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Essential Gear for the Budding Spelunker

by Matthew Mann Apr 22, 2009
Like many hobbies, spelunking can get very expensive real quick. You really only need a few items to get started, and as your enthusiasm grows, you can also develop your collection of gadgets.

The key to any trip into a cave is safety. This should be your primary concern, especially when entering a cave you are unfamiliar with.

Hard Hat/Helmet

One key item to help promote safety is a hardhat.

It’s impossible to see every direction, and getting knocked out below the surface is certainly no fun for you.

Rocks jut out from cave walls and the ceiling, and it is easy to not notice them or forget a rock you’ve just passed.

You can find hard hats for sale online, and in most hardware departments at major stores.


The most important item is sufficient light. A simple headlamp for your hard hat, to free up your hands, would cost about $15.

The straps fit over your hard hat, freeing your hands, and allowing you to catch yourself during the inevitable slip.

A backup light is also very important. This could be a handheld flashlight, a flare, or both. The more light sources the better.

Total blackness with protruding rocks is a surefire way to make sure you never emerge from deep within a cave.

Make sure you turn off your light at least once, just to experience for what total darkness feels like.

This will definitely instill some fear and a sense of awe within you. It will also remind you to pack more backup light on future trips.

Sturdy Shoes

No shoes are going to save you from the occasional slip.

The more tread the better, but caves tend to be coated with wet mud, and sometimes you have a climb up or down wet rocks.

Realize that any shoes you take into a cave will come out caked in mud.

Nice tough leather shoes are easier to clean and more durable.

Map of Cave

The toughest piece of gear to acquire is a map of the cave you are going to explore. Some are available online, and the government frequently do underground surveys before they build roads or other major structures.

You can try to find a map online, and if you can’t find one, try your local courthouse.

The records should be kept there, and if not they may be able to point you in the correct direction. Rather than running into a cave without a map, try to find a nearby cave where a map is available.

If you must go into a cave with no direction, one option is to take a long roll of kite string trailing behind to help find your way out.

If you’d prefer to test your memory, just remember your life is on the line. Make sure somebody above ground knows which cave you are in, and any plans you have for exploring it (for example, taking all left turns until you find a dead end).

Hiking Buddy

For beginners, never hike into a cave without a friend. You can even get him or her to carry some optional gear like a small first aid kit, bottles of water, and sweatshirts if you get cool in the damp 55 degrees underground.

If you decide you enjoy spelunking, then some rock climbing training would be the way to go. Nothing beats descending a couple hundred feet into the blackness, only to find an entirely new world lies in wait, potentially never touched by humans.

Make sure you understand the dangers that lie in wait, and be ready to fight off a horde of cave critters (don’t worry, they can’t see you).

Taking this minimal amount of gear will let you know if you have a passion for spelunking, and allow you to expand your horizons without spending too much money on something that might sit in the attic for years to come.

Community Connection

Looking for places to try caving? Check out 10 Caves to Explore in Bermuda and Caving in Tham Lot, Thailand.

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