Canyoneering: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners and Experts
If you’re looking for an enjoyable way to pass the time, get some fresh air, see Mother Nature in all her glory, and get some much-needed exercise in the process, canyoneering/canyoning is the ultimate pastime. Over the years, more and more people have started to show an avid interest in outdoor sports and activities, with canyoneering proving to be especially popular. If you’ve considered taking up this adventure sport, it will pay dividends to know as much about the sport before you commit to it fulltime. Lucky for you, we’ve got you covered with this handy guide. Contained within, you will find everything you need to know about canyoneering. So, sit back, put up your feet, get comfortable, and prepare to learn as much as canyoning as you possibly can.
What is canyoneering?
Canyoneering, also known as canyoning as well as gorge walking, is an incredibly popular outdoor pursuit. The sport itself is ideal because it combines adventure and adrenaline with natural beauty and relaxation. You get all of the benefits of being in the great outdoors, surrounded by wildlife and the best vistas that the planet has to offer, with the added bonus of getting fit and healthy and being able to take part in one of the most adrenaline-fuelling sports ever created. There are many different ways to describe canyoneering though, perhaps the easiest description of canyoneering is white water rafting, without the actual rafts. The sport is carried out by canyoners who will navigate their way down water-filled gorges, swimming through rock pools, sliding down natural slides, carefully navigating their way past rocks and other obstacles, scaling rocks, trees, and other surfaces, and just generally having a fantastic time.
Canyoneering is great because it is a sport which combines various elements of different outdoor adrenaline sports and pursuits and creates the ultimate adventure-fuelled hybrid sport. Just to show you how many different layers canyoneering has, some of the different sports and disciplines incorporated into canyoning include:
- Rock climbing
- And even cliff jumping for more experienced canyoners
Needless to say, canyoneering is incredibly testing, both physically and mentally, yet it is heaps upon heaps of fun.
What makes canyoneering so special?
There are plenty of outdoor sports and pursuits for keen adrenaline junkies to sink their teeth into, so precisely what is it about canyoneering that makes it one of the world’s most popular outdoor sports? Actually, there’s plenty of things. Popular all over the globe, groups and individuals alike will embark on canyoning adventures every single week, travelling from all over the country. If you’re still trying to decide whether or not canyoning is right for you, here are several awesome reasons why canyoneering is so special.
Great form of exercise
We know that exercise is extremely important for our health and well-being, so we won’t sit here for hours on end lecturing you about how you need to exercise more. Unfortunately, to some people, the thought of exercising at a gym is boring and tedious. Not everybody enjoys exercising at a gym or performing “conventional” exercise, so does that mean that they should just not bother? Of course not. Exercise can be performed in a variety of different ways. Canyoning is one of the most effective forms of exercise you could ever wish for. Canyoning provides cardiovascular exercise, it builds your endurance, it provides resistance-based benefits, it builds upper and lower body strength, and plenty more besides. When canyoning you’ll be swimming, you’ll be climbing, you’ll be walking, you’ll be helping your fellow canyoners, and you’ll get yourself one heck of a workout every time you take part. Not only will this improve your physique, but more importantly, it will help to improve your general health and well-being.
Great for team building
Another very good benefit of canyoneering is the fact that the activity itself is fantastic for team building. Canyoning is very much a team-orientated activity in which you literally place your life in other people’s hands in some scenarios, and vice versa. Canyoning is ideal for team building and for establishing strong bonds, comradery, and friendships. Whether you choose to take up canyoning with your buddies, or join a club and make new friends as you get to know everybody, you can rest assured that the bonds you create whilst taking part in canyoning will be amongst the strongest you’ll ever encounter.
As well as actually meeting up to take part on canyoneering expeditions, you will also be able to stay in touch via social media, on various forums, and of course, in person. In fact, you’ll find that it is customary with many canyoneering groups, for everybody to get together afterwards, once they’ve dried off and got out of their gear, to head off for some food, a few drinks, and bit of chinwag.
See the great outdoors
If you’re sick and tired of constantly grey concentre urban environments and you wish to escape the hustle and bustle of modern city living, canyoning is the ultimate pastime to get involved in. When you take part in canyoning, you will find yourself in some of the most visually stunning locations on the planet. You’ll be amongst trees and forests, you’ll encounter waterfalls, rapids, moss-laden boulders, lichen glazed chasms, singing birds, fish, and animals you never thought you’d see in the wild in a million years. As you carefully navigate your way downstream and allow the current to gently guide you on your way, the vistas you’ll get to see each and every session will stick in your mind forever. There really is nothing quite like the great outdoors, and canyoning allows you to see Mother Nature in all her awe-inspiring natural glory.
Learn a new discipline
Another reason to consider taking up canyoning is due to the fact that doing so will allow you to learn a new discipline. Canyoning isn’t just a case of driving to your nearest river, throwing yourself in, and seeing where you end up. Obviously, you could try that, but you would likely wind up in the emergency room if you’re lucky. In fact, scratch that, please don’t try that as it would be incredibly dangerous. There is a lot to learn about canyoning, which is partly why we’re creating this guide in the first place.
Everybody starts out as a novice at canyoning, and the wonderful thing about it is that there is no judgement. People simply make a conscious effort to lift one another up and help them. When canyoning for the first time you’ll learn the basics such as: Which equipment and gear to purchase, where the best spots are, how to remain safe and in control at all times, what to do in case of an emergency, optimal conditions, and correct form and technique.
As you progress, you’ll learn more complex techniques and fundamentals of canyoning. Canyoneering is a journey in which you are constantly progressing and learning. Once you do have the basics locked down however, you can pay yourself on the back as you now know a brand new discipline which is not only heaps of fun, it could maybe even prove useful in an emergency situation (though we very much hope not).
Great in the summer
During the warmer summer months when the sun is at its fiercest, you’ll be so glad that you decided to take up canyoning. Once you throw on your gear and get into the cooling water for the first time you’ll instantly feel refreshed and revitalised.
After working up a sweat clambering particularly testing boulders and embankments, why not cool off by giving yourself a quick dunk under the next waterfall you encounter? And trust us, you’ll be seeing plenty of these awesome natural features before long. Even during the colder months of the year it’s not actually as cool as you think thanks to the amazing wetsuits and protective gear and clothing that you can now purchase.
Great stress buster
Modern life can be stressful, there’s no getting around that. If you’re feeling stressed, or if you just want to take care of your mind as well as your body, canyoneering is perfect. When you embark on a canyoning adventure you are investing in great mental health in the process. When you’re canyoning you’re amongst nature. Birds sing, trees and bushes rustle in the wind, and the sound of running water calms and relaxes the mind, body, and soul. There’s no social media whilst in the water, no emails to answer, no errands to run, calls to make, or bills to pay.
It’s just you, your fellow canyoners, and the great outdoors. Canyoning is therefore not only great for the body, it’s also great for the mind too. After canyoning you’ll feel more relaxed than ever, and that, combined with all of the calories you’ve burnt off and the energy you’ve expended, means that you’ll be more likely to sleep well that night too.
Canyoneering is fun
If everything listed above hasn’t quite got you in the mood for canyoneering just yet, we’ll simply break it down to the fact that canyoning is so much fun. Canyoneering is one of the most enjoyable pastimes on the planet.
You get to see some of the most beautiful scenery, you’ll encounter wildlife, you’ll make new friends, you’ll have a laugh and a joke with friends, and let’s face it, what could be more enjoyable than sliding down a natural waterfall into an inviting pool of refreshing water below?
Canyoning is great because you can join a club or group and take part in it every single week, or there are people that go on canyoning expeditions as part of bachelor/stag parties or weekends, or team-building exercises with work. Whatever your motivation is for canyoning, one thing that is guaranteed is the fact that you’ll have one of the most enjoyable experiences in recent memory.
Things to know before you take up canyoneering
Okay, so we’ll assume that, so far, you’ve liked what you’ve read and by now you’re seriously thinking of taking up canyoning, if you weren’t already. If so, then before you do, there are a number of things that you will need to take into consideration.
These things are not only relevant to how productive you are with the sport itself, they’re also very relevant when it comes to your safety and the safety of those around you.
You’ll need the right footwear
First and foremost, when it comes to canyoning, safety is paramount. You must ensure that you invest in the best sports shoes that you can find. Water shoes work very well in this instance because they help to keep your feet drier than other footwear, they’re comfortable, and they provide superior grip.
Remember, you’re going to be clambering over slippery rocks, moss-laden surfaces, muddy embankments, and other slippery surfaces where one slip could result in serious injury.
Water shoes offer a closed toe design to help protect your feet from jagged rocks and hard surfaces, they offer top of the foot protection, they’re incredibly grippy, and they’re designed with comfort in mind. For canyoneering, there is no better choice of footwear.
You’ll need other gear and equipment
Okay, so we’ve got you covered when it comes to your footwear, but what about other types of gear and equipment? Well, that’s what we’re going to address now. Arguably the most important piece of equipment that you’re going to need for your canyoning adventures is a helmet.
Look for a well-made helmet which will not perish or deteriorate in and around water. You should also invest in a brightly coloured one, as this will not only help you to become more visible to others, but if your helmet does get dislodged at any time, you’ll be able to find it much easier if it’s, say, bright red or yellow, as opposed to black or brown.
You’ll also need climbing rope for tricky parts of the course, for emergencies, or to help less-experienced members of the group. A wetsuit is crucial as you’ll spend the majority of your time in the water, and trust us, in the cooler months of the year you’ll be glad of the warmth and insulation that it provides. A buoy will also be very useful for conserving your energy, or again, for any potential emergency situations.
You’ll need to know where to go
This is yet another good reason to join a canyoneering group as opposed to trying to go it alone. When you take up canyoneering, you need to know where to go and which routes to take.
You can of course use various maps, apps, and the internet to help plan your route, though if you join a group, it will be run and overseen by experts who know some of the best routes and locations in the country, and possibly even the world for that matter.
If you do decide to go alone, or simply go with some buddies with no real experience in canyoning, search for a simple route to begin with, ideally somewhere that you know partially yourself.
You should also check the weather forecast
Another very important consideration when it comes to canyoning is the weather. When taking part in any outdoor pursuits, it’s important to check the weather. When canyoning however, it’s doubly important because of the additional risks that bad weather could provide. If you’re canyoning, the last thing you want is torrential rain, high winds, and poor visibility as this will not only make the experience less enjoyable, it will also put everybody at risk.
There’s the risk of flash flooding, landslides, mudslides, downed trees, falling debris, heavy currents, fierce water surges, and plenty more. Also, watch out for thunderstorms as lightning does not tend to go very well with water, or trees for that matter. Ideally you want a clear, dry day with average temperatures for that time of year and very little wind.
You should all be fairly fit and able to swim
Canyoning is a physically demanding sport. Not only do you need to showcase impressive cardiovascular conditioning, you also need to be physically strong as you’ll be hoisting yourself up steep inclines, up rocks, onto riverbanks, and much more besides. You may also need to help drag other members of your group to safety.
Physical fitness is important, as is a decent amount of strength. Perhaps more important still however, is the ability to swim. We won’t go on and on about why it’s important to be able to swim because surely that’s common sense. You’re spending much of your time in water, therefore, being able to swim is very important.
What we will say is that being a strong swimmer will not only make the activity itself much easier, but again, it could prove very useful in case of an emergency.
Other skills are useful
It’s also useful to be able to know how to rig up ropes and other similar pieces of safety gear and equipment. If you don’t, then make sure at least one member of your group knows how to, and don’t rely on the internet.
If you do have a waterproof electronic device with online connectivity, chances are that whilst out in the wilderness you won’t be able to get a signal anyways. Though not crucial, abseiling experience is also useful.
Stay in contact with one another
During a canyoneering trip, it’s vital that you ensure that you stay in contact with each other at all times. This is where walkie talkies could prove useful. As well as radios, be sure to have a mobile phone back at the car or somewhere safe and dry, so that you can contact the outside world in case of an emergency.
You’ll need to check your gear each time you head out
Remember, when it comes to canyoneering, it’s vitally important that you get into the habit of checking all of your safety gear, kit, and equipment, each time you head out. Inspect everything and look for any signs of damage or wear and tear. It may sound tedious, but trust us, when you examine your climbing rope and find that it’s started to wear away and rip, you’ll be glad you spotted it before heading out, as opposed to when you’re climbing your way up a sheer boulder. Examine kit and safety gear carefully, and if there is any sign of damage, don’t take any chances and be sure to replace it before the next time you hit the water.
Be sure to take your time
The saying ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ has never been more relevant than when describing canyoning (other than, you know, when describing an actual marathon). When you embark on a canyoneering expedition you need to remember that you’re in it for the long haul. Don’t make plans for a Saturday evening for example, if you know that during the day you’re canyoning.
To begin with, you’ve no idea how long you will be because who knows which obstacles you’ll encounter? Then of course, there’s the fact that it will take the enjoyment out of it. When canyoning you don’t want to constantly be checking your watch for the time, rushing, and rushing other members of your party because you want to get back home. Instead, you want to literally go with the flow, take your time, pace yourself, and have fun.
A few words on safety
Let’s face it, canyoneering is one of the most enjoyable outdoor pursuits in the entire world, yet it does pose its risks. It is an adrenaline-fuelled adventure sport, and subsequently, there are health risks to be aware of.
Even the most skilled and experienced of canyoners can encounter difficulties from time to time, which is why it’s vital to be as well-prepared as possible. We’re not trying to worry you or spoil your fun, we’re simply looking out for you and ensuring that you’re as safe as can possibly be. Here are some very important safety factors to take into consideration.
First and foremost, when talking about canyoning, experience will play a big part in determining how knowledgeable you are. Knowledge is power, though that doesn’t mean that beginners are at a disadvantage. Because this awesome adventure sport has become so hugely popular over the years, there are now training courses, training days, and training weekends that you can take to quickly learn about what it takes to become a canyoner.
These courses will teach you the ins and outs of canyoneering. You’ll learn how to do it correctly, safety tips, what to do in the event of an emergency, how to use your equipment, which kit to buy, things to watch out for, how to conduct yourself on a canyoning expedition, and plenty more besides. If you are a beginner and would like to learn more about canyoning, a canyoneering course is certainly well worth considering.
When you take up canyoning, you will of course be well aware of the fact that you’ll spend the majority of each session in the water. Being in the water will make the sport enjoyable, but you should also respect the water at all times. The flow of the water is very important as fast flowing water can be very dangerous.
Even with good quality water shoes on you could still lose your footing and slip over. Then of course, there’s the risk of rising water levels, or high water levels in general. If water levels are already high, although this could prove to be enjoyable, water levels which are too high could pose an increased risk of flash flooding. Again, pay attention to your surroundings and never take any chances as far as water is concerned.
It isn’t just the water that you need to be wary of when you take up canyoning. You also need to be aware of your surroundings as far as your safety is concerned. When you aren’t in the water, you’re likely to be navigating your way down muddy riverbanks, slippery rocks, through trees, bushes, and foliage, up boulders and steep inclines, up and down waterfalls, and other surfaces and terrains that could be hazardous to your safety.
Not only that, but in some parts of the country/the world, there will also be animals that could pose risks to your health and safety. Venomous creatures, or large predatory creatures such as bears for example, are generally not animals that you’d like to encounter whilst canyoning. Just be mindful of what’s around you and where you are, and be sure to take your time, invest in quality safety gear, and watch where you’re going.
We touched upon the importance of checking the weather forecast a little earlier on, but we’re going to expand upon it somewhat now, just so that you can see how important it really is to be on the ball when it comes to the weather. When canyoning, rainfall is very important because heavy rain could cause landslides, it will make things slippery, it will increase the waterflow and water levels, and it could even result in flash floods.
As well as that, you should also be wary of the heat and sunshine. You see, many people in the water, ironically find themselves suffering from dehydration in high temperatures. This is due to the sun and activity causing them to perspire, yet the water keeps them cool, so they don’t realize. Sure, they’re in the water, but they aren’t likely to be drinking the water they’re in, so dehydration becomes a concern.
There’s also the risk of sunburn or heatstroke. In high temperatures, bring plenty of drinking water, have a water bottle on you when in the water, and be sure to use sunscreen and try to stay out of direct sunlight. In fact, be wary of any extreme temperatures, as extreme cold can be just as dangerous as extreme heat.
When you’re canyoneering, you need to make sure that you, and all other members of your group are very visible. Bright coloured safety helmets are important, but so too are brightly coloured clothes. Go with a wetsuit with bright colours and invest in waterproof clothing to wear over the top of it that is also quite brightly coloured.
You don’t need to dress up like a neon sign in Las Vegas, unless you want to of course, but just try to wear something bright so that people can spot you, either in the distance, or whilst in the water.
It is also a good idea to pack a waterproof torch or headgear to provide additional light in poor visibility. Canyoning is generally never recommended at night time but it always pays to be prepared, plus who knows which caves you may encounter? Just watch out for any bats.
Is canyoning right for me?
Canyoning isn’t for everybody, but if you like what you’re read about this awesome adventure sport so far, and can picture yourself kitted out in the best water shoes and canyoning gear, carefully navigating your way down flowing streams and rivers with your buddies, then it’s time to commit and look into the nearest canyoning clubs and hotspots near to you.
The sport itself is incredibly rewarding and is one of the most enjoyable pastimes you could ever wish for. Don’t take our word for it, throw on your gear and see for yourself. Trust us, you’ll be so glad that you did.