Caving, also known as spelunking, is a thrilling adventure activity that involves exploring natural underground spaces, such as caves, caverns, and potholes. If you’re a thrill-seeker who loves to explore new environments, caving could be the perfect activity for you.
But, like any adventure sport, it’s important to approach it with the right mindset, skills, and equipment. That’s why we’ve put together this beginner’s guide to caving, to help you get started and stay safe while exploring the fascinating world beneath the earth’s surface.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything from the basics of caving equipment and safety tips to more advanced techniques and best practices for navigating through tight spaces, rappelling, and ascending. Whether you’re a first-timer or looking to brush up on your caving skills, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to embark on a safe and rewarding caving experience.
So, let’s dive in and explore the underground world!
What to wear
No matter what type of caving you’re going to do, it’s essential to wear the right clothes and gear for the activity. The type of clothing you should wear depends on the weather and temperature of the cave, but in general, you’ll want to wear nonrestrictive and comfortable clothing (such as T-shirts, shorts, and lightweight pants) that is suitable for any type of movement.
In addition to the right clothing, it’s also important to protect yourself from the different types of hazards that you might encounter in a cave. This includes protecting your head from falling rocks, protecting your hands from sharp rocks or crevices, and protecting your feet from slippery surfaces or uneven ground.
What to bring
Whether you’re going caving alone or with a group, it’s important to bring the right items and equipment with you. The gear you should bring depends on the type of caving you’re doing and the length of your caving trip. In general, all caving trips should include the following items:
- Protective headgear, like a helmet
- A first-aid kit
- Suitable clothing
- Sturdy, waterproof shoes
- Spare clothes in case of moisture
- A map and compass of the cave
- A lighting source (headlamp or flashlight)
- Food and water
- Any necessary climbing gear
How to find a good cave
Caving is a great way to explore the depths of the earth and discover amazing things, but before you set out on your caving adventure, it’s important to find a good cave. Here are some tips on how to do just that:
- Research local caving guides
The best way to find caves is to read up on local caving guides, as they will have detailed maps of the caves in the area. They can also provide information on the best caves to explore and tips on how to stay safe in them.
- Join a caving club
Caving clubs are a great way to meet other cavers and find caves in the area. Joining a club also allows you to learn from experts who can teach you the ropes and provide assistance if needed.
- Search online sources
Many websites offer information on caves and can also provide access to detailed digital maps. Search for websites for caving clubs in the area and use their resources to help you find the perfect cave.
- Ask other cavers
If you know any experienced cavers, ask them for advice on the best caves in the area. They can provide tips on the best places to go and the best routes to follow, making your caving experience even more enjoyable.
Checking the cave’s conditions
Before exploring any cave, it is important to check its condition first. Here are five tips for checking the condition of a cave:
- Inspect the entrance
Carefully inspect the cave’s entrance for any signs of erosion or instability. If there are signs of damage or any loose sediment, you should avoid entering the cave.
- Look for water leaks
Inspect the walls and ceiling for any signs of leaking water, which can cause the cave’s structure to weaken over time.
- Check for loose rocks
Loose rocks can present a major safety hazard, especially in caves with steep drops. Make sure to inspect the cave walls and ceiling for any signs of loose rocks.
- Use a headlamp
A headlamp will help you identify any possible hazards in the cave, such as loose rocks, water leaks, and more.
- Watch your step
Be careful when exploring the cave and always watch your step. Loose rocks and hollow parts of the cave floor can easily lead to a dangerous fall.
Do not touch anything
If you are exploring a cave for the first time, it is important to remember not to touch or disturb any of the cave’s natural formations. Doing so can cause serious damage and put you at risk. Here are six tips to follow when exploring a cave:
- Don’t touch the walls
Even if you think the walls may be stable, do not touch them. Many caves have unstable walls and touching them can cause them to collapse and put you in danger.
- Don’t touch the stalactites and stalagmites
These formations take centuries to form and touching them can cause serious damage and slow down their growth.
- Don’t move rocks
Rocks can be fragile and moving them can cause them to fall and hurt other people.
- Don’t move anything else inside the cave
If you see anything else inside the cave, such as bones or plants, do not move them.
- Don’t bring anything in
Bringing anything inside the cave, such as food or drinks, can cause damage and attract animals.
- Leave nothing behind
When you leave the cave, make sure to leave nothing behind, including trash and footprints. Even small things, such as pebbles, can have a huge impact on the cave’s ecosystem.
Be aware of your headlamp
Having a good headlamp when caving is essential. A headlamp is a flashlight-like device, typically worn on the head, that provides illumination when navigating through a cave.
Headlamps are especially important for novice cavers; when entering unfamiliar caves, it is difficult to navigate without a reliable source of light. Here are seven tips for caving with a headlamp:
- Choose a quality headlamp: Invest in a headlamp that is well-made, lightweight, and has a good battery life.
- Check your headlamp regularly: Make sure your headlamp is functioning properly before you enter a cave. Check the batteries periodically and keep extra batteries on hand. Choose an adjustable beam: Use an adjustable beam in order to focus the light on certain areas in the cave, making it easier to see.
- Bring spare bulbs: Spare bulbs should be brought in case the bulbs burn out.
- Use a dim light when possible: Avoid using a full-sized beam while in a cave as this is not only a waste of battery, but also could be disorienting.
- Secure your headlamp: Make sure to secure your headlamp when inside a cave to prevent loss or damage.
- Wear a hard hat: Wearing a hard hat will protect your head should you encounter any falling rocks from the cave ceiling.
Move carefully and quietly
When exploring a cave, it is important to move cautiously and quietly. This will make the caving experience more enjoyable for everyone and ensure that all wildlife remains undisturbed. Here are eight tips for moving carefully and quietly while caving:
- Stay alert: Pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of any potential dangers.
- Move slowly: Moving smoothly and slowly can help keep your feet from slipping and injuring yourself.
- Listen for water: It is important to listen for the sound of water since it can indicate a potential cave-in.
- Wait for your partner: If you are caving with a partner, make sure to wait for them before moving forward.
- Avoid talking loudly: Avoid talking loudly as this may cause debris to fall from the cave ceiling and disrupt the wildlife.
- Refrain from using flash photography: Flash photography is disruptive and can disturb wildlife, as well as increase the chance of slips, trips, and falls.
- Don’t touch anything: Keep your hands off of any rocks, walls, and vegetation to avoid disturbing the bacteria and fungus growing in the cave.
- Reserve foods and beverages: Eating and drinking should be done outside of the cave to avoid accidental spills and limit the amount of waste inside the cave.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Caving Safety Rules
Let someone know where you’re going
Exploring a cave can be an exciting and incredible experience, but it is also a dangerous one. Therefore, it is important to take some safety precautions and let someone know where you are going.
Here are some tips for letting someone know your whereabouts when you go caving:
- Inform a family member or guardian: Tell a family member or legal guardian of your plans and the expected duration of your journey.
- Have a contact person in the cave: Have one person appointed as the “contact person”. This is usually the leader of the caving trip and they should keep the contact person updated regularly.
- Let someone outside the cave know: In addition to the contact person, there should be someone outside the cave who knows where you are going in case of an emergency.
- Follow cave safety protocols: Know and follow the safety protocols for any cave you are entering and inform your contact person of the rules.
- Update your contact person: Make sure to update your contact person periodically during your caving trip with your location, progress, and expected return time.
Following these tips ensures that your caving journey is more enjoyable and worry-free, knowing that someone outside the cave is aware of your whereabouts in case of an emergency.