How To

Canyoning Basics: A Beginner’s Guide

Canyoning has been gaining in popularity in all parts of the world. This sport mixes adrenaline and natural beauty, where you trek, swim, jump and canyon while marveling at your gorgeous surroundings. It’s a great way to explore nature and the outdoors through a different perspective.

If you’ve ever been interested or have practiced hiking, rappelling, bouldering, swimming, wading, rafting or waterfall jumping, then this might be the next sport for you.

Our beginner’s guide to canyoning will give you the basics you need to start your canyoning adventure.

What Is It?

Canyoning, at its most basic, is moving through and exploring a canyon. It’s the activity of descending rivers and streams while using any combination of walking, climbing, jumping, rappelling, sliding, and swimming.

Due to this combination, it is a highly extreme sport which can bring lots of excitement while enhancing your physical state, fitness, and self-confidence.

Basic Skills Required

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The best way to start and find out if canyoning is right for you is to join a guided trip. On this journey, you will be given the proper gear, be taught the right techniques and be able to go down a great canyon. If you have experience in caving, climbing or kayaking this is a great plus, as that knowledge will give you the basis upon which you can build your canyoning skills.

If you feel ready and want to try canyoning, make sure that you are in good shape, as it requires a lot of physical activity. Remember that you will be rock climbing, hiking, swimming, and more.

It’s also a bonus to know rappelling since that is the most common way to get down into a canyon. Rappelling means to slide down the side of a cliff or any vertical drop while holding a rope, and it’s something you want to make sure to do correctly. Therefore, make sure that you know how to do it or take some lessons before you head out.

Another thing you want to know is your knots. This is the main connection between your harness and rope and can be the only thing preventing massive injury or death. Make sure to know the basics of how to tie a proper knot, as this will keep you safe in a lot of situations.

Remember, you will be swimming as well, so make sure you can swim, as canyons are subject to flash floods and the dry rocks you’re on can quickly become a pool.

What Gear Do I Need?

In order to go canyoning, you need to have at least some basic equipment, the same as you would with any other extreme sport.

Here is a list of the things you will need for your trip. In case you don’t have any of the basics, you can find them in a specialty store.

Helmet: A good helmet is essential. You will need it to protect you while descending, and also keep you safer when facing any bumps or falling rock debris. We recommend a waterproof helmet in a bright color to make it easier to spot you in case you need rescue.

Wetsuit: Canyoning will require you to wear a wetsuit to keep you warm and comfortable, as you will get wet. It will also prevent you from getting hurt if you come into contact with abrasive surfaces. However, try to keep your wetsuit from rubbing onto the rocks, to stop it from developing tears or holes. The recommended thickness for the wetsuit is 4/3mm. It will keep you comfortable without restricting your motion.

Ropes: It is important that you bear in mind that canyoning ropes are made specifically for that purpose, and they are different from climbing ropes. Learn how to select the right one for canyoning here.

Canyoneering ropes made of polyester, making them static and waterproof. If you are just starting out, a thicker one is best. The length is also something to keep in mind, as longer ropes can be harder to work with. We recommend shorter ones, as long rappels are not common in canyoning.

Clothing: While getting dressed, use your common sense. Materials that dry out quickly are best suited for canyoning, as you will get wet, and are likely to sweat. You may encounter vastly different temperatures in the same canyon, where the top of the canyon is hot and sunny, and the bottom tends to be cool and with little sunlight. A fleece jacket is recommended to help insulate you against changing temperatures and conditions.

Shoes: You will need a good pair of shoes to keep you dry and comfortable. A decent pair of sneakers with a good sole grip will work if you’re not ready to invest in specialized canyoning shoes. Make sure that whatever shoes you choose aren’t waterproof or made out of Gore-Tex, as this will keep the water locked inside your shoe, and you will have wet feet throughout your trip.

Socks: Neoprene or merino wool socks work ideal for canyoning. These will keep your feet dry. You can also use neoprene booties for this purpose.

Dry Bags: You will most likely encounter water at some point, so having a dry bag with you is always a good idea to store items such as your phone, GPS and keep a change of clothing dry.

Gloves: While canyoning, some rappelling and stemming is required. This means that you will need to push against canyon walls with your hands and feet, so gloves are essential to keep your skin from wear and tear. Rubber-coated knit gloves are best, as they offer an excellent grip and are inexpensive.

GPS: You are vulnerable to getting lost in this sport, so having a GPS with you is recommended, as it will confirm that you are standing at the top of the correct canyon. Having a map and compass is also a good idea, especially if you don’t have a GPS unit.

Sunscreen: The sun can be very intense in canyon environments, so make sure to apply sunscreen before leaving on your trip, and re-apply as often as necessary.

First aid kit: It’s always a great idea to have a first aid kit in your bag, as well as some basic information on how to treat injuries.

Safety Tips and Advice

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As fun as canyoning can be, you need to keep in mind that you are potentially facing very real dangers in isolated places, so you need to make sure to take certain precautions.

In addition to falling or getting stuck, a flash flood or getting lost are the two biggest dangers. If you get lost, use your GPS and maps, and follow the advice of your guide, if you’re accompanied by one.

Weather: Flash floods may occur suddenly by rain or a storm that is miles away, so you might find yourself surrounded by water in a quick moment. It is important that you check the weather report before you go, and call off your trip if there are expected storms anywhere near the area you are planning to go to. To avoid any ruined trips, make sure that you are flexible in choosing your canyons and alternate them, so you have a back-up in case the weather changes your plans.

Guide: If you are just starting out or are a canyoning beginner, go with a qualified guide or experienced group. Make sure to follow along with all their instructions.

Use the buddy system: Never go canyoning alone, as any small accident or injury can leave you stranded in a remote and isolated area. Also, make sure that someone not on your canyoning trip knows exactly where you’re going and what time you plan to be back, so that if you are in trouble and can’t communicate with anyone else, rescuers will know where to find you.

Measure your momentum: As mentioned previously, canyoning is a demanding extreme sport, which requires you to have a good level of fitness. Once you have descended the canyon, the only way to get out is to complete your trip down the waterway, so don’t exert yourself needlessly. Make sure to conserve enough energy and strength to complete the track. A good tip is to carry some energy boosting snacks along for the ride (such as energy bars or nuts), and take breaks when necessary.

Hypothermia: This is a real risk while canyoning, as you will sometimes be sitting in cold water for extended periods of time. While experts recommend a wetsuit for this reason, also be sure to pay attention to your body and take immediate action if you feel signs of hypothermia.

Where To Go

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The great thing about this sport is that you can go canyoning wherever there’s a canyon. Worldwide there’s a vast number of canyons that are suitable for first trips.  In the United States, there are some great canyons in Utah and Arizona, where you can find Zion National Park (recommended canyons are Orderville Canyon and Red Cave) and the Mogollon Rim. The western mountain ranges are also worth checking out; try the Sierra Nevada, Cascades, and the Rockies.

In the UK, popular canyoning destinations include Dundonnell or the Inchree Falls in Scotland, or How Stean Gorge in Yorkshire. The Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia National Park are among the best places to go Canyoning in Wales.

For locations outside the country, the Pryeness, the Alps, Australia’s Blue Mountains, Réunion Island, Costa Rica and Nepal all have great canyons to explore.

Now go forth and canyon!

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