The Ultimate Canyoning Gear Guide
This canyoning guide provides an overview of equipment that should be considered for canyons in the Blue Mountains, which in general are warmer and have much lower water flows unlike the cold raging torrents that you'll find in NZ. This guide does not cover gear needed for white water canyons.
There is a huge range of gear that you can choose for canyoning suitable for the budget conscious, dirtbag canyoner through to specialised gear for guides and the serial canyoner. Like many canyoners I have my own personal preferences or quirks for gear which you will easily note and hopefully I've provided enough info for you to make an informed decision as to what gear would work for you.
Canyoning is pretty harsh on equipment. A lot of canyons involve rock hopping, swimming, sliding down rocks and logs and bush-bashing, so you need a harness that is up to the task.
If you're a dirt-bag rock climber then you can use your old climbing harness that you've retired from lead climbing. If you choose to use your old climbing harness be aware that all that nice comfy padding will become waterlogged and those fragile elastic straps that hold your leg loops attached to your waist loop will quickly wear out so - handy hint - tape over them to reduce wear.
If you're a keen abseiler or caver then it is likely that you will have a reasonably rugged harness that will suffice but again leg loops will be the first to wear out and fail.
This is where a specialty canyoning harness is perfect. Canyoning harnesses have replaceable seat protectors designed to withstand the many bum slides you will encounter, so they will protect your wetsuit from damage and that large seat protector is way comfier than those thin leg loops on a climbing harness. Many also have wear indicators and rescue knife holders.
If you are a keen canyoner then a basic canyoning harness like the Rock Empire Canyon, Edelrid Irupu or Petzl Club are a great choice. On the other hand, if you can't get enough of canyoning and are out every weekend, the Petzl Canyon Guide is the harness for you.
|Harness||$$$||Fit for Purpose||Durability||Best for|
|Climbing Harness||$||*||*||The Dirt-Bag Climber|
|Abseiling and Caving Harness||$||**||**||The Occasional Canyoner|
|Basic Canyon Harness||$$||***||***||The Canyoning Enthusiast|
|Advanced Canyon Harness||$$$||***||***||The Hard Core Canyoner|
Shoes for canyoning are a divisive topic. Talk to any canyoner and they'll all have a different opinion on what shoes to wear canyoning. There is a cult following for Dunlop Volleys but this seems to be on the decline as the latest models are flimsier and the rubber is not as sticky as it used to be. At the other end of the scale canyoning guides and enthusiasts prefer specialised canyoning shoes like the Bestard Canyon or Adidas Terrex. And then there are those who use dive booties whilst in the canyon and trail runners for the walk in/out.
So what should you look for in a canyoning shoe?
A lot of abseils in canyons are slippery affairs, especially in places where there is moss and algae growing. On top of that, walking along creek beds like those in the Kanangra region is like walking on a bed of marbles, so having a shoe with good grip in the wet is key.
Grip is the reason why the Dunlop Volley has been such a popular canyoning (and roof tiling!) shoe for decades. Nowadays you have a much greater choice of shoes with good grip. There are the high end canyoning shoes such as the Bestard Canyon and Adidas Terrex which are perfect for the serious canyoner. The casual canyoner who only does a few canyons every season however may wish to use a more general purpose approach shoe ranging from lightweight breathable approach shoes such as the La Sportiva TX2 through to super sturdy high ankle support Bad Boys such as the La Sportiva TX4 which have excellent grip and are perfect for scrambling.
You can also use dive booties as they generally have good grip.
Runners, sneakers and hiking boots are not a good choice as the grip in wet environments is pretty bad. Hiking boots will also weigh a ton once they get soaked through.
Given the gnarly nature of entry and exit points to a lot of canyons, rock hopping, working your way around obstacles and some tricky abseils, sturdy shoes will provide that much needed ankle and foot support which will reduce fatigue and the chances of an ankle roll. Dunlop Volleys are as sturdy as a wet sock so if you have sore feet at the end of the day you'll know why. Dive booties with a solid sole are good from the point of view of not getting bruised feet but their overall support is not great.
This is where the specialist canyoning shoes and high ankle support approach shoes are winners.
Drainage / Watertightness
Hmmm. What a dilemma. Do I want my shoes to be watertight to prevent the sand getting in (which I really hate, but doesn't seem to bother other people in the slightest) or do I want my shoes to have good drainage so that I'm not walking around in my own personal bonsai swimming pool all day?
Dunlop Volleys have good drainage - not only is the outer fabric breathable, but there are also drainage holes on some models. Bestards and Terrexes have been designed for good drainage, whereas dive booties are almost perfectly designed to keep the water in. I must profess that I love my dive booties whilst I'm in the canyon as they keep my feet nice and toasty plus they keep the sand out, but they're almost dead so next season might be the time for an upgrade.
Approach shoes like the TX2’s are lightweight with a breathable mesh and so will drain nicely, whereas the TX4’s with a high ankle support do not have the best drainage.
If you are canyoning regularly then a specialty canyoning shoe like the Bestard or Adidas Terrex is the way to go. On the other hand if you simply enjoy the outdoors and mix your canyoning up with bushwalking, climbing and mountain biking then an approach shoe like the La Sportiva TX4 is a great choice.
If you have a limited budget or only do a few canyons each year then dive booties can be a good choice for use in the canyon and you can then change into your nice and dry trail runners for the walk out.
Sneakers are a terrible choice as they don't have good grip and don't tick any of the other boxes. In fact I have seen sneakers delaminate and fall apart in canyons, so you're probably better off with Dunlop Volleys.
Trail runners and hiking boots are usually well built and sturdy but generally have poor grip.
|Dunlop Volley||$||**||*||***||The Novice and Dunlop Volley Cultists|
|Dive Bootie||$$||**||**||*||Budget Canyoner|
|Bestard||$$$||***||***||***||The Canyoning Enthusiast|
|Adidas Terrex||$$$||***||***||***||The Canyoning Enthusiast|
|La Sportiva TX2||$$$||***||**||***||The Outdoor Enthusiast|
|La Sportiva TX4/5||$$$||***||***||**||The Outdoor Enthusiast|
I remember when the choice of abseiling device was simple - climbers liked their piton brake, bushwalkers their Figure 8 and cavers their Rappel Rack. These days, the market is flooded with every possible conceivable variation of descender - you have the ATC, ATS, Bud, Canyon-8, Critr, Figure 8, Gigi, Hannibal, Huit, Hydrobot, Mago 8, Nemo, Oka, Pirana, Rappel Rack, Sqwurel, Stop, Totem, Whaletail, X Guide Figure 8 and the list goes on.
With so many devices available, which one should you choose?
Even though you can abseil with any type of descender each one has it's pros and cons and intended use. For example the Rappel Rack is favoured amongst cavers as it allows good control and heat dissipation when abseiling with heavy loads on long (100m) abseils. As it is made of stainless steel it is also very durable which is a plus when you regularly abseil on muddy ropes. As a canyoning device however, there are better devices available as it is bulky, difficult to release when you're in a pool of water and it gets caught up in the bush when you're walking between canyon sections.
So what should you be looking for in an abseiling device for canyoning?
The key feature for a canyoning device is that it should be easy to release - the reason for this is that many abseils end at the bottom of waterfall or in a pool of water so you really need to be able to release your device as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of exhaustion or drowning.
The other features to look for which are covered in greater details lower down are:
- permanent attachment of the descender to your harness
- ability to dynamically vary the friction or rate of descent
- good heat dissipation
- small bulk to prevent the device from catching
- easy to lock off
- can also be used as a belay device
Choose a descender that remains attached to your harness so that when you attach or detach the descender there is no possibility of the device being dropped and lost in deep pool of water which has been the unfortunate fate of many a Figure 8 and ATC. Whilst there are tricks that can be used with Figure 8's to mitigate the risk of loss, it really is just simpler to get a canyoning specific device.
Note that as recommended by harness manufacturers, descenders should be attached directly to the belay loop. Bypassing the belay loop and connecting to the leg loop and waist loop results in dangerous cross-loading of the carabiner.
Variable speed settings
Being able to vary the speed of descent both before and during the descent is highly desirable for a number of reasons:
- Ideally you want to be able to set just the right amount of friction for each abseil
- Different ropes have different friction so a dry, well used 11mm rope will result in a much slower abseil than a wet, new 9mm rope
- As you tire you may need to increase friction and reduce speed to more easily maintain control
- Changes in angle may require you to change friction partway through the abseil. For example using low friction on an easy low angled top section and then switching to high friction mode as you drop into an overhanging or steep section
- Difficult or technical abseils may require high friction
- In the event that you need to perform a rescue and carry out a tandem abseil, high friction will be required to maintain control and descent speed
The ability to effectively dissipate heat on long abseils requires a descender with a lot of surface area which can result in a trade-off with the next requirement.
Small bulk and lightweight
Most canyoning descenders currently available are small and light, so avoid the use of devices designed for other purposes such as ATC-style devices designed for climbing. Sure they may be really small and light but in all other aspects are a pretty poor choice for canyoning. Caving descenders such as Rappel Racks are also not a great choice as they are bulky, fiddly to release and friction cannot be adjusted on the fly.
Easy to lock off
Whether you simply want to stop and safely take a selfie or need to lock-off and prusik back up the rope to enable a rescue having a descender which has been designed for easy lock-off is a real plus.
Some descenders such as the Petzl Stop, a descender designed for caving, have an assisted braking mode which allow to halt your descent by releasing the descent control lever.
Belay device use
Many belay devices can be set up to provide a top belay for novice canyoners on their initial descents or in the case that a canyoner needs to climb back up.
Some devices offer the ability to provide a "guide mode" belay which is useful if you're climbing out.
What about rope twisting?
Figure 8 descenders get a bad rap for creating twists in the rope but the newer Figure 8 style devices such as the Pirana have been designed to minimize twisting. If you also take advantage of current anchor setup techniques such as lowerable anchor setups where the end of the rope is adjusted so that it just sits on the surface of the water so that the abseiler automagically comes off the end of the rope, then any twists in the rope should untwist once the abseiler comes off the rope.
Rope twisting is not a problem with inline devices such as the Kong Hydrobot.
Most Figure 8 style devices that have been designed for canyoning such as the Pirana, Oka, Hannibal, ATS, Sqwurel etc. have pretty much every feature you want in a canyoning descender with the exception of belay mode and are good value for $$$, so one of these would be my descender of choice. The Oka and ATS also have a "guide mode" for belay use.
If you prefer an inline device the Hydrobot is good choice but beware that the friction settings on thin fast ropes is limited.
If you already have a descender and are not ready to purchase a canyoning specific descender, then make sure you are aware of it's limitations in a canyoning context, put processes in place to mitigate accidental loss and ensure the device has sufficient friction on wet ropes.
It is also a good idea to carry a backup descender amongst your canyoning party such as Gigi or lightweight tube style device for emergency use. The Gigi is one of the cheapest devices available and can be used to setup releasable anchors and can be used as a "guide mode" belay device.
|Descender||$$$||Attachment||Speed Control||Heat Dissipation||Lock Off1||Weight / Size||Best for|
|Figure 8||$$||*||*||***||NA||**||I already have one and don't need another descender|
|Hydrobot||$$||***||**||***||NA||**||For inline device fans|
|Pirana/ Oka / ATS / Hannibal / Sqwurel||$$||***||***||***||**||**||Everyone|
|Rappel Rack||$$$||***||***||***||*||*||I'm a caver and don't need another descender|
|Petzl Stop||$$$||***||***||**||***||*||I'm a caver and don't need another descender|
|Tube Style Device||$||*||*||*||NA||***||Backup descender and emergency use|
|Gigi||$||*||*||*||NA||***||Backup descender and emergency use|
1: Any device can be locked off using a Mule hitch on the spine of the carabiner which is backed up with an overhand knot
As a rockclimber, I generally don't use gloves when abseiling but when I'm canyoning my hands are wet all day which means that my skin gets really soft then tears and cuts easily. The rope also picks up dirt and mud which not only wears out your descender but also shreds your skin, so gloves fit canyoning, well, like a glove really.
You can obviously head to Bunnings and pick up some cheap gloves which may last you a trip or two or you could get a pair of canyoning specific gloves like the Kong Canyon Gloves - Kevlar reinforced neoprene Bad Boys that will make the cold, grit and mud cower in fear.
Lanyards and Leashes
Lanyards and leashes are used to connect yourself to an anchor to keep yourself safe whilst rigging ropes, setting up for an abseil, awaiting your turn in an exposed spot or suspending your pack from your harness on tricky abseils. Leashes and lanyards can be as simple as a 1.2m sling through to specialist adjustable lanyards like the Petzl Dual Connect Adjust. You would typically use a dual lanyard, either with equal length (600mm), asymmetrical (300mm + 600mm) or adjustable arms.
Well loved by cavers, canyoners and abseilers is the Cow's Tail for it's simplicity, ease of use and cost effectiveness. This is an easy to make DIY lanyard that is quite simply a 2.3m length of 9-11mm rope with carabiners attached at each end with a barrel knot. This is then attached directly to your harness via a girth hitch or connected via a mallion. The length of the arms is fixed.
If you're a trad climber it is likely that you already have a Cordelette which can be used to make a Purcell Prusik which is a fully adjustable leash.
If you're a sport climber then you'll likely have a Chain Reactor or PAS (Personal Anchor System) which allows you to easily select the length of attachment.
Avoid the use of Daisy Chains - these are designed for aid climbing and have been known to fail when used as a leash.
The Petzl Dual Connect Adjust is a nifty lanyard has one arm fixed at 450mm and the other fully adjustable from 150mm to 950mm. Kong make the Slyde which is a DIY version of the Dual Connect Adjust.
And if all else fails - you can simply use a couple of fixed length slings.
One thing to keep in mind is that in general leashes are not able to absorb any energy - which means that if you fall onto one of these from above they can snap, so remember not to climb above your anchor. Some lanyards and leashes such as the Purcell Prusik, Kong Slyde, and DIY leashes made from dynamic rope can absorb energy and act as a "shock absorber".
|Lanyard / Leash||$$$||Adjustability||Shock Absorption||Best for|
|PAS, Chain Reactor etc.||$$$||**||NO||The Sports Climber|
|Purcell Prusik||$||***||YES3||The Trad Climber|
|Slings||$$||*||NO||The Dirt-Bag Climber|
|Petzl Dual Connect Adjust||$$$||***||YES||The Canyoning Enthusiast|
|Kong Slyde||$||***||YES||The Canyoning Enthusiast on a budget|
2: If dynamic rope is used to make a Cow's Tail then it will be able to provide shock absorption.
3: Shock absorption on the Purcell Prusik is provided via the friction knot sliding as opposed to energy absorption provided by dynamic rope
With such a dizzying choice of carabiners, how do I choose which "crab" or "biner" to use?
Your primary biner is the one for use with your descender. Some descenders such as the Petzl Pirana and Kong Oka are designed to remain attached to a specific matching crab so that you can't accidentally drop it but in general a "HMS" carabiner, which is big and pear-shaped is a good choice - some people also like to use a big D shaped carabiner.
Small D-shaped screwgate or lockable crabs are perfect for use on the end of your lanyard or leash. It is a good idea to carry a couple of spare locking small D's for emergency use.
Oval-shaped screwgate or lockable biners are great for use with Prusik loops and pulleys.
There are three basic carabiner shapes:
- D-shaped carabiners are the most popular and inexpensive. They are asymmetrical and designed to position the load along the spine of the carabiner and are suitable for simple, single loads.
- Oval-shaped carabiners are symmetrical for even loading so are suitable for used with pulleys and Prusik loops.
- Pear-shaped or HMS carabiners are also symmetrical but are designed to connect bulky items or multiple items. Pear-shaped carabiners are perfect for anchor setups, belay devices and descenders.
Keep in mind that sand can gum up your carabiners, so remember to check them and clean out any grit after you've been through a sandy canyon. Also avoid the use of carabiners with magnetic catches such as the Black Diamond Magnetron as they will attract iron particles and quickly jam up.
There are three basic types of lockable carabiner:
- Simple screwgates which seem to be the most popular. Modern screwgate carabiners are designed to be done up finger tight, so don't be tempted to back off the screw by 1/4 turn as the screw can then undo completely and you run the risk of becoming detached from the rope.
- Double action twist lock crabs require you twist the gate and then open the gate.
- Triple action twist lock crabs require you to first push or pull the gate, then twist and open.
Be careful to keep the rope under load away from the gate as lockable carabiners have been known to open when the rope runs across the gate, although the triple action twist locks are less susceptible to accidental opening.
For everything you ever always wanted to know about crabs (but were afraid to ask) please refer to our carabiners article.
You will need:
- 1x Pear shaped lockable carabiner for your descender
- 2x lockable small D's for your lanyard or leash
- 2x lockable ovals for your Prusik loops (you can use small D's, but ovals are better suited)
- 1x lockable oval (or Pear) for your pulley
- 2x spare lockable Pears or D's
In my opinion a helmet is absolutely essential. There is a high risk of loose rock falling and the slippery nature of canyons means it is really easy to slip and hit your head.
Whilst the My Little Pony helmet looks awesome, it is unfortunately hopeless for canyoning. When buying a helmet, get a helmet that is designed for rock climbing and mountaineering. Bike helmets are not suitable as they are not designed to withstand the impact of a falling rock, plus falling rock can easily pass through the ventilation holes.
The helmet should have enough adjustment to accommodate a beanie and most helmets these days have a arch at the back to accommodate a pony tail.
When jumping into pools remember to hold the helmet down with your hand so that you don't choke yourself with the chin strap when you hit the water.
Slings and Maillons
A few lengths of 25mm tubular webbing and maillons should always be carried as part of your group equipment. Whilst most canyons have pre-established anchors, floods, fires and other events can destroy anchors, so you need to be able to build your own anchor if required. Slings also deteriorate and fray over time so you may need to replace old and unsafe slings.
Maillons - steel links - are connected to the sling anchor and used to run the abseil rope through to protect the sling anchor from damage and if you use a releasable setup then the maillon will be needed to create the biner block.
It's 42 degrees and too hot to climb, so let's go canyoning. Since you're a dirt bag climber you figure you can use your old climbing rope which you've retired from lead climbing but is still good for abseiling. Whilst you could probably get away with a few canyons before your rope wears out you should consider getting a canyoning specialist rope if you're going to canyon regularly. If you do choose to use your old climbing rope, I find it works best to cut it down to size for small 10-15m drops.
The more stretch a rope has the more it will rub and wear as the abseiler loads and unloads the rope during the descent, so climbing ropes are not a great choice for canyoning.
Rope Weight and diameter
Most canyons require a lot of walking and swimming, and have big elevation gains, so it only makes sense that you should look for a lightweight, robust rope that doesn't absorb twice its weight in water. Since some remote and rugged canyons are physically demanding requiring 10+ hours to complete, keeping your total pack weight low is an important consideration in fatigue management.
Most canyoners will look for a canyoning rope between 9mm and 10mm, although it is now becoming more common for 8mm rope to used for those long and remote canyons.
A good starting point is a 9mm rope. 8mm ropes are more suited for experienced canyoners who know how to control the rate of descent on the reduced friction of skinny ropes.
Kevlar, Aramid, polyamide, polypropylene, Dyneema, Spectra, Technora - wow!!! There's some tech involved in ropes after all. Abseil ropes were traditionally made from Nylon (polyamide) but nowadays there are a bunch of high-tech materials that are used to make canyoning ropes.
Polypropylene makes for a good core as it is lightweight, has low stretch and unlike nylon it is hydrophobic - a technical term which basically means it's allergic to water and hence does not absorb much water. Polypropylene is also used to make floating ropes.
Technora makes for a great sheath as it is incredibly abrasion resistant. Ropes like the high-tech Sterling C-IV have a polypropylene core and Technora sheath.
Polyester is also commonly used for both core and sheath for workhorse and value canyoning ropes such as the Sterling HTP Static.
If you are a novice and participating in a canyoning trip led by an experienced then they will have the rescue equipment required so this section is aimed at the intermediate canyoner. As a novice however it is still worthwhile carrying prusik loops and knowing how to use them.
A PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) is essential. Most canyons are quite remote and you will most likely not be able to get mobile phone coverage, so undertaking a canyon without a PLB is foolhardy, as there is risk of:
- Snake bite
- Twisted ankles
- Slips and trips which can result in scrapes and breaks
PLBs can be obtained for free (with a refundable deposit) from:
- Blue Mountains Heritage Centre in Blackheath
- Katoomba Police Station
- Springwood Police Station
Please see here for further info.
However if you are regularly adventuring outdoors, you should consider purchasing a PLB such as a rescueMe PLB1. PLBs generally have a 5-7 year battery life and warranty.
Note that PLBs will only operate if there is satellite coverage which may be difficult to obtain in a narrow and constricted canyon. This may require you to exit the canyon or get to a high point so that you've sufficient view of the sky. If you also carry a GPS for navigation and it is getting a signal then this is a good indication that your PLB will be able to operate properly.
If you carry a smartphone or GPS it is also worthwhile installing the What3words app which will provide three unique words that can be used by search and rescue to accurately pinpoint your position.
A knife is another essential item in your rescue kit. If for any reason your hair or clothing get jammed in your descender or you get entangled in a rope in a waterfall, being able to free yourself with an easy-to-access knife is a potential life-saver. However, it is highly likely that you will only ever use your knife to slice up an avocado for lunch or clean up a mass of dodgy anchor slings.
You should be able to access your knife easily and without the need to search for it - when you're tangled in a rope under a waterfall in danger of drowning, you want to be able to grab that knife in an instant. The Petzl Spatha for example comes with a carabiner hole for easy attachment to your harness - so try to ensure that your knife is always racked in the same location and within easy reach on your harness.
The Edelrid Rescue Canyoning knife comes with a holster designed for attachment to your canyoning harness and a safety leash. It also has a blunt tip to prevent accidental stabbing injuries.
Hint: In the event that you've dropped or lost your knife remember that you can also saw through the rope using a Prusik.
Prusik Loops and Ascenders
Every member of the canyoning party should carry Prusik loops and know how to use them - one short loop for attachment to your harness and a longer foot loop. You may also consider carrying an additional shorter loop which will come in handy if you need to setup a progress capture device for hauling. Prusik loops are also used in a variety of rescue setups and self-belay for abseiling.
A VT Prusik or Valdotain Tresse is another friction knot that is becoming increasing popular in the canyoning world - you can either make your own or buy one such as the Bluewater VT Prusik.
There are of course a number of mechanical ascenders available which make rope ascension so much easier, ranging from ultralight devices such as the Petzl Tibloc which also makes a great progress capture device through to the Petzl Basic and Petzl Ascension. Even if you do carry mechanical ascenders it is always a good idea to carry Prusik loops.
Pulleys are useful for hauling system setup - if you've ever tried to haul a 100kg canyoner with a 3:1 you'll appreciate the difference a good quality pulley will make. The efficiency of a pulley is typically between 70% to 90%, whereas a carabiner is typically 40% to 50% so a pulley will make a huge difference.
If you're a climber you may already carry a Petzl Ultralegere - a small plastic pulley wheel that will fit into an oval crab or use a DMM Revolver a carabiner with a built-in pulley - perfect! Otherwise look for a high efficiency pulley such as a Petzl Fixe, or you could choose a pulley with built in progress capture such as a Petzl Micro Traxion or Edelrid SPOC which make hauling system setup really easy.
I'm not going to cover First Aid apart from mentioning that snakes are often seen in the vicinity of canyons so make sure you carry compression bandages or alternatively you get a pre-packaged snake bite kit. Hypothermia is also a real risk so also carry a thermal blanket, otherwise a standard bushwalking First Aid Kit such as the Equip range of First Aid Kits, is perfect.
Canyons can be really loud when there's a waterfall crashing down next to you, so communication can be seriously compromised. A good quality whistle that can be heard over the roar of a waterfall or where you have a really long abseil and can't hear each other properly can help with communications.
Whistles for outdoor use such as the Lifesystems Safety whistle and Lifesystems Hurricane whistle are piercingly loud - ranging from 116dB to 122dB these whistles are louder than a helicopter (100dB) but not quite as loud as a jet engine (130dB). Avoid the use of whistles with moving parts as they can clog and jam up when soaking wet.
As there are a number of different variations and interpretations of whistle signals and communications in general, you should confirm communications to used prior to starting your canyoning trip.
Suggested Whistle Signals based on Grant Prattley's Canyoning Technical Manual:
- 1 blast = Stop
- 2 blasts = OK
- 3 blasts = Down
- 4 blasts = Up
- Continuous = Help
If you can see each other then hand signals are a good alternative and you can always combine hand and whistle signals.
A handy place to attach your whistle is to your helmet strap for easy access. Some whistles like the Lifesystems Safety whistle come with a clip for ease of attachment.
A waterproof head torch like a Black Diamond Storm is a must when you head into those pitch black tunnel sections of Starlight canyon, Hole in the Wall or the duck under in Whungee Wheengee. Once you're in that pitch black section though, find yourself a secure position, turn your head torch off and wait for the glowworms to appear. Magic!
A head torch is also useful for the walkout in the dark at midnight when that short tunnel section which is normally a 10 min doddle, took four hours to clear out the log jam from the last flood.
Wetsuits and Clothes
If you're a bit of a wimp like me, then a full length wetty is essential. The water temperature in some canyons is in the low teens, so staying warm is essential to stave off hypothermia. Whilst a lot of adults can get away with a spring suit or even thermals and a woollen jumper in warmer canyons such as Wollangambe, young kids and skinny people can quickly develop hypothermia especially in canyons that require a lot of swims, you have a slow group or are stuck behind another group.
If you don't own a wetty, you can always hire one for the day from a number of the canyoning adventure stores in Katoomba.
Wetsuit neoprene rubber is easily damaged so make sure you wear your shorts over the top of the wetsuit to protect it.
Woollen socks are good choice as they will retain warmth when wet and you can also choose to wear a pair of thin thermal liners which will help keep out the sand. Some good brands include Bridgedale, Smartwool and Icebreaker.
Bridgedale Storm Socks are 100% waterproof, will keep your feet nice and toasty and will also help keep out the sand. As these socks are waterproof they will work perfectly for shallow puddles but once sumberged they will fill with water so you will need a second pair of socks for the walk out. The other option is to use neoprene socks which can be purchased at dive stores.
Avoid the use cotton socks as they soak up water and facilitate heat loss.
Often forgotten by canyoners, a nice warm beanie can make that canyoning trip just a bit more comfy and will make a huge difference if you start to get cold. And you guessed it, you can also get neoprene beanies from dive shops! You will need a tight fitting beanie like the Icebreaker Pocket Hat so that your helmet will sit properly.
Shirts and Shorts and Pants and Gaiters
A lot of the well travelled canyons have nice walking tracks in and out making for a nice day in shorts and T-shirt, but others are gnarly bush-bashing affairs featuring all sorts of mutant skin shredding plants for which a nice long sleeved shirt and long pants (or gaiters and shorts) will prevent you from looking and feeling like one of Ramsay Bolton's victims.
Appropriate clothing for canyoning should be fast drying and durable - leave your cotton T-shirts and shorts at home as they will stay wet all day and will also draw heat from your body. Woollen or synthetic clothes are a good choice. As you will be wearing shorts in the canyon to cover your wetsuit which will be abused most of the day a cheap synthetic pair from Big-W or Target is good option - you really don't want to trash your new Prana Stretch Zion's in a canyon.
Full length gaiters are also handy to protect yourself from scratching and snake bite.
If you're an ardent Wim Hoffer, then you probably don't need any clothes at all and prefer to canyon in winter when it's snowing but for the rest of us it is good idea for your group to carry a set of thermals as a safety item in case someone starts to cool down too much. Some people who really suffer from the cold will wear thermals under their full length 7mm wetty. Then of course some people don't like the restrictive feel of a full length wetty and will use a spring suit with thermals underneath or simply use thermals. Brrrr!
A waterproof jacket is not essential but it can make things more comfortable when abseiling through waterfalls or if the weather turns bad and it can keep you warmer in wet, windy conditions.
One of life's little pleasures is getting back to your car and changing out of you soggy wet clothes into a nice set of dry clothes for your trip back home - don't forget your towel. I prefer to walk out in my wet canyoning clothes but a lot of people prefer to wear dry clothes for the walk out, even if their pack makes their back wet, and then change into a second set of dry clothes.
Back Packs and Rucksacks
If you've managed to get this far through the article you've probably noted that there is a crap load of equipment that needs to be carried, and that canyons are pretty harsh which means you will need a large hard-wearing pack.
If you only plan on doing the occasional canyon then you'll be able to get away with your usual hiking pack and simply get used to emptying out the water from your pack every time you emerge from a pool. The base of your pack will also take some punishment so expect a fair bit of wear.
If you just happen to have an Old Skool 3kg canvas pack that you've retired from hiking, then you can always punch some drainage holes in the base and reinforce them with some grommets.
But... if you plan on canyoning regularly... then a specialist canyoning pack is the go. Most specialist canyoning packs have either a mesh base or are riddled with drainage holes to allow the water to quickly drain out of the pack. These packs are also made out of super tough fabrics such as TPU or Cordura.
What about those TPU drybag backpacks - they'd be perfect right? Well, they will definitely keep everything dry and you won't need to worry about water drainage but then what do you do at then end of the day when you need to carry out your wetsuit and all those other wet bits and pieces?
Dry Bag or Keg
There are some essentials that you will need to keep dry - first aid kit, spare thermals and beanie, lunch and dry clothes if you don't like walking out in wet clothes. A dry bag, like these ones from Exped, is what most people choose to use but you can also use a waterproof keg. Double and triple zip lock bags don't seem to work and plastic Tupperware style plastic containers are prone to open up - especially when you need to jump with your pack into a pool of water.
Even though a lot of the more popular canyons have a well defined track, entry point and exit point, novice canyoners still seem to regularly get misplaced and lost. So before you head off on your canyoning trip it's a good idea to brush up on your map and compass navigation skills and also read the canyon guide or notes.
When I'm prepared and get my act together I like to mark up the canyon route on a map then print it out (I use Memory Map but you can download maps from Six Maps) then on the reverse side of the map I print out the canyon track notes and then laminate it. I also make a another copy for a second compass carrying party member.
A GPS is also very handy as it can speed up navigation especially for the more remote and rugged canyons. Note that GPSes need satellite coverage so are highly unlikely to work in canyons and so are only useful on the walk in and walk out. Never rely solely on a GPS for navigation - your map and compass should be primary means of navigation.
- Don't forget to bring a water bottle or bladder - whilst the water in most canyons is pristine and tastes great (you'd want to avoid drinking water that flows down from any town like Empress or Grand Canyon), you'll definitely need some water for the walk out.
- Lilos - and I don't mean the plastic pool toy type, you need a good quality canvas covered rubber lilo otherwise you'll end up with a puncture in no time. Lilos are really only needed for long floaty canyons like Wollangambe, although if you take young kids canyoning a lilo is invaluable if you need to get them out of the water to keep them warm.
- Hat and sunscreen. If you take sunscreen please use a natural sunscreen to prevent all those nasty suncreen chemicals from endangering our little yabbie friends.
- A microfibre towel is handy to dry off at the end of the canyon and I find it handy to dry off my camera after photos and to wrap it in.
- Gas stove, mugs, tea, coffee, Milo - always great in a canyon and are a real life saver if someone in your party starts to suffer from the cold too much. A insulated stainless steel vacuum flask like a Kleen Kanteen also works a treat.
- Rope bags, canyoning quickdraws, goggles, pull cords, abseil rings etc. are all bits and pieces that experienced and advanced canyoners may choose to use.
Buyers Guide Summary
Novice Canyoner or Budget conscious
If you're just starting out canyoning then you will be able to get away with a basic set of equipment as long as you stick to the easier non-technical canyons. A basic abseiling setup of harness, descender, carabiners, leash, prusik loops, whistle etc. would suffice although you may want to consider hiring a canyoning harness to save your harness from getting trashed.
A lot of the specialist equipment you need such as canyoning harneses and wetsuits can be hired from one of the many commercial guiding companies in Katoomba.
You can get away with your usual 50 litre plus bushwalking pack but I would recommned you purchase a dry bag to keep your clothes dry and food from getting soggy.
Most of the other gear required such as ropes, PLB, group rescue kit etc. should be provided by your group leader.
So you've now completed the usual beginner canyons like Empress, Wollangambe and Rocky Creek - you're hooked and you're keen to get some real canyoning gear. So assuming you have the basic novice gear what should you get first?
- Canyoning descender and carabiner
- Additional carabiners
- Single piece full length wetsuit
- Canyoning harness
- Waterproof Headtorch
- Slings and maillons
- Canyoning knife
- Canyoning Rope
- Lighweight pulley
- PLB (whilst you can always get a free one as detailed above, if you get out often enough it is worth investing in one)
From here on everything else such as a canyoning pack, mechanical ascenders, canyoning boots, etc are icing on the cake and whilst optional will certainly make for a more enjoyable canyoning experience.
The expert canyoner knows exactly what they need so it's likely they already know all of the above and have their own preferred gear list.
Links and further info
Books and Guides
- Canyons Near Sydney, 5th Edition, Rick Jamieson, 2001
- Canyoning Technical Manual, 2nd Edition, Grant Prattley & Daniel Clearwater, 2019
Canyoning near Sydney
Tom Brennan's Ozultimate website has a wealth of information including a free canyoning guide and trip reports.
Australian Canyoning Association
Online Canyoning Community
The Ozcanyons FB Group is the original FB group with an active following.
- Australian School of Mountaineering (ASM)
- Blue Mountains Adventure Company (BMAC)
- Eagle Rock Adventures
- High and Wild
Clubs and non for profit
- Bankstown Bushwalking Club
- Brisbane Water Outdoor Club (BWOC)
- Catholic Bushwalking Club
- Scouts NSW
- Springwood Bushwalking Club
- Sydney Bush Walkers (SBW)
- Sydney University Bushwalkers (SUBW)
- Upper Blue Mountains Bushwalking Club (UBMBC)
By: Adrian Kladnig
Adrian is mainly based out of our Mountain Equipment Chatswood store. He loves to chat about gear so if you need any further info just call 02 9419 6955.
Adrian is an avid climber, canyoner and bush-walker who enjoys canyoning each summer when it is too hot to climb and regularly attends Dunlop Volleyers Anonymous meetings. His favourite canyons are Whungee Wheengee which is the name of his website, Rocky Creek, Davies, Thurat Rift and Kanangra Main.