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The Manual: How to Explore a Slot Canyon

Explore these redrock mysteries safely with expert tips on gear and technique.
september 09 slot canyons 445x260(Illustration by Supercorn)

Early fall’s dry, warm weather offers ideal conditions for canyoneering–but you still have to be careful about getting in over your head. Like rock climbs, slot canyons are rated for difficulty. Consider these four ratings when researching trips (start with the American Canyoneering Association at; novices should opt for class 1 or 2, A or B canyons. Always check current conditions with rangers or local guides.

Technical rating
Class 1: Hiking; no rope necessary
Class 2: Scrambling; rope optional for handline or easy climbing
Class 3: Rappelling required
Class 4: Advanced ropework, multipitch rappels, exposed climbing required

Danger (no rating = average risk)
R: More risk than average (such as rock- fall, strong current, or large drops)
X: Extreme risk; experts only

Class A: Dry hiking or wading
Class B: Swimming, no current
Class C: Current and waterfalls

Time commitment
I: Requires two to three hours
II: Normally requires half a day
III: Requires most of a day
IV: Expect a long day; start early
V: Overnight; takes a day and a half
VI: Expect more than one night

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