Vancouver Island - Caving Gear
Please note, this list can be used as a guideline for equipment purchases and not as a training guide in any way. Caving, like any sport is dangerous unless the proper training and equipment is used. Do not use this list as a substitute for that proper training and guidance. Caving is a very enjoyable and safe sport if done properly. Seek out a local Caving group in your area if you are interested in pursuing this sport.
Some areas also offer Commercial Cave Guiding. Check with your local Parks Officials. If the tours are done in undeveloped caves, make sure the company is reputable. Ask about liability insurance, rescue protocol, are the necessary permits in place, what is the guide to tourist ratio.
A caving / climbing helmet and light -
Helmet - $75.00 to $100.00 -
-There are a number of approved helmets on the market, make sure it is UIAA approved and fits well. It is mandatory that is has a chin strap. It won't do any good if it falls forward and covers your eyes as you are trying to negotiate a short climb or falls off after being hit by the first rock, exposing your head to the rest of the rockfall.
Light, electric - $40.00 to $500.00 -
-Lights come in all shapes and sizes, there are a number of electric headlamps that attach to your helmet with an elastic strap, these are fine to start caving with or as a backup light but they can be knocked off.
Your Primary source of light NEEDS to be mounted on your helmet.
There are a number of good LED headlamps now available, some of the more expensive of which will stand up to the rigours of caving. Try googling "caving lights" to get an idea what is out there. Look for adjustable brightness (lumens), adjustability of beam (wide & diffused as well as long range spot) and burn times (battery life will be crucial on long caving trips or remote expeditions).
Light, carbide - $50.00 to $200.00 -
-Carbide lamps are becoming scarce and expensive to buy. They are the choice of expedition cavers because long trips (multiple day trips or remote areas where transport is expensive and limited) can be done without the weight of heavy batteries. They can warm a hypothermic body where an electric lamp can't. Carbide is considered a dangerous good and is getting harder to find amongst the suppliers as well.
Light, backup - $5.00 to $20.00 -
At least two backup lights are needed. YOU NEED BOTH HANDS FREE TO CLIMB. It must be able to go around your neck and be readily available if your main light goes out. Many small LED hand lights are available (e.g. the MEC "Turbo Turtle" bike lights at $3.75 (2011)), and the best are those that are waterproof and can somehow be attached to a helmet or hung around the neck for easy emergency use.
- $4.00 to $20.00 -
-They come in may shapes and types; waterproof, winter, gardening, etc.
You do not want anything that will impede your feel as you negotiate the cracks in the rock, yet you still need the protection and warmth. Anything will do to start, a good one are the orange nylon gardening gloves with the criss-crossing rubberized pattern, they are available almost anywhere.
Rubber boots - $20.00 to $150.00 -
-You want a Waterproof boot that is fairly tall and offers some protection against rocks. Steel toes and shanks are a good option, the offer some rigidity, provide ankle support and enable you to climb more confidently because of the additional support. Good cleated soles make traction easier on the wet and slippery rock. Make sure they fit snugly. Sometimes referred to "Wellies".
Hiking boots - $50.00 to $300.00 -
-These can be used in dry caves or with proper wetsuit socks, used in wet caves as well. Use lots of waterproofing on them. Hiking boots tend to be made of leather or suede and do not take well to being constantly wet. For one or two trips they are fine, they need to be dried out between trips. Consider them to be sacrificial. Again, good cleated soles make traction easier on the wet and slippery rock.
Long Underwear - $75.00 to $200.00 -
-Caves tend to be cold,damp places, 99-100% humidity and approximately 4C. Take this into account when planning for your trip. A layer or two of decent long underwear or tights. A combination of long-johns/sweatpants is good as well. If you are wet, you will become cold very quickly and loose energy at a very fast rate.
Cotton soaks up moisture very quickly, whereas polypropylene/nylon is great or not absorbing moisture. Synthetics are the preference of most cavers, but can be expensive.
Coveralls - free to $60.00 -
-You can start with cotton "Automotive" coveralls. Make sure that they are clean, not oily, the oils will damage the cave ecosystem. Make sure you remove or sew up the outer pockets since they will catch and hang up on rocks when you least expect it. Again, a disposable item.
Oversuit - $150.00 to $250.00 -
- The ultimate in caving comfort. An nylon oversuit is water-resistant and resilient to abrasions and tearing. These suits are made by a number of local and international manufacturers. Features will vary from suit to suit, so shop around.
Carabiners and waistlength - $20.00 - $30.00 -
- It is always good practice to have at least one carabiner and a decent size piece of waistlength of at least 10m of 1" tubular nylon webbing or 8mm static cord makes a great addition to your gear for this purpose.
Kit Bag or Side Pack - $30.00 to $75.00 -
- A side pack is worth getting early in this game. Many to choose from, and from simple but harder to find army surplus to custom built bags. Ask questions. It will become your friend, it will hold your spare batteries, snacks, and when you start doing vertical work, your equipment and rigging gear. It can also help when "bridging and jamming" through passages.
Knee and elbow pads -
- Some people find that long crawls can wreak havoc on knees and elbows. Skate-boarding pads have proven to be the knee protection of choice for some cavers. The reason being the velcro straps for easy installation and removal.
Advanced Caving Equipment -
Sit harness -$75.00 to $150.00 -
- Specially designed caving harnesses differ from climbing ones. There have no accessory loops, these loops can spell trouble if your harness hangs up while in a tight passage or small crawl while you are still in it.
Chest harness - $15.00 to $35.00 -
- Many out there, manufactured or simple piece of 1" tubular webbing in a "figure 8" design will work , but not the most comfortable.
Descender - $40.00 to $75.00 -
- Quite a few to choose from. Petzl is a French manufacturer that specializes in caving gear. Their descenders are designed to operate in extremely muddy conditions. There are others as well, you will get to see a few different ones floating around on trips, talk to people. Depending on local conditions, a few are "Figure 8", Petzl "Stop" and Rack.
Croll and Jammer - $75.00 / pair -
- Again, quite a few to choose from. There are a few different methods to ascend a rope, some rigs use two pieces of equipment, others three. The "Frog" system only uses two. If you can minimize some of your gear, this is a place to start. Petzl have been making caving equipment for many years, it is hard to beat their designs. Ask questions.
Carabiners (lots) - $10.00 to $25.00 -
- Again many out there. Do not use any carabiners that "cousin Fred passed along to you from his climbing days 20 years ago". Carabiners are subject to stress cracks and stretching if not properly used or stored. Crab's can also be prone to dissimilar metal corrosion if not stored properly, don't throw your wet gear in the corner until the next trip. They are probably the most important part of your vertical gear. They hold everything together. There are aluminum alloy, steel, and titanium. Check around.
Rope of various kinds -
- Once seriously into this sport, you may want to purchase your own ropes. Do not use dynamic climbing rope for general vertical caving , it is good only belaying people. For vertical work, static (low-stretch) rope is needed. There are various rope manufacturers that specialize in caving rope.
etc, etc.. -
Don't forget some chocolate bars, energy food bars for sustenance while underground. You will be amazed how the energy gets burned up.
Before purchasing a lot of expensive caving gear, consider attending one of the Companion Rescue Workshops offered annually by the Alberta-BC Cave Rescue Service. There you will be able to try out various gear and learn how to use it properly before making major investments. Watch for notices of upcoming offerings at the BCCR or ACRO pages
To a comprehensive Caving Gear vendor list -
To the Canadian Cave and Karst Info Server, for more caving info.
Updated 2 November 2011.