Getting started in the caving world
So you want to explore the underworld? Caving can be the most exciting sport there is and it can be the most dangerous. I have been caving for about ten years and I must say, I can't get enough of it. So how does one get into this world of caving? Well let us start with some basics. The first thing you would want to do is learn more about caving. The best source for this is the National Speleological Society. This will lead you into all the information you can handle when it comes to caves and caving. But first, I will give you a break down of equipment and some of the ins and outs to caving. To begin, we will go from head to toe.
In the caving world most of your time will be spent bent over walking, stooping, and crawling. The one thing you want to protect is your head. For starters you can use a regular hardhat, but make sure you have a chinstrap to hold it on. As you continue your ventures, you will want to advance to a slimmer, comfortable helmet. There are many on the market and you can find most on line at reasonable prices.
The next thing you want to have is lighting. This is probably the number one important thing to have. Inside of caves is very dark (you can't see your hand in front of your face). It is recommended to have at least three sources of light. The one I have on my helmet has 24 LEDs and it is bright! Some people carry candles in their packs as emergency back up lights, but make sure you carry waterproof matches. Oh! Don't forget extra batteries.
So I guess you are wandering, what do I wear? Clothing can be as little as pants and a t-shirt to waterproof coveralls. For beginners, I would start with a good pair of pants that can resist heavy wear and tear from walking to crawling. I would stay away from denim because, it is heavy when it is wet, plus it dries slowly. A good pair of military pants is about the best and it has extra pockets. The best shirts are sweat shirts (a heavy shirt that will keep you warm). Thermal underwear should be worn under all of this to make sure you stay warm during the trip. Some cavers wear coveralls to keep themselves warm and dry (plus keep their clothes clean). I wear a pair of coverall that don't produce lint and are made of Cordura material. These are water resistant and wear resistant. These coveralls are expensive, but if you cave as much as I do, you want good equipment.
Now this brings us to moving through a cave. As I mentioned earlier you will be walking bent over, crawling, and you can lose your balance. Gloves should always be worn in a cave not only to keep you warm, but to prevent touching the formations with your bare hands. The growth of formations is a very delicate process and the oils on your skin can stunt the growth. Any pair of gloves will work. I have used many different kinds, so use the best ones you feel comfortable with.
You also need to have the right footwear. Boots with good ankle support and lug soles are the best. I wouldn't worry about waterproof or any fancy name brand foot wear (your feet will get wet anyway!). You can buy waterproof socks or wool socks. I use the wool socks with wick away and they are about the best. Make sure your feet stay warm! That is one of the biggest problems in caving (cold feet).
As you are caving you will get hungry or thirsty. It is wise to carry at least one bottle of water (plastic bottles) and some granola bars. This will pack nicely in your pack with all the other little gear.
Packs are the best way to carry your gear through the cave. The best packs come with straps that can be attached in various areas on the bag. The preferred way to carry is on the side. A shoulder strap with a waist strap is ideal. Most beginners use old military gas mask bags.
The last thing I want to mention is where do you go? Most wild caves are on private property and it is wise to get permission from the land owner before you go. The best way to go into wild caves is to contact and go with local caving clubs. These groups are established and know cave owners.
As I have stated before, caves can be dangerous so it is best to go with experienced people and never go alone.
So that is it on some of the gear and clothing. When you get more experience and broaden you cave trips, you can buy more gear for vertical trips, cave diving, research, and cave rescue. You can learn more by going to the National Speleological Society at www.caves.org.