Canyoning (also known as gorge walking) is a multi-discipline activity that mixes a whole load of skills including swimming, abseiling and scrambling. With such a demanding workload it's no surprise that this pastime can involve a fair bit of kit.
So whether you're going canyoning in the UK, gorge walking in Europe or heading off on a canyoning adventure anywhere around the world, there are a few essential bits of kit that it's always worth taking.
1) A Helmet that's Suitable for Canyoning
Top of most canyoner's lists will be a good lid. With all those slippery rocks, big jumps and occasional abseils you're going to need something to protect your beautiful bonce while canyoning. A good quality rock climbing helmet will do here. The design should obviously be able to handle getting wet and if possible go for a low profile model with good visibility so that you can move through narrow spaces more easily.
2) A Wetsuit
If you're going canyoning you're probably going to get wet. With this in mind a wetsuit is a really good shout because it will help keep you warm and stave off the risk of chills and even hypothermia from all that fresh mountain water. Look for a flexible suit that is reasonably thick without impeding your movement. Somewhere around a 4/3 should do the trick, similar to the style you'd use for white water rafting.
3) A Buoyancy Aid
Some gorge walkers shy away from them but almost all organised canyoning tours will fit you out with a buoyancy aid. Certainly if you're going canyoning for the first time, they'll almost always insist on your wearing one. These handy jackets will keep you afloat, reducing the amount of effort you have to put in to swimming and keeping you safely above the water in the event of an accident. As an added bonus, a rugged buoyancy aid will also offer some protection for your wetsuit when you're sliding down rock chutes, saving you from tearing a hole that lets the water in to all the wrong places...
5) Rope that Works for Gorge Walking
Some canyoning routes are simple enough to complete without a rope, but most of the more exciting canyoning spots in the UK and elsewhere require at least one or two abseils. Even if you're not planning a technically demanding trip, a rope can still come in handy for assisting the less confident members of a group and can be used to help with rescues in an emergency.
Canyoning rope is usually static, meaning that it won't stretch like climbing rope when you put weight on it. Canyoning rope should also be pretty tough and have a low water absorption rate because wet ropes are both heavy and difficult to work with. Make sure the rope you get is the right thickness to fit your belay device and if possible that it has some water proofing treatment too.
6) A Good Rope Bag
To keep your rope manageable you'll need a rope bag. Not to be confused with a kit bag, which is for all your other canyoning equipment, these useful sacks are just for carrying your rope. Well packed rope is easier to set up, easier to deploy and lasts longer too.
If you're in the market for a rope bag look for one that's hard wearing and has some flotation built in to make sure you don't lose it in the water. The bag should also be able to drain easily, to reduce weight and stop your canyoning rope sitting in a pool of water, and have a stiffened rim to make it easier for you to put the rope away.
7) A Kit Bag With A Good Dry Bag Inside
All your canyoning equipment has to go somewhere and that's where a kit bag comes in. Gorge walking bags are tough, abrasion resistant sacks that can take a beating. Like rope bags your kit bag should feature some flotation and also have mesh sections to allow water to run quickly out of the pack. You'll be looking for around a 36-42 litre bag for a one day expedition and something a little bigger for overnight trips.
Inside your kit bag you'll need some dry bags to protect your most important gear from the water, things like mobile phones, first aid kits and car keys. Dry bags usually have a fold over top which makes them airtight and a valve to press any excess air out of the sack which can cause the bag to burst if dropped suddenly into deep water. You can pick these up from most outdoor stores or sailing gear shops and it's usually a good idea to get a couple so that you can double bag your canyoning equipment if possible.
8) Shoes That You Can Get Wet
If you're going canyoning once then you might get away with a pair of old trainers but if it looks like something you'll get into then you'll need some proper footwear. Like the best hiking boots, canyoning shoes normally cover your ankle and can handle getting bashed around rocky environments.
Canyoning shoes are lighter than hiking boots though and often feature neoprene uppers (which help them dry out quickly) and quick fasteners rather than laces for easy adjustment in a gorge. Look for models that have easy drainage to stop your feet sloshing around and a solid grip made from sticky rubber to help you clamber over all that slippery stone.
9) A Decent Harness
If you're going to be abseiling during the canyoning trip (which you probably will be) then you'll need a harness. A standard climbing harness would work fine, but harnesses designed specifically for canyoning are normally less water absorbent and often have built in seat protection to shield the butt of your wetsuit from rubbing away on the rocks. These seat sections are usually removable too - and much cheaper to replace than an entire wetsuit.
10) A Belay Device
The other essential piece of abseiling kit is a belay device. There are plenty of different types of belay device which are great for climbing but with the high impact and relatively straightforward rope work that you'll be doing while gorge walking, you won't need anything too complicated. Stay away from mechanical devices and keep things simple. A single piece belay device, such as a figure 8, is a good idea. It's hard wearing, easy to use and has no moving parts that can jam up on you.
11) A Canyoning Guidebook
Before you head out on any canyoning trip you need to know the route and have an idea of the challenges you're going to face. The last thing you want is to get half way down a canyon to find you haven't packed enough rope or there's an obstacle you can't handle and no way to climb out. This makes a canyoning guidebook, or at least some thorough internet research, vital.
Good guidebooks will give you pictures of the major obstacles, route maps, the height of any drops you might encounter and tell you where to get in and out of the canyon. Most guidebooks cover a whole area as opposed to just one canyon so they can also be great inspiration for future canyoning trips further afield too.