A No-Nonsense Beginner Guide to Canyoning Like A pro
It doesn't matter if you're getting into it for the first time or looking to take your skills to the next level; we have everything that beginners and experts can use. With our Beginner's guide to Canyoning like a pro, we will explore the essential Gear needed for this sport and different types of techniques and tips on how to be successful.
What is Canyoning? Canyoning is the sport of traveling down a river which usually involves some jumps, slides, and other fortifications. You can go Canyoning in various parts of the world, but Australia has some of the best because it has lots of rain to feed its rivers.
What Gear do I need?
Gear for Canyoning is not as complex or expensive as you may think. Here we'll go through the basic equipment and, if applicable, the extra to look out for. To go Canyoning, you need a wetsuit, helmet, life jacket/dry-bag, climbing harness, shoes that won't slip off when wet (like Tevas or Chaco's) and some more gear items. Let's have a closer look at them.
Canyoning Shoes: Rubber sandals, usually with large rubber "teeth" along the outside of the sandal. They are designed for foot-holds in sandstone and provide security on wet rock surfaces. Just about any sandal with good tread and rubber soles will do. The cheap, $10 kind from Target is better than nothing, but a better option would be a pair of Chaco's.
Canyoning Backpack: A backpack with a dry bag inside is the best way to carry all your stuff while Canyoning. Ensure that it will hold all of your Gear without ripping, has plenty of loops to attach things, and can fit a water bladder.
Helmet: A helmet is *mandatory* while Canyoning and any time you are in the slot canyon environment. The granular rock that lines the slot canyon walls will crumble under pressure - think sandstone - and it is always best to be safe.
Climbing Harness: A climbing harness with two "leg loops" (not one) works the best; they let you easily slide in/out of the harness while Canyoning, unlike a sit-in style (which are *very* uncomfortable for this type of activity).
Rope: A 9mm dynamic half rope will work best. They're thin enough to negotiate tight corners but thick enough that they won't burn your hands when tugging on them. It is a good idea to have two ropes, as you can then belay for someone else or yourself without having to tie and untie knots all the time.
Wetsuit: A 3mm full suit is recommended, but cotton and shorts/t-shirt can work if you are extremely careful. Wetsuits rarely catch on edges the way other clothing does, though, so it's better to be safe than sorry.
Goggles: Goggles with a tight seal will prevent debris from entering your eyes. Any goggles will work just fine, but the "Skwal" style of goggles are explicitly meant for Canyoning and have a rubber mesh that stops debris from entering your eyes.
Grabbing Equipment: Self-explanatory; you will need some way to pull yourself up when climbing waterfalls. A prusik loop makes for an easy makeshift grabber, and there are several different products on the market to do the job well.
Helmet Mount: A helmet mount can be used with a standard headlamp (or Petzl Tactikka headlamp ) to illuminate any tight spaces without holding a separate lamp in your hand. It gives you two free hands instead of one, making it much easier to maneuver in tight spaces.
Headlamp: Any standard headlamp will work just fine for Canyoning. Be sure to purchase the mount mentioned above if you want your headlamp on your helmet.
Dry Bag: A dry bag is an essential piece of equipment while Canyoning. You put your cell phone and wallet in there, and it will keep your stuff nice and dry. Ditch the backpack and use a dry bag instead!
Clothes: Just like any outdoor sport, canyoning clothes should be comfortable, functional, and water-resistant. Synthetic or wool fabrics work best as they don't absorb water as much as cotton does. Make sure to dress in layers, as it can get extremely hot or cold depending on the weather conditions that day!
Slings: You will need webbing (or "tape") that is about 8-12 feet long, along with two locking carabiners. The tape should be wrapped around any stable rocks for stability; pulling yourself up on unstable rocks is dangerous and a quick way to fall!
Rappelling Device: A simple figure 8 device with an extra carabiner can suffice as a rappelling device, but many different options are available (and they're cheap!). Just make sure that your device has two different attachment points.
Helmet Tape: There are several self-adhesive options on the market to make your helmet more visible (and thus safer) while Canyoning. If you're planning on doing any canyon with waterfalls/rappels, get yourself some high-visibility tape!
Sunscreen: A MUST if you are going out in the sunny outdoors; it will block the UV rays that can lead to sunburns, so always apply some sunscreen before you go out!
Waterproof Case: Your phone is more than likely not waterproof, so if it falls in a pool of water or gets rained on, it will ruin the phone. Get yourself a good waterproof case to keep it nice and dry!
Shoe Covers: Most canyons have a lot of loose rocks and boulders, which means you will inevitably step on a sharp rock at some point. Shoe covers not only help keep your feet clean, but they also protect them from sharp rocks!
Booties: A good set of booties that you wear over your shoes (and under your wetsuit) will help protect the rubber of your shoes, keeping them nice and sticky for Canyoning.
Waterproof Camera: A waterproof camera is an absolute must if you plan on taking photos while Canyoning; not only will it ensure that your phone stays safe in its case, but it also allows you to take pictures of yourself Canyoning!
Wading Boots: If you're going to be doing any wade-able canyons (which most beginners will), then a pair of wading boots is essential. They keep your feet dry, protect them from sharp rocks, and also help you get a better grip on slippery rocks.
Hiking Boots: If you want to be prepared and do any hiking while Canyoning (which you can), hiking boots are a good choice. Just make sure that the boots aren't too heavy or restrictive; if you choose this route, go for quality over price!
Sturdy Backpack: While an old backpack will suffice, there's no reason why you shouldn't invest in a good one. If you're planning on Canyoning with your phone, wallet, clothes, water, etc., it's crucial to get a backpack that will keep everything safe and dry!
Carabiner: Make sure to purchase non-locking carabiners for rappelling; they are much faster than lockers and ensure that you have a carabiner at the bottom of every rappel.
Types of canyons
Most canyons have a significant impact on your experience. The choice you make regarding location can be the difference between a leisurely day out and a fight for survival. To choose the proper canyon for you, define what kind of adventure do you seek:
What type of rock is there?
As canyons are carved mainly by water, they usually follow the same path. Over thousands of years, the stream will cut deeper and deeper into its surrounding rocks, creating a canyon that follows specific rules depending on the type of rock it is formed through. Most types of canyons exist in different subspecies. Knowing your type of rock will help you understand what kind of canyoning experience to expect.
Sandstone (soft) - usually has long, deep pools between drops. It's rocky at the bottom and gets smoother as it goes up. Most sandstones are called 'overhanging' because they often have soft, steep walls with little vegetation providing shade. Sandstone rockslides are unique as they accumulate deep pools between drops, making it feel like walking through a canyon with waist-deep waterfalls.
Rockslides (soft to hard) – you can expect smooth, steep walls and a mix of types of drops. Rockslide canyons usually have scree at the bottom and provide little shade.
A few examples: Pipe organs (sandstone), Thriller (rockslide), Twilight zone (rockslide).
Fracture/dike systems (complex) cut across the layers of softer rocks and can be found at almost any canyon location. You can expect narrow gorges with rocky walls and waterfalls. They are usually dry during the summer, only containing puddles after rain or snowmelt.
A few examples: Ribbon Falls (fracture), Roadside attractions (interstitial).
Limestone (soft to hard) - depending on whether it was created through tectonic activity or sea erosion, you can expect different types of limestone. Limestone tectonics are usually smaller than other canyons with steep walls lined by vegetation. They provide shade if there's no vegetation, but their narrow gorges often make it feel hot.
Tectonic – can vary from very hard at the bottom too soft at the top, often providing lots of ledges and deep pools.
Sea erosion – these are usually very smooth, with gentle slopes and flat bottoms covered in sand. They can have a few deep pools, but also lots of shallow ones. They provide shade during the summer months as they usually have a lot of vegetation surrounding them.
Safety tips and tricks
1. When doing a canyon for the first time, it is essential to make sure that you have someone who has been there before with you. This person may not need to go down the entire route with you, but he should show you a few basic things. Things like how deep the water is going down and where the water levels are high. This way, you don't have to spend unnecessary time going down a wrong route and end up in a dead-end canyon that you won't be able to get out of without help, or worse - which may not even have an exit!
2. The next thing that is important to find out from your guide is the most significant risks.The most significant risks are usually those you have to climb up, down, or across steep, slippery rocks. The canyon will most likely be filled with water which reduces the friction between your legs/feet and the rock below them by at least 50% - so you need to be extra careful around those areas. We recommend always having a safety line attached with a quick-release buckle around your waist during the whole descent, which you can use to clip onto rocks or branches on the way down. Make sure that there is enough slack in your line so that your feet can reach the ground when you are standing upright, but not too much slack, so it doesn't tangle you up on significant steps. If you lose balance, you fall, and the safety line slams tight against the rock will save your life.
3. Aftermath. You should always have a first aid kit in your car when Canyoning or in your daypack while doing it. A few items every canyoning first aid kit should include are clean cloths (bandages), antiseptic, tweezers, tick removal tool, adhesive bandages. If you have heavy bleeding, do not attempt to stop it by yourself. Find a helper and tighten the cloth around the wound so that your helper can put pressure on it while you are securing it with an additional bandage.
If you are bitten by a snake or stung by another insect, remove the venom from your system by putting snow on the wound/bitten area to reduce swelling and pain. If you cannot find snow, put ice cubes in a plastic bag, wrap them into a cloth, and then use them as an ice pack.
Do not apply ice directly to the skin as it may cause frostbite. Avoid giving the patient any analgesics - they tend to slow down breathing, which you don't want when venom is shutting down your respiratory system. It would be much better if you could find a snake that has been killed by a stick or a stone and keep it in your freezer. This way, you can show it to a doctor, so s/he can identify the type of snake which bit you.
In case of a snake bite, venom from some snakes will not affect the human body if you apply pressure around the wound for at least an hour with a suction cup or drinking straw that you have cut off to the correct size.
If your muscles feel very weak, drink some water. If you have a headache, get it checked by a doctor who can prescribe something to reduce the pain and prevent it from becoming worse.
In case of an injury that requires stitches, it is advisable to get them done in a hospital - this way, they will be 100% sterile. If you have to do them yourself, sterilize your sewing needle and a pair of scissors before starting the operation. Use a strong fishing line or dental floss to sew up an incision or a wound. Dental floss is much stronger than the thread doctors use in stitches and also has wax/polish to make it even stronger.
If you have broken a bone, try to immobilize/splint the limb with clothes or branches, so it doesn't move while waiting for rescue. Wrap up any open wound - being in nature will attract all sorts of nasty insects! And if you are in pain, take some ibuprofen to help alleviate the symptoms.
The Big Three - how to stay alive when canyoning
When climbing, do not climb up loose rocks and soil. If you're unlucky, this will cause a rockslide, and people below potentially get injured.
If you lose your footing in a canyon, don't try to swim through the water or hold onto rocks. Instead, it would help if you tried to land on your feet and use the stream's current and the water to stay afloat.
At all times, make sure you can get out of a canyon by yourself (or with someone else) if you get stuck or injured. If this isn't possible, everybody must know where you went and how long you would typically take to get back. If you don't make it back on time, the alarm goes off, and everybody starts looking for you. If something happens to one of your buddies, help them out immediately - there is nothing heroic about dying in a foreign country because nobody made an effort to save you! So: One for all, all for one.
Canyoning can be a hazardous activity - because of its high levels of risk, and there are quite a few things you should seriously consider before venturing out to the wilderness by yourself or with your buddies. As always, when using sharp items, climbing tools are efficient but also dangerous to use. Unlike spades or shovels, you can't put them down when walking. Therefore, it is advisable to have someone walking in front of you hold onto the tools while climbing or crawling through a canyon.
What about your clothes? Well - they should be either old and worn out enough so that s/he doesn't care if they get ripped/dirty/destroyed or so new and expensive that you don't want to ruin them. I would advise the latter because most people will be more careful if their clothes are costly than if they just bought them at a discount for $5 at the local market.
Leaving your things unattended is not an option - but going to them with somebody you trust isn't always possible either. The most important thing about Canyoning is that you and your buddies come home in one piece every time!
Never leave somebody behind.
Never go in a canyon if it is raining or in any other hazardous weather condition.
Know where the rescue points are and use them if needed, and tell somebody who's not going with you where you're going and when you expect to return.
Now that we've got this out of the way, here is a step-by-step guide on how to canyoneer like a pro
1) Study the area
Before even thinking about entering the water, it is crucial to get familiar with the area. Study photos of canyons (you can find quite a few here ) and check out the map of the site you're planning to go to.
2) Tell somebody where you are going, when to expect you back and who's coming with you
Whether your mother or best friend, it's important to tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to return.
3) Check if there are any "No Entry" or "Danger" signs on the canyon
Don't enter canyons that have warning signs - these mean that somebody has died or otherwise got seriously injured in the past!
4) Wear the suitable clothing
Wear clothes that are not only suitable for the weather condition but also for the type of canyon you're planning to go into. Depending on whether it is wet or dry, if there is a current or not, how wide the canyon is, etc., different clothing items are needed. For example, if you're planning to go into a narrow canyon with sheer rocks and high water, your priority should be staying afloat and not complaining if you get wet or dirty. Clothing that is too tight will throttle you and prevent you from swimming effectively within the stream. Instead, opt for something more loose-fitting such as hiking shorts and a t-shirt. If you're planning to go into a canyon that doesn't have any or much water in it, then you can even skip the swimsuit and opt for something more comfortable such as jeans and a t-shirt.
However: Never wear shoes with laces - this is probably the most common mistake people make, and it's no surprise why: We are obsessed with footwear that looks good! However, this is just a stupid idea in canyons because it dramatically reduces your grip on the ground.5) Make sure you have all the right tools
What good is it to go into the unknown if you don't even have what you need? Make sure that your canyoning adventure doesn't end before it has even started by making sure to bring all the necessary tools with you.
6) Get to know your buddies
More often than not, you will find yourself in a canyon with people you don't know. Just because they are your friends doesn't necessarily mean that they are good canyoning partners - especially if they haven't done it before! It is vital to get an idea of how your buddies act in the water, whether they are stressed or calm, whether they panic easily etc. - this way, you can prepare yourself for anything that might come your way.
7) Be aware of downstream dangers
Canyons never go in a straight line but instead wind all over the place! This means that at some point, you will reach downstream obstacles such as waterfalls. It is essential to be aware of these when planning your route because you want to avoid them at all costs - they might be easy to climb when standing upstream, but when standing downstream, there is no way out!
You've learned some essential tips on how to canyoneer like a pro. We hope this guide has helped you understand the different types of clothing, tools, and safety precautions needed for your next canyon adventure! Be sure to share these pointers with anyone who might be interested in taking up Canyoning as an activity - they'll thank you later!