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Canyoneering is an outdoor adventurer’s dream — in one trip, you might hike, scramble over rocks, rappel down cliffs, swim through a river, and tackle multiple technical climbs.

Whether you’re going out for an afternoon or a multi-day trek, it’s normal to wonder what to wear canyoneering.

The right clothing is essential, both for your safety and your comfort.

The pieces you choose affect everything from the way your gear fits to the level of protection you have from the elements.

What to wear canyoneering?

Shoes

Shoes are the most important consideration for any canyoneering trip.

After all, your feet take a beating in a canyon — you’ll walk across sharp rocks, wet surfaces, and steep slopes.

As you choose shoes, traction is the top priority.

Select a pair that have a substantial rubber sole that’s designed to grip both wet and dry surfaces; that way, you’ll be in control whether you’re hiking down into the canyon or trekking over slick river rocks.

If possible, choose a pair with reinforced rubber toes for additional protection on rough terrain.

Then, consider dry time; since many canyoneering trips involve walking through or near water, quick-drying shoes are a must for foot health and blister prevention.

If you’re canyoneering in a hot, sunny climate, sturdy water shoes can provide the right balance of durability and fast dry times.

Alternatively, look to approach shoes, which offer the traction of climbing shoes and the support of a hiking shoe.

For colder trips, look for hiking shoes or boots that are designed to wick moisture and dry quickly.

Avoid leather hiking boots, which feel exceptionally heavy when wet, and waterproof shoes, which don’t dry fast enough.

Socks

What socks should you wear canyoneering?

Socks are the unsung heroes of any outdoor adventure — the right pair insulates your feet and prevents hot spots and blisters.

Hiking socks are usually a great option for canyoneering; they allow your feet to breathe and provide extra cushioning where you need it most.

Choose lightweight socks for summer canyoneering, and go with medium-weight socks for colder treks.

Most models are made from merino wool, which is breathable and moisture-wicking.

If your skin reacts poorly to wool, you can also find hiking socks made from synthetic material.

Make sure to choose socks that clear the top of your shoes to prevent rubbing as you climb or squeeze through tight spaces.

Clothing

If you’ve ever hiked in and out of a canyon, you know that temperatures can be dramatically different depending on your position.

While the rim might feel hot and sunny, you’ll be surprised at how cool it gets as you’re walking through an ice-cold river in the shade at the bottom.

As you move from sun to shade and switch between hiking, climbing, and even swimming, your body experiences a range of temperature shifts.

The right canyoneering clothing helps you stay comfortable and safe during these transitions.

To start, choose a pair of long pants made from quick-drying fabric.

Look for styles made from ripstop fabric with plenty of stretch — the elasticity allows a full range of motion as you’re scrambling over boulders, and the durability protects your skin from abrasive cliffs and sharp rocks.

Long pants are especially important if you’ll need to walk through undergrowth or brushy areas.

If your canyoneering trip will involve numerous swims or extended periods of time in the sun, pants that zip off at the knee can provide extra flexibility.

Convert them into shorts when you’re hot, and zip them back into place when the weather changes.

Bouldering pants and hiking pants usually work well, particularly if they have built-in UVB and UVA protection.

On top, layers are key.

Start with a lightweight technical shirt on top. A quick-drying t-shirt is fine for the summer, while a long-sleeve layer is better for cool weather.

The best fabric weight depends on the climate; the heavier the weight, the warmer you’ll be.

To top off your lightweight shirt, wear a long-sleeve shirt that’s designed to keep out the wind.

This layer is crucial, even in the summer — you can slip it on easily when you’re hiking through a shady part of the canyon or when the wind starts to blow on your way up a rock face.

When you start your canyoneering trip in the morning, the shirt traps a small amount of heat to keep you warm.

The right canyoneering wind shirt is breathable, flexible enough for climbing, and lightweight enough to tuck into your daypack without adding too much bulk.

Look for fabric that doesn’t rip easily to protect your arms from rough rock walls and sharp branches.

If you’re taking a multi-day canyoneering trip, or if you’re expecting big temperature swings, you can also bring a base layer to go under your pants.

Look for snug-fitting, fast-drying bottoms to prevent chafing and keep you warm. When the sun rises above the canyon rim, you can remove this layer.

Canyoneering Outerwear

Since many canyoneering trips happen in the summer, outerwear might not seem like an important consideration.

If the temperatures drop unexpectedly, or if something happens to keep you overnight, you’ll be glad for the extra warmth.

Even in the desert, summer evenings can be very cold.

Your best bet is a fleece jacket with a full-zip front.

The zipper makes it easy to adjust to different wind and temperature conditions, and the fabric is excellent for insulation whether it’s wet or dry.

Avoid overly bulky jackets made from softshell material; they take up too much room in your bag.

Accessories for Canyoneering

Canyoneering requires few accessories — the less gear you have, the easier it is to move.

There are a few exceptions.

A hat with a brim can be a lifesaver on a hot, sunny day, and a warm winter cap is a must in the colder months.

As with your other gear, make sure your hat is made to dry quickly and retain its insulating properties when it’s wet.

For colder days, a pair of warm, flexible gloves is also a must-have accessory.

What type of clothing is inappropriate for canyoneering?

When choosing canyoneering clothing, avoid anything made from cotton or cotton-blend fabric.

If you hang out with outdoor adventurers for long, you’ll hear the phrase “cotton kills”.

That’s because when cotton clothing gets wet, it loses its insulating properties and it takes a long time to dry.

Plus, since it’s highly absorptive, it can feel heavy and uncomfortable when you sweat or walk through the water.

It’s also a good idea to avoid silk base layers.

While it’s soft and comfortable, this material is prone to tearing.

Plus, it lacks the wicking properties of more technical gear.

Polyester, nylon, and merino wool are all better alternatives.

Things you should never wear on a canyoneering trip:

  • Jeans
  • Cotton socks
  • Regular cotton T-shirts
  • Cotton underwear
  • Flimsy shoes

Do you need a wetsuit for canyoneering?

Some canyoneering trips require wetsuits — usually, you’ll need one if you’re hiking through a canyon with an exceptionally cold river.

Consider the season and the source of the river; if the river is fed by snowmelt and you’re canyoneering in the early spring, a thick wetsuit is a must.

For chilly water and warmer weather, a lighter wetsuit can suffice.

Look for fabric that’s very stretchy and tight-fitting to allow comfortable movement and prevent water from getting in.

You can also wear a pair of neoprene socks to protect your feet.

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