What to Bring: Canyoneering

Before tackling the Narrows-or any other slot canyon in Utah brush up on your safety skills for pools, flash floods, and technical terrain

If you've heard of Zion, you've probably heard of Zion Narrows, the epic slot canyon that BACKPACKER has named a life-list must. This all-day adventure plunges you into a deep, cool, narrow chasm hundreds of feet deep, with colorful, curving sandstone walls that look like something out of Dr. Seuss. Before tackling the Narrows-or any other slot canyon in the Southwest-brush up on your safety skills. Bone-chilling pools, flash floods, and technical terrain are three common hazards that can turn a dayhike into an all-out struggle for survival.


1. Backpack: If you get bitten by the canyoneering bug, you'll find yourself swimming sooner or later. You'll also shred any cheap pack against the cheese-grater sandstone walls. BACKPACKER editors swear by the ultra-rugged and fully waterproof packs from ARC'TERYX, especially the Arrakis 40L (weekend size) and 65L (weeklong). Both stand up to full submersion and rough scraping, and will last years longer than a standard Cordura pack (they should for the price).


2. Waterproof Camera: In the January 2009 issue of BACKPACKER, field testers raved about the Olympus Stylus 1030SW, a dunkproof digital camera that shoots surprisingly clear images, plus video. One tip: Keep it on a lanyard, because this camera is so small (fits in a tight shirt pocket) that it'll slip out easily when you bend over. And in the silty water of slot canyons, that could mean it's lost forever.


3. Map Case: Many slot canyons are straightforward, end-to-end affairs where you couldn't get lost if you tried. The Narrows is like that. But many others are circuitous mazes with numerous identical-looking side canyons where you need a 7.5-minute USGS topographical map. To keep your navigational charts-or guidebook-dry, check out Osprey's Map Wrap, a lightweight, tight-sealing plastic pouch that's a favorite of BACKPACKER's gear editor.


4. Stuffsacks: Outdoor Research's Hydroseal and Sea To Summit's eVent Compression Dry Sacks both fared well in special submersion testing conducted last fall in BACKPACKER's gear lab. These stuffsacks represent a new breed of featherweight storage bags that are waterproof without the weight or bulk of old-fashioned vinyl drybags.


5. Rope and Harness These tools aren't necessary in Zion Narrows, but venturing into more technical slot canyons requires-at minimum-50 feet of climbing rope and a lightweight harness. Why? Because you may need to rappel over pouroffs (aka dry waterfalls), raise or lower packs on steep sections, and belay less experienced or confident hikers across exposed parts of a route. Climbers who tested gear for BACKPACKER last summer picked Beal's Booster III 9.7mm rope and ARC'TERYX's R-320 harness as their top lightweight picks.



What to Wear: Day Hiking

They like to say “it’s a dry heat” in the Southwest, and it is—like a furnace. Especially on exposed trails in the Utah desert, where there is no shade.