WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED FOR CANYONeerING IN WASHINGTON STATE? PART 3
This information is merely meant to be educational and not instructional. Seek out qualified instruction!
Caution: The canyon environment is not an appropriate location to learn new skills. Practice new skills before you enter a canyon!
When preparing for a canyoneering adventure in Washington, it’s important to choose the appropriate technical gear to ensure your safety and ability to self rescue or rescue others. The Pacific Northwest region can present a variety of weather conditions and terrain, so it’s important to have gear that can handle these challenges. This post discusses key pieces of technical equipment like; harness, lanyards, carabiners, ascenders, pulleys, canyon quickdraws, rappel devices, and your emergency knife.
V7 Academy and the American Canyoneering Association have set the standard for gear setup in the Pacific Northwest. There is a lot of value in having a similar gear setup to your partners in Swiftwater Canyons. Wild Sky uses ICA/CIC systems that were developed specifically for guiding, but that is a topic for a later post. Wild Sky Adventure Guides strongly support systematic education as a tool to advance safer canyoning.
Note: Wild Sky Adventure Guides has no affiliation with any of the companies or links in this post. Our recomendations are unbiased and free from financial gain.
Typical wA STATE harness setup.
Here is a rundown of the most common harness configuration that you will run into in WA State. Wild Sky recommends that you visit the linked page to become more familiar with this setup and the gear chosen. Although our recomendations are not exactly the same as theirs, we strongly endorse Hownot2 as a legitimate site for accurate whitewater canyoning information!
WILD SKY ADVENTURE GUIDES gEAR RUNDOWN!
1.) Canyoneering Harness with a D-ring masterpoint.
Wild Sky recommendation: Petzl Canyon Guide Because it is lightweight, comfortable and has a very unique lanyard attachment system that keeps your lanyards from interfering with your rappel device. This feature is very convenient and makes the high pricetag easier to swallow.
Budget Recommendation: Singing Rock Canyon XP Because it is very inexpensive without sacrificing features. It is comfortable, durable, and has good gearloops. What more could you ask for at a pricepoint of $105.
RIGHT SIDE OF HARNESS: RIGGING SIDE
2.) 4X locking HMS carabiners.
Wild Sky recommendation: Black Diamond Rocklock Carabiner. In an age where the vast majority of locking carabiners are small and ultralight the Rocklock stands alone as the King of canyoning carabiners. At $15 a carabiner they are rather inexpensive.
Guide Note: I personally prefer using screwlock carabiners because I like the tactile ritual of locking them in canyon. I find them to be more durable and consistent than autolockers. I do have autolockers on my canyon quickdraw. Autolockers ARE an acceptable carabiner locking system.
3.) Figure 8 for Rigging
Wild Sky recommendation: Petzl Huit Because of its square shape it is great for rigging releasable rappels. It is a great modified figure 8 for the “Italian Hitch” which is great for tensioning guided rappels, tensioning from the top, and climbing the rope. Its low profile reduces the likelihood of dangerous snagging.
4.) Canyon Quickdraw
This is a piece you have to build yourself. Lightweight dyneema / nylon mix slings and locking carabiners will do the job nicely.
Guide Note: I prefer to keep the huit stored on one of my free locking carabiners so that I can quickly and efficiently set-up rappels. The canyon quickdraw lives on the left side of my harness. I also personally use a sport climbing quickdraw “dog-bone” instead of a 60cm sling.
CENTER OF HARNESS: WORKING AND SELF RESCUE GEAR
1.) Your Rappel Device:
Perhaps the most controversial piece of canyoning equipment. A book could be written about the pros and cons of each.
Wild Sky Recommends: Any adjustable friction descender that you are familiar with and know how to set up in the configurations that work for you. The vast majority of canyoning appropriate descenders are modified figure 8 devices. Tube style devices are generally not considered appropriate for swiftwater canyoning. Make sure you know the hard and soft lock offs for your preffered device.
Guide preference: I have two preferred devices. The Petzl Pirana 1 and the Petzl Huit. The orange Pirana 2 has been discontinued and should be avoided because it is considered unsafe. I havent tested out the new Pirana Club. But the Huit is a nice low profile device with several different friction settings that I have come to love for swiftwater.
2.) Chest Ascender:
Wild Sky Recommends: The Petzl Croll is the king of the chest ascenders. People love it.
Guide preference: I don’t use a chest ascender. I have never found it practical and it feels like a redundant piece of equipment to me that is prone to snagging and getting in my way. I also dont like cord around my neck. I prefer to connect my micro traxion directly to my short lanyard or my D-ring for emergency situations. Whatever preference you develop make sure that you practice switching over to ascend from rappel until you are proficient!
3.) Double Lanyard
A nice lanyard setup is REQUIRED for swiftwater canyoning. Many techniques can not be completed without a long/short lanyard combo.
Wild Sky Recommends: The Petzl Dual Connect Adjust. This durable and adjustable dynamic rope lanyard is easy to adjust. It is critical that you always load your lanyards while converting rappel systems. The adjustable system is a critical safety piece that protects you against a low probability high consequence accident caused by rappeling on an unsafe system.
Counterpoint: A prominent PNW canyoneer doesn’t like adjustable lanyards. She observes that the adjustable lanyard dangles dangerously and people trip on them. Plus, they can be difficult to impossible to lengthen while underload. I can confirm that I regularly have to do a one arm pullup to unload my adjustable lanyard.
Wild Sky Recommends: Edelweiss and Beal sell affordable fixed length dual lanyards. They are cheap, durable, and work great.
4.) Lanyard Carabiners:
Ergonomic carabiners that fit your hand should be used. They should be different colors.
Wild Sky Recommends: The Beal Be Link carabiners are ergonomically designed for use on lanyards. They are relatively inexpensive and come in 2 different colors for ease of identification.
5.) Hand Ascender:
A Hand Ascender attached to your long lanyard is a critical piece of self rescue material for many swiftwater canyoneers.
Wild Sky Recommends: The Petzl Basic is the most popular hand ascender on the market. It is ergonomic and compact, meaning that it sits well on your lanyard carabiner.
6.) Canyon Knife:
Perhaps the most tempting piece of gear to cheap out on. A basic climbing knife will not cut it (pun intended). Canyoneers have died because they were not carrying a knife, were carrying a climbing knife, or had their knife in their backpack. Spend the money on a nice knife, ziptie it to your leg loop, live to cut the rope. It is tempting to keep your knife on your chest or in your wetsuit sleeve, but in emergency situations inhigh flow it may be difficult to lift your arm over your waist. Wear a damn knife on your harness.
Wild Sky Recommends: CRKT Bear Claw ER. This should be the gold standard for canyon knives. It comes in a functional sheath, it has no point on the tip to cut you, it is curved in such a way to make it unlikely to cut your hand on the serrated blade. It has a nice ergonomic handle with a finger hole to grip in an emergency, and the curve plus serrated blade will cut your rope in one slice. BONUS They are a local business headquartered in Tualatin Oregon!
LEFT SIDE OF HARNESS: RESCUE SIDE
1.) Hauling Kit:
The basic setup for a hauling kit is a progress capturing pulley and a rope grabber. Find a combo that works for you and is certified for the diameter of ropes that you will be using in canyon!
Wild Sky Recommends PULLEY: The Petzl Microtraxion is the king of the pulley world. It is lightweight, versatile, and durable.
Wild Sky Recommends ROPE GRABBER: The Tibloc is a lightweight and versatile rope grabber. It is relatively inexpensive and easy to use.
Guide preference: I always keep my micro traxion on a rescue canyon quickdraw that has locking oval carabiners. With the extension provided by the quickdraw you can convert to haul within seconds. It is important that the anchor manager has their hauler in arms reach at all times.
2.) VT Prussik:
Bluewater VT Prusik. It does the job of everything in this list. This is an amazing piece of kit and should be on every canyoneers harness or in their bags gear rack.
Wild Sky Recommends: Practice tying the VT knot in different positions, upside down, over your head, with your eyes closed. The most dangerous thing about a VT is that it is easy to tie incorrectly, especially in an emergency. Practice, practice, practice! Be proficient!
3.) Foot Loop or Double Length (120cm) sling
You never know when you are going to need a 120cm sling or footloop. If you cant do a one arm pullup this piece of kit is indespensible for unweighting from a hanging rappel anchor, passing deviations, etc….
Wild Sky Recommends: A nylon sling will last longer and take more abuse than dyneema.
Swiftwater Canyoning can be an expensive sport to get into if you start from scratch. It is important that you have the basics for safety and self rescue if you are going to go canyoneering with friends or part of a meetup. Think of it as an entry fee to the sport.
Wild Sky endorses all of the equipment listed here. But online information is no substitute for systematic training. We highly recommend that you seek training from a qualified training institution, supplemented by ongoing mentorship from a more experienced partner. We do not offer stand-alone training programs in the PNW, nor do we plan to.
Wild Sky Adventure Guides offers swiftwater canyoneering training programs in Madeira Portugal. They are fun, informative and suprisingly affordable! Learn more here.
For PNW specific training courses Wild Sky Adventure Guides endorses the Mountaineers, the American Alpine Institute, and Cascade Canyon Guides training programs.
There is space in the PNW for a wide variety of harness configurations, rigging systems, and philosophies. Wild Sky Adventure Guides recommend that you approach the different schools and philosophies with an open mind. By learning about the different approaches to canyoning you will gain a deeper understanding of the principles behind each school. True mastery is understanding the WHY and not just the HOW.
Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.