Basic Caving Equipment

By Nikki Fox

There is an art form to figure out what your body needs to maintain warmth underground, without over heating. Caves in Virginia and West Virginia run ~54 degrees year-round. Adding different underground variables, like water or lengthy trips, prove to make challenges in figuring out what works for your clothing choices.

Below are some suggestions, or a checklist, for people new to the sport of caving. Please read over the following information and plan accordingly for the cave you’re visiting.
Please be safe and remember to have fun!

Cave Clothing

       — Long underwear top and bottom — preferably polypropylene.
       — Warm sweatshirt and jeans over top.
The reason to wear layers inside the cave is to maintain your body’s warmth. Caves in the western Virginia area are generally around 53 degrees year round. Wearing polypropylene or another moisture-wicking material underneath warm cotton clothes will ensure that you stay comfortable and dry from sweat, water and cave mud. More experienced cavers wear overalls or bibs made with a waterproof nylon coating. Some cavers wear Dickies work coveralls. Wearing layers is key, you can always take off clothes if you’re too hot, but you cannot add clothes if you’re cold and don’t have them. Other factors to consider in clothing choice are to protect your skin from sharp cave rocks, cave dampness and the cold>
       — Hiking shoes or boots — with good tread.
Ankle protection is key underground. Twisting your ankle in a cave is very easy to do if you don’t have the extra support. Also, don’t wear old shoes with no traction. On a muddy slope, traction is what you’ll need to maneuver the obstacle.
       — Bandanna — or cap to cover head.
If sweat pours down your face, mixes with some cave dust and dirt, your eyes will burn. Also, if you have long hair, getting mud & hair mixture in your face isn’t fun.

Protective Gear

       — Helmet — with chin strap and headlamp attached.
Caves are a hazardous environment. You’re surrounded by hard rock and protecting your head is vital. After the second or third bang on the ceiling, you’ll realize this, Make sure you wear a chin strap as to keep your helmet in place.
       — Knee and elbow pads.
When you cave, you’ll crawl. After several feet of an army crawl and smacking your knees against rock, you’ll wish you had protection for your joints. Also, you’ll encounter different kinds of passages and you’ll never know how you’ll end up using your body to get through them. So protect your knees and elbows. Your body will thank you the following day.
       — Gloves — garden, cotton or leather.
The main reason for wearing gloves it to protect the cave from you. Touching formations with your naturally oily skin will kill the formation. Also, when you touch cold rocks, your hands will get cold. Traction for your hands is just as important as for your feet. Common caver gloves are the $3 garden gloves with a rubber lining on the palm. These provide you with traction, as well as keep your hands warm to be able to grip. Leather gloves are only recommended when rappelling underground.

Cave Pack

       — Extra batteries — have at least two sets of extra AA or AAA, depending on what your headlamp uses.
       — Three light sources — one for your helmet and 2 extra sources.
The last thing you want to happen is to run out of light while in a dark, underground environment. You may also break a light and your batteries may be old. So be prepared. Your combined sources of light should last at least be three times as long as the planned trip. The objective of the secondary light sources is to see well enough for you to get out of the cave after your primary light source has failed.
       — Food — PBJ, granola mix, candy bar, crackers, energy bar, etc.
Bring enough food for a light lunch or snack, depending on how long your trip will be. You’ll use a lot of energy caving, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
       — Water — in a plastic bottle.
Dealing with glass or aluminum containers while in a cave is simply a hassle. You may break the glass and the aluminum may cut you. Better to simply avoid it.
       — Empty plastic bottle — with a tight-fitting lid.
This will be used as your toilet in case your must go underground. Polluting the cave environment should never happen. Your pee bottle is a friend.
       — Don’t forget your camera . . . Why? To take photos of your underground adventure, of course!


If you are going into a cave for the first time and do not have a map, placing markers along your way will help ensure you find the way out. Markers can be made rather inexpensively with reflective tape on large paperclips or pop-sickle sticks. You can be creative.

First Aid Kit

You should have at least: a knife, gauze pads, an Ace Bandage, garbage bag or space blanket, candle and matches. Store your kit in a waterproof container, like a bowl of Tupperware, Pelican box or in several sealable plastic baggies to keep the contents dry.

After Caving

       — Clean set of clothes — including underwear.
       — Clean socks
       — Clean shoes
       — Wash cloth or towel
       — Container of water — for washing up with.

BRING AN EXTRA CHANGE OF CLOTHES! This are the most forgotten items by many first-time cavers . It is a common courtesy not to get water, mud and cave dust in the person’s car who drove you to the cave. The easiest way is to wear regular clothes to the cave, change into your cave clothes at the site and then back into your clean clothes for the ride home.