Personal Caving Equipment – Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award – Light Source and Batteries

One of the elements for the Caving Elective requires you to know what equipment you will need for caving.

There are some very basic pieces of equipment that every caver should have when entering a cave. This is equipment that must be in good working condition and every one must have their own without sharing. Each issue will discuss one or two items in more detail so you get an idea of why each item is important and where to find what you need cheap. I’ll later go into optional equipment that is a very good idea to have and WNS decontamination procedures for those who face that challenge.

Here’s you basic list:
Helmet Mounted Light Source
Two sets of fresh batteries
Two additional Light Sources
Sturdy Boots
Sturdy Work Gloves
Old rugged Clothing
Thermal Layering Underwear
Synthetic Socks
Small pack w/
Small First Aid Kit
Plastic Trash Bags
Change of Clothing


You are going to have to have at least 3 sources of light. Inside a cave there is absolutely no light. It’s not nighttime dark like with stars and moon. There is no natural source of illumination. It’s absolutely dark. If your light goes out, you need a backup. If your backup light goes out you need a backup for that one. If you can’t see because you don’t have a light, you’re not going to be able to get out of the cave.

Your primary light source needs to be mounted on your helmet so your hands are free to help you keep your balance and navigate through the cave. If your flashlight is in your hand and you slip and drop it and it falls into a hole or breaks, you will then have no light. If you slip and you don’t drop your handheld flashlight, you will probably not be able to catch yourself which could result in an injury.

Today’s caver does have a choice in light sources.
Some cavers still prefer a carbide lamp. These lamps work by having a chamber with miner’s grade carbide in it and a reservoir with water that drips into the carbide chamber. The two chemicals together create acetylene gas, which is ignited. Depending on what kind you have they take a little work to keep lit and maintained. The light from them is well balanced through the light spectrum. They do give off heat, which can be a pro or con depending on the situation. You do have to deal with the spent carbide and dispose of it properly.
Most cavers today use battery-powered headlamps. These come in a big verity of kinds, styles, and price range. Up till recently incandescent lamps were the most popular. They gave the most light. Recently the LED light has been improving. Now they have become more popular than the incandescent because they can generate a lot of light, weigh a lot less, are more compact, and use a lot less battery power. You can pick up an inexpensive one at a discount or home improvement store, but don’t expect them to perform like the more expensive one developed specifically for caving which can be expensive. The cheaper ones may last a trip or two, but are not designed for the beating they will take inside a cave. You can use one for your first cave trip, but you’ll soon want something better.
You could use one of the cheaper lights as a backup second source. But if you don’t use it often you should take it apart and clean it after each use so it doesn’t corrode and fail when you need it the most.
A few cavers use “mini mag lights” as a third source of light. These can be kept in a cave pack or taped to your helmet.

You will see a few cavers who will keep all three source of light on their helmets. The purpose is to eliminate rooting through a cave pack looking for a flashlight in the dark. It’s a lot easier to just turn on another light. Usually lights burn out when it’s the least convenient like in the middle of a climb or a long belly crawl.
Some cavers carry a small LED light on a lanyard around their neck and even a couple more in their packs giving them 4, 5, and 6 sources of light.

Another suggestion that most cavers will give you is to use only lights that all require the same size batteries. When you are carrying backup batteries it’s a lot more convenient to not have to carry multiple battery sizes. If all your lights use, let’s say “AA” batteries, you only need to carry two additional sets of “AA” batteries and not two sets of “AA” and two sets of “AAA” and two sets of “C”.
There are also different types of batteries. Nickel cadmium and lithium ion. “Nicads” are the most common and cheapest. They work in most lights. “Li-ons” are lighter and come in a rechargeable version. But you have to be careful and make sure the light you are putting them in can handle them, especially LED lights, because they discharge at a higher rate and may damage some lights or even catch on fire.

So there you have it. Lights don’t have to be expensive, especially when you’re starting out. You can get better ones as you spend more time underground and retire the cheap ones to be your backup.


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