Caves are a fascinating part of the great outdoors and their exploration is full of adventure. As with many activities there are risks. Good preparation and learning from the experience of others is key to caving safely.
Caving is a relatively cheap activity especially for the beginner. The gear a caver uses depends on the type of cave being visited, fortunately most caves suitable for beginners are fairly straightforward and only basic kit is required.
Caves are dark so the most important piece of equipment is a reliable light. These are normally mounted on a helmet which also protects the head from knocks and bashes on low roofs.
Synthetic clothing is best as it keeps you warmer even when wet. A thermal baselayer with a couple of medium weight fleeces on top are suitable for most trips. One piece ‘furry suits’ are also popular. To cover these you’ll need a water resistant layer, usually in the form of an oversuit.
Cave floors can be wet and slippery and there is likely to be some scrambling and climbing so good footwear is important. Most cavers use wellington boots which fit well and have a good tread.
Once you become experienced you may wish to invest in more specialist clothing, lights and climbing equipment but this is not necessary to begin with.
Cave passages come in all shapes and sizes. The world’s largest are over one hundred metres wide and high. Most are somewhat smaller and some only just body size!
Progressing through a cave uses natural body movements like no other activity. Walking, stooping, twisting, crawling, squeezing, scrambling and climbing are all common and it is no doubt that caving gives the body a full workout. “Using muscles I never knew I had” is a common saying after your first trip.
However, caving skills are best developed by observing more experienced cavers - this is one of the great advantages of caving within a team. Each budding caver will find their own unique style of caving depending on the type of caves they like and their own body shape.
Caves are part of the great outdoors and although natural are rugged places to explore. Some caves are very safe where as others may present serious dangers.
There are some obvious dangers from open shafts, loose rocks and deep water hazards but others may not be so obvious to the inexperienced. Of course, weather forecasts are essential when planning a caving trip to avoid dangers from flooding, but local knowledge and information in guide books are essential tools for safe caving. If in any doubt seek help from experienced cavers.
People interested in exploring caves may also be drawn towards old abandoned mines and other ‘urban’ cavities and these may present different hazards to those in caves.
The British Caving Association (BCA) is very direct in recognising the dangers and who is responsible for mitigating the risks, as their participation statement demonstrates;
“The BCA recognises that caving, cave diving and mine exploration are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.”