I am used to abseiling with a prusik cord, which gives me protection for the case I lose control of the descent speed.

However, I have heard that in canyoning, in some situations, using the prusik is considered undesirable. So people descend on ropes with just a braking device, and without a prusik.

Is it really the case? If yes, what makes it a valid technique specifically in canyoning, and not in e.g. rock climbing?

2 Answers 2


Canyoneering presents different risks than rock climbing because water is involved This comment on another post shows why water is an important factor (emphasis mine):

Canyoneering with an autoblock actually has the potential be fatal. Wet ropes have a lot more rope-on-rope friction, if your autoblock locks up while you're in a waterfall, then you're at risk of drowning. That same risk is also why it's recommended that you carry a knife with you, so you can cut yourself loose if you get stuck under a heavy flow of water. when I rappel with my kong hydrobot, I can let go of the rope completely and it will take me down the the bottom at a reasonable constant speed.

As Shem notes in the comment above when canyoneering near water you have to weigh the risk of not falling. He mentioned on situation where not falling is potentially more risky than falling, (drowning halfway down a waterfall). It is safe to say that most rock climbing doesn't involve rappels down or through active waterfalls....

  • 4
    First time I've ever been able to upvote my own answer.
    – ShemSeger
    Jul 18, 2017 at 18:39
  • @ShemSeger yes indeed! I was looking at the related questions and I stumbled on your comment. As soon as I read it I knew this was the answer/reason. Let me know if you'd like me to wiki the answer. I tried to clearly and explicitly give you all the credit.
    – Erik
    Jul 18, 2017 at 18:42

Canyoneering has one major danger that is not (normally) one in mountaineering: water. If you get stuck abseiling along/in a waterfall and end up hanging in the waterfall, you can drown. An "engaged" friction knot can be difficult to loosen, especially when in an averse environment like a waterfall.

The only time I did canyoning an experienced party member went down first. After him everybody that finished abseiling down secured the one following him by holding the rope. In case the person abseiling lost control, you would pull on the rope thus stopping the descent. Apparently this technique is known as "fireman backup".

  • Ok, I removed my now obsolete introduction. Did we ever have a question about backup knots on abseiling (though that needs to become a clear listing of advantages and disadvantages, otherwise it might become an opinion war).
    – imsodin
    Jul 18, 2017 at 10:34
  • We have this question but it is about where to put the prusik not the pros/cons of using a prusik at all. There are a couple of other questions that mention a prusik while rappelling but they are even further away from a pro/con question (like this or this).
    – Erik
    Jul 18, 2017 at 15:25
  • 3
    We all this the fireman backup.
    – ShemSeger
    Jul 18, 2017 at 17:35

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