Sadly the answer is ‘not really’.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for vertical sports isn’t something that companies offer for rental. There are a number of climbing clubs that have some PPE for hire, but generally you must be a club member, and/or you must be hiring the equipment for a club trip.
Wetsuits may be hired in NZ, but getting the right one could be difficult. Your options are to ask at Diving or Surfing shops. Enquire well in advance, as many do not offer rental equipment. Many shops won’t understand what canyoning is, and those that do may be reluctant to give you a wetsuit for fears that you’ll ruin it sliding over rocks..
So generally, you need to bring your own gear with you.
Is it easy to buy Canyoning gear in NZ?
There are very few stores/companies that specifically sell canyoning equipment. You will find recommendations for places to buy specialised things like ropes, backpacks and wetsuits in the lists lower down on this page. It is important to enquire well in advance, since these are speciality suppliers and may not hold large stocks of any item.
Outdoor shops in NZ usually sell a good range of vertical PPE, but ascenders or specialised canyoning descenders are much less common.
Neoprene products are pretty easy to find, but getting the right type of product can be more difficult.
In short, you need to do a little research and asking around to know where to get the right stuff.
What follows is my personal opinion. Each section details the requirements for each category of equipment, the actual gear that I carry, and information/links about where suitable gear can be purchased.
Canyoning Equipment Lists and Descriptions
A wetsuit needs to be sufficiently thick to provide enough thermal protection for the canyons you intend to descend. But, it should be flexible enough to allow the wearer freedom of movement when swimming, jumping, abseiling and climbing. The wetsuit should fit snugly and be resistant to abrasion.
The quality of wetsuit depends on where you intend to go canyoning and the amount of canyoning you intend to do.
For summer descents of canyons in the North Island, a cheap full length 2mm wetsuit (from department shops) is likely to suffice.
For colder canyons in the South Island, a more expensive 4/3mm full length surfing wetsuit is considered the minimum, and may not be sufficient in the colder areas, or at the extremes of the season.
Two piece 5mm diving wetsuits may often be cheaply bought at second hand shops or on Trademe. These are often quite warm, but are also bulky and make movement difficult in the canyons. They can be a reasonable and inexpensive option when starting out. Consider glueing extra layers of neoprene over the knees and elbows of the suit, as these areas wear quickly when canyoning.
Keeping your wetsuit in good repair helps too… Any small holes will make the suit colder; often you discover the hole when you first step into the water. Remember the location and track it down for repair with a little dab of Aquaseal glue.
There are many different companies both in NZ and abroad that make specialist Canyoning wetsuits.
I use a custom made 4/3mm Titanium Canyoning wetsuit by SeventhWave, a company from Christchurch. This suit is expensive, but very warm and extremely comfortable and flexible. When conditions are expected to be cold, I take along a 2mm neoprene vest, purchased inexpensively from ‘The Warehouse’ for some extra warmth.
A kayaking spray jacket can be a good light layer to take. It doubles as a rain/wind shell for the approach/emergencies and does improve warmth in the canyon. Just make sure its well fitting; loose shells obstruct vision of your harness, make it harder to swim and can get caught in your descender.
Canyoning footwear should provide sufficient support and protection, considering both the walk into the canyon and the descent over rough terrain in the canyon itself. But,
the footwear should have a soft enough sole to provide sufficient grip and friction on wet rock. The footwear should be able to drain and also be lightweight to not impede swimming.
Leather Tramping boots do offer excellent foot protection, but tend to be heavy, making swimming tricky. They also have hard rubber soles, which do not grip very well on wet rock.
Running shoes do not protect the foot as well, but are lightweight, drain well and have reasonable grip. An old pair is the usual recommended entry level footwear.
Specialist Canyoning shoes offer some support, with treaded climbing rubber soles. These shoes can be a little expensive, but are worth the expense for the security and confidence they provide to frequent canyoners. Models such as the 5.10 Canyoneer and Adidas Hydro Pro are among the most popular.
Trail shoes marketed as ‘Approach Shoes’ often have climbing rubber type soles and may be quite suitable for canyoning. 5.10 Shoes are appear to be frequently available at Kathmandu retail stores in NZ, but only the approach shoes and not the Canyoneer.
Neoprene socks are a highly desirable addition, in all but the warmest canyons. Neoprene socks should not be confused with Neoprene booties. Neoprene booties are very easy to find. They are intended for scuba diving, sailing and other sports, without any other footwear.
By comparison, Neoprene socks are harder to find. They are simply a sock and do not have any sole or grip. They come in various sizes, from 2mm for warm canyons through to 5mm for the coldest. Neoprene socks can be bought at Kayaking Shops, Fishing shops and Free Diving (snorkelling/spear-fishing) shops. Ocean Hunter is an excellent place to buy the socks online.
As Neoprene socks are thicker than normal socks, I suggest buying the thickest Neo socks you can find, then buying Canyoning shoes that fit. Back to top
Gloves are an optional item. Those against gloves say you get better feel for rappelling and for climbing without gloves. Those for gloves say they keep your hands warmer and protect them from both the rope whilst rappelling and the rock of the canyon.
If gloves are worn, they should be thick enough to provide some thermal insulation and protection. But they should allow enough feeling to manipulate ropes and karabiners and to climb rock effectively. They should be tight fitting so as not to wash off when swimming in white water.
I’ve had success with 1mm neoprene trout fishing gloves. I cut off the only tips of the thumb, forefinger and index finger to provide feel for climbing. I then wear a cheap $5 set of gardening gloves over the neoprene gloves to protect them from rope abrasion, again with those finger tips removed. This is the best combo for dexterity.
I’ve also enjoyed wearing 5mm dive gloves (sometimes with fingertips cut off) when guiding in cold conditions in spring and late summer. They are a little bulky, but they are very warm! They do tend to wear rapidly, and are not cheap to replace.
A canyoning harness should have a high tie in point for balance whilst rappelling. It should also have some sort of protection material on the back side to protect the wetsuit and harness from abrasion. Finally it should have some gear loops to store technical equipment.
Rock climbing harnesses will work just fine. However, with no protection for the webbing around the backside, the harness will abrade rather quickly. Climbing harnesses are not designed to be hung in for long periods of time, so may be slightly uncomfortable when rappelling. They also have belay loops, which orient any descending device at 90 degrees to the user, which may be undesirable.
Specialist canyoning harnesses are comfortable, well protected and provide correct orientation for the most common descending devices. There are a number of Canyoning harnesses made world wide.
Access gear offers the Mazerin harness by Adventure Verticale. These are inexpensive, hard wearing harnesses, which are closed with a “D” maillion. The metal connection makes it easy to clip in multiple items when the connection is under load. (Very convenient when converting from descent to ascent, or in any rescue situation).
PERSONAL TECHNICAL EQUIPMENT
The technical equipment carried on a Canyoners harness depends primarily on the skills the Canyoner has to use that gear.
Canyoning participants should have at least the following gear;
Asymetric double Safety lanyard
Descending device with Karabiner
Canyoning leaders should have the following gear in addition;
Equipment to perform hoist or pick off rescues
White water Rescue knife: learn more from some Thoughts on Canyon Rescue knives
Sufficient spare rigging Karabiners
The use of the technical equipment requires specialist training and is beyond the scope of this document. Professional instruction in rope work for sports such as climbing, caving, whitewater kayaking and mountaineering are an excellent base for operating the technical gear. It is highly recommended to take a canyoning course to learn specific canyoning applications for the gear. Back to top
There are as many opinions about gear as there are canyons in the world. This is my list, which has served me well for many years of canyoning.
Following the recommendations of Cows Tail Lanyard research conducted by the French College of Speliology (EFS) and the French work at height syndicate (SFETH), I use a Double sided Cows tail, made with Dynamic Rope, terminated with Barrel Knots and joined to the harness with a figure 8. After trying 9mm, I changed to 10mm; it just feels a little more secure for something that gets a bit of abuse.
You can buy dynamic rope by the meter from Accessgear.net.
Auckland company ‘Shift 2‘ makes PPE quality sewn terminations, if you prefer them over knotted terminations.
- Austri Alpin NOMAD descender
- Petzl Micro Traxion, PETZL SHUNT and 2x 120cm sewn slings for ascending, self rescue and buddy rescue
- Figure 8 for rigging releaseable rappel systems
- Valdotain for descending a weighted rope
- HMS/Pear-shaped Karabiners. One for each bit of equipment above, plus 4 spare.
- CRTK BEARCLAW blunt tip rescue knife. learn more from some Thoughts on Canyon Rescue knives
A canyoning helmet should protect your head from falling rocks and from falling over yourself. It should be lightweight, but strong enough for the job.
Climbing helmets are suitable and are designed primarily for protecting from rockfall. White Water Kayaking Helmets are designed more for protection for multiple impacts of someone hitting rocks. As such, they tend to focus more on all over head protection, whilst Climbing helmets offer less protection around the face, but superior protection for the top of the head.
I’ve observed lots of climbing helmets which rapidly fall apart when used in the canyoning environment. Specialised Whitewater helmets are designed to be used in water, though they can be a bit more expensive (and heavier) for the higher end models. Back to top
A whistle provides an effective and energy saving method for communication within a canyon. It should be very loud, robust and function when damp. A whistle is usually attatched with a very short lanyard to the helmet or wetsuit. Back to top
BEANIE OR HOOD
Head insulation for canyoning should provide extra warmth when wet for the canyoner.
Some Canyoners like a wetsuit that has an inbuilt hood. Others prefer a neoprene beanie, which gets in the way less than a hood when not being worn. A normal beanie may be used to start, but neoprene head insulation protects better under waterfalls and works better when wet. Back to top
Emergency Gear should be carried that allows you to cope with injuries or an unplanned
night in or around the canyon.
First Aid Equipment included depends on the skill of the user and the size of the group. Its
contents should reflect that the most common canyon injuries are lower limb, caused by jumping, sliding or slipping. Bivouac equipment should include lighting, shelter and a form of heat.
I carry a small first aid kit, with;
- a Sam Splint and a good sized roll of adhesive tape
- Head Torch with spare batteries
- Tea light Candles with matches AND lighter
- Survival Blanket or Bothy Bag
- Pain medication
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HIGH ENERGY FOOD
Food should be carried that is high in energy and simple to access and eat within the canyon environment. Chocolate or Muesli Bars are excellent for this purpose. Enough should be carried for the length of the canyon, plus spares in case of delays or injury. Back to top
A canyoning pack should be large enough to transport all the canyoning equipment into the canyon, but small enough to not impede movement through the canyon, whether swimming, scrambling or rappelling. It should be highly durable and drain water rapidly. The pack should be of slim design and have minimal external features (pockets, straps etc) to reduce the likelyhood of snagging or entrapment. A pack in a bright colour is desirable.
Normal packs are not very suitable for canyoning, usually having a plethora of
external features and no drainage capacity. However, for simple canyons with
little water, they can be acceptable to start with.
Specialist Canyoning packs are made by a variety of manufacturers, both in NZ and
Overseas. Access Gear make a quality pack, as used by CANYONZ guides in Auckland. Resurgence Bags are internationally renound for durability and function. They are available from Canyoning Supplies, based in Sydney Australia.
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Suitable bouyancy should be worn when canyoning. The amount of bouyancy depends on the weight of gear on your harness, the aquatic nature of the canyon and your personal preferences/experience.
Wetsuits provide bouyancy in proportion to thier thickness. Dry bags closed with air trapped within can provide significant bouyancy for the Canyon Pack. A wetsuit and drybag is often the only bouyancy carried.
For high volume trips and/or those that may require considerable swimming, extra floatation is strongly recommended. Kayaking Boyancy Vests (or Personal Floatation
Devices PFD), can offer extra torso protection as well as floatation, however they do restrict movement movement and vision (when looking down to harness and during rappelling) .
A 20” diameter Truck Tyre inner tube is a reccomended bouyancy option for Gorge float Trips such as those in the Tararua Ranges. Back to top
Canyoning rope should be thick enough to be sufficiently strong and sufficiently abrasion resistant, but thin enough to be light enough to carry. It should be specifically designed for rappelling. A rope should be long enough to facilitate rappelling the majority of canyons that you intend to visit. Consider brightly colour ropes, which are easier to manage in dark canyon environments.
Semi static rope is the most suitable for canyoning. Static ropes are also suitable but are heavier and not as nice to handle. Dynamic Climbing rope is totally unsuitable for canyoning. Dynamic ropes stretch too much, reducing control whilst rappelling, drastically increasing rope wear and tangling more readily.
Semi static rope ranges from 8 to 13mm, with 9-10mm the most commonly used diameter. Several companies manufacture Canyoning specific ropes. 60m is a commonly available length. A pair of 60m ropes will allow descent of the majority of canyons in NZ. Where a rope length is indicated on a CanyonTopo, this is the MINIMUM length of un-knotted rope required to descend the canyon. Ie, for a 30m waterfall, you need a minimum of a 32m rope, plus at least a collection of pull cords that equal 32m to be able to retreive your rope.
In any canyon, you should always bring AT LEAST double the length of the highest drop, PLUS an extra emergency rope, should you loose your main rope, or get your main rope stuck. Rope is your life line, don’t cut corners. More rope = More options.
The Kordas ropes handle well, are hardwearing come in BRIGHT colours, which is helpful in dark canyons and for great photos.
Anchor material carried depends on the skill of the user to construct anchors and the nature of the canyon to be descended. The material must be varied enough to provide anchoring solutions in any situation. Sufficient material should be carried to rig anchors for the whole canyon.
The following equipment should be considered;
- Climbing tubular tape
- Emergency Bolt Kit (Bolts, Hangers, Hand Drill, Plastic Tubing, Hammer)
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You always have your canyoning rope with you, which can be thrown short lengths to assist someone. However, in some high flow canyons, it is a wise decision to send the first person down without the burden of a bag. That person can carry a small throwbag, clipped to thier harness to assist those that follow.
Most small throwbags have thin cord (6mm) which is difficult to hold on to in strong currents, but should be suitable for the short throws required for canyoning. Throwbags with thicker cord are bulkier, so choose the right balance of size, weight, line thickness and length for your situation.
A suitable small throwbag can be bought online easily from Accessgear.
A diving mask or swimming goggles is used to check pools before jumping into them. It should be lightweight and robust. The Mask also comes in handy to retrieve any non floating gear that gets lost in pools. Back to top
With the ready access to Personal Locator beacons, every group should consider taking one. Noting that escape from within the confines of the canyon is likely to be required to gain a reliable signal. See www.beacons.org.nz for more information.
Satellite phones can be suitable, but they are very expensive to operate and unlikely to be accessible by the average outdoors person.
Mountain Radios are less suitable, as they require you to erect a long aerial, which could be completely impractical and/or a lengthyprocess.
Cell phones are not suitable, as there is little to no coverage in NZ’s mountains and certainly none in the canyons themselves. Back to top