Canyoneering, Rappelling, Caving, and Climbing are inherently dangerous, and a lot can go wrong. Longer canyons sometime leave people stranded overnight, and a beautiful day can turn ugly in an instant. Some injuries are inevitable- skinned knees and scraped hands.
If everything does go wrong, it is crucial to be prepared for the worst. One of the best ways to plan for an emergency is by following the ‘Rules of 3’ idea that helps direct your efforts to the most immediate needs.
- Minutes: Make sure the victim can breathe. 3 minutes without oxygen can cause permanent damage
- Hours: Find or create shelter. If the sun goes down, it will get cold. If you are wet, this can be a serious problem
- Days: You will need a source of water. Yes, the human body can go 3 days without water, but certain functions will start shutting down
- Weeks: Humans can survive a long time without food, so it should not be the first priority
WIth that in mind, some emergency gear needs to stay in your backpack for every trip:
First Aid Kit-
Most injuries will be small cuts and scrapes, so triple antibiotic ointment (neosporin) and gauze are essential. I like this one (view on Amazon) for all of my short-term adventures.
Emergency Blanket (or bivy sack)-
These are literal life-savers in situations where you may end up spending the night. Additionally, they work very well to warm up a freezing canyoneer after an icy waterfall rappel or chilly swim.
They pack up smaller than most jackets as well, so they fit nicely right in the bottom of your bag. I keep one of these in each of my backpacks just in case. We most recently used one of these doing a canyon in Arches National Park in February, when snowmelt turned the final rappel into a waterfall.
There’s a reason ‘Swiss Army Knife’ has the connotation that it does. Keep a multi-tool in your bag- there’s pretty much an arm for everything. I have one just like this Gerber multi-tool that I use for everything.
In case you need to start a fire to warm up. Keep in mind, lighters usually require different fuel when used above 8,000 feet (I learned that the hard way). Ultimate Survival Technologies makes some really cool gear, like this Floating Lighter.
Bring plenty of water- water bladders work the best because they collapse as the day goes on, but water bottles work just fine too. Most canyons have a water source that you really, really shouldn’t drink without filtering. In emergencies I use the Sawyer Squeeze as a filter, and it works very well. I really like that it is extremely lightweight and very small.
This year I got a LifeStraw, and it is even more convenient for wet canyons! The only downside is that it is difficult to use to fill up a bottle to save for later. It is really trippy to drink from a straw out of a putrid-smelling water source!
If you’re setting up a basecamp near a water source, a Travel Berkey is the way to go for your water filtering needs. You don’t have to hand pump water like you would with most other systems. Let gravity do the work for you.
Should you find a cave to explore or find the need to spend a night in the canyon, you will need a headlamp or a flashlight. The moon doesn’t shine very bright in the bottom of a canyon.
Recently, I replaced my clunker headlamp that takes 4 AA batteries and switched it for this one from Amazon. I love how bright the LED’s are! The rechargeable headlamp is waterproof and is very small and lightweight without the added weight of regular batteries. Check your batteries/keep it charged!
While not necessarily essential for survival, a little bit of extra energy after a really long day will go a long way. I like Clif Bars.
The best wild places don’t have cell phone service, and oftentimes even the trailhead and parking lot are a long ways from the grid. Hopefully it never pays for itself, but a satellite communicator can call in the cavalry if disaster strikes. My family uses a Spot Messenger, and we’ve never had to activate it (so far!).