What is Canyoning? Equipment, Best Season, Top Spots

Canyoning (or canyoneering) is traversing a canyon or gorge by combining hiking, climbing, swimming, and/or abseiling. A sport by many names, it explores the hard-to-reach areas of a natural landscape by following a water route carved through rock formations.

In navigating paths along streams, pools, and waterfalls, a canyoneer will slide, jump, and descend down through the gorge, often using technical equipment for safety. It can be done primarily for fun and to gain experience, but also for the difficulty of the course and challenges of the terrain.

Canyoning above the water. Photo: AET Canyoning

There are many levels to canyoning, and it can be enjoyed by all ages. The amount of water and the number of vertical obstacles are factors in determining a canyon´s difficulty.

The rush of jumping and diving into beautiful pools of water is incredible, and it doesn’t require a lot of advanced skills. Abseiling, or rappelling, involves descending into more difficult areas with the significant use of technical equipment, and is considered advanced canyoning.

When is the Best Time of Year to Go Canyoning?

Canyoning is most often enjoyed in comfortable weather, so it is best to head to the gorge in the summer and the months that bookend it. You will be staying active in a wet environment, so warm temperatures and moderate water levels provide the ideal conditions for the sport.

The water level generally relies on winter precipitation and thaw, as well as heavy rains and storms. This should always be considered when making plans for a canyon adventure.

Canyoning down to a pool in Bled. Photo: Gregor Kofler.

From May to September, you are most likely to find the best times for canyoning. Towards the beginning of the summer, the water levels tend to be higher, and the temperature can vary. For more experienced canyoneers, this can be a great chance to try the challenging aspects of the terrain.

As summer settles in, the delicate balance between warmth and water reaches its peak, and everyone can appreciate the fun and adventure of the gorge. Once autumn arrives, that perfect sporting atmosphere hits the road and the unpredictable climate returns. This can lead to a more hazardous time in the gorge.

What Equipment Do You Need?

One of the pools of the Sierra de Guara. Photo: Carlos Vidal Arque.

It depends on the program, but general canyoning equipment includes:

  • Canyoning Shoes: Because of the watery nature of a canyon, you will need comfortable, durable shoes with excellent grip.
  • Wetsuit: Its durability and warmth are essential for cold and deep canyons, and it will keep you dry. Accompanied by a quick-drying shirt and pair of shorts, a wetsuit will prepare you for any wild and woolly adventure.
  • Helmet: Head protection is a no-brainer. A helmet will safeguard your head through the slips and falls of the canyon.
  • Gloves: A sturdy pair of gloves can keep your hands safe and sound when cruising the rocks, though they aren’t necessarily required. They can also assist in gripping the terrain on your way through the canyon.
  • Static Rope(s): A static rope holds strong when placed under pressure, and works best for abseiling. These ropes are crucial to your canyoning experience.
  • In contrast, dynamic ropes are used in – and associated with – climbing for securing falls and enhancing safety during ascents.
  • Rope Bag: Keep hands focused on the task at hand by carrying ropes in a durable and convenient rope bag. This helps the canyoneer manage them more easily and effectively.
  • Water-Proof Bag: A water-proof bag or pack will keep your possessions and equipment dry. It should automatically shed and release water as you traverse, and be fairly lightweight to avoid bogging down the descent.
  • Descender: A belay system is crucial for a safe trip. Used as a friction brake, a descender manages and controls a canyoneer’s descent, allowing a belayer to safely give and take rope.
  • Harness: The harness is a piece of safety gear worn by the canyoneer that attaches to a rope for abseiling and, if necessary, climbing.
  • Carabiner: For any necessary securing and carrying in the canyon, a carabiner is a tool to connect the harness and the descender. It is a good idea to have a few of these easy-locking devices handy, as they can attach slings and other equipment.
  • Sling: A sling will hold anchors fast, including the climber, and is a safety precaution helpful as an additional measure in an exposed area.

A small selection of other possible items includes a knife, communication device, sun protection, swimwear, and camera.

Rappelling in Val Bodengo. Photo: Pascal Van Duin.

Some of this equipment can be rented on-site or prior to a trip, and it may be provided by the canyoning guide. Some programs and circumstances may require participants to provide their own gear. A particular canyon or route may have require additional items based on location or weather.

Why Should You Hire a Guide for Canyoning?

Canyoning is a fun activity, and sharing it with someone else only increases this pleasure exponentially. By hiring a guide, you gain an incredible amount of knowledge and insight. A local guide can even take you on a hidden or more remote route that will give you bragging rights over your friends who took the same old path.

Sliding into a pool in Corsica. Photo: Cedric Specia.

With the assistance of a professional, you will be able to tackle more obstacles and reach further into the canyon that you might have been able to otherwise. You can increase your skills at a faster rate, and achieve your goals with precision. A guide enhances your canyoning experience and gives you invaluable access and information that will make your trip an absolute blast!

Perhaps most importantly, a guide will make your program safe and make sure you still have as much fun as you possibly can.

Top 10 Spots to Go Canyoning in the World:

1.   Sierra de Guara, Aragon (Spain): The gorges of this mountainous region are breathtaking, justifying its claim as one of Europe´s top destinations for canyoning. It is has long and wild descents, as well as easier routes for beginners.

2.    Corsica (France): This island was built for canyoning, with roughly two-thirds of its surface covered in mountains. The number of streams, rivers, and exciting waterways criss-crossing this terrain have made it a popular destination for first-timers and experts alike.

3. Utah (USA): The unique landscape of the western United States is unbelievable, and this is especially true in the Moab region of Utah. The red rock formations are a captivating backdrop to any canyoning trip.

4.   Bled (Slovenia): The Julian Alps descend into some beautiful gorges, and Slovenia is packed full of these canyoning routes. Full of culture and history, Bled is a perfect place to jump into pristine pools of water and slide down naturally-crafted rock.

5.  Val Bodengo (Italy): This location in northern Italy is infamous for its many routes and wild canyons. Loaded with gorgeous scenery, it has a number of runs that are easily accessible for children and families, all the way up to expert level canyoners.

6.  Breil-sur-Roya (France): If you were looking for an alternative activity in the French Riviera, then this is it. This sweet spot between mountains and Mediterranean has unparalleled beauty, both in its pure water and rugged landscape, with great technical routes.

Abseiling down in Breil-sur-Roya. Photo: AET Canyoning.

7.  Catalonia (Spain): The Catalonian Pyrenees have a labyrinth of gorges that are begging to be explored. As you head out of the mountains, even the coastal region near Barcelona has deep ravines for a perfect canyoning trip.

8.  Jura Mountains (France): The Jura Mountains undoubtedly have some amazing gullies to explore, and are home to the narrowest canyon in France! Limestone walls full of water mean it is a canyon-seekers dream.

9.  Valais (Switzerland): The terrain here is rough, which is a good thing. There are plenty of gorges for rappelling and technical descents, all within the amazing Alps.

10. Japan: From Yakushima (UNESCO World Heritage Site) to the Azumas, Japan has some of the world´s most scenic canyoning programs.

What is Ice Climbing? Equipment, Best Season, Top Locations

Ice climbing is a lot like rock climbing – on ice. Rather than climbing on rocky surfaces, ice climbers use crampons, picks, ropes and other equipment to climb on ice. 

For years, ice climbing was just another part of rock climbing and other mountaineering activities. Whenever climbers reached an icy section on the mountain, they had to traverse the ice in order to continue upward.

Eventually, the thrill and challenge of climbing on ice caught on, and ice climbing was born. Nowadays, rather than being an obstacle on the way to the summit, climbing on ice is an adventure in and of itself.

Ice climbing can be practiced independently or as part of a mountaineering expedition. Glaciers and frozen waterfalls are by far the most popular ice climbing venues. Many versatile ice climbers also practice mixed climbing – a variation of ice climbing that involves climbing on ice, rock and snow.

Much like in sport climbing, ice climbers typically work together in pairs. One partner serves as an anchor while the other climbs, and vice versa.

Due to the conditions in which ice climbing typically takes place, it is considered an extreme sport. In addition to being outdoors in sub-zero temperatures for extended periods of time, ice climbers may be exposed to inclement weather conditions, avalanches and crevasses. For those who choose this sport, however, such risks only add to the thrill of climbing on ice.

If you want to get on the ice but climbing is a bit too extreme for your taste, glacier trekking is a great alternative.

What is the best time of year to practice ice climbing?

As you would imagine, the winter months do tend to provide better conditions for ice climbing. Contrary to popular belief, however, you can ice climb all year round.

Rjukan ice climbing private guided day tours
Ice climbing in Rjukan, Norway. Photo by Pawel Karczmarczyk.

That’s right! You can even ice climb during the summer months. Glaciers provide an ideal setting for ice climbing in all four seasons. Additionally, mountaineering expeditions to high altitude peaks often involve both ice and mixed climbing.

Alternatively, many ice climbers practice rock climbing during the off-season. This is a great way to stay in shape during the warmer months as the strength and skills you acquire rock climbing will help you on the ice as well.

What equipment do you need for ice climbing?

As you would expect, ice climbing requires some technical gear. You will need the proper equipment, both to shield you from chilly temperatures and to actually climb.

Ice climbing in the High Tatras, Slovakia. Photo by Miki Knizka.

Ice climbing equipment checklist: 

  • Insulated ice climbing boots
  • Climbing harness
  • Climbing helmet
  • Crampons to fit your boots
  • Ice axes
  • Belay device
  • Carabiners
  • Ice screws
  • Rope
  • Quickdraws
  • Gore-Tex gloves
  • Eye protection (optional)
If you will be climbing with a guide (recommended), s/he may provide some or all of the equipment you need to climb. In other cases, you may need to rent your own gear. Either way, you’ll want to be fully prepared for this icy adventure.
Why should you hire a guide to go ice climbing?

A knowledgeable local guide adds immeasurable value to any mountain activity. Given that ice climbing is an extreme sport, the presence of a seasoned guide is also important for safety reasons.

Ice climbing course in El Chaltén, Argentina. Photo by Alberto del Castillo.

A qualified guide will take the necessary precautions to keep you and fellow climbers safe on the ice. Among other things, ice climbers need to be acutely aware of freezing temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns, avalanches and crevasses.

At Explore-Share, you can find ice climbing trips and courses for beginner to advanced climbers. Many of the host guides are IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Association) certified and have completed a rigorous, internationally recognized training program. You can count on these guides to lead you confidently on the ice.

Many of our wintertime mountaineering trips also include ice climbing. This is a great way to get experience on the ice while simultaneously learning about other elements of mountaineering.

Top 10 ice climbing destinations in the world

Our top 10 list includes ice climbing classics as well as few unexpected locations.

Ice climbing in Slovenia. Photo by Gregor Kofler.

1. Cogne, Italy | There are more than a hundred frozen waterfalls in this ice climber’s paradise in northern Italy.

2. Norway | There is ice climbing for all levels in Rjukan and dramatic landscapes of mountains plunging into the sea in the Lofoten Islands.

3. Banff, Canada | This world-class ski area doubles as a top 10 ice climbing destination.

4. Japan | It turns out that Hokkaido is not all about skiing! Scenic gorges provide the ideal backdrop for ice and mixed climbing.

5. Slovenia | Combine ice climbing with a ski trip, or do it as a stand alone activity. Kranjska Gora is a great starting point.

6. Colorado, USA | Breckenridge and Vail are also top-notch ice climbing venues for the whole family.

7. Kandersteg, Switzerland | This gem in the heart of the Bernese Oberland is one of the best places in the Alps to practice ice climbing.

8. Ecrins, France | The multi-level climbing available in the Ecrins is not to be missed.

9. Slovakia | Push your ice climbing boundaries in the High Tatras, located on the Polish border.

10. Iceland | This list would not be complete without the land of ice. The Icelandic fjords provide an almost otherworldly ice climbing venue.

What is Rock Climbing? Types, Equipment, Top Spots

Rock climbing is the sport or activity of climbing rock faces, especially with the aid of ropes and special equipment. The concept is to reach an end point, or a summit, of a rock face or structure. This can be done with specific equipment, depending on the difficulty and severity of the climb.

It is a physically demanding sport that combines fitness and agility with the mental fortitude required to conquer an ascension or traverse. It can be perilous, but that is often considered a positive aspect of the adventure.

There are many types of rock found all over the world, from igneous (granite) to sedimentary (limestone and sandstone) to metamorphic (gneiss). Some courses and routes are built on artificial walls, as well.

There are many types of rock climbing, each with their own equipment, setting, and surface(s).

What Are the Types of Rock Climbing?
Bouldering

Bouldering is a basic form of climbing that can be done indoors and outdoors. Using short movements without harnesses or ropes, the climber moves over small rocks or boulders. It normally features routes with a shorter height, but still has many complex and challenging routes.

Often the only equipment is a cushion or pad placed below the climb in case of a fall, and chalk and climbing shoes will aid in gripping the wall. It can be done solo or with a spotter.

Sport Climbing

Sport climbing, while possible to do indoors, is mostly enjoyed outside. With the assistance of a partner (or belayer) holding a rope, the climber ascends a bolted and established rock face using a harness, ropes, and a belay system.

The routes in this type of climb are higher, and therefore require more safety equipment. Along with the belay, rope, and harness, the equipment also includes a helmet, chalk, climbing shoes, slings, and quick draws.

Guided climb in the Pyrenees. Photo: Roger Martorell.

There are two types of routes: single-pitch and multi-pitch. Single-pitch climbing allows the climber to ascend and then descend with the help of the belayer. Multi-pitch climbing is comprised of more than one of these levels.

Sport climbing includes top-rope climbing and lead climbing. Top rope involves placing an anchor rope at the top of the route to run the climbing rope through. Lead climbing involves a lead climber ascending and setting up the quickdraws along the rock.

Trad Climbing

Trad climbing is similar to sport climbing, but the bolts have not been secured in the climbing route. This requires placing bolts along the rock wall, and as the climb is finished, all of the equipment must be removed from the wall. Nuts and camming devices must be carried along with the climber.

This is a more difficult style of climbing, as climbers must find the route and secure the equipment on their own.

Dry Tooling

Dry tooling involves placing ice axes into the wall as you ascend the rock, with the assistance of crampons in place of climbing shoes. It includes ropes, harnesses, and the equipment used for sport climbing. The damage that this type of climbing can do to the rock has made it a more controversial style.

Big Wall Climbing

Big wall climbing utilizes long multi-pitch routes along vertical rock, which often necessitates more than one day. The thrill of sleeping on the side of a rock wall makes this an attractive type of rock climbing.

Chamonix big wall climb. Photo: Mathis Dumas.

Aid climbing is the technique of placing removable equipment along the rock, and then attaching a webbing ladder to it to climb. This is repeated along the route, and is associated with big wall climbing.

Alpine Climbing

Alpine climbing involves ascending to a summit or peak. Similar to mountaineering, it includes climbing over rock, ice, and snow, and perhaps traversing glaciers with a higher technical level.

When Is the Best Time to Go Rock Climbing?

For outdoor climbing, a neutral climate is ideal, and spring, summer, and fall offer the best weather. Extreme weather makes it difficult to safely and successfully complete a route or climb.

Quartzite climbing on Rogers Pass. Photo: Ross Berg.

In the height of summer, some surfaces retain heat and make it difficult to climb, while in winter the cold can hinder a climber´s ability to proceed up or across a surface.

But, honestly, EVERY time is the best time to rock climb! Thanks to the abundance of indoor gyms dedicated to the sport, and the natural geoformations and eclectic landscapes all over the world, you can easily find a place to climb near you all year round.

What Equipment Do You Need?
Alpine climbing in British Columbia, Canada. Photo: David Lussier.

It depends on the form of climbing, but general equipment includes:

  • Harness
  • Rope(s)
  • Belay System
  • Helmet
  • Chalk
  • Climbing Shoes
  • Slings
  • Quick Draws
  • Nuts and Camming Devices
  • Ice Axes
  • Crampons

Every trip is different, and certain equipment can be rented or will be provided. Others may require climbers to provide their own gear. Sometimes certain routes will call for specific items, depending on the setting and circumstances.

Why Should You Hire A Guide?

Hiring a guide is a great way to progress your skills, depending on what your goals are. When you have a guide, you are capable of undertaking a more challenging route and increase your experience on the rock.

You can also benefit from the guide´s expertise in the local area. They can get you access and insight into a specific region, efficiently using your time so you get the most out of your experience. And, of course, a guide will enhance the overall safety of a program.

Verdon guided climb. Photo: Robin Revest.
The World´s 10 Best Spots to Practice Rock Climbing

1. Chamonix – Mont Blanc (France): Mont Blanc is the tallest mountain in western Europe, and the Chamonix Valley at its base is full of gneiss and granite slabs just waiting to be climbed.

2. Yosemite National Park (USA): Yosemite is a renowned destination in the United States with impeccable granite. There are great rock faces for every level of climber.

3. Catalonia / Catalan Pyrenees (Spain): Home to the ¨birthplace¨ of Spanish rock climbing, Catalonia has a great array of climbs. Montserrat is a perfect place to start a sedimentary climb!

4. Cochamo Valley (Chile): If you want big wall climbing, you can get more than enough here! An incredible South American destination with exciting granite routes for adventurous climbers.

Another great destination – El Chalten, Argentina – isn´t too far off, either….

5. Paklenica National Park (Croatia): An intriguing and satisfying spot, Paklenica has limestone that provides excellent ascents. There are multi-day routes and levels for everyone here!

6. Kalymnos (Greece): Greece, and Kalymnos specifically, are climbing destinations for rock lovers. Could you imagine a better spot for this sport than in the middle of the Mediterranean? Neither could I.

7. Krabi (Thailand): The Thai culture brings this climbing Mecca to life, and having a guide take you across the unique limestone is truly incredible.

8. British Columbia (Canada): Loaded with igneous surfaces and wilderness views, the climbs in western Canada are unlike any other. Whether you are in the Coast Mountains or the Rockies, among other great locations, you can find your dream program.

9. Verdon Gorges (France): Pillars and long walls make this spot an absolute must for rock climbers. The limestone is more than attractive, and you can´t help but answer the call to visit these famous routes.

10. Sardinia (Italy): This beautiful island packs quite a climbing punch! You wanted to climb out of the Mediterranean onto an iconic stack? We can do that!

For anyone who had more interest in alpine climbing, perhaps you would be interested in learning more about the wide world of mountaineering!