Canyoneering Gear Thoughts

Gear Thoughts

Gear.

General Gear List

Over time I have found and made a list of the items I like to carry and refer to it while packing, to avoid forgetting something.  Listing it here might be a good place for a beginner to get an idea of what to carry.  This is not intended to be an all inclusive list or a list of the best items to carry.  The list shows what I carry (some things get left out depending on the route).  The list of what I carry and how I like to arrange it, continually changes as I try and learn new things.

Link to General Gear List Click here to see the list.
If you decide to save a copy of this list for yourself, right click the link and select save target as.

Arrangement

The general gear list gives a few details of how I like my stuff arranged.  Here are some other thoughts to go along with the general list.

Most packs have a zippered compartment at the very top.  I like to use that compartment for my gadgets and a few snacks for quick access.  The gadgets are stored in a small dry bag and anything that absolutely can not get wet is also kept inside a second water tight container.  Batteries and toilet paper are good examples of this.  Map, compass, beta etc is all easy to get to when needed from this pocket.

In an easy to access pocket somewhere on the pack other than the main compartment I like to keep other things I may want quick access to.  Things like rappelling gloves (both neoprene Kevlar and my normal rap gloves), neoprene socks, webbing, rope for handline, hat, thermal shirt, pot shot bag and rapids.  Anything else you might want to access (or put away) quickly can be kept here.  If there are other pockets available they can be used to spread things out a bit.  I also like to keep one bottle of water in an outside pocket.  I prefer the sigg style bottles for this so I can carabiner it to the pack and not have it fall out of the pocket.

The main compartment gets everything else.  Sleeping gear (if you brought it), stove, jacket, main portion of food, extra water, water filter and spare technical gear (like gloves, pulley, bolt kit etc).  The harness and rope (if room allows) go in this area too.  As far as storing the wet suit I have found it best to roll it into a wad and hold it that way with a few straps.  Then lay the wad on top of the pack before pulling the lid up and over it.  The straps that hold the lid to the pack are then also used to hold down the wet suit.

As mentioned in the dry bag section, water will get into dray bags.  It is a good idea to double dry bag things to help keep water out.  The sleeping bag is one thing that can make life absolutely miserable if it gets wet.  So taking extra care with sleeping bag and night time clothes is good insurance. 

Here is my method for packing my over night items.  Place the sleeping bag and the bivy in the stuff sack for the sleeping bag.  Then insert it into a compression bag (water proof if you can find it).  Use the straps on the compression sack to compress it as tight as you can so it takes up very little room.  With the sleeping bag squeezed tight in the compression bag, it will absorb very little water if a leak occurs.  Then place the bag in a small dry bag.

For your overnight clothing follow the same steps as above for the sleeping bag and bivy.

Next place the two dry bags (one with sleeping bag and bivy - the other with clothes) inside of another dry bag.  your overnight stuff is ready for travel.  This gives everything 2 dry bags and a compression bag (preferably a water proof one) as a barrier from water. 

Some people like putting things in a dry canister (keg).  I have not been fond of this approach.  The canisters are awkward to pack around when in the pack.  Bags of tend to conform a little better to the space they are stuffed in.  The canisters should also be kept away from the sides of the pack making packing more awkward.  If the canister is next to the edge of the bag it can add more wear to the pack when squeezing through tight areas or dragging the pack up or down a section of the canyon.

The sleeping pad does not need to be stored in a dry bag.  When you use it simply blow it up, brush off any water on the out side of it and let it dry while you get some food down you and get into your dry clothes. 

Opinions, Comparisons and Ideas

Dry Bags

Dry bags do not hold up 100% while treating your bag rough in a canyon.  For a casual day out in a canyon they will most likely be fine.  But if you toss, drag, hoist, float on, or otherwise abuse your pack the dry bags are likely to let some water in.  This can be bad news if you are in a canyon with stagnant foul smelling water and all your food gets soaked with that water. 

Having our food contaminated with canyon water actually happened to us on a trip.  From there you don't have many options if you need that food.  We ended up putting it in a pot with more water and boiling it for a while then eating the mush.  It was interesting to eat a porridge made from Ritz crackers, oatmeal, pretzels and pecans (pecan pie flavored).

If you want to be sure your stuff stays dry, check your dry bags before you use them for a trip.  Make sure they don't leak.  Then double dry bag your stuff.  A small amount of water entering the first dry bag is not usually enough to get into the second one.  If you are worried about a few VERY important to stay dry items, also put those in a zip lock.

Wet Suits

There is no one wet suit type or thickness that is the best.  What you need all depends on the conditions in the canyon.  You will have to do some research on the canyon you plan to go into and decide for yourself what to bring.

It is amazing just how chilly the water can be in some of the canyons.  Ice Cube Canyon at Red Rock NV. had areas of water in the low 60's (F) and it was over 100 degrees outside of the canyon that day.  Heaps Canyon at Zion UT. in mid June had water generally in the 50's (F) and some seemed to drop to the upper 40's.Just because it is going to be a warm day out, DO NOT ASSUME the air and water in the canyon will be warm. 

I have used a Shorty (short sleeves and short legs) in warmer canyons.  It is 3mm thick around the body and 2mm thick on the short sleeves and shorts.  When I use a shorty I also bring along a long sleeve wet suit top to put over the shorty when I get too cold. 

In colder canyons I have used a 7mm full body suit.  This may seem like it is over kill but believe me it is not (in colder canyons).  This thickness of wet suit is typically used in scuba diving when you are in water that is in the 50's.  When in a canyon with water in the 50's the suit keeps you pretty warm most of the time.  If you hang out in the water for a period of time with very little physical activity you can still get cold.  You can also get cold when sitting out of the water in your wet suit when it is wet and you have low physical activity.  The water evaporating from the suit cools it down like a swap cooler, it gets chillier than you think.  Bottom line, a 7mm full body suit is ok for some of the chilly canyons but you do need to stay active once you get wet.

Try not to wear a wet suit for extended periods of time (especially the thick ones) while dry.  You will heat your body up fast.  Since you are inside a wet suit your sweat will not evaporate.  Since your sweat evaporating is how your body cools itself you begin to over heat.  When you over heat your body only knows to sweat more.  This leads to rapid dehydration.  If you do travel with your wet suit on for a long time and you are dry, try to keep drinking fluids.  When traveling dry you can peel down the top half of the suit and pull it down to your waist to keep this from happening.

Wet suits do take a beating in the canyon but hold up amazingly well over time.  So wearing a protective cover may be a good idea but not imperative. 

We tried using the wet suits for sleeping in rather than bring along sleeping gear.  We used emergency blanket style bivys and slept in our wet wet suits in temps dropping to the 50's at night.  Don't let anyone tell you this is a good way to stay warm!  All of us froze more tan we ever have and got little to no sleep.  If you plan to sleep overnight, bring dry clothes and possibly a light sleeping bag. 

During a long day in the canyon it can become a task to keep pulling off your wet suit to urinate.  If you have the time and you are not too cold I recommend pulling your wet suit down.  If you are cold or have little time you can just pee in your wet suit.  I have done this for a full day in Heaps Canyon.  The advantage is you save time (which is precious if you are doing a difficult canyon) and you get a burst of warmth when you pee.  If you are borderline warm it may be uncomfortably cold to pull off the wet suit to pee, since the wet suit is the only thing keeping you as warm as you are. The disadvantage is you stink later.  To help keep the stink down try to flush out your wet suit when you are in the water.  If you decide to pee in your wet suit, don't worry, it is possible to get rid of the smell later.  Just go buy some wet suit shampoo and put your wet suit in a large front loading washing machine (usually found at a laundry mat) and wash it.  Be sure you use a front loading machine, top loaders can damage a wet suit.  I have not done it yet but plan to see if I can find someone to sew a custom fly in my suit so I can let my pee fly without taking my suit off.

Dry Suits

I have not actually used a dry suit but I feel it is not a good idea.  They are lighter and can keep you warmer when combined with clothing under them.  That is about as far as the advantages go. 

I have heard a few people talk about them getting rips in them.  Yes you can wear a protective cover (cover alls) and yes you can treat them well so you most likely won’t end up with a hole in them.  Always remember one thing about canyoneering, what ever you wear “WILL” take a beating.  I wear a pair of pants over my wet suit so I have pockets.  After a few canyons a pair of pants can be pretty ripped up depending on the canyon and how careful you were.

Chances are you would be ok with a dry suit, but in the off chance it got a hole in it in a very demanding canyon it could mean your life!  Jumping into very cold water with no protection from cold can cause your whole chest cavity to constrict with muscle spasms and quickly lead to hypothermia.  If you get a hole in your dry suit and it fills with water, you will be met with that same cold feeling.  You will have a very difficult time getting through the canyon without getting hypothermia.

From what I have been told dry suites are next to impossible to swim in when they fill with water (and you need to swim a lot).  If you did manage to swim ok, imagine the extra weight of water in your dry suit you would be trying to pull out of every pool you exited from.  One gallon of water weighs about 8.3 lbs.  That is a lot of extra weight you will need to handle with each water exit until you exit the canyon or repair the wet suit.  If you do manage to repair it, you will still be cold since all your clothing inside the suit is now wet.

Working your way through a canyon and helping each other with packs and various gear can be exhausting.  Add to that the water weight of a dry suit with a hole in it and you may have more work than you can handle. 

If you were to get a hole in the dry suit you would possibly end up with hypothermia, have a very difficult time swimming, and have more physical work ahead of you than you might be able to handle.  All this adds up to a possible life threatening condition!  A dry suit would be lighter and warmer but that one mishap at the wrong time could possibly kill you.  Not my idea of a good time or a smart choice.

Maybe one day my thoughts will change.  Until then, I'm not a fan.

Shoes

I highly recommend using shoes made for canyoneering.  They generally have a very sticky rubber sole that has good traction even when wet.  Some also have a thick neoprene body to help keep your foot and ankle warm. 

The Canyoneer made by 5.10

I have used the canyoneer shoes made by 5.10.  And have loved some things about them and disliked other things about them. 

PRO's
They have a 5mm neoprene ankle section that keeps your feet warm in cold water.  If more warmth is needed a pair of 2 or 3mm neoprene socks can be worn under them.  The Canyoneer has very sticky rubber that grips extremely well.  Sometimes it is difficult to believe you are walking on such a steeply sloped wall.  But there you are, walking like Spiderman.  The soul of the shoe also wraps around the heel and toe area to give more grip area when you need it.  Walking in and out of the water seems to have little effect on the grip these shoes have.  They are some amazing shoes.

CON's
They are bulky and not a comfortable shoe for the long haul.  If you have a long approach hike to a canyon, the 5.10's will prove uncomfortable.  I also do not like the buckle system they use in place of laces.  I always felt they would break on me.  Eventually one of them did so I retired them to try another brand.  The buckle system also requires a lot of hand strength if you want to get the shoes buckled tight.  I found this annoying.  Shoes should be able to be fastened to your foot tight with minimal effort.

The Exum River by La Sportiva

After using the Exum River's a while I find I like these shoes.  I bought them after my 5.10 Canyoneer shoes broke.

PRO's
The good side to these shoes is comfort.  They are light years ahead of the 5.10's in comfort.  They fit and feel like running style shoe.  The laces make fastening the shoe to your foot securely easy and they drain water well.  They are much cooler than the 5.10s for doing hot dry stretches of canyon or approach hikes.  Unlike the 5.10s they are comfortable enough to wear on any out door activity like back packing or hiking.  The rubber used for these shoes has extremely good grip but admittedly not quite as good as the 5.10's

CON's
The laces need to be double tied to keep them from untying.  While the laces make putting on and taking off the shoe nice they do have a tendency to come untied.  In cold water they are not as warm as the 5.10's but that is easily fixed by using thicker neoprene socks.  While the rubber for the soles are not as sticky as the 5.10's the difference is vey minor and I would not count this against the shoe.

Clothing Worn Over a Wet Suit

A fleece vest or jacket is a good idea to have on hand.  It will provide a little warmth even when wet and can be pulled from your pack when you get a little chilled.  This will help keep a little of the chill off but, if you are just plain cold, don't expect this to warm you up.  More wet suit layering may be a better idea or you may need to get some hot food down you if you get too cold.

A synthetic cap worn under the helmet helps keep you a little warmer as well.  I will also be looking into the idea of a thin neoprene hat if I can find one or have one made.

I like to wear pants over my wet suit!  Not for warmth, but to give me pockets so I have a place for my camera, paper and pen (all water proof).  It is great to just reach in your pocket for something rather than have to get into your pack.  If these items are stored in your pack you may not take the time to pull them out.  Especially where the camera is concerned, you may regret that choice later.

Sleeping Bag

If doing a wet canyon it would be preferable to use a synthetic bag.  A down bag will be lighter and more compact but if it gets damp it has very little insulation left.  A synthetic bag will still keep you "somewhat" warm if it gets damp.  Note I did not say it would keep you totally warm if it is damp.  If you are doing a dry canyon and there is no fear of the bag getting wet then a down bag will be smaller and a bit warmer. 

Space is a big concern so bringing a small bag is essential.  Unfortunately a smaller bag means a bag that is not rated for as cold of temperatures.  Some people may not have a problem with this but I sleep cold and need lots of warmth.  I try to compensate by bringing a little extra dry clothing to sleep in.  I currently use a 55°F bag.

If your bag does not have a compression style sack to pack it in, get one.  Placing it in a compression sack will accomplish 2 things.  First it will compact it so you can get it into your pack with all the other gear.  Second it will help keep it dry.  If water happens to leak into the dry bag(s) you are carrying it in, the sleeping bag won't absorb as much water, since it is squeezed tight in the compression sack.

Don't let anyone talk you into sleeping in your wetsuit.  Bad Idea!  If it is dry it will work for a while but you will soon sweat enough to soak the suit.  If it is wet from water or your sweat you will freeze if the night gets chilly.  The water in the wet suit will slowly evaporate.  Swamp coolers are able to cool the air by evaporating water and your wet suit will be cooling you down (a lot) in the same way.  If you sleep in a wet - wetsuit and the temps drop into the low 60's or 50's you are setting yourself up for one of the most miserable nights you have had in your life!  Ask me how I know this.  :)

For cleaning and storage of a sleeping bag check out the notes on this in the backpacking gear thoughts page.

Bivy

Over the sleeping bag I like to use a minimal bivy.  The kind that are not much more than a body bag that slips of your sleeping bag.  I like the Black Diamond Winter Bivy.  It weighs only 9 oz., packs up small enough to fit in a coat pocket and helps keep rain etc off your bag.  This bivy is not designed for comfort.  The entry is a zipper across the shoulders which makes it awkward to get into your bag which zips down the side.  There is also nothing to keep the bag off your face if you decide to zip it up.  It will keep the rain out but will leave you feeling claustrophobic if you decide to zip it all the way up.  Having this over the bag helps retain just a little more body heat as well.

Bed Pad

If room allows I bring a sleeping pad, but only the all air style.  The Thermarest  style pads are way too bulky.  Padding is not necessary but can be worth it's weight in gold.  For general backpacking I have used many styles of pads.  The all air blow up style pads work well down to about 35°F (any lower and you start to notice a little), so they are good enough for canyoneering.  They also take up very little room and are light. 

Bed time clothes

Putting on clean dry clothing not only keeps you warmer it also makes you feel a lot more comfortable hanging out around camp and sleeping.  As with the sleeping bag keeping it minimal is important due to space constraints in the pack.  If there is room, a pair of dry shoes to added to the pile is great but not absolutely needed.  Dry socks, a light pair of sweat bottoms, thermal top and bottom, fleece jacket and a hat are the bare necessities.  But then again people are very different in this area.

Water filter

A water filter is very important.  Some conditions are not good for water filters.  We had 2 water filters on a trip, and clogged both of them in the same evening.  Letting the water sit and settle for a while helped but did not completely eliminate the clogging.  The pre filters did not keep the large amounts of small debris in the water from entering the filter.  The debris quickly clogged the filters.  

One thought is to use one of the UV light water treatments to sterilize the water, since no filter is involved it will not clog.  But I remember seeing a lot of mosquito larva swimming in the water we were filtering.  Even if the UV light killed these, I do not like the idea of drinking them.  If UV treatment is used, it would be a good idea to pre filter the water.  A coffee might be a good idea.

Whatever water treatment option you choose it must be protected from water during your travel.  A UV style device would be rendered useless if flooded with water, since the electronics in it would be soaked.  If water gets to a mechanical style filter it can still be used after running some water through it to clear the out put lines of contaminants.

I prefer using the First Need water purifier by General Ecology.  It takes care of more than the average filter, like viruses and some pesticides.

For additional or more thorough thoughts on water treatment, check out my Water Treatment Thoughts page.

Clothing

Packs

When I first started canyoneering I used regular packs.  They only last a short time before getting ripped up.  The canyons are demanding and a pack can get treated pretty rough.  I purchased a pack made for CanyoneerinUSA.com.  The packs seem to lack some creature comforts but pay out big in the durability department.

Not only are the packs durable they also have plenty of drainage built into them.  The material on the bottom is more like a vinyl and holds up better to abrasion.  The contour of the bottom of the pack is made so you don't drag it along the ground as much when down climbing steep slopes.  If you want your pack to last a while think about getting one of these.

Ropes

Stoves

The jet boil stove works great since it is so simple to use and gets hot water ready fast.  Before the Jet Boil I used the BluuBull Stove (using denatured alcohol).  It was an adaptation of the Pepsi Can Stove but was smaller since I used Red Bull cans instead.

Camera

Water Proof is all I can say!!  I Use 2 cameras in wet conditions (kayaking and canyoneering).  One is made by Pentax and the other is made by Olympus.  Both companies have a good water proof product but I prefer the Olympus over all.

Food