When it comes to adventure sports, there is huge variation in styles and taste. In almost every form of landscape, there is a sport to help explore and push comfort zones and experience nature in its raw beauty.
Canyoning, also known as canyoneering in the United States, is the recreational sport of descending narrow canyons. Using a variety of techniques, people descend these passageways of rock and water with the aim of starting at the top and exiting out the bottom when it opens up again.
The focus is also on the beauty of it. Canyons are rarely visited and make up the last unknown for explorers and adventurers to discover in this world. What you see down there is unique and special.
So what exactly do you do in canyoning? How do you know if it’s for you? What’s involved?
A general trip can go a little like this...
Accessing a canyon will usually involve a walk. Like hiking, it can be long or short. The location of the canyon in the world and proximity to roads will determine the amount of difficulty. It can be only minutes or it can be hours.
Once you arrive, you don a wetsuit. Wetsuits keep you warm in the cold water. Without them, it can be dangerous as you risk hypothermia. With them on, you are generally warm as long as you don’t wait too long in one spot. There are also dry canyons around (think deserts or arid areas) but assume most places in the world have wet canyons.
Your other gear includes a harness, helmet and a rope. You need these to stay safe. The ropes are for abseiling down the waterfalls and drops. Its your way of getting out once you begin. To finish a canyon means to get to the exit, a place where the canyon opens up again. Canyons are generally one way trips. Descend all the way until it opens up again. Climbing back up the canyon is mostly impossible and not the aim in canyoning.
Throughout the canyon you will be hopping along rocks, wading, swimming, and doing short scrambles over rocky sections. Then of course you will be abseiling. This can initially be intimidating when you start, but you will quickly get over any fear you have. Fear is normal. It’s everywhere. As long as you follow the correct techniques, which are easy to learn, and go with more experienced people until you know what you are doing, it’s completely safe. It’s no more dangerous than driving a car.
As you make your way through the canyon, you are reminded of what it is like to be a kid. How often do we get to do the things kids do as adults? In canyons, we can jump off rocks into water, swim and marvel at the cool features around us. You’ll often find yourself smiling and laughing. Sounds good, huh?
And the best thing about canyoning? Everyone can get into it!
Unlike certain sports like rock climbing which has a steep learning curve, if you can walk you can generally start canyoning! All major canyoning areas around the world have great guidebooks detailing what to expect. You start on the easy stuff and move on to the more challenging canyons once you are ready.
Here are some pictures of a canyoning trip in action. Nothing says it better than a photo!
See what I mean about beautiful? Canyons are just amazing! If you are still a little unsure, head over to THE ULTIMATE CANYONING/CANYONEERING FILM LIST! It has all the trailers and links to download the films. Just watching the trailers alone should get you motivated!
Being athletic is not a requirement! Many people start without any background in sports or the outdoors. After all, in our large sprawling cities, its often hard to get outside and into nature.
A basic level of fitness will be beneficial to get started. You get fit as you go so at the bare minimum you should be able to handle a half day of walking. If you’ve never done this before, just start with a couple of 1-3 hour hikes. The body grows and adapts very quickly. Start slow and you’ll get there, no matter your age.
Once you get right into canyoning, you'll find the physical demands increase. Walks in and out get longer and the canyons can become very sporty! With practice and regular trips, you'll soon become accustomed to it.
Once I started roped sports I realised how inexpensive they were compared to owning boats, motorbikes or investing in cars. Roped sports can be accessible to almost every budget level. And the best thing is once you have the gear, it lasts a long time and requires almost no upkeep. The only cost left is fuel for getting out to the canyon, and some food for the trip. This makes is great as a long term hobby. There’s plenty to see and it won’t break the bank!
So starting out, here is what you might need with a rough estimate of cost beside it (in USD). Specials and sales will save you significant dollars, and some items are fine to buy in used condition as well.
◘ Harness ($60)
◘ Helmet ($70)
◘ Figure 8 descender ($10)
◘ Wetsuit ($100 for basic)
◘ Prusik cord ($5)
◘ First aid kit ($20)
◘ Backpack (Add grommets yourself for better draining ability) ($60)
Total for essentials: $325
Extras as you progress:
◘ Canyoning shoes (Dunlop volleys or plain sand shoes/trainers) ($25)
◘ Spare anchor tape ($20)
◘ Dry bags (two of, one inside the other) ($50)
◘ Head torch ($35)
◘ 60 meter static rope ($180)
◘ Local guidebook if available ($30)
Total for extras: $340
So the total amount for a fully kitted out canyoner is less than $1000. This may still seem a bit much for you but you can progress with the gear as you go. A rope isn’t needed by each person for instance, so once you have a few friends together, you will share that cost. You can usually borrow from a club while you are giving canyoning a go. Wetsuits and other non-critical items can also be bought second hand. Check your local buy/sell groups to find some bargains and keep an eye out for sales!
THE KNOWLEDGE YOU NEED
All the knots and ropes might be a bit overwhelming at first if you haven’t done anything like that before, but rest assured it’s all quite straightforward. You can learn them yourself under the mentorship of experienced canyoners from clubs, Facebook groups or forums. Of course always do your own research and ask lots of questions!
But if you aren’t too sure about the self taught path then do a specific course. That will boost your skills quickly and take much of the worry out of learning it on your own. It’ll be worth it!
I have a post about self taught VS instructed learning HERE. It deals with climbing but can be applied to almost any sport, the principles are the same. It covers the pro’s and con’s of each method to make it easier to choose.
SO IS IT FOR YOU?
I find the best way to know if something is for you is to just try it! Take a guided trip or join in on a club trip. If the photos and videos are stirring your sense of adventure, head over and read my ‘canyoning for beginners’ post to start developing a plan to get out there!
It’s an amazing world waiting for you down there and it’s ready to discover and play in!