Monday, November 23, 2009

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

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
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/
Water
Food
Small First Aid Kit
Plastic Trash Bags
and
Change of Clothing

Helmet
Your helmet should be UIAA approved for climbing. (http://www.theuiaa.org/upload_area/cert_files/UIAA_106_helmets_2009.pdf) But you’re saying that we will be caving and not climbing. However, the head injury hazards are the same. Bumping your head is the most common hazard while caving. That pretty much goes without saying. There is always the possibility that someone can knock stone or other loose debris from above you. A UIAA climbing helmet can take multiple hits from the top as well as the sides. A climbing helmet has a multiple point chin strap as well, so when properly fitted will not get knocked off if you fall. When you start getting into vertical caving your going to be required to have a UIAA and/or CE Climbing helmet so you might as well get one of these to begin with.
Climbing helmets do come in a verity of brands, models, and price range. Don’t just order solely on price. Each model has their pros and cons. Go to a store and try different ones on. Is it comfortable? Does it adjust to fit you well? Can you mount your headlight on it? Ask other cavers what they think about their helmet. Would they buy another one? Are there any issues you haven’t thought about?
BSA Climbing Standard says you should replace your helmet every 5 years. This is mostly due to UV degradation of the materials. Being underground you don’t have the UV issues, but there are other issues that degrade the material as well. If your helmet does take a hard hit, don’t take a chance, and just replace it. There is a possibility of micro fractures that you can’t see. I guess you could have the helmet x-rayed after a fall, but for the price of a x-ray, a new helmet is cheaper.
If you decontaminate you helmet on a regular basis, look into how the different chemicals affect the shell, the lining, and the webbing of the helmet.
Yes, the helmet is probably going to be the single most expensive piece of basic equipment you will buy. But if you consider that each scratch you see on your helmet is a potential ER visit, the cost doesn’t seem so much. Hey this is your head we’re talking about. A broken skull is a lot different than a broken leg.
Don’t scrimp and use your old bicycle or skateboard helmet. Different sports have different requirements for helmets. They don’t all have the same rating. Bicycle helmets don’t allow for much impact from above. They are also only good for 2 hits, when you hit a car or other object and when you hit the ground.
If you buy a used or borrow a helmet you don’t really know its history. You don’t know how old it really is. You don’t know how many hard hits its taken if any at all. BSA and professional outfitters keep track of their helmet’s histories, but not everybody else does.
When in doubt, buy a new climbing helmet.

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