Rock climbing and canyoning/canyoneering are very different. However, it seems like the two disciplines would also have significant overlap in skills and gear-- knots, rappel techniques, harness, rope, belay/rappel device, etc.

Can rock climbers easily transition to canyoning? If so, what sorts of canyoning-specific knowledge and equipment would he or she need to begin, assuming they already have climbing basics?

Note: I think my question is different from this one since they stated they do not have climbing experience.

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    I am quite an experienced rock climber and I did canyoning a few times (with guides). There are plenty of different skills and knowledge you need, but for sure being used to rope handling will help. But in my opinion what would help the most would be being used to exposed terrain without frightening.
    – Dakatine
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 11:49

4 Answers 4


The disciplines are very similar, and it is very easy for a climber to make the transition because they already have experience with ropes, but there are a lot of canyoneering specific skills and gadgets that are different from climbing. If I were to campare the two by their differences, I'd say that rock climbing requires more strength, and canyoneering requires more wisdom.

First of all, when canyoneering you obviously spend a lot more time on your ropes, so the first essential skill you need to learn how to do is how to make anchors for descending while pulling your ropes. It is incredibly easy to get a rope stuck in a canyon, and when it happens it could mean big trouble, chances are you'll have to cut your rope and hope there's enough left over to make it the rest of the way out if you don't have a second rope (which you probably should).

Canyoning descenders are different too, they offer many different levels of friction, and are easy to tie off if you need to stop and go hands free.

Canyoning Descenders

Kong Hydrobot
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Petzl Pirana
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Stirling Ropes ATS
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One thing about canyons, is that they all have one thing in common: water. Every canyon is cut out of the earth by flowing water, and the best canyoneering is in the canyons that have flowing water. Descending down waterfalls, sliding down natural waterslides, cliff jumping into deep pools and swimming through long winding meanders with tall cliff faces on either side of you in a place that receives fewer visits than most others are the big attraction for serious canyoneers.

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If you're planning on visiting a wet canyon, then you need a few more things, namely: a wetsuit. Then you'll want to get a seat protector for your harness to protect your wetsuit while sliding on your bum:

Seat Protector

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There are also special shoes for canyoning that are insulated with neoprene and have super sticky rubber for wet rocks, canyoning helmets that don't hold water, PVC bags for your rope and gear, treatments for your ropes to make them float. There's a lot...

Canyoneering is it's own sport, but it falls under the family of greater alpinism, so naturally being a climber will make it easier to transition into it, but being a climber isn't enough if you want to do the fun wet canyons, you also need to be a navigator, a swimmer, a cliff jumper, and in some cases a diver.

  • One thing about canyons, is that they all have one thing in common: water. Well, not really. The canyons I've done where I live, in LA, are basically dry all the time.
    – user2169
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 21:59
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    @BenCrowell, How did they get there?
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 22:27
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    I think the point Ben was trying to make is that some canyons are completely dry even though they once had water or that some are dry different times of the year. You don't want to show up in a 3mm wetsuit to a dry canyon, it's a good idea to check trip reports and learn just how much flow, if any, to expect before heading to a canyon.
    – DawnPatrol
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 23:45


Yes there are lots of rock climbing techniques that are transferable to canyoning (or gorge/gill scrambling as it is often called in the UK) but there are other specific skills required also

Transferable skills

  • Belaying
  • Anchors (these tend to be in a similar vein to one's you'd use when scrambling, i.e. placing rope behind spikes, etc rather than using knuts and cams)
  • General rope skills

Different skills

Some of these may not be required, it depends on the grade of scramble. Typically you don't spend a lot of time roped up when canyoning (not at the grades that I've done it anyway). It's more a kin to scrambling than climbing where you may use a rope in particularly exposed areas or where there is deep water.

  • Water rescue (How do you stop someone from being swept down stream but also not drown them by applying to much pressure to the rope? You need to guide people into the side of the river not pull them as hard as you can)
  • Choosing the right river, are there dangerous undercurrents? how big do the rapids get?
  • Sliding, you will often slide down slick river beds, route choice is essential here, see above
  • Jumping into deep water. You will often have to choose whether to jump into a splash pool or rappel down. Obviously this depends on the depth of the water and the currents, etc.
  • You may or may not need a harness. This is somewhat dependant on grade, etc. I've been a few times and never used one. Harnesses (in some circumstances) can be a problem, particuarly when someone is being pulled on a rope in fast water. So a rope is often used as a loop of rope, secured around the participant, a single figure of eight is added to prevent it constricting too much. This technique is preferred as it allows the rope to ride up to the persons shoulders, therefore holding them above the water. If it was attached at waist height it would be easy to tip the person upside down in the water. The addition of a chest strap prevents this.
  • Where is it acceptable to do this. As mentioned in my answer in the previous question. This sport can have damaging environmental impacts. You need to be very careful where and when you do this.

the main difference boils down to, knowing the river and knowing your limits. It's best (as always) if your inexperienced to first go with an experienced friend or and organised group.

Additional equipment

Assuming you have a good set o f climbing gear already (helmets being the most useful). You will likely need the following additional equipment:

  • Life vest
  • Wet suit
  • Rash vest to protect the wet suit
  • Old wet suit, cut up and worn over the bottoms of your main wet suit. This is so you don't wear out your best wet suit when sliding down stuff, etc
  • You can also buy canyoning specific shoes, though an old pair of trainers are fine.
  • Nice answer, +1, but -- You don't typically use a harness. Everyone I've gone canyoneering with here in the US has used a manufactured seat harness. However, I've never done any wet canyoneering.
    – user2169
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 18:23
  • yeah this is more, climbing up a fast flowing river. In some circumstances are harness could be used but it can be dangerous if the water is deep enough to submerge you.
    – user2766
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 10:24
  • Yeah, this doesn't seem to be quite the same thing as canyoneering. Lots of great points made, but you should take out the bit about not needing a harness because it doesn't relate the the topic and encouraging someone to think that they can canyoneer without a harness is dangerous.
    – DawnPatrol
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 23:53
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    I've edited @DawnPatrol. But it's still rare for people to use harneses in the UK for this. I still maintain that in some circumstances, without a chest strap, a harness can be problematic. Really you want the anchour point to be above waist height so that people are not tipped in fast flowing water. But this is all highly variable depending on terrain, etc.
    – user2766
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 7:44
  • Seems like we're at opposite ends of the canyoneering spectrum here. I've done canyons with 50-200ft rappels, definitely something you want a harness for. A harness also gives you more safety options such as the ability to clip into an anchor of you need to. I'm not sure I fully understand how the harness would tip you into the water. The entire time you rappel you're in a sitting or leaning back position. I feel like you'd have more control in those positions. Doesn't techniques for different situations I suppose though.
    – DawnPatrol
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 5:25

I'm American, so I can only address canyoneering, not canyoning.

Easy canyoneering is just lots of rappelling. If you're a trad climber, that means it should be mostly skills you already know. You can use a fireman's belay or a Prusik backup the same way as on rock, except that as pointed out by Shem Seger, you don't want to use the Prusik on a wet rappel. If you have multipitch experience, then you're used to the idea that when something is committing, you need to be extra careful, competent, and self-reliant. Self-rescue techniques like ascending the rope apply equally to canyoneering. What do I do if I try to pull down the rope after a rappel and the rope gets stuck ... same as for climbing.

There are some gear and techniques that canyoneers tend to do differently but that can be done the same way as you'd do when rock climbing. It's nicer to use a static rope, but you don't have to. It's nice to have a specialized rope bag, but you don't have to. If you're canyoneering with a large group, there are practices that you can learn that will speed things up.

Hard canyons do involve different skills and gear than climbing. For example, you may need to be a good swimmer, and you may need a wetsuit. I haven't done any hard canyons, so I'm not an expert on this.

As a climber, I'm used to having a very strict set of criteria for what kind of anchor I would rappel off of. Some canyoneering routes have anchors that would meet those criteria. Others do not. I think the people who do those others are nuts. Look for beta so you know what you're committing yourself to.

  • I am American as well, but the Wikipedia article is called Canyoning so I figured that name was more common Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 3:06
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    @ChrisMendez: That was just a joke :-)
    – user2169
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 3:11
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    @BenCrowell 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.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 4:18
  • @ShemSeger: Thanks for pointing that out. I don't have any experience with wet rappels. I've edited the answer to reflect your comment.
    – user2169
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 18:21

I was trained in SRT for vertical cave access before I began canyoneering. I've gone out with many people who have made the transition from rock climbing and there's a few things that they typically struggle with that no one else has addressed that I would like to.

  1. Ascending - You should ALWAYS have an emergency system in place for ascending. I wear my full caving harness with a chest ascender (petzl kroll) and handled ascender. Having a solid ascension system comes in handy for a variety of different emergency situations. For example, if my rappel device gets jammed and I need to changeover my weight to unjam it. Or if the rope gets stuck, sometimes it's possible to put a meat anchor on one side and ascend the other to unstick it.

Most rock climbers don't know how to ascend and rock climbing harnesses aren't built to ascend. I would suggest purchasing a canyoneering harness so you can easily attach ascension equipment. If you want to keep your rock climbing harness, you should consider modifying it by adding something like the Petzl Torse for a chest harness and a kroll. Even if you decide against the chest harness, you should absolutely have some kind of safety tether system such as a cow's tail, speleogica, or sling coupled with carabiners or ascension systems.

If everything goes 100% right, you'll never need any of this stuff. However, when it comes to personal safety, I wouldn't recommend banking on the idea that everything will always go right.

  1. Static Rope - Don't use dynamic... just don't do it. Dynamic rope is bouncy when rappelling which means it's uncomfortable for the person rappelling, it dynamically loads the anchor, and it causes more abrasion on the rope. Aside from that, dynamic rope also absorbs more water than static rope making it heavier to carry through the canyons. Rope wiki has a great comparison chart for canyoneering ropes that might interest you: http://ropewiki.com/Rope_comparison

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