So you’re going caving, but you don’t know what to bring. Fear not, you found our guide to basic caving equipment.
At the minimum, you’re going to need the following:
- Helmet. This should be a caving helmet, not a bicycle or construction helmet! Ideally, you should get one with internal straps to hold the helmet off your head and with external clips to hold your headlamp. Good choices are Petzl Boreo or Black Diamond Half Dome.
- Three (3) sources of light and extra batteries. At least one of these should be a headlamp mounted on your helmet because you need your hands free to move around a cave. Light is your lifeline in a cave. Without it, you will be hopelessly lost, stumbling in the dark, injuring yourself, falling into a pit, etc.. Get the most lumens you can afford and preferably waterproof. Good beginner choices are Black Diamond Spot or Black Diamond Storm. If you want to spend a little bit more (and get a much brighter light), most cavers these days use a ZebraLight H600 Mk IV or a NiteCore HC33.
- Gloves. You’re going to be using your hands in a cave, so you’ll need to protect them. The best gloves are just the cheap, latex-covered knit gloves found at home improvement stores. They are form-fitting, grippy, and cushiony. Make sure they’re the thicker latex-covered gloves, not nitrile-covered.
- Kneepads. Most caves in Texas require crawling (sometimes a lot of crawling), or climbing up, down, or over rocks, so you need something to protect your knees and shins. The bigger the coverage, the better. Avoid ones with hard plastic caps (e.g., not skateboarding or rollerblading kneepads). Ideally, you’ll want kneepads made by a caving vendor, like Gonzo Guano Gear, Dirty Dave’s, Howitzer, or Crawldaddies. These are hard to find locally, but you can buy them online (e.g., GGG, IMO, Karst Sports, OnRope1) or at caving conventions.
- Boots. I guess in Texas, I should be more specific and say hiking boots, not cowboy boots. No high-heels, no sandals, no flipflops, no Crocs, no five-fingers.
Depending on the length of your trip and type of cave, you may need the following:
- Elbow pads. If you’re doing a lot of belly crawling, elbow/forearm pads make it much more comfortable.
- Change of clothes. Most Texas caves are muddy. Not just any mud, but a thick, gooey mud that sticks to everything…and you’re going to be crawling through it. And maybe some bat guano, too. If you don’t want to drive home in your underwear, bring a change of clothes. Also, I recommend a big trash bag to transport your dirty cave gear back home.
- Food and water. Texas caves are hot and humid ALL YEAR. You will sweat. You will exert yourself. Stay hydrated and eat regularly to keep your energy up.
- Backpack. You’ll need somewhere to carry your food, water, extra lights and batteries. (You did bring extra lights, right?) You’ll want a durable pack because you’re going to be dragging it, cramming it, squishing it, shoving it, even sitting on it. And you’ll want minimal external straps/pockets because every strap, pocket, fold, seam, etc., is a potential snag point. Just like the kneepads, there are cave-centric packs from caving vendors like Gonzo Guano Gear, On Rope 1, or Swaygo
- Crush-proof container. I’m totally serious about cramming, squishing, and shoving your backpack. It will get abused, and you don’t want to find your banana or your tuna sandwich smeared all over the inside of the pack. Yuck! Pack your food, camera, batteries, etc., in a sturdy container.
Some specific caves may have other specific requirements. For example, water caves like Honey Creek Cave require wetsuits because you’re in cold water the entire time. Some may require vertical gear—come to our Vertical Workshops to learn more! Your trip leader should tell you if there any special requirements, but sometimes we’ve been to a particular cave so many times that we assume everyone knows you need ____ when you go there. Please don’t hesitate to ask what you need for a trip, especially if it’s your first time to that cave.