Canyoneering Ratings

What does it mean when a canyon is rated 3AIII? Rating a canyon is fairly straight forward. However, since canyons are constantly changing, weather conditions and seasons play a role, and people’s skill levels must be taken into consideration - defining the risks of a canyon can be very difficult. Two canyons with the same rating, 3BIII, may experience radical changes during certain seasons that makes one canyon much easier or more difficult than another even though they have the same rating. Canyons are rated at the most difficult section or during the most extreme season. Below is a rating system that is typically used to determine what you’re getting yourself into so you can prepare accordingly.

Remember canyons change throughout the year so if you thought one canyon was easy one year, log jams or erosion may have changed the canyon the next year so prepare for the unexpected.

Rating Classifications:

Number - skill

  • 1 - Canyon Hiking: Family fun, non-technical, climbing gear not required.
    Typical Gear: slings (webbing), map and compass/GPS
  • 2 - Basic Canyoneering: Hiking, scrambling, minor climbing up or down without need of a rope, possible hand-lines for emergency use. Retreat up canyon possible without ropes.
    Typical Gear: 50ft rope or slings (webbing), map and compass/GPS, wetsuit when recommended.
  • 3 - Intermediate Canyoneering: Technical Climbing and Rappelling. Climbing gear (rope) required. Single pitch rappels. Retreat up canyon requires fixed rope.
    Typical Gear: rope, helmet, harness, rappel device, locking carabineer, rappelling gloves, slings (webbing), rapid links, tiblocs, map and compass/GPS, wetsuit when recommended.
  • 4 - Advanced Canyoneering: Climbing and rappelling, aided climbing, multi-pitch rappels and/or complex rope work may be required. Might include pothole traps, tight squeezes, high-risk down-climbing, or have difficult anchor points.
    Typical Gear: rope, extra rope, helmet, harness, rappel device, locking carabineer rappelling gloves, slings (webbing), rapid links, tiblocs, map and compass/GPS, wetsuit/dry-suit, drill with 2 bits, anchors, toss bag or hooks.

Letter - water

  • A - Typically dry or with very little water. Waist deep wading at most.
  • B - Still pools of water with no current. Seasons and weather change water levels or running water. Swimming is expected.
  • C - Will get wet! Water with strong current, waterfalls, wet canyon rope techniques.

Roman Numeral - time

  • I – Few hours at most
  • II - Half day.
  • III – All day most likely
  • IV – All day into the evening. Bring light and bivy - possible
  • V – 1 ½ to 2 days
  • VI – 2 full days or more

Risk Factor:


If a rating is given a risk factor take extra care.

  • R- Risky. Solid technical skills, not for beginners, complicated descents.
  • X - Extreme: Possible serious injury or death if care is not heeded. Multiple risks exist that will complicate the descent. Expert canyoneers only! Possible long and difficult rappels, multi pitch rappels, exposed climbing, up to 5th class technical climbing without rope use, prolonged exposure to cold water.

Climbing Ratings

The climbing rating sysyem consists of five classes. Each class indicates the technical difficulty of the hardest section in a single climb.

  • Class 1 is the easiest and consists of walking on even horizontal terrain. This is not climbing.
  • Class 5 is the base climbing rating on vertical or near vertical wall which requires skills and/or rope to proceed safely. Falls on a class 5 would result in severe injury or death.

The 5th class is then subdivided decimally to indicate the difficulty of the hardest section of the climb. The lowest rating is 5.0 and the highest is a 5.15. Most climbing gyms begin with 5.6 which is one of the easier climbs for beginners to practice on. There are few experts in the world that can climb a 5.15 and most gyms have nothing harder than 5.13

Information gathered from