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V3/A4/IV WHAT?! How to understand the canyoning rating system.

Like Climbing, hiking, white water kayaking, Canyoning has a way of rating the different level of each canyon. In this blog article, we explain how this works.

Canyon grading has 3 parts. Difficulty (Vertical and Aquatic), Commitment and Quality


  • The letter ‘V’ (for vertical difficulty) followed by a number from 1 to 7.

  • The letter ‘A’ (for aquatic difficulty) followed by a number from 1 to 7.

The current difficulty numbers only reach 7, but more difficult canyons in the future could require higher numbers.


A Roman number which indicates the commitment and duration of the canyon. I to VI or greater.


An optional star system indicates the quality/beauty/fun factor of a canyon. 0 stars through to 4 stars.

Examples: v3a2III** v1a6I* v5a5VI***

If you are wondering what our canyons level are, here is the answer :

Hidden Falls - V3.A3.II**

Shift Canyon - V4.A3.IV***

Dry Chasm - V3.A1.II**


Grading table

History of Canyon Gradings

The Canyoning roots are mostly centred in Europe and particularly between France and Spain. As this outdoor activity became more and more famous, some French Outdoors Associations decided to create a grading system in 2003. Because Aotearoa canyons are pretty similar to the one you can find in Europe, we use the French grading system for a better international practice.

The grading system assume the following;

  • The jumps are considered optional

  • A group of 5 people, who have not been in the canyon before, but have suitable experience and skills to descend the canyon.

  • An average water flow for the usual season that particular canyon is descended.

  • The level of difficulty is set by at least one of the situations in the table being found in the canyon.


V: Vertical difficulty

V1 -

  • No rappels, rope normally unnecessary for progress.

  • No climbing or down climbing

V2 -

  • Rappel anchors are very easily reached.

  • Rappels are very easy ≤ 10 m.

  • Easy climbing and down climbing with little exposure.

V3 -

  • Low Vertical flow.

  • Rappels land in pools with calm water.

  • Rappel anchors are easily reached.

  • Rappels are easy. ≤ 30 m.

  • Rappels are separated by enough room to regroup.

  • Setting safety lines is easy.

  • Climbing moves to grade 12.

  • A little exposure, which may require the use of a rope.


  • Low to moderate vertical flow that can begin to cause imbalance or entrapment.

  • Rappels anchors are difficult to reach and/or Rappels > 30 m.

  • Setting safety lines is difficult and delicate.

  • Multi-pitch rappels with relatively spacious re-belay stations.

  • Rough rock edges requiring rope wear management.

  • Rappels with obscured sections and/or landings pools.

  • Landing pools have current.

  • Climbing moves to grade 15 or A0. Exposed and/or requires belaying and protection.

V5 -

  • Medium to high vertical flow. Crossing the flow requires correct route selection and balance.

  • Multi-pitch Rappels may have hanging re-belays.

  • Requirement to cross pools with current during the descent.

  • Canyon surface is very slippery and/or has significant obstacles

  • Retrieving the rope is difficult or has to be done whilst swimming.

  • Exposed climbing moves up to grade 18 or A1


  • Strong to very strong vertical flow sustained waterfalls Crossing the flow is very difficult, requiring effective management of selected route and / or balance.

  • Requirement to build advanced and/or delicate natural anchors

  • Rappel anchors are very difficult to reach.

  • Setting hand lines is very difficult and very delicate.

  • Exposed climbing moves to grade 19 or A2. Canyon surface exceptionally slippery and/or loose.

  • Rappel landing pools are turbulent and/or with significant current.


  • Very strong to extremely strong vertical flow.

  • Very sustained waterfalls that lead into one another without a gap. Crossing the flow is extremely difficult; requiring anticipation and specific rope management, manoeuvre, balance, support and pace.

  • Exposed climbing moves > grade 19 or A2 Limited visibility of route and frequent obstacles.

  • Requirement to move through powerful current at the end of a rappel or rappel landing in a very turbulent pool with powerful current.

  • Control of breathing: sections where you must hold your breath.


A: Aquatic difficulty


  • No water or calm water.

  • Swimming optional.


  • Swims less than 10 m in calm water.

  • Simple jumps less than 3 m.

  • Short, low angled slides


  • Swims less than 30 m in calm water.

  • Slight current in places.

  • Simple jumps between 3 and 5 m

  • Long or moderately angled slides.


  • Prolonged immersion in cold water.

  • Moderate current in places.

  • Simple jumps between 5 and 8 m

  • Jumps with difficult trajectory and/or landing of less than 5 m.

  • Siphons of less than 1 m in length and / or depth.

  • Large or steep slides.


  • Prolonged immersion in cold water resulting in a substantial heat loss.

  • Current strong enough that it could affect a swimmer path through the water.

  • Hydraulics such as eddies, recirculations, holes may trap a Canyoneer for a short period of time.

  • Simple jumps between 8 and 10 m.

  • Jumps with difficult trajectory and/or landing of 5 to 8 m.

  • Large Siphons up to 2 m in length and / or depth.


  • Moderate current that makes a selected swimming path or stopping point difficult to achieve.

  • Hydraulics such as eddies, recirculations, holes may trap a Canyoneer for a moderate period of time.

  • Simple Jumps between 10 and 14 m

  • Jumps with difficult trajectory and/or landing of 5 to 8 m.

  • Siphon of up to 3 m depth and / or length.

  • Technical siphon, up to1m deep, with possible current.


  • Strong current that makes a selected swimming path or stopping point extremely difficult to achieve Hydraulics such as eddies, recirculations or holes may trap a Canyoneer for a prolonged period of time.

  • Simple jumps greater than 14 m jumps with difficult trajectory and/or landing greater than 10 m.

  • Siphons over 3 m in length and / or depth. Technical and committing siphon, more than 1 m tall, with current or no visibility.




  • Able to get out of a flood quickly.

  • Escape is easy throughout the Canyon

  • Total time (approach, descent, return) less than 2 hours.


  • Able to get out of a flood in less than 15 mins,

  • Escape takes up to 30 minutes.

  • Total time (approach, descent, return) is between 2 and 4 hours.


  • Able to get out of a flood in less than 30 minutes.

  • Escape takes up to 1 hour.

  • Total time (approach, descent return) is between 4 and 8 hours.


  • Able to get out of a flood in less than 1 hour.

  • Escape takes up to 2 hours.

  • Total time (approach, descent return) between 8 hours and 1 day.


  • Able to get out of a flood in less than 2 hours.

  • Escape takes up to 4 hours.

  • Total time (approach, descent return) is between 1 and 2 days.


  • Getting out of a flood takes more than 2 hours

  • Escape requires more than 4 hours.

  • Total time (approach, descent return) is more than 2 days.



No stars

Canyons that have been descended, but are not really worth the effort required. Included so people searching for new canyons know to discount these streams.

1 STAR *

Locally Significant Canyons. Good canyons that are worth the effort required to descend

2 STARS **

Regionally Significant Canyons. Canyons of above average quality that are worth returning to several times

3 STARS ***

Nationally significant Canyons. The highest quality canyons, with an excellent mix of good access, beauty, fun and challenge.

4 STARS ****

Canyons of International significance.


Do you want to learn more about Canyoning? Or do you want to improve your skills?

The New Zealand canyoning School can offer different training course suitable for all level.

If you want to experience what canyoning is about, you can jump on a tour with us, and discover what this amazing activity can offer you.

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In the V-Grade section, what do you mean by, climbing moves to 12? I thought you meant maybe 5.12 YDS, but then I saw 18 in another V-level and knew it was not referring to YDS. So what exactly are these climbing grades?

Replying to

The climbing grade used in his post are the one used in Aotearoa/NZ :)

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