What is Horizontal Caving?

Horizontal Caving

Spelunking is a very popular activity for those that love to be adventurous and spend a lot of time hiking and climbing.  There are two types of spelunking, vertical and horizontal caving.  What is horizontal caving? 

Horizontal caving is the traditional caving technique that one would think of when you can walk/crawl through the mouth of a cave.  The caver would be traveling a majority of the time horizontally when exploring the cave with little to no need for a rope to climb or rappel large vertical surfaces.

Typically it won’t be a flat route, but the inclines and declines will be minimal with no need for climbing gear.  Let’s dig into what techniques you should know and some safety tips for your horizontal caving adventure.


Horizontal Caving Techniques

There are several techniques that you should be familiar with before horizontal caving.


This is the primary method of movement through a horizontal cave that includes walking, crouching, or crawling motions.  You’ll be doing this most of the time through the cave.

Traversing can also refer to the action of going across an inclined surface laterally to get to the next area of the cave.  It can be done with or without climbing gear depending on the height and incline.  


Scambling is the action of climbing up or down a steep incline within a cave. Typically there is no need for climbing gear (rope and harness).

Depending on how slippery it is, some guides may run a rope for you to hold onto in case you slip.

Here is an excellent example of scrambling looks like, the video is showing outdoor scrambling, but it’s the same in caving.


Occasionally you will find yourself in a part of a cave where you will need to climb vertically up a very tight space.  Almost like you are in the middle of an area that looks like a chimney.

When you are in this position, you will want to use the technique called chimneying. This is where you use your back and feet to climb. Your arms are used to support an balance.

You put your back up to one wall and your feet alternating between walls to help push you up and lower you down the tight space.

Here is an excellent example of chimneying, again it’s outdoors, but it shows you how an expert would do it.  

What to Wear When Horizontal Caving

When it comes to caving, you don’t have to go out and buy special clothing that cost $100s.  For most people, they have options already in their closet.

When looking through your closet, these are the characteristics your caving clothing should have:

  • Warm and comfortable clothes – caves are cold so you will want to be comfortable.
  • Clothes that are lightweight and dry quickly – neoprene and polyester is ideal, cotton will get too heavy when wet.
  • Clothes that you are willing to ruin – cave mud is very sticky stuff.

If you don’t have any clothes that match the list above, then you will want to go out and get something.  Many people will buy a good pair of coveralls like this one.

In addition to the proper clothing, you will want to wear waterproof boots, a solid helmet, and some people prefer leather gloves.


Safety Tips

Safety is key for any activity; horizontal caving is no different.  Here are some helpful tips to keep you safe while caving.

Tell Friends and Family

Before you explore any caves, make sure that you tell your friends and family where you are going.  Let them know the exact location and what time you expect to be back.

This way, if you do get lost and aren’t back by a certain time, they will know that you need help and where to send the help too.

Safety Equipment

Your caving gear depends on what cave you are looking to explore. Some may need a climbing rope and harnesses; others may not.  But there are a few items that you should have in any cave. 

These include helmet, caving headlamp, backup light and batteries, first aid kit, map of the caves, food, and water.

Avoid Getting Wet

If possible, you will want to stay out of the water.  Hypothermia can be a real danger in caves if you aren’t careful.  So if you are wet in a cold cave, hypothermia can happen very quickly.

Don’t Drink The Water

If you forgot water or run out of water, start heading for the cave entrance.  Some may be tempted to drink the water that flows through the cave, but we recommend that you avoid it if possible.  

In the past, many caves have been dumping grounds for garbage and sewage.  Even if you don’t see trash at your current location, you never know where the water is flowing from.  So it’s best to avoid drinking the water.

Basic First Aid Skills

Hopefully, this will never be needed, but basic first aid or survival skills may come in helpful if someone does get hypothermia, goes into shock, or any other first aid need.  The more you know before going into the cave, the better.


Horizontal Caving Summary

If you are looking to try caving, then horizontal caving is perfect for you.  It’s great for all skill levels (beginner through expert).  If you are a beginner, you will want to make sure that you go with an experienced caver, preferably someone who has been in that cave before.

Lee G.

I love the outdoors! Everything from hiking, climbing, rappelling, and caving.

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