The following is a list of basic equipment needed. It is always a good idea to ask the trip leader if additional equipment is needed for the trip.
1. HELMET: The function of the caver’s helmet is to protect the head from a variety of incidents: falling rocks, blows from a fall, and standing up when you shouldn't, as well as supporting a headlamp. It can even be used to carry one or two garbage bags that can be used as a heat tent in emergencies. To make the heat tent, tear a hole for your face at the bottom of the bag, placing the bag over you, sitting on your helmet, and place a lit candle between your feet.
UIAA approved climbing helmets can withstand blows from all directions and have a strong chinstrap which, if kept snug, will keep the helmet from falling off. Any UIAA approved helmet is safe although not all are ideal for caving. People who protect their heads with a construction helmet in an attempt to save money are making a definite statement about the value of its contents.
There are some special features worth looking for when you buy a helmet. It should:
- Be UIAA approved
- Lightweight (less than 400g) and not lined with a water absorbent material
- Be small and not ride high, else it will be a nuisance in tight passages
- Sit well on the head, be comfortable, and have straps which do not block side vision
- Be a quick-action "Fastex" type buckle is far more convenient than a threaded buckle (can be added after purchase)
- Not fall off the back of the head, nor should the weight of the headlamp drag it down in front
- Contain lamps that are fitted so that the mounting screws, nuts, or rivets do not project into its interior
Molded, plastic helmets appear to survive the bumping and scraping of caving better than the fiberglass models which tend to crack. Fiberglass helmets absorb the energy of a severe blow by delaminating while molded, plastic helmets rely mainly on the head cradle to absorb energy. It is NOT reasonable to use a battered old helmet for caving when it would not be considered for rock climbing. Any helmet that becomes cracked, badly knocked about, or receives a severe blow should be discarded.
2. CLOTHING: Protection from cold, mud, water, sand, and rock is needed-though all these conditions may not be encountered in the same cave. Layering is the best option, so pack undergloves and/or underclothing when necessary-you can always take layers off. Some suggestions for a base layer include: polypropylene, wool, and synthetics because they dry quicker than cotton, keeping you warm even when wet. Most cavers wear rugged old clothes or coveralls as the outer layer.
3. FOOTWEAR: Good footwear is a must. Boots with a vibram sole and deep lugs are highly recommended. A good sole will help you get good footing and help prevent slipping on uneven or slick surfaces. Shoes can be either low or high top but good ankle support is preferable.
4. SOCKS: To help keep your feet toasty warm in wet caves, try neoprene wetsuit booties. They are well padded and help keep your feet dry. Another way is to wear wool socks with polypropylene sock liners.
5. GLOVES: A good fitting pair of gloves should be worn to protect your hands. They can be leather or cotton/leather and will help protect your hands from sharp rocks. They will also keep your hands warm and relatively clean.
6. LIGHTING: You should always carry at least three sources of light in case your primary source fails. Some suggestions for back-up lights are: flashlight, candle, cyalumes, and/or either a carbide or electric light. At least two lights should be helmet mounted. Carrying extra (fully charged) batteries are advisable.
7. CAVE PACK: You should always carry a sturdy pack when caving to hold extra supplies, clothing, food, etc. Features of a good pack are as follows:
- It should be made of heavy materials, preferably waterproof
- It should have two shoulder straps. Both straps may not always be needed
- Seams need to be protected and reinforced against wear, especially around the base
- Handles on the side and bottom make it more versatile and easier to maneuver in different passages
- Keep it as small as possible. Large packs are more difficult to get through tight spots
- It should be able to be closed securely; a lid flap helps keep out dirt and water. Zippers should be avoided because they will cease to function when encased in mud.
Fill your pack with extra supplies: bulbs, batteries, trashbags for warmth, hard candy, drinking water, high energy snacks, and extra clothes as needed.
8. KNEEPADS: Padding for knees and elbows will make caving more comfortable and reduce damage to joints. There are a large variety of kneepads available. You can get pads at most sporting goods, and department stores. Of course there are kneepads designed just for caving.
9. WHISTLE: It is a good idea to carry a whistle in your pack in case you need to signal another person either in or out of the cave.