Serious caving can be an expensive hobby and the choice of equipment can be very personal. You can get away with lower investment while you are starting and going on shorter, easier trips. You can also borrow or hire helmets very cheaply from the club until you decide what you want to get. You can also hire STR- Single Rope Technique equipment for above ground practice during training sessions.
To start with, you will need:
- Old warm clothes (e.g. track suit bottoms and sweat shirt)
- Wellies. They are tough and you won’t mind if they get wet… Including inside if the water is too deep for them. Avoid walking boots and especially trainers.
- An old boiler suit as your outer layer is optional to start with. Or you can borrow a proper caving suit. They are very tough, and slippery enough to wriggle over rocks and through narrow openings.
- Helmet and suitable light. These may be hired from the club or borrowed from other members until you are ready to buy your own.
- Bring a change of dry clothes, including socks and underclothes, plus a towel, to get changed for when you get out again.
As you progress, you will want to get your own equipment. We generally recommend you buy good, made by specialist manufacturers and buy new, usually from specialist caving suppliers, even though there may be cheaper offerings elsewhere. Climbing equipment is rarely suitable for caving: though as one caver said of his climbing helmet “If it looks like it can withstand a bomb blast. It can withstand a cave.” Prices are as of late 2022 and usually rounded up.
Specialist manufacturers and suppliers we recommend are:
- Bernies Cave Shop in Torquay, so you can try and buy. Phone them first.
- Caving Supplies Buxton, Derbyshire. You have to use a search box to find anything. Limited range, though often discounted.
- Climbing Technology . Wide ranging Italian manufacturer, including helmets and ascenders for cavers. Buy through distributors.
- Hitch ‘n’ Hike – HAVE CLOSED as of 2018 though their website is still live and may be capable of taking payments. They are non contactable by email or phone. DO NOT PLACE ORDERS on their website, as you may not get your money back.
- Inglesport Very comprehensive. One of our favourite Go-To suppliers.
- Landjoff Make caving suits, bags and knee-pads. Based in Sofia Bulgaria. Buy direct.
- Little Monkey, based in Cheddar, make the popular Rude Nora caving lamp. Buy direct.
- Petzl French equipment manufacturer which dominates the market. You have to buy through a retailer.
- Scurion Very well made top range lamps, made in Switzerland. Available from StarlessRiver
- Starless River Very comprehensive. Another favourite Go-To.
- Up and Under Caving and outdoor. Another good range.
- Warmbac Manufacture caving suits, undersuits & accessories. Sold through retailers.
- Also see other specialist manufacturers below.
“Your helmet is the most important bit!” Said to someone who had a crack on the top of theirs. You will hit it on the roof many times, it will protect you if you fall and protect you from things falling on you. It is also where you mount your lamp.
There are 2 types of helmet suitable for caving.
- Hard shell, usually ABS with webbing inside, which gives good cushioning and ventilation, but is a bit heavy and not always the most comfortable.
- Shell and foam helmets. Foam, especially EPP (expanded polypropylene) cushions your head well, without being damaged by impact. The shell is usually thinner, making it a lighter helmet. These are not suitable for cave diving as the foam is too buoyant and compresses under pressure.
Some “Petzl like” tough, webbing type, workmans helmets can be found on eBay/Amazon for around £15, but proper caving helmets start at around £45. They do not usually have a rim or a peak so as to cause less obstruction. They also usually have a higher arch over the forehead to allow you to look “up” while you are in a tight crawl.
Do not get a lightweight climbing helmet. They are designed to protect a climber if they fall and they usually have to be retired (scrapped!) if they receive a serious blow- though see the CT Stark below. Similarly, don’t use cycling helmets.
Helmets are very much a personal choice in terms of comfort, style, convenience, ventilation and above all, safety. Ask someone experienced in the club about their preferences and get to try a few on.
The best selections seem to be at
- Inglesport with offerings from Black Diamond, CT Climbing Technology, and Petzl.
- Starless River are offering CT and Petzl.
- Up and Under offer a bewildering array of helmets for all uses. You will need to check them individually to see if they are suitable for caving.
- Petzl Panga £48.65 from Up and Under or £50.60 from Inglesport came recommended by members. It is a good, basic, general purpose helmet, often sold in bulk to clubs etc.
- Petzl Boreo £52.20 to £52.50 from StarlessRiver seems to be another go-to.
- The Petzl Picchu (As in Machu Picchu, Peru) at £42 from Starless River is for children and people with smaller heads.
- Petzl Borea £50.60 from Inglesport seems to be a replacement for the Elia- again designed for women.
- One experienced member owns a CT (Climbing Technology) Stark mountaineering helmet £52.25 from Inglesport It is this of which he said “If it looks like it can withstand a bomb blast. It can withstand a cave.”
Some members did not like the Petzl Vertex helmets when they had to wear them for cave rescue practice, but you could see if you can find one and give it a try.
- Petzl Vertex Best Helmet from Bernies £70, the only one from there, and £55.30 from Caving Supplies.
- Petzl Vertex Helmet £69 from Caving Supplies and £63 from Starless River
- Petzl Vertex Vent Helmet £69 from Caving Supplies. These were the only 3 helmets from Caving Supplies.
Good reliable lighting is your next essential. If you have no light, you will probably not get out!
For short trips, many new cavers get the more powerful head torches from eBay etc. These are the ones with elasticated straps to fit on your head or helmet. The specifications often lie about their output- don’t expect to get much more than 1000 lumens out of the best of them- 90,000 lumens is just stupid! If it says 300, 500 or 1000 lumens, it may be close to the truth and even 300 will give a decent light: After all, you are in a confined space most of the time. Remember, the more powerful the lamp, the hotter it gets and the shorter it lasts on the same batteries.
It is useful to be able to angle the lamp up and down and having a focused beam for distance as well as a flood lamp setting for seeing where you are waking. This could be 2 separate lamps or a zoom function. 2 or more LEDs means one can fail and you still have light, though wiring between a back battery box and the lamp is the weakest point giving total failure- usually pulling out of one of the housings when snagged, whereas proper caving lamps have extremely robust and secure cables.
Lamps with 2 or more 18650 Li-ion batteries are likely to be the most powerful and last longest underground. Those with 2 18650s all enclosed in the lamp housing will be more robust, though these are often a sealed pack of doubtful quality.
Head torches consisting of a headband plus a clip in single transverse 18650 case with the lamp facing at right-angles to shine forwards are useful as both a backup head torch or a hand torch. Possible as a first head torch before you commit to getting a proper caving torch, just so long as you also have backup torches on you. Never rely on a single light source!
Whatever you get, don’t expect it to last forever: caves and mines are harsh places for equipment not designed for them. If you are more serious, you will want a proper caver’s helmet lamp as shown below.
Don’t be fooled by the generous capacity claims of unfamiliar battery brands either. 3500mAh (milli-Amp hours, or 3.5 Amp hours) is a realistic maximum for an 18650 Li-ion (18mm diameter by 65mm length, Lithium-ion) battery. This equates to nearly 13 Watt hours per battery (3.7 volts x 3.5 Amp hours) true capacity- i.e. the actual amount of energy it can store. The well known brands: LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sanyo and Sony are best for 18650s. Look for test reviews if you are not sure of other brands. Most lamps with 2 good 18650 batteries have a capacity of nearly 26 Watt hours.
AA and AAA rechargeable 1.2 volt NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries are also best from known brands and especially the Panasonic Eneloop batteries. Maximum realistic capacity for an AA is 2500mAh = a mere 3 Watt hours (1.2 volts x 2.5 Amp hours) per battery- less than 1/4 that of a full capacity 18650. 4 of them powering a new or old Petzl Duo (see below) will give you 12 Watt hours.
AA size rechargeable 3.7 volt Li-ion batteries, known as 14500 (14mm dia x 50mm length) can sometimes replace AAs if the circuit can stand over 3 times the voltage. With a realistic capacity of 1500mAh, they give about 5.5 Watt hours (3.7v x 1.5A) nearly double a rechargeable NiMH AA battery! 4 of these in an older Petzle Duo with a Custom Duo conversion (also see below) will give you 22 Watt hours.
18500 Li-ion batteries- the same length as AA, but thicker, go to 2200mAh giving about 8 Watt hours each. A useful amount of energy if you have the width available. 3 of these in a converted older Petzle Dou will give you 24 Watt hours.
For completeness, a 10440 Li-ion battery, the same size as AAA gives around 700mAh or about 2.6 Watt hours.
If you are carrying spare batteries, make sure they are in a waterproof container and cannot short on anything. A proper battery case is recommended.
For more serious caving, exploring, working underground and longer trips, you will want a specialist, rugged, properly waterproof caving helmet lamp, with a generous power pack for long duration and a selection of beams. These are usually made in low batch numbers, machined out of solid non magnetic metal to not interfere with a compass, for ruggedness and heat dissipation at high light outputs. They also have very high quality electronics and LEDs. They therefore cost a lot more than mass produced head torches. They have a selection of light output levels from very low to preserve battery, medium settings for enough light for exploring in confined spaces, and high for seeing inside large caverns and chambers.
The Go-To light for cavers used to be the Petzl Duo, giving out a maximum of about 70 lumens on a cluster of early LEDs for flood and a halogen filament lamp in a reflector for a beam. Waterproof to 5 metres- it ran on 4 AA rechargeable batteries with a maximum of 12 Watt hours. Petzle discontinued this in 2018 and produced the Petzl Duo Z2, Duo S and Duo RL.
Before the Duo, cavers used miner’s helmet lamps with filament bulbs and heavy lead-acid batteries strapped to their belts, or in some cases, naked flame acetylene lamps with a reflector- which some American cavers still use for some odd reason! If you have or can cheaply get hold of either an old miner’s helmet lamp or an old style Petzl Duo, you can make a decent lamp out of them for up to £70 from CustomDuo or Bisun. See below.
Except for a few exceptions, we have excluded lamps with less than 2 x 18650 batteries and listed in alphabetical order.
Bisun make replacement light sources for Petzl Duo and miner’s lamps. Order direct.
Not clear if they are still trading. Website has no security and sometimes difficult to load and has very basic layout, looking as if it is broken.
- Their Solo for Dual £15 just replaces the halogen or filament bulb in a Duo with a good LED,
- Their main offering for the Duo, is their Flexitwin V5 with a maximum shared output between 2 LEDs of 500 lumens at £70 including P&P.
- They also have the S3 £40 140 lumen, R3 £55 150 lumen and P51 £75 245 lumen mining lamp inserts, with increasing levels of sophistication, working on 3.6 to 4.5 volts.
- Additionally, a photo flood for £80 and an LED bulb replacement for diving torches at £20.
Custom Duo also make upgrades for old Petzl Duos and miner’s lamps. They look better specification than the Bisun units and seem to be more modern designs & components. These are the same people as Little Monkey, based in Chedder, who make the popular Rude Nora below.
- Simple (r02) 2 LEDs 170 + 170 lumen spot & flood, to upgrade any original pre 2018 Petzl Duo £60
- V42 (r02) 2 LEDs 310 + 310 lumen spot & flood, to upgrade any original pre 2018 Petzl Duo £70
- Original NEW (Still boxed) Petrel Duo lamps, ready for conversion £75
- Pitlamp 2-tone. 172 flood + 440 max spot, though not both at once, to convert Old mining lamps. £60
- Rebuilt mining lamps, ready for conversion £40
- Additionally, conversion kits for diving torches at £24 and £28.
Earthworm are made in the UK, mostly here in Devon. Components all rated to 4 metres, but whole units so far only tested to 1 metre for ½ an hour. Currently they are out of stock, but will be available from their own outlet Devon Adventure, where as of April 2023, Simon their boss says “The Earthworm 4 is currently undergoing final testing and will be available in the summer.” Or from through Bernies. They will have 3 offerings until Summer:
- Earthworm 3 Solo £225. Up to 900 lumens from a single LED and a single 18650 sized 2600mAh sealed battery pack.
- Earthworm 3 Dual. Cool light 5700ºk £325 or warm light 3000ºk £300. Up to a combined 1200 lumens from 2 LEDs: Spot & flood and from a triple 18650 sealed pack with 7800mAh, giving nearly 29 Watt hours.
- Earthworm 3 Multi £299, discounted from £350. Meant for photography or video, it has 6 diffused LEDs. Max 1800 lumens for max 2 minutes (gets too hot?) Otherwise up to 1200 lumens with the same 3 cell 29 Watt hour pack as above. Helmet mountable.
- Spare 3 cell battery pack £100. Single cell pack £40. USB charger £8.50.
Made by ElSpeleo in Rijeka in Croatia. They only seem to be selling their Lunatic model at the moment, in diving format with aluminium 3 x 18650 battery case (supply your own batteries) €400 (Possibly plus VAT, duty & £20 processing fee when you import it.)
OnRope1 have all the US stock. Again, expect to pay VAT + duty and processing fee.
- Out of Stock- El Grinta: up to 1700 lumens on a wide beam single LED. Requires 2 x 18650 batteries $280
- Lunatic 2500: 1200 lumen flood and 1200 lumen LED spot. Battery case AND 10500mAh battery pack AND charger. Submersible to 150 metres. $500
- Rescue SAR 2800: Full flood 1600 lumen. Tight spot 900 lumen: Throws over 600m. Camp light (3rd flood LED), up to 300 lumen. Waterproof to -100m for a short period. -50m for extended durations. Requires 2 x 18650 batteries $450
These are actually more like high quality, mass market head torches on elasticated straps, rather than helmet lamps, though the ones mentioned here all have aluminium lamp bodies. They have a single high capacity 21700 5000mAh Li-ion battery giving 18.5 Watt hours- nearly half way between lamps with 1 or 2 x 18650s. Available from Fenix and many other suppliers.
- Fenix HP30R v2.0 Rechargeable Headlamp. 2000 lumen beam + 2 x 500 lumen floods, giving a total max 3000 lumens! Rear 21700 battery pack for balance. £229.95 from Fenix
- Fenix HP25R V2.0 1600 lumen headlamp. 1600 beam, 400 flood, 5 lumen red light. Rear 21700 battery pack for balance. £135 from Fenix. £110.40 from Starless River.
- Fenix HM70R Headlamp. 1600 beam, 400 flood, 5 lumen red light. Built in 21700 battery compartment in main lamp housing w waterproof charging socket. Waterproof to 2 metres for 4 hours. £115 from Fenix. £99 from Starless River.
LED Cap Lamps
LED Cap Lamps are very reasonably priced powerful lamps…..
But I can’t currently connect to their website!
- Dragon 5. Lightweight lamp housing. 1800 lumens max on boost. 2 x 18650 battery pack & charger + GoPro mounting. £158 inc p&p. Temporarily unavailable late 2022.
- Scorpion X. Alloy box lamp housing. 1800 lumens max. 2 x 18650 battery pack & charger + GoPro mounting. £130 inc p&p.
- Scorpion TGX. Toughened version of the Scorpion X with toughened glass, permanently attached battery cable and toughened power pack. GoPro mounting and charger as above. £205 inc p&p.
- Scorpion X 12 is being redeveloped.
One of the favourites in the club is the Rude Nora! Made by Little Monkey. They make:
- Filthy Edna: single 1000 lumen LED & single 18650 3500mAh battery pack. £199 + £9.50 postage.
- Rude Nora: 1000 lumen flood and 800 lumen spot. 1200 lumens max combined. Waterproof to 5 metres. Battery case including interchangeable twin 18650 battery pack nearly 26 Watt hours, and including charger. £369 + £9.50 postage.
- Spare battery pack £55
The popular pre 2018 Petzl Duo lamps have been replaced by 3 new Duo models. These are usually on headbands, though there are helmet models specifically for some of their own helmets… Waterproof to 1 metre and the lower power one running on AA batteries. They have features like dimming when you point them at each other, so as to not cause glare for fellow cavers… But only if they are also using Duos! Automatically varying the light according to conditions (reactive lighting mode) and responding to hand waves to change brightness. All available widely. Derek Bristol was ambivalent in a Youtube review.
- Duo Z2: Max 430 lumens on mixed spot & flood.
BUT powered by 4 x AA/LR06 Alkaline batteries (Included? But non rechargeable?) giving a maximum 17 Watt hours, a bit more than a single 18650! Though it will last a while because of the low output. You can use rechargeable AAs, which will give you 12 Watt hours. Prices range from about £135 to £230.
- Duo S: Max 1100 lumens on mixed spot & flood.
Powered by their R2 battery pack, with 2 sealed 18650 3200mAh batteries in series giving 7.4 volts and overall capacity of 23.68 Watt hours. This is a sealed unit, with a spare pack costing around £90. Prices from £275 to £420.
- Duo RL Max 2800 lumens on mixed spot & flood on reactive lighting mode only, i.e. if it is so dark, it has to ramp up all the way (and probably not for long.) E.g. in a very large cavern. It has a metal lamp body. Also using the R2 battery pack. Price £482 to £749
Very well made to order in Greece. 2 models. Both 1000 + 1000 flood & spot.
Waterproof to 250 metres!
- Phaethon: Both LEDs work together & has an 18º spot €405 ex VAT + €15 shipping.
- Phaethon Duo: The 2 LEDs work independently and has a 4º spot €420 ex VAT + €15 shipping
- Both include two Panasonic 18650 NCR-B 3400mAh Li-ion Batteries.
- Also produce a 7300 lumen diving torch. Price on application.
Both plus €15 post + VAT & duty + import transaction fees of usually £20.
- Basic 700. 360 spot + 360 flood. 4 x 18650 battery pack in a plastic case £400
- Speleo 700. As above + 2 x 18650 battery pack in an alloy battery case £393
- Speleo 700. As above + 4 x 18650 battery pack in an alloy battery case £438
- Speleo 900. 360 spot + 700 flood. 4 batteries in alloy case £535
- Speleo 1500. 800 spot + 800 flood. 4 batteries in alloy case £669
- Dive Scurion. 800 + 800. 4 batteries in tough alloy case both rated to -150 metres! £771
- Spare 2 cell pack £55, 4 cell £84, Dive 4 cell £95. Chargers £52.
Preferably carry 2 spare LED light sources with good batteries. An elasticated head torch is useful if your helmet lamp fails. Alternatively, an 18650 pen torch tie-wrapped to the side of your helmet. Plus a decent hand torch, especially a powerful one, which is good for seeing around large caverns. Cheap torches from eBay/Amazon will probably get you through to start with, though some have proved unreliable.
Head torches consisting of a headband plus a clip in single transverse 18650 case with the lamp facing at right-angles to shine forwards are useful as both a backup head torch or a hand torch. Could be used as a first head torch before you commit to getting a proper caving torch, so long as you also have backups for this.
For good photography, you will want a high CRI (Colour Rendering Index.) This means it illuminates the whole spectrum of colours evenly. This will come at around a warm colour temperature of 4000ºK. This is a measure of the blueness or ‘cold’ light around 6000ºK and above, neutral or daylight of around 5000ºK or ‘warm’ orangeness, like sunset light or filament lamps which is from 4000ºK or less.
(The degrees ºK Kelvin is the actual temperature of a glowing object that emits that shade of light. Paradoxically, the hotter the object, the bluer the light, but we call bluer light cold (because it is associated with cold weather?) A filament lamp is about 2500 degrees Kelvin. Kelvin is the temperature measured from absolute zero i.e. minus 273 degrees Celsius or Centigrade, so a filament lamp’s actual filament temperature is about 2500 – 273 = 2227 degrees C.)
- N.B. EDC stands for Every Day Carry, i.e. general torches, though some are very powerful and or with many output options.
- A Tactical torch is powerful, focused and simple, as used by police etc. Usually metal bodied, with harsh, high efficiency, high colour temperature ‘bluish’, and low CRI LEDs. It has a press ON button at the back, so you are never fumbling around the barrel for the switch in an emergency. Good for police work, bad for photography!
The most powerful torch I have seen used by a member is the Emisar D18. It has many different LED purchase options including a very good 95% CRI LED at 4000ºK for photography and around 10,000 lumens, depending on LED choice and batteries. It is only available from the manufacturers Intl-Outdoor.com at $109 including shipping from China, taking around 4 weeks. (Expect to pay VAT + £20 fee for importing unless they are UK VAT registered.) It is reviewed at 1Lumen.com and mentioned in the 28 Days Later article. It is best run with 3 x Samsung 30Q batteries- £22 for 3 or £24 for 6 on eBay.
The longest limestone quarry caverns in the Milwr Tunnel complex near Mold, N Wales (Probably the largest caverns in the UK) are ¼ mile or 400 metres long. You’re probably not ever going to need more than 10,000 genuine lumens underground in the UK… Ever!
Get a proper caving suit. They are very tough, and slippery enough to wriggle over rocks and through narrow openings. A cotton mix boiler suit for about £50 might do you for a while, but they absorb water and get heavy in the wet. Preferably you want manmade fibres that resist water and abrasion. They will not all be watertight though and you will want a suitable undersuit to prevent chafing and to give you insulation.
Warmbac cordura suits have been the main choice for most cavers for a long time and available through most suppliers. However, I have heard and read complaints of them getting stiff and shrinking with age and use- maybe that’s from washing them too hot. Other cordura suits may suffer the same problems if it is due to the material. Available suits are listed alphabetically:
- Alp Design from around £140. From Inglesport, StarlessRiver and Up and Under.
- AV Aventure Vertical are available via Starless River for £120 and £140
- Beaver Caving Oversuit £79 to £80 rrp. Widely available via a list of their suppliers.
Also see for undersuits.
- Bernies do their own caving oversuit for £65 (Out of stock November 2022.)
They also sell a Warmbac suit for £106.
- Landjoff in Bulgaria make cordura suits in 500 denier in 4 colours and 1000 denier in orange. Only available direct. 230.00BGN or a bit over £100 inc VAT plus 8 day postage comes to under £120.
They also make kneepads and bags.
- Meander Available from StarlessRiver for £117
- MTDE Warrior (Matériel Technique de Spéléologie.) French. Available via StarlessRiver for £140
- Steinberg , Italian, only seem to be available via Oliunid who were not shipping to the UK as of late 2022.
- Warmback: Various models are supplied by Bernies, Inglesport, Starless River and Up and Under.
You will also want an under-suit for serious work. You can get away with track-suit bottoms and Tee-shirt etc, but a proper undersuit will not separate or have rucks in the wrong places when you are wriggling through a tight passage. They are usually fleeces, made of manmade fibres to wick away moisture, not soak up water, but provide an insulating layer of water in the wet, or air if you are dry. See the usual suppliers and caving suit manufacturers above.
You do not need to be cave diving or swimming to want a wetsuit underground, it is still a handy thing to have around for some planned trips. Some mines and caves have water up to your chest- and it’s cold! Ordinary or caving clothing will protect you to a degree by holding a layer of water close to you, so you do not suffer the full chilling effects straight away. However, few people will be able to withstand this for long and you don’t want to start getting hypothermia underground. If you know you are going into these conditions, wear a wetsuit. Do not wear one as a matter of course instead of an undersuit, as it will restrict your movement.
Incidentally, if you are wearing wellingtons, a heavy caving suit, helmet with lamp, and especially a harness with full SRT gear, you are probably not going to float… Do not attempt to swim unless you know you can float!
Worn by many cavers under their helmet to be warmer, more comfortable and take sweat away. Some cavers wear a Balaclava. Optional and can be bought from main caving suppliers
Knee & elbow pads
A proper caving suit will give you a lot of protection for your knees and elbows, but pads will save you discomfort if you are doing much crawling. They come in all different sorts from sponge & cloth pads to kevlar as used by military. Velcro or clip fastenings are far easier to get on than elasticated. A range can be found from the main suppliers and some are available on Amazon or eBay.
Again with a lot of crawling and scrambling, you will thank yourself for protecting your hands. Flexible gloves, rubberised on the palm side, can be got cheaply in many ordinary, gardening or diy stores or from caving suppliers.
This is for attaching safety ropes to you and to have a way to haul you out if you get stuck. A stout webbing belt with a very secure buckle is recommended. Can be got at caving suppliers or outdoor stores. If you are wearing a harness, you obviously don’t need one, but if not, wear a belt in case. A belt is only for temporary or emergency use. Never try to use one instead of a harness.
Rubber wellingtons (Not slippery plastic!) Good stout standard ones with a good, deep, tough tread on the sole. They are not to keep the water out- you will often go more than welly deep and fill them- they are to protect your feet and ankles and give you good grip on both slippery mud and sharp rocks. You don’t want to ruin leather boots by soaking them and especially by dragging your toes over sharp rocks while crawling… And if they have cleats for laces, they are a snag hazard on rope ladders!
Neoprene or diving socks
Cotton or woollen socks are not very comfy once they are wet and you lose any cushioning effect between your delicate feet and toes and tough unyielding wellies. Get diving or neoprene foam socks that continue to cushion you once they are wet.
2 Builder’s buckets
These are the large flexible buckets used by builders, about 50cm across at the top. One for all your clean kit before the event and the second to put your feet in while you are changing into your gear in wet weather. The first sits inside the 2nd. When you change back, you can stand in the 2nd and keep the mess out of your car and dump all your dirty gear into it, then stack the 1st on top of it. Often under a tenner each from any decent DIY store.
Caving Bag & Sealable Drum
A caving bag is a very tough cylindrical/duffle type bag. Often with rucksack straps and with a draw rope that can also be clipped to your harness/belt with a carabiner, so you can tow it behind you through tight squeezes etc. Some are waterproof, most are not, so use a sealable drum inside as well. Use it to carry food, drink, spare torches and batteries and other spare kit.
If you want to go down and back up vertical walls and shafts, you will want SRT (Single Rope Technique) equipment.
N.B. A climbing harness is NOT suitable! The attachment point is too high up, which will make it difficult and tiresome for you to climb. Climbing harnesses are designed for climbers for if they fall while climbing the rock itself. The high attachment is to prevent the climber ending up upside down if they fall and then falling out of their harness. They climb rock for sport, not rope. We climb and descend ropes to get to the next bit of cave or mine.
A caving SRT harness is of very tough construction to withstand being dragged through grit and over sharp rocks when crawling. It is also acid resistant for being soaked in sometimes acidic water. It especially has a low attachment point to allow a good distance between your chest ascender, attached to the harness and your hand ascender which now has a good range to work with between your extended arm and when your chest ascender slides up to it as you climb. You can easily distinguish an SRT harness by the 2 front loops which are held together by your D ring maillon. It will also be specifically named as a ‘Caving’ or ‘SRT’ harness- just don’t get it if it not specifically named as such. Harnesses range from around £50 to over £300. Following the principle of ‘Walk before you run’ we will list the cheaper ones. Petzl are available at most suppliers.
- Aventure Verticale AV Tecnibat £69 from Starless River . According to them: “The most technical and supportive of the AV range.”
- Alp Design Avalon £82 from Inglesport or £81 from Starless River. Well padded and easily adjusted.
- Alp Design Compact full harness £80 from Inglesport. Lightweight with built in chest harness and therefore convenient and good value.
- Alp Design Federa full harness £80 From Inglesport. Well padded with built in chest harness. Again, convenient and good value.
- MTDE Amazonia £71 from Starless River. According to them: “Middleweight, comfortable and very effective sit harness.”
- MTDE Club £49.50 from Starless River. Light & simple, but does the job.
- Petzl Aven £108.00 at Bernies or £110.40 at Inglesport. Well padded for long term comfort
- Petzl Fractio Caving Harness £74 from Amazon (nope- no commission…) has double waist straps for extra support for larger cavers, though the connection point is higher than usual.
- Petzl super avanti harness from £68 just about anywhere. Lightweight. Does the job.
- Singing Rock Digger Light £50.00 at Bernies. Lightweight. Does the job. Out of stock November 2022.
D Ring or D Maillon
Holds the two sides of your harness together and has your equipment attached to it. Your life hangs on it!
Available just about anywhere, though you will usually buy it from your harness supplier. Make sure it is the type intended for a caving harness.
To hold your chest ascender close to you while climbing and help you stay vertical. Only when you are vertical can you use the power of your climbing leg or legs most efficiently.
Some harnesses, such as the Alp Design Compact or Alp Design Federa have an integral chest harness. Otherwise, you will often buy your chest harness along with your SRT harness at the same supplier. The main choices are between lightweight simplicity, which tends to pull your shoulders down as you tighten it, or more complex, trying to be more comfortable and relieving your shoulders, but more expensive. Ask club members how they get on with theirs.
Also known as a Croll by Petzl, as a prussic or as a chest jammer as it jams the rope into it when you put weight onto it. It is attached to the D Ring. Holds you while you slide your hand ascender up and slides up the rope to the hand ascender as you climb.
Experienced members usually recommend the Petzl Croll, though other offerings, with the proper safety markings, are likely to be just as good.
- CT Produce their Chest Ascender Plus £43 from Inglesport or £45 from Starless River and
- Chest Ascender HC £48 from Starless River. HC stands for Hard Coat anodising for extra wear resistance.
- Edelrid Wind Up Chest Ascender at £51.30 comes from Inglesport.
- Up and Under sell the Konk CamClean for £39
- Petzl Croll S / Small for 8 to 11mm ropes is probably best for extended exploring when you have your own rope and are saving on weight.
- Petzl Croll L / Large for 8 to 13mm ropes. From £45 just about anywhere. This is the best bet of the 2, especially if using someone elses pre-installed ropes of unknown size.
- Do NOT get the Petzl Basic ascender, or other make’s Simple versions. They are not designed to fit on a D ring.
Hand Ascender – Safety Cord – Foot Loop
Your hand ascender (prussic or hand jammer) is attached by a Safety Cord to your D ring, in case your chest ascender fails or becomes detached.
It is also attached to your Foot Loop, which is what you use to climb with by using your leg power, rather than pulling yourself up by the hand ascender, though you still have to hang on to this. As above, experienced members usually recommend Petzl, though there are perfectly good examples from other manufacturers.
- Camp Turbo £72 from Starless River is a bit smaller than the Petzl
- CT produce their Quick’Up Plus at £45.50 from Inglesport. Do NOT get their Quick Roll.
- Edelrid Elevator £56.40 from Inglesport.
- Edelrid Hand Cruiser £52.25 from Inglesport is lightweight.
- Heightec Pulsar Ascender £43.20 from Up and Under is another alternative.
- The Petzl Ascension can be found nearly anywhere from around £47
(We advise against getting a foot ascender or pantin. It just makes things more complicated.)
Your safety cord and foot loop can be tied from climbing rope- get an experienced member to do this for you- or can be supplied ready tied or in webbing versions by the usual suppliers. Again, get an experienced member to adjust the lengths of these for you.
Attached to your D Ring. A short and a long cord with snap karabiners on the ends to clip onto safety points or lines while you are traversing or not climbing or descending.
Again, these can be tied from caving rope, though they are also available through any caving suppliers, who sometimes supply webbing versions. As above, get an experienced member to tie or adjust their lengths for you.
Incidentally, if you are clipping to a safety line, make sure the two karabiners are clipped on the opposite way to each other, so that if you slip and twist them, they will not both come off.
We recommend the Petzl Simple or the Petzl Stop. FULL STOP! Your life hangs on it!
Do NOT get a Rack: “Too easy for a newcomer to make mistakes!” as an experienced member said. The ‘Simple’ and ‘Stop’ (known as bobbins in the U. S.) were invented to get over this. Also do not use climbing or abseiling descenders. The Petzl caving designs were created for just that: Dirty, dark, grimy, gritty, wet caves! Buy them at any caving supplier.
The Simple from £55 has no release lever: you control your descent with your right hand only. You lock your rope off around the top of the descender for safety before you descend and when stopping for re-belays and diversions. You will be taught how to do this.
The Petzl Stop has a stop lever: If you don’t hold the lever, you stop. With the old type, you had to hold the lever IN to descend, but you still control your descent by your right hand on the rope and you still lock off by looping the rope around the descender. Some old stock of the older model may still be available if you prefer it. Otherwise, get a Simple or the new model Stop.
Some people have accidentally held in the lever when they wanted to stop and found themselves suddenly descending, so Petzl redesigned their Stop lever, so that you have to pull it OUT to descend. If you let go or squeeze it, you stop. You still control with your right hand and still lock off when stationary. From £110
Karabiners and Maillons
To hold it all together. A Karabiner or ‘krab’ for short is an open, oval loop of metal with a hinged piece to close it. It is usually locked in place by a screwed tube that connects the non hinged end to the rest of the loop. If it is not lockable, it is called a ‘snap-link’. A Maillon has no hinged piece and the loop is closed by a long internally threaded, usually hexagonal tube. This makes for a much stronger loop, but takes longer to open or secure again.
- As well as your D Maillon,
- You will need an Oval Maillon to attach your safety line and your foot loop to your hand ascender.
- You need an Oval Locking Karabiner to attach your descender to your D ring. You are advised to have a second oval locking karabiner called a ‘braking karabiner’ for your descending rope to go through, to prevent it slipping through the descender too quickly.
- You can use Snap Link Karabiners for the ends of your cow’s tails, though some prefer locking karabiners for this
How these all go together
Is excellently illustrated in Reading University Caving Club’s Guide To Single Rope Technique.
Make sure everything comes from a reputable manufacturer or has the proper CE safety markings. Cavers will usually recommend that you avoid used equipment unless you know who had it before and how much and how it has been used. Remember: Your life could depend on it. Buy Good and buy New. In fact, as for any specialised equipment, talk to other cavers about what you should get and where to get it from.