Personal Caving Equipment– Cave Exploring Elective for the Ranger Award – Clothing

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


There is no particular order of importance for which article of clothing is most important. The actual clothing you will need can change from one cave to the next depending on the wetness and temperature inside the cave.

It good to have something sturdy and durable on your feet when caving. Having good foot traction is very important. Boots with a lug sole and covers your ankle is a priority. The lug soul will release mud collected better than the soul of a sneaker or walking shoe. If the mud is not released it builds up to the point you are walking on mud with mud and will not have enough traction to keep from sliding. Because you will be crawling, climbing, and walking through rock passages you run a risk of banging your ankles. Protection is important to reduce injuries.
Also in this environment your boots won’t last long. Don’t spend a lot of money on your boots. Don’t use your best hiking boots, as they will be ruined. Work boots, cheap hikers, “jungle jump” boots, and muck boots work well. You will have to clean them well after your trip.
If you are decontaminating your gear you may want to consider a rubber muck boot. They stand up well to mud, water, and some cleaning chemicals. They generally have a good soul and can keep the moisture out to a point. They are also cheap.
Work boots, hikers, and jump boots with a good lug soul can give you plenty of protection and traction. They hold up well to the abuse found inside a cave. They won’t last forever, so don’t spend a lot of money because you will have to replaced them sooner than with normal use.
Sneakers are a very bad idea. Don’t wear sneakers.

Gloves are an important piece of safety equipment for two reasons. The first is that you will want to protect your hands from abrasions. You will be grabbing and holding onto rocks so you want something with a good grip and traction on the palms. You’ll want to keep you hands as warm as you can. You will get wet and with that comes cold. If by chance to have to touch a formation, the gloves will help protect the formation from the oils and skin cells from your hands. These oils can degrade formations.

Synthetic socks and a thermal base layer is important. This base layer should be able to wick moisture away from your body. Cotton is very poor at doing this and can hold moisture against your skin, which will pull heat out of your body, which will promote hypothermia. What you use for this base layer entirely depends on the environment inside the cave. What will the temperature be like? How much moisture will there be? Most caves in the mid-Atlantic section of the US are 54 degrees at 100% humidity. Nice mid-weight poly-pro long johns work best for most people in most of these caves. Caves further south tend to be a little warmer and you may not need as much of a base layer. Ask the folks you’ll be caving with what they recommend.

A lot of cavers use coveralls specifically designed for caving. These are very durable and generally made from ballistic nylon. They are also very expensive. As you are just starting out or only going on your first caving trip, you’ll want to still keep it cheap. You can get away with a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt for your first trip. You’ll soon realize that it will be hard to keep your shirt down and your pants up. This is why most cavers wear one piece coveralls. You can find these relatively cheap used on auction sites. Some places that specialize in work cloths will carry these, too. They will not last long. You will wear holes and rip seats, knees and elbows pretty fast. Cave mud will destroy zippers. After a couple trips the zippers will fail, and usually when you need them the most. Velcro fasteners works well and mud washes out.
The same with other items you will have to decontaminate, synthetics don’t tolerate bleach well. You’ll be cleaning all your caving cloths after each caving trip. Be aware of the cleaning instructions.


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