If you’re planning to go caving, having the right gear will help you enjoy your underground experience while staying safe. Unlike hiking or other types of activities, caving equipment and clothing is suited to meet the unique needs of an underground environment.
What gear do you need for caving?
Caving equipment starts with wearing clothing that is lightweight, warm, and dry for starters. Additionally, make sure to have a helmet and headlamp with a backup light source as well. Depending on where you’re going caving, you may need climbing equipment, but this is not always essential.
Use this gear list to get the materials you need ready.
Essential Caving Gear List
We split the caving gear list into several categories; what to wear, caving equipment, and optional gear. Make sure you do some research about the cave you are going to visit to adjust the list to meet your needs.
What to Wear
Helmet– You don’t need a caving specific helmet, but you want something substantial. It’s a good idea to purchase a UIAA-approved, hit-resistant helmet with a scrap to keep it on your head.
Proper Footwear– For any serious caving, you’ll want to use hiking boots or rubber work boots. Sneakers don’t usually have enough traction for caving. Make sure that you have boots that are slip-resistant and provide ankle support for the best results.
Gloves– All cavers wear gloves to protect their hands. Standard gloves like thin leather ones or gardening gloves can work well, but you may find that fingerless biking gloves or weight-lifting gloves give you a better grasp when climbing. You may want to bring both and use which one works best for you.
Caving Undersuit– A good fleece undersuit will keep you warm and dry. Make sure that you find one that fits and wicks away moisture. It’s a good idea to wear this since the cave environment can be cold, so it’s important to keep in body heat.
Synthetic-Fibered Clothing– Cotton and plant fibers are not a great choice for clothing. Once they get wet, they take a long time to dry out, making them cold and heavy. Synthetic materials such as nylons or polyesters are a better choice.
Cave Suit– This is a coverall-type piece of clothing. It’s designed to provide some protection and insulation at the same time. What makes this a great choice though, is that it will protect your clothing. Dirt and mud are going to be your companion in the caves, so the cave suit is a great choice.
Insulating Socks– This is an area where your sock choice matters. You’ll be on your feet almost the entire time in the cave. Hiking socks with proper cushioning makes a great choice. If you know that you’re going to get wet, then socks made of neoprene are a great choice as well.
Multiple Lighting Sources– Caving headlamps work best for caving and make sure that your source attaches firmly onto your helmet. You also want to have a backup lighting source such as a second headlamp or a flashlight.
Food and Drink– This is an area where you may want to pay more attention. If you did get lost, having adequate water would quickly become essential. Granola bars, trail mix, and anything that can handle rough travel are your best choices. You can bring a meal as well if you’re planning to be gone for an extended period. Water works best in durable plastic or metal bottles. Some people like the platypus bottles, but they can puncture. Disposable water bottles often crack as well, so avoid these as much as possible.
Waterproof Pack– Any bag that has a secure closure will work. Zippers and velcro get clogged with mud and sand quickly, so a typical backpack may not be your best choice. You can purchase a caving bag but look for something that has enough room to store your gear while being waterproof.
First Aid Kit– This is going to be a good idea for both long and short caving trips. Make sure to carry any needed medication if it applies to you. You’ll want to carry disinfecting wipes, bandaids, and other necessary first-aid supplies such as wraps.
Climbing Materials– Depending on the environment in the cave, you may not actually need this. If you do plan to go caving in a place where you’ll need to ascend or descent, get a harness and ascenders or descender that are specifically designed for caving. You’ll also want to make sure that you know how to use them and feel comfortable using them in minimal light.
Wet Suit– If you’re going to be going into caves where you’ll be swimming or wading through water, you’ll want to have a wet suit handy. This may not be needed though, so check the environment.
Head Covering– Although you’ll also have a helmet, a head covering can be worn underneath. This will keep the heat in your body, sweat out of the helmet, and mud out of your hair. Bandanas are fine for short trips, but you’ll want a balaclava for winter caving or longer trips.
Padding– Padding for your knees is convenient as you can plan to bump them into hard surfaces during your trip. Sharp rocks and glass in the cave can cut through clothing as well. Soft volleyball pads will work, although they may bunch up and soak up water. Special caving kneepads are a better choice if you cave on a semi-regular basis.
Elbow Pads– These are not essential, but they serve much of the same purpose as knee pads. They’re great when you’re going to be belly crawling through tight tunnels. For caves that require this, you may want to invest in elbow pads as well.
Essential Caving Gear Summary
When it comes to successful caving, the difference between a great time and a bad or dangerous one depends on the gear you have.
This list is a guide to the essential equipment, but keep in mind that you may not need all of it or may need additional items. The key to being prepared is looking at the cave trip before you set out.
This will put you in the best position to pack what you need. Keep in mind that all of your gear should be durable for the best results. Happy caving!