Canyons form when a river or creek runs along a weakness in the earth, and erodes a deep chasm in the bedrock. The soft sandstone and geological processes in the Blue Mountains have created one of the world’s premier canyon landscapes.
Whether you are planning a simple stroll through a dry, walk-through canyon, or a remote multi-day trip through difficult technical canyons, this guide provides an overview of the gear you’ll need to do it safely and enjoyably.
Canyoning is the sport of exploring these environmental marvels. While the bushland of the Blue Mountains is often dry and scrubby, canyons themselves can be luscious micro-climates, filled with ferns, mosses and plenty of water.
Technically, canyoning involves swimming, crawling, scrambling and abseiling down waterfalls and creeks with huge cliffs on each side of you. Canyoning is the ultimate combination of outdoor rock sports: lots of abseiling, scrambling and climbing, and crawling like in caving.
I have briefly covered all the items you might need — from the best clothing and footwear to the specialist abseiling gear required. But before that please read these two important Tips which i would like to share with you:
Tip no 1:
Be aware that this equipment list is based on the conditions in canyons, where water flows are generally limited, temperatures are warmer, and you are unlikely to have to deal with specialist problems like ‘keeper’ potholes. The techniques, and therefore gear requirements, will inevitably vary slightly for canyons from other canyon regions around the world.
Tip No 2:
And don’t forget the one item you should always leave behind: details of where you are going, when you are planning to return, and at what time the authorities should be notified if you’re not back.
Shoes: Canyons are naturally a wet, slippery environment. Rocks have been scoured by water, making them very smooth, while the mixture of mosses and algae that grow in these environments can cause them to be extremely slick. If you are just starting out, the cheapest and easiest option is still the Volley. Other joggers may be worn, but be warned that they will lack grip and struggle to stand up to the constant wear.
Socks: A pair of woollen socks is the cheapest and easiest option. It is also possible to wear thermal socks underneath.Having two pairs of socks can help keep some of the sand out, reduce the chance of blisters, and provide greater warmth.
Wetsuit: Many canyoners wear wetsuits, especially in canyons that are known to be particularly wet, deep and cold. They are a good idea if you are someone who feels the cold, are planning a canyon with many swims, like to stop a lot for photos etc, or have a large group that will be slow.
Thermals: Many canyoners prefer to wear thermal underwear rather than a wetsuit. They are much lighter and do not restrict your movement. Cheap polypropylene thermals are the best bet as the harsh canyon environment will quickly put holes in them, which is much worse if you’re in expensive thermals.
Beanie: While the often-quoted line about losing most of your body heat through your head is a myth, a warm beanie or even a balaclava on your head can make conditions much more pleasant in a wet canyon, especially if you are someone who feels the cold.
Shirt / shorts: Be aware that canyons are harsh on clothing. Wear sturdy clothes that can stand up to the wear. Try to wear clothing items that will dry quickly (synthetic fibres are generally best). Never ever wear cotton as it draws heat from your body when wet.
Dry change of clothes: You will get wet and dirty canyoning, so a dry change of clothes is essential. At the very least keep a set in the car for the trip home. Many people take a change for the walk in and out, while a warm fleece or jumper can also be packed away in your dry bag in case conditions turn and you desperately need the warmth. For multi-day trips you will also want something dry to sleep in.
Harness: Any climbing harness will work. If you are buying something specific, look for a tape style harness with no padding. These are usually cheaper, but more importantly they absorb less water so remain lighter.
Descender: Arguably the most important piece of kit. This is the tool that allows you to safely descend the rope when abseiling. They come in many styles. The best descenders for canyoning are in-line devices (the rope runs through them in a straight line) that do not need to be removed from the carabiner to release yourself from the rope.
Carabiners: Make sure your ‘biners are properly rated (you’d be surprised at some of the dodgy low-priced equipment that pops up from time to time). Old fashioned steel ‘biners are fine to use, but they are very heavy. Aluminium or alloy ‘biners are much lighter, and generally just as strong. As well as one for your descender, you should always carry a couple more in case you need to rig a ‘biner block (for SRT) or carry out a rescue.
Rope: Canyoning requires specialist ropes. Unlike climbing, where dynamic ropes that stretch are used to cushion falls, canyon rope is static, which means it has very little stretch. This limits the amount of wear on edges and also makes rope retrieval much easier. Most canyon ropes are between 8.5mm and 10mm. Many canyon ropes will be treated when new to repel water. This makes them stay lighter in the canyon, although the treatment will wear off with use. These chemicals can potentially pollute the pristine canyon environment.
Helmet: A helmet is an essential piece of safety equipment. In many canyons loose rock can fall from above. There is also the risk of hitting your head after slipping and falling. If buying a helmet, make sure it is properly rated. Also look for helmets with drainage holes, which will make water jumps more comfortable. A bike helmet can be used for occasional trips, but is not recommended.
Gloves: While some canyoners survive without gloves, they are a good idea. They are particularly helpful on dry ropes, which run faster, or very sandy ropes, which can be rough on your hands. A really cheap set of gardening gloves will cover you for occasional use, but leather riggers gloves will last much better. There are specialist abseiling gloves that can be bought as well.
Knife: A knife should always be carried on you in a spot accessible even when abseiling. While it will generally only be used for tasks like removing worn slings, cutting new slings to length or slicing a tomato for lunch, it can be vital in an emergency.
Whistle: A whistle can help with communication in canyons where powerful waterfalls or long drops obscure regular calls. Make sure you chose a whistle with no moving parts (not a ball whistle). You also need to have an agreed set of signals to make it effective form of communication. Some groups carry walkie-talkies to improve communications on big drops.
Safety line / cowstail: Having a 1m long safety sling with a carabiner allows you to quickly clip yourself in to an anchor when rigging ropes or simply waiting in a highly exposed spot. While Dyneema / Spectra sewn slings are very strong and work well, it is not advised that knots be tied in them, so nylon can offer more options for use. A really good option worth considering is a purcellprusik, which allows you to adjust the length of your safety line.
Prusiks: Every canyoner should carry a pair of prusik loops and know how to use them. As well as allowing the rope to be ascended safely (in the case of stuck rope on a pull-down) they also have other uses. An alternative is to carry specialist ascenders, however these are generally heavier, bulkier and more costly, although there are compact ascenders available such as the PetzlTibloc.
Slings: You should always have a number of tape slings with you. These are not only used to build anchors (around a chockstone / cairn / tree where friction would prevent a clean pull-down) but are also needed to replace old, frayed or unsafe slings from existing anchors. 25mm tube tape is very cheap and light, so there is no excuse for not having several metres of it at the bottom of your pack.
Maillons: Much cheaper and lighter than a carabiner, a maillonrapide is a rated steel link that can be used when building an anchor. They provide less friction, and are harder wearing than tape, so will make well-used anchors last longer. Most commonly they are used by people who abseil on single ropes. The maillon provides a fixed point for the ‘biner block to butt up against.
Given all the gear you’ll be carrying with you, you’ll almost always need to carry a pack to hold it all in. While a general bushwalking pack can do the job, if you intend to canyon more regularly it is worth investing in a specialist canyoning pack. Canyons are very hard wearing on gear, so canyoning packs are generally made of a tough fabric such as cordura or vinyl. You also need good drainage, so that you don’t have to lift 20kgs of water every time you come out of a swim.
Dry bag / canyon keg: Your pack will inevitably get wet, as will all its contents, so having something to keep essentials (like your lunch and first aid kit) dry is a must. Waterproof dry bags are the most common thing used, but be aware that most dry bags are not designed to be fully submersed, and can fail in a canyon.
First aid kit: A basic first aid kit, like that which you would use for bushwalking or hiking, should always be carried. The most common injuries you may need to treat include cuts, sprains, broken bones, snake bites or hypothermia.
Head torch: In some canyons there are dark tunnel sections that require a torch to safely traverse, but more likely your torch will help out around camp or on a walk out after dark following a surprisingly long, hard canyon. Make sure you buy a waterproof (submersible to 1m) torch.
Navigation tools: A map and compass should always carried, and you should know how to use them. This is in addition to any track notes or guide books you have. In recent years we had a fatality caused by an inexperienced group getting lost following an easy, beginner canyon trip.
Lightweight rain coat: A light raincoat or spray jacket is not only useful if the weather turns bad, but it can be a really good way to keep warmer in wet canyons or in windy conditions. Abseiling through waterfalls, it will protect you from some of the spray, but most of all it will limit how much you are chilled when a breeze blows up the canyon.
Water: Always make sure you are carrying adequate water for the walk in / out. Some streams and rivers may be polluted, so ensure you have enough to get you to a reliable water source. Keep up your fluids, as being wet and cold often makes you feel like drinking less, which can lead to dehydration.
Food: Always make sure you have adequate food and snacks for your trip, along with a small emergency supply if you run late. Eating doesn’t just help provide energy, it gives your body the ability to produce warmth, so having a snack when you are feeling cold can really help.
Cooking equipment: If you wish to have warm food, you should always take a gas stove. Canyons are extremely sensitive areas, and even small fires can damage rock and leave long-lasting scars. If you must have a fire (to warm up an extremely cold member of the party etc) then place it on sand and bury the remains once done. You’ll obviously need matches, a stove, gas cylinder, a billy, spondonicles, and cutlery.
Camping equipment: For multi-day trips you will need to carry your usual camping equipment, including a sleeping bag, mat, ground sheet and fly. Canyoning is usually done in warmer weather, so a light summer sleeping bag is enough.
Camera: These are optional, but well worth taking. While normal cameras can be taken in a canyon, it is very hard to guarantee something will stay dry, so it can be a costly move. We recommend taking a waterproof and shockproof point and shoot camera, as it means less worries for you.
Goggles: Swimming goggles are another optional extra that can come in handy if you do drop an item in a deeper pool. Particularly useful on trips with beginners who are yet to learn the hard way why everything should either be securely attached or contain floatation.
Sun protection: A hat and sunscreen are particularly useful for the walks in and out of your canyon. Consider using a natural sunscreen to avoid leaving chemicals in our pristine canyons.
Microfibre towel: A small, light-weight towel, perfect for drying off after a canyon (particularly handy if your group suffers an injury in a canyon or is benighted). Also helps keep other items in your dry bag dry if some moisture gets in.
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About the Author
Payal Vasisht is known for her excellent musical taste and is an avid traveller. She is a freelance writer, travel blogger. Apart from being a Co-Owner of 100 Percent Travels, she is a wanderer. When in a new city she must go out and walk around and EAT EAT EAT! She does what she loves to do. She does not believe in following an itinerary. I welcome the traveller blogger community to join hands with our team to make travel 100% Easier and 100% Rewarding.
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