You may have heard the term. You may have met someone who has done it – and who jabbered excitedly to you about it.
You may have worked out that it involves canyons. (Great work, Sherlock.)
But what on earth is it, why do people get so excited about it, and how do you actually do it?
Strap in. We have all the answers you need right here.
Imagine you’re walking along the banks of a slow-moving river on a hot day. The sun’s directly on your back, and the sweat’s dripping off you. Ah – that sparkling water looks so inviting. But leaping in would be crazy, maybe even dangerous – right?
Instead, hang onto that seemingly lunatic urge. Hundreds of thousands of people before you have felt the same way, decided to do something about it – and never looked back.
It turns out that “crazy” is your ticket to a new kind of adventure.
THEN YOU LEARN WHAT IT IS – AND WHAT IT ISN’T
Canyoning is about safely getting yourself down a river-filled canyon in the most exciting way possible.
Maybe that’s descending on the end of a rope:
Maybe that’s sliding:
Maybe that’s trekking, with the water up to your waist.
Or maybe that’s just leaping straight in:
(As long as your adrenaline levels are sky-high. That’s the main requirement.)
It’s also defined by safety. The professional definition of canyoning always, always, always safety first. If you’re not taking every precaution, or in the hands of people who are making every effort to keep you safe, it’s not real canyoning.
And one of the safest ways to go down a canyon? Learn what a canyon is, and how it works – and then how you work.
Expert canyoning is about using navigation and wilderness survival skills, about researching the canyons you’re traversing in such an exciting way, and about learning your own physical limits and pushing up against them without being reckless.
These are the basic principles of canyoning. Learn them, and you’re off to a great start.
THEN YOU GET STRONGER
Yes, canyoning is accessible for people with a wide range of fitness levels – but being completely honest here, you’ll enjoy it a lot more if you’ve toughened up a little beforehand.
Canyoning requires strength. Strength of mind, the ability to focus on what you’re doing and avoid complacency – and strength of body, to balance your own body weight and support yourself as you twist your body into a variety of shapes.
You need the kind of full-body fitness that comes from combining strength and stamina training. For the former, try a strength-building routine that’s simple, requires little or no equipment, and can be done anywhere – even in a hotel room. (This is ideal.)
For building stamina, focus on activities similar to those in canyoning itself – the most obvious being walking! Get a pedometer and aim for a minimum of 10,000 steps a day, and keep adjusting that number upwards as your fitness improves. (Bonus? Toughened skin on your feet, with less chances of blisters.)
However you do it, do something – ideally every single day. You’ll be grateful when you’re up to your neck in your first canyon.
Speaking of which….
THEN YOU TAKE A BEGINNER’S COURSE
Training’s all very well, but nothing beats actually having a go.
Your first time is always special – but it’s also potentially rather nerve-wracking, and if you have a bad experience (say, you don’t pick the right kind of guides), it could put you off for good.
For these reasons, we recommend taking an immersive canyoning trip that specifically says it’s suitable for beginners and lasts for at least a full day of canyoning, giving you enough time to get used to the full range of canyoning activities. (Squeezing them all into a couple of hours? Recipe for confusion.)
Rug & Rock prides itself on being beginner-friendly, so we won’t just throw you in, figuratively or literally.
To learn more about our canyoning tours in Morocco and Spain, check out the relevant pages below:
THEN YOU LEARN YOUR CANYONING GEAR
If you’re on a beginner’s course, all the required gear will be provided – and many advanced-level tours will include equipment as well. (Note: on all Rug & Rock canyoning trips, we’ve got all your equipment already covered as part of the tour.)
Nevertheless, having a good working knowledge of all your equipment is a valuable asset – and a little of your own research before getting started will increase your confidence and smooth out that initial learning-curve.
Since canyoning and rock climbing overlap so much, start with our guide to essential rock climbing equipment for a rough idea. Be aware that equipment for both activities is not identical, and there are a few significant differences – particularly when it comes to ropes. In rock climbing, dynamic ropes are designed to stretch to absorb the energy of a fall. In canyoning, ropes that stretch run the risk of rubbing against rock surfaces and fraying – so canyoning ropes are static, non-stretchy, and usually made of non-absorbent polyester.
Similarly, canyoning socks, shoes, harnesses and rope bags are designed a little differently from their rock climbing counterparts. Spend some time learning the differences.
Next, become familiar with these pieces of canyoning-specific equipment:
Not just for keeping dry! Immersion in rushing water will drag the heat out of you really quickly, so you need to be insulated. Wetsuits come in a variety of thicknesses, and depending on how long you’re staying in the water, you may wish to avoid the thin-skinned variety (2mm).
As the name suggests, it keeps your stuff dry – including a dry change of clothing and any electronic equipment, such as a mobile phone. You’ll need something that’s absolutely 100% waterproof, and build with a mechanism for purging air (any air in the bag won’t just add unhelpful buoyancy – it’ll actually damage the bag over time).
Here’s a good guide to dry bags.
Remember your sunscreen and your water bottle. Being in the water may cool your skin enough to make you unaware how much it’s getting sun-burnt – and you’re still going to get dehydrated at exactly the same speed as with any other rigorous physical activity. Don’t get caught out!
THEN YOU GET KNOTTED
Canyoning features knots – lots and lots of them. Being able to tie a variety of knots is a huge asset that will save you a lot of training-time. So if you want to get ahead, we suggest the following:
i) Purchase a cheap rope (polyester or polypropylene – this would do fine)
ii) Start practising tying the most popular knots – say, learning one a week to the level of being able to tie it with your eyes closed. The Dye Clan has a good list of knot tutorials here.
You’re also going to be using webbing, a tough variety of tape used for securing anchors – so once your rope-tying skills are as good as you can make them, purchase some webbing and brush up on your basic water knots.
THEN YOU FIND A LOCAL CLUB
Practice makes perfect, and once your mind has learned everything it needs to know, it’s time for your body to go to school. Building muscle-memory takes time, so we recommend you book yourself into a nearby canyoning school or join a local club, and keep polishing up your skills every couple of weeks max.
And if you’re in the US, check out the stunning canyoning options available in Utah, via Canyoneering USA.
THEN YOU STRETCH YOUR SKILLS
The difference between enthusiastic amateur and dedicated professional isn’t just a matter of qualifications – it’s also down to attitude. How hard are you willing to push yourself to get better? What expertise are you going to draw upon? How much are you willing to learn?
Rug & Rock’s canyoning experts have been there and done that – and our tours may be beginner-friendly, but they’re also designed to adapt to your skill level and teach you something new.
For example – do you feel strong and agile enough to start chimneying?
Let us know before you book a tour (get in touch with us here), and we’ll make sure you’re given the opportunity to focus on your technique.
THEN – YOU TEACH?
We’re making no promises – but if you work at your canyoning skills long and hard enough, maybe you’re destined to be a professional guide someday.
Within the US, the standard professional canyoning qualification is the American Canyoneering Academy’s Pro Canyon Guide certification, available at three levels.
The UK has no official canyoning qualification – but internationally, the CIC Canyoning qualification is recognised as a professional mark of competence.
Ready to get started?