This page is intended for the beginning caver
It depends on the type of trip you are going on. Are you going on a Horizontal or a Vertical cave trip. You should not be involved in vertical until you gain some experience in less demanding, horizontal caves. It’s important to learn to move comfortably and safely through passages, and know what you are capable of before you move on to more advanced caving. Vertical caving adds a whole new set of tasks and gear demands beyond the scope of intro caving. So, let’s talk about gear that applies to both types of trips.
It’s amazing how often you whack your head into rock when you are moving around in dark, unfamiliar areas. Most cavers use some type of climbing helmet that is at least UIAA rated. They can get expensive, but you’ll be grateful when you hit your head, fall, or something falls on you. The helmet is also used to hold your source of light so your hands can be free for climbing and fall protection. At least one of your back-up lights should also be attached to the helmet. Some people start out with bike helmets or kayaking helmets. Some grottos have helmets you can rent until you buy your own. These are usually construction type hardhats and not as comfortable and the material is a plastic which is not as rugged as the fiberglass plastics used to construct climbing helmets. Helmets should have a 4-point chin strap and adjustable headband. Several good helmets can be found from various caving gear dealers.
Each person needs a minimum of three light sources! At least two sources should be mounted on the helmet to free your hands for climbing. In the event your primary goes out while climbing, you will have a back-up ready to go on your helmet. Always bring extra batteries and bulbs. Petzl headlamps are some of the most popular.
- The Petzl Zoom, Mega, and Duo are all good choices.
- The new LED technologies are getting better and cheaper all the time an there are many lights now offered with both incandescent and LED combinations that are fantastic for power conservation.
Gloves protect your hands from all the sharp rock you’ll be climbing around on. They also provide warmth against all the cold damp surfaces you’ll be touching. Finally, gloves will also protect any formations you accidentally touch by preventing the oil from your skin from ruining them (It’s true).
Some cavers prefer fingerless gloves in warmer caves and for climbing. Gloves also help in keeping your hands clean for photography, just remove your gloves when working with photo equipment.
The temperature in most caves throughout the south will be in the lower 60’s. In Florida you can expect temps in the 70’s. In other regions you will encounter a wider range of temps. In ice caves for example, you can expect, well, ice.
For most caves the same basic clothing will apply. You should wear comfortable long pants (like jeans or fatigues) and a basic shirt (T-shirt to long sleeves). Always bring something warm like polypro or an old sweatshirt in your bag because it gets extremely cold if you stop moving or get wet. You’ll want to wear boots for ankle support with warm synthetic socks because your feet always get wet. In wet caves, a neoprene wetsuit of appropriate thickness should be used. Material thickness is based on the amount of water you will be in and the amount of time spent in the water. Obviously, the longer you expect to be in the water, the thicker the wetsuit should be. In most TAG caves, a 5 mm full suit would be suitable for a wading, swimming and waterfall drops. In some Florida caves, a 2mm skin or a 5mm shorty would be adequate.
Knee and Elbow Protection
Knee pads and elbow pads are nice on trips with a lot of crawling. Let’s rephrase that….for most people they are a necessity. Biking or some other athletic knee/elbow pads are OK for most trips but as you advance into longer and more arduous trips, you will find the commercially available pads that are made by “Bomber” and “BC-Wonderwear” much more durable and comfortable. Some cavers wear knee or elbow pads only for the most brutal crawls. Some prefer to have them on all the time just in case.
You should have a sturdy pack to carry essentials such as, water, first aid, food, extra batteries, compass, camera, etc. Always learn from more experienced cavers. Ask questions before a cave trip that is not familiar to you. Eventually you will be able to determine the correct amount of gear you need to bring for a particular type of trip.
Bring a trash bag or emergency blanket in your bag. If you get lost or trapped you can put it on for extra warmth. It also doubles as a place to throw your muddy gear before you put it into someone’s car.
For short trips into small caves you may not even take a pack at all…but I recommend packs on all trips. Get used to moving with gear. You want to be as light as possible and not be encumbered with unnecessary gear but you should be prepared to take care of your self and most emergencies that arise. A sturdy, durable pack is not cheap but will last a long time. Resist the temptation to use packs with zippers, these clog up and you will not be able to open them after a drag through a muddy section. Most caving supply companies carry several different brands to choose from. A versatile pack will have back-pack type straps that can be unclipped and re-positioned based on where you want to carry the weight. Also, you should be able to hang your pack below you for rappelling and climbing as well as other techniques such as wrapping around one leg for long crawls. A drawstring type closure is the best with a combination of quick release buckles to strap down the opening.
Look for packs by:
- Lost Creek
- Howies Harness’
- On Rope
A change of clothes. Most likely you will want to change into more comfortable and clean clothing for the ride to the nearest restaurant. Bring a jug of wash water and a small towel. Wet wipes are fantastic when you are trying to get that mud off your face. Bring a trash bag or bucket or old laundry bag to throw your muddy gear in before you put it the car.
- Go caving with experienced cavers.
- Watch and learn
- Ask questions and observe gear choices.
- Have fun, cave safe, cave softly, cave often.