How to add HFB to your Classic Totem Block

Hands Free Backup is a concept that has different names in different rope work disciplines, but basically, it is a way to ensure that if you accidentally let go of the rope, a backup system kicks in, and prevents a runaway rope running through the system, resulting in a fall, or uncontrolled lower.

In canyoneering, this is particularly relevant when we rig a Releasable System at the rappel station to set rope length, or as a contingency in case of the need for an emergency lower or a rescue.

Friction, Stooper, Lock

Every releasable system has 3 elements: Friction, Stopper, and a Lock.

When we release, we remove the Lock and replace the Stopper with our hands. If we lose grip, the rope will start running. The team member will go down at the rate of the friction set in the system. Depending on the system, like a Munter Hitch, the speed of falling can be close to a free fall.


Because of this, some training organizations promote adding a fail safe backup like:

  • Adding a prusik to the system
  • Adding a second pair of hands

These measures prevent a fall or run away system in case the operator at the rappel station lets go of the rope. But measures like these have its drawbacks.

  • Prusiks take time to install, and some circumstances are time sensitive, like in swiftwater
  • Sometimes there is no one available to lend a second pair of hands.

Stopper + Lock

A couple of years ago, the FFME (Fédération française de la montagne et de l’escalade) introduced a series of releasable systems that combine Stopper & Lock in one step. This combination of Stopper & Lock results in a releasable system that when you let go of the rope, the system Stops. preventing a fall or a runaway rope. Hence introducing something that behaves like a Hands Free Backup.Prusiks take time to install, and some circumstances are time sensitive, like in swiftwater Sometimes there is no one available to lend a second pair of hands.

Some welcomed these HFB new options for releasable systems. Others deemed them unnecessary: “How many accidents happen due to letting go of releasable systems?”

My personal perception is that accidents do not happen in these circumstances because for the most part, only skillful and experienced guides and leads are trusted with rigging and operating releasable rappel stations. But in the recreational realm of the sport, most of the time, there are no leads. Just peers trusting each other.

After a couple of years using these HFB systems, I think that they work great. Pro guides and advanced leaders can configure them in a variety of ways to suit their needs.


The first post on a series of adding HFB to a series of releasable systems. This first system in the series: Totem Classic Block

Totem block is one of the most reliable releasable blocks. Easy to rig, inspect, release and re-block. To add a HFB, all you need to do is pace the safety biner on the reserve strand, and release. Done. You can re-lock the system on the fly, or re-lock it for rope pull. Just revert the carabiner to its original position.

(Next items: Adding HFB to Totem Block Chain)

Original post in CGI for HFB Systems

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