So you want to come caving, but aren’t sure what to bring? Or you’re an old hand looking for some pointers about what to get? No worries, we’ve got you covered here! Read on to find out about all the bits and pieces you might want to take on a caving trip with you… For convenience, I’ve split this up into four categories: personal gear, club gear, group gear, and camping gear.
On a trip, you will need to bring any personal gear you need or want, and the club will supply all the club gear you need. You can of course bring personal equivalents to the club gear if you have them, so long as the trip leader is satisfied it is suitable. Group gear will usually be brought by the trip leader and other experienced cavers where it is required, and if you stick around, you’ll probably find yourself owning a bunch of this stuff anyway. Camping gear is your responsibility to organise and bring, but the club owns some, and other people coming frequently have spares you can borrow. But, if you need to borrow stuff, you MUST ask (nicely) before the trip- usually the Facebook event or at SRT are the best places to organise this.
Of course, if you have questions or doubts about kit for a trip, ask the trip leader, and they should be able to help you!
Personal Gear: AA Batteries- All our club headtorches run on AA batteries, and generally take 4 of them. It is your responsibility to supply batteries for them. Bring 4xAA batteries for a daytrip, and then bring an extra 4 AA batteries for each following day of caving. So, if you’re going out for a trip with 4 days of caving, you’ll need 16 AA batteries. Yes you might have spares, but that’s better than running out… Trip Fees- The trip leader will specify what the cost of the trip is. We try to keep our trips as cheap as possible, so it’s not negotiable. Usually it will consist of transport+park access+camping+equipment maintenance, with park access only applying in some caving area, and camping only relevant on some overnight trips. Our equipment maintenance fee is a flat $5 rate for all members on all trips so that we can replace club kit as it expires. There may be extras, like dinner in the pub one night, and the trip leader will generally state what they are, and if they’re optional, so that you have a good idea how much the trip will cost you. Cash is much preferred for trip fees, but we can take bank transfers too. Clean clothes- Some cavers actually have nice cars, and don’t like getting them dirty. When caving, there is a very high probability that you will get dusty, dirty, muddy, wet, sandy, sweaty, or grotty, or a combination of all of the above. So bring a clean change of whatever civvies you normally wear for the trip home, and to wear at camp at night on multi-day trips. Old clothes to wear caving- Caves are generally hard on whatever you bring into them. That’s why we have a lot of gear, so that they’re not hard on you. @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@ Overalls- The cheapest cotton overalls with the thickest fabric possible that you can get your hands on, preferably from an Op Shop. Note when we say overalls, we mean what many think to as coveralls, so full body protection, not those dinky things held up by straps. Op Shop efforts can be hard to find in Canberra (too many stingy Canberrans), but I’ve had excellent luck in country towns, and especially those with a bit of a manufacturing base. Anything below $20 is good value, so long as the overalls are in good condition and are decent quality (thick and robust). Make sure they’re clean and don’t have any grease/oil/lubricant stains on them that won’t wash out. When you try them on, make sure you try crawling and climbing too… If you go down the cotton overalls route, expect to be binning a set of trashed overalls after 10 months of regular (a trip every 2-4 weeks) caving.
The next step up from overalls is a cavesuit. This is a custom-made set of overalls designed with caving in mind. These are FAR superior to cotton overalls. Generally, they’re made from cordura, but kevlar versions are available too. Cordura is more waterproof, warmer, and more resistant to tearing than cotton, and has far better thermal properties when wet and exposed to water. There are a lot of purveyors of these, but most are located in Europe. Sadly, there are no local companies that produce cavesuits, with the closest best option being Aspiring in NZ, which are the general choice of Aussie cavers. MTDE cavesuits are available from another Kiwi outfit (Access Gear), but (appear to) have less flexibility with sizing than Aspiring. Cavesuits last much longer, but are also much more of an investment than cotton overalls, so don’t bother looking at getting them unless you’ve decided that caving is the thing for you, or have an overseas trip with serious caving planned.
Waterbottle- @@@@@@@ Food- @@@@@@@ Underground Food- @@@@ Knee and Elbow Pads- @@@ Gloves- @@@ Footwear- @@@ Warm Clothes- @@@ Wet Weather Gear- @@@
Club Gear: Helmets- Our club helmets are mostly Petzl Ecrin Rocs, which sadly aren’t produced any more. We also have a collection of ancient Edelrid Ultralight helmets that need a date with a skip, and soon. The main important things with caving helmets are that it needs to have a suspension system with 4 points of contact (this is standard, some helmets have more), a robust chin strap that is easy to undo, clips to attach a headtorch, little or no brim, and be bombproof. This mostly means we use climbing helmets as there are no purpose made helmets which suit cavers (no matter what Petzl says about the Boreo, it is a climbing helmet that can be used caving, not a caving helmet). Caving helmets are mostly to stop you bashing your head against the roof and walls, so need side protection. Ideally, you want a hardshell helmet like the Ecrin Roc or Ultralight, but these are getting rare. Hybrid helmets with a hard outer shell and an EPS liner are an acceptable alternative, but don’t last as long. Foam/softshell helmets are expensive and aren’t up to the abuse they suffer caving. They belong on climbing walls, not underground.
Headtorches- We have four types of club headtorches: Black Diamond Icons, Climbing Tech Lumex Pros, old Princeton Tec Apexes, and new Princeton Tec Apexes. The Icons and Apexes are theoretically waterproof, although in practise most headtorches are only water resistant after a bit of caving use. If you’re looking at getting your own headtorch, I’d recommend one of the new Princeton Tec Apex headtorches. They cost about $150, provide 550 lumens off 4xAA batteries, and are more reliably waterproof than the Icons (which can be got for $20-30 cheaper). There are other more exotic lighting options available like Zebralights, but we use the widely available AA batteries as the standard within the club. AAA options are typically cheaper and lighter, but have a poorer runtime for the weight of battery carried. I can’t recommend lights from Fenix; while they are good value and very bright, they die very, very quickly when used caving. Many people make a big deal of the whole 3 independent sources of lighting thing- we don’t. Your spare lights are attached to your mate’s helmet, with a backup in the bottom of the trip leader’s pack. This is sufficient for everything we do as a club.
Cave packs- Bushwalking backpacks do not belong in caves. They catch on everything, the zips get clogged by mud, and caves eat them too fast. So we have specialised cave packs for your stuff to go into that are MUCH easier to take underground. These come in a range of sizes, and there are a large range of producers. In Australia, the most common packs are Aspiring packs, which come in two sizes, 15L and 35L. If you’re looking to get a personal pack, get the 15L one or ask for a custom size (20-25L is ideal for most uses). The 35L ones are too big for most purposes in this part of the world, and even for group use, you’re better off with stuff spread across two smaller packs. IMPORTANTLY though, ask for some colour other than white. White is the default colour for Aspiring packs (although they will do others), and as Aspiring packs are common, it can get rather difficult spotting your pack in the stack of white Aspiring cave packs…
Petzl and MTDE both also make excellent cave packs, but they’re hard to find in Australia, and often very expensive when you do find them. If you go overseas, though, the 22L Petzl packs are very nice… Other more exotic brands exist in Europe and America, like Landjoff and Swaygo; you’re on your own here.
Ladders- SRT kit-
Group Gear: Water- @@@ First Aid Kit- @@@ Spares- @@@ Lighter- @@@ Tape- @@@ Knife- @@@
Sleeping Bag- Caves and the camping areas that accompany them seem to have a distressing habit of being located in frost hollows, or otherwise just being in cold places. Why couldn’t we have a nice big chunk of limestone down on the coast in Murramarang National Park (because geology, that’s why)? So to deal with this unfortunate fact, you’ll want a decent sleeping bag. I won’t go into the intricacies of sleeping-baggery, but there’s two basic varieties, camping bags (cheap(er), heavy, and bulky) and bushwalking bags (small, light(er), and expensive). These both come in down and synthetic options. Both have pros and cons, but don’t believe any of the hype telling you that you MUST buy a synthetic bag if it could get damp.
For caving use in this part of the world, it doesn’t much much what you get, as we mostly car camp. There are some walk in areas (Church Creek and Colong notably among them), but NUCC rarely visits these areas. So if you like bushwalking, or plan to go to more remote caving areas, shell out for an expensive down bushwalking bag. Otherwise, a cheap N nasty synthetic bag will be fine. Importantly, make sure that it has been properly tested to the EN13537 scheme, and if it hasn’t treat any claims about warmth sceptically. Make sure you know which point on the EN13537 scheme your bag’s rating refers to, and how cold you sleep. As a very, very general guide, a woman should buy a bag based on the ‘comfort’ rating, and a man based on the ‘lower limit’ rating. To be warm in most situations in the caving areas NUCC visits in winter, you’ll need a bag with an appropriate rating of around -5*C. Be warned though, this might leave you sweaty and uncomfortable in summer!
Sleeping Mat- Honestly, whatever is cheap and easily available and works for you. The blue closed cell foam mats are fine, although not as warm or as comfortable as inflated mats. This is not a critical piece of gear, although you will likely have a miserable night without one. I have a regular length Sea to Summit Comfort Light Insulated and personally very much like it. It’s light enough that I can take it bushwalking, and well insulated enough to keep me warm in most situations. Coupled with a pillow, my feet don’t stick off the end (I’m 195cm tall). It also didn’t cost a proverbial arm and a leg (just and arm).
Camp Chair- Highly recommended for sitting round a campfire in. They’re cheap at most outdoors stores. Don’t get one that is too bulky, or the person giving you a lift is likely to chuck a tanty. You also don’t want one that is too small and lightweight, as those ones are frequently made of poor quality materials and die very, very quickly. If you’re feeling particularly stingy, the Green Sheds at Mugga and Mitchell have plenty of pre-loved options.
Other Junk- Camping is one of those things where it is possible to build up such a range of camping junk (intended to make camping easier and more fun) that camping actually becomes harder and less enjoyable. Go for a walk around any self-respecting camping store (or the garage of any camper who has been camping for more than a couple of years), and you’ll find plenty of stuff that fits into this category. Don’t avoid the stuff, if purchased and used judiciously, it can indeed make camping more fun! But the best advice is to go over your camping gear after any trip, and ask yourself if you used it on the trip? If not, do you really need it, and is there something else you already have an use that could do the same thing? If the answers are no, no, and yes, then leave it behind on the next trip, and try out the something else!