SCARAB for a Pick-Off

Other Rappelling Devices

The Mini Brake Rack

The hyper-bars add more friction control and aid with locking off. This is my second choice of a rappel device and the one I've used the most. I do prefer the SCARAB but feel comfortable with the min-rack as well.

Weight: 150 grams
Use With 7.9 To 8.5 mm Ropes
Aluminum bars are replaceable

The Rescue-8

This Rescue 8 is larger than a regular figure 8 and is designed specifically for rappelling and lowering heavy loads in rescue situations.

  • 1 forged aluminum ring for descending or belaying.
  • "Ears" to prevent rope lock up.
  • Accommodates rope up to 5/8" (inches).
  • Crafted of 6061-t6 aluminum and hard coated for durability.
  • 10,000 pound (44.5kn) minimum breaking strength (MBS). 8000 pound tested.

Here's the Smaller Figure 8 Belay/Rappel Device

  • Weight: 105 grams / 3.7 ounces
  • Strength: 35kN

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