Caving is one of the less expensive outdoor activities that one can
get involved in, particularly for the beginner who can probably rent or
borrow the basic equipment from a caving club or trip leader. There is,
however, a minimal level of personal equipment that every caver should
have with them, regardless of the type of cave or trip and that is what
this section focuses on.
caver should be wearing a helmet to provide protection against low ceilings
and outcroppings, falls, or falling rocks. Standing up too quickly in
a low area or running into a low section of ceiling or projection while
concentrating on your footing are all too common, and falling objects
are a real hazard when other cavers are climbing above you.
The ideal type of helmet for most caving activities is a climbing style
helmet, like the one
shown at right, which provides impact protection and shock absorption to protect
the head. Borrow one from a club equipment pool or another caver to get started,
but if you decide to buy one get a good one. A good helmet will typically cost
from $50 - $75 (USD) at a
or outdoor sports store. Look for UIAA or ANSI approval.
An essential part of the helmet should be a sturdy, non-elastic chin
strap equipped with a quick release and three or four point mounting.
The helmet should stay on during
a fall but be easily released if it should become wedged. The helmet
will also be the mounting point for your primary light source, so any
accomodation for attaching a headlamp is a plus.
lighting is the next essential item every caver should have. When
traveling through a cave you will be using your hands for climbing
and balance - trying to accomplish these feats while holding a flashlight
is annoying at best and can be quite dangerous. There are a great
many choices - personal preference and the types of caves you frequent
will dictate your eventual choice.
Newer headlamps and flashlights using white LED's rather than incandescent
or halogen bulbs are becoming very popular - they generally are more
in terms of battery life and often provide dim, but usable, light long
beyond their rated battery life. They also virtually eliminate burned-out
Borrow a headlamp from a club equipment pool or another caver to
get started, or buy an inexpensive headlamp and upgrade when you
have a better idea of what you need. Check out what other cavers
are using and ask why they prefer that type. Headlamps with an elastic
headband are also popular with backpackers and campers. Prices at
caving equipment vendors will range from
under $25 (USD) to several hundred dollars.
In addition to the headlamp each caver should carry two additional sources
of light. At least one of these sources should be able to be helmet
mounted if the primary fails. Murphy's law rules here - if you only have
one source of light it will go out when you need it most! Avoid the typical
store plastic flashlights, which tend to be unreliable and short-lived
in caves. Small flashlights like a mini-mag or newer LED flashlights
with high-impact plastic bodies are a good choice.
A utility candle with waterproofed matches is not very useful as
a light source for traveling in a cave, but it can provide a source
of emergency heat and comfort lighting. Cyalume light sticks may
be useful for some applications, but they have limited light output
and can't be tested to see if they work.
Considerations when selecting a headlamp and secondary lighting
include battery size and availability and typical battery life for
that headlamp. The shorter the battery life, the more batteries
you will have to buy and carry with you. If possible use flashlights
that all take the same battery size as your headlamp (AA is a very
common size). You should have a shoulder or hip pack to carry your
extra lights and batteries, as well as some food and water.
Clothing choices will depend greatly on the types of caves you will be
exploring - cave temperatures in your area, how wet you will get during
the trip, and type of trip will all affect the type of clothing you need
to be comfortable. Consult your trip leader for recommendations.
good rule of thumb is that a member of a three or four person party will
stay warmer in the same clothing than they would in a larger group trip.
Larger groups generally move more slowly and pause more often, so you
will generate less body heat through activity. For similar reasons, a
surveying trip will tend to be much colder
than a tourist trip in the same cave.
Hypothermia can be one of the greatest dangers to a caver, particularly
if lost or injured, so don't underestimate the importance of clothing
- visit the caving safety and cave
rescue pages for more information. Taking along some extra clothing
like lightweight polypropylene underwear and a balaclava in your cave
pack can make your trip more comfortable and might be a life saver. A
plastic trash bag stored in your helmet or an emergency space blanket
in your pack can provide an extra margin of safety in an emergency.
For a typical West Virginia cave, with temperatures in the low 50s (°F),
old blue jeans and a sweatshirt will suffice on a tourist trip for most
people as long as you won't be sitting around a lot or getting very wet.
A pair of gloves and sturdy footwear complete the outfit. Be prepared
for everything to get muddy and be aware that it can be nearly impossible
to get stains out of light colored clothing.
Once you have more experience, you may want to check out some of the
specialized cave gear available from these speleo vendors who serve the