Southeastern Regional Association of the National Speleological Society

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Cave Safety

Information contained on this page comes directly from: A Guide to Responsible Caving, Compiled by Adrian (Ed) Sira. National Speleological Society, Inc. Huntsville, AL pp.16-19. Copies of A Guide to Responsible Caving are available for FREE from The National Speleological Society, 2813 Cave Avenue, Huntsville, AL 35810-4413.

Safe Caving Practices

Although the following list of safe caving practices is meant to help you, there is nothing - and make no mistake about it - nothing that will replace using good common sense. We cannot cover every conceivable situation you may encounter while caving, and additional reading on the subject will benefit you.
  • Never go caving alone (a minimum of four people on a team) 
  • Wear a good-quality hard hat with a chin strap and the primary light source attached. 
  • Carry three sources of light (should one source fail). 
  • Always leave word as to which cave you will be visiting and your expected time of return, allowing a few hours for any unexpected contingencies. 
  • Follow the lead of the more experienced caver or the one who knows the cave well. 
  • If all your lights fail, sit down and wait on the spot for help to come. 
  • Avoid jumping. Cave floors are seldom level, and a short jump may result in an injury. 
  • Practice ropework (vertical caving) under the guidance of an expert before doing any vertical caving. 
  • Caving is extremely tiring: know your limit, rest frequently, watch for fatigue in others. 
  • If you have a serious medical condition or chronic disorder, it may be wise to consult a physician and consider his advice before caving. If you go caving, inform your caving companions about your condition before the trip in case of a problem. 
  • Carry a small first aid kit. A large garbage bag or poncho will make a good heat tent using the heat from one candle or carbide lamp. 
  • If an immobilizing injury occurs, treat for shock (keep the injured caver warm) and contact the local cave rescue organization. 
  • Sitting still can cause shivering after a period of time. the first symptom of hypothermia. Get moving, initiate activity. 
  • The slowest caver sets the pace. Go only as fast as you can be followed, and check on the caver behind you. 
  • If lost in a cave, panic is your worst enemy. Remain calm, conserve you light, and if you followed the rule about leaving word, you have little to worry about. 

Suggested Caving Equipment

In various parts of the country, the equipment needed for a safe and comfortable cave trip may differ from what we have listed here. It would be wise to check with a caver in the area where you want to go caving to find out if any equipment, other than that listed below, or your usual equipment stash, may be needed.
  • Helmet: A hard hat equipped with a chin strap and mounted with your primary source of light is required. The hard hat should be of good quality and meet UIAA* standards. 
  • Back-up lights: At least two sources of backup light with spare parts are mandatory for safe caving, carried so as not to fall and break. With a back-up lighting source, compactness and dependability are more of a concern than intensity. Waterproof flashlights (Mini-Maglites (R)) are a popular choice. 
  • Footware: Shoes should be sturdy hiking or work boots with non-slip, lug soles made high enough to provide ankle support. They'll probably get wet, so expensive boots aren't called for. 
  • Clothing: The temperature inside caves runs from the 40s up north to the 60s in Florida, so dress accordingly. One-piece coveralls add an extra layer for warmth over your other clothes and are a great advantage.

  • Changing into clean clothes is required after exiting the cave, especially if you are riding in someone else's car. Remember to be discreet. By the way, your cave clothes will never be the same again, so use old clothing.
  • Gloves: The protection of gloves will keep your hands clean and help minimize the number of cuts and scrapes you may get on your hands. 
  • Cave pack: A fanny pack of substantial strength or an old military pack is helpful in carrying needed extra equipment (water, food, flashlights, batteries, carbide, plastic bags, and the like). 
  • Large plastic trash bag: A large trash bag not only can be used for emergency warmth but is ideal to carry dirty cave clothes home. Carry it with you in your cave pack. 
  • Kneepads: Pads are optional, but they surely will make you knees happy. 
  • Food: Carry high-energy food sufficient for the length of the trip. It is wise to carry some extra in case the trip takes longer than expected or in the unlikely event that you become lost. 
*UIAA - Union of International Alpine Associations. An organization that sets standards for climbing and mountaineering.