A Guide to Caving

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I’ve been in plenty of caves.  I’ve even been lost in one for almost an entire day.  Nevertheless, I always come prepared for the worst.  There are some things you don’t want to be stuck in a completely dark cave without or at least without checking upon first.  Here is a checklist of some must have items and things to do before you go exploring the earth’s darkened nether regions. 

Notify someone – For your safety and that of those traveling with you it is pertinent that you notify someone of the cave you are exploring, leave them detailed directions to where that cave is located, as well as a time frame for when you are expected back.  You don’t want to be lost hundreds of feet beneath the earth’s surface, sure of the fact that no else knows you are there.  I can tell you first hand it isn’t a pleasant feeling.

Check the weather – This is another item on the list that you can’t afford to forget.  Remember — caves are underground caverns created by water.  When it rains, they tend to refill with water.  When people are inside a cave when this happens it’s not a good thing.  Therefore, be sure to check your local whether before entering a cave.  If there is a chance of rain, or of an increase in temperature that could cause a large snowmelt, it might be best to postpone your expedition.  It never hurts to check the forecast for several days past when you plan to go just in case an unforeseen incident leaves you stranded inside the cave for longer than you expected. 

Map/cave information – It is important to research a cave thoroughly before you ever enter it.  There are many important things to know about a cave ahead of time.  The cave might be on private property or recently changed ownership, and the new owner might not want you on his land.  The cave might have been closed due to injuries or deaths or there might be climbing or water issues you aren’t aware of.  If the cave is still accessible after you have researched it, find a recent version of a map of the cave and make sure to take several copies, one for each of your spelunking party and at least one copy in a waterproof bag or container kept in a safe place on you or one of your party. 

Extra flashlight(s)/batteries – There is hardly a worse dilemma for a caver than to be left without a light in the complete and utter blackness of a cave.  Bringing extra flashlights and batteries can help ensure that you avoid this terrible situation.  Waterproof flashlights can be extra useful when exploring wetter caves and industrial/shatter-proof flashlights are often best for spelunking.

Waterproof candles/matches/lighter/light sticks – Even if you bring extra flashlights and batteries you can’t be guaranteed that they won’t be broken, get wet or be lost somewhere along your journey.  It is always a good idea to carry a set of waterproof candles, matches and/or a lighter in the event something happens to you primary sources of light.  When you’re caving, you can never have too many sources of light. 

Warm/padded clothing – Caves maintain a relatively moderate temperature year round.  That means that in the summer they are typically cooler than the outside air and during the winter they are warmer.  Still, this doesn’t mean that they are particularly warm, so make sure you come prepared.  Wearing heavier clothing can also help protect you from bumps, scrapes, and bruises that come with crawling around on the ground and navigating rock filled passages. 

Food/candy bars – I don’t recommend that you bring a lot of food with you since it will most likely get pretty well smashed up along the way and make traversing the cave more difficult.  A couple of candy bars or a pack or two of peanuts can be the perfect way to boost your energy if you’re feeling low.

Water – You can get pretty thirsty when working your way through a cave.  A canteen full of water can be better to carry than a bottle, since it will typically take a better bashing against rocks when you’re doing some hairy navigating.  You don’t want to be stuck drinking muddy cave water — again, been there done that.

Head protection – I’ve never worn a helmet, but I’ve hit my head plenty of times.  I highly recommend wearing a helmet, but if you’re like me and find a hardhat type helmet is just a bit too annoying, a knit cap or hat can at least provide a little head protection. 

Climbing gear – Wet rocks, damp moss, and slippery mud can make getting in and out of a cave difficult.  Having the right climbing gear can make your journey safer and easier.


This article is for informational purposes only.  The author is not a professional climber or spelunker.  Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is at the reader’s discretion. 


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