In most cases, protective clothing and gear isn’t enough to go caving. You should also have a sturdy cave pack that contains everything else you might need during your time in the cave – food, water, first aid, extra batteries, extra lights and some other not so obvious stuff. Let’s have a look.
Essentials of a Cave Pack
The pack itself
Your cave pack should be robust and simple. No tangling zippers and no outside pockets – they get stuck on the cave walls, hinder your movement and might damage the cave walls.
Extra light sources
You should never enter a cave without at least one extra light source, preferably two. You might never need them but let’s imagine a hypothetical situation: you went caving alone (which you shouldn’t do anyway), you are deep into the cave when you discover a beautiful rock formation on your right. Marveling at it and not watching where you’re going, you accidentally bump your head into the ceiling – you hear a loud crack, your headlamp breaks and you drop the flashlight you were holding into a deep crevice nearby. Total blackness everywhere. You feel around in your pack and trust me, you’ll be glad to pull out that third extra lamp or light.
The situations where you lose one or more light sources are rare but they can happen. Being sure that everyone in the cave has enough light sources to provide for themselves or others in the case of bad luck makes all the difference in the world.
Same with batteries – you should always bring extra for each light source. Batteries can fail, even the new ones, and if they do, it’s usually at the wrong time.
You should always bring some food into the cave, even if your trip is not supposed to last longer than a few hours. Physical exertion can cause hunger very quickly, and you will also need food in the unfortunate instance of sustaining an injury where you or someone else in the group might have to stay put and wait for help. It’s best to bring more food than you think you’ll need.
Best caving foods include high energy bars, trail mix, Snickers, etc. – everything that is hard and light, not too salty, and has many calories in it. Expect your bananas, apples and other soft food get crushed. If you insist on bringing soft foods, put them in a strong sturdy lunch box.
Spelunking is hard work. It gets you tired and dehydrated. Always bring water into the cave. Assume 16 ounces (0.5 liters) of water for every 2-3 hours, more is better. Avoid sweet drinks, use water or near-water equivalent.
First aid kit
Your first aid kit doesn’t have to be large and you can bring just one or two for the whole group but it should at least include the essential aid supplies for bleeding, concussions and shock – gauze rolls/pads, bandages, cold packs, and a space blanket.
Map and/or navigation markers
(If you have an experienced caver in your group who is very familiar with the cave you can ignore this section)
Bring an interior map (survey) of the cave. You can usually get a map by contacting your local caving club (grotto) – cave maps are usually not uploaded to the internet, especially if you’re in the US. If you don’t have access to a cave map, bring markers to help you navigate, such as reflective tape that you can put on the walls (remember to remove it later when exiting the cave) or a long roll of string that doesn’t break easily, such as thick nylon.
Again, not everyone needs to bring these but one map and/or enough navigation markers for the group are essential.
Other useful items for your caving pack
The items listed above are pretty much essential for your caving pack. Next, we list some things that make your life easier and more comfortable in the cave but are not essential.
Large garbage bag
Most caves are muddy and wet. When you resurface your clothes are going to be dirty – put them in the garbage bag. Which brings us to…
Second set of clothes
See the previous item. When you resurface you are going to be muddy and dirty. You don’t have to keep the second set of clothes in your pack if you have a car nearby – keep the clothes in the car, instead. You might also bring extra clothing to the cave in case you get cold.
For emergency repairs to fix ripped clothing, broken headlamps, etc.
Waterproof matches and candles
While not very efficient, candles can act as a light and heat source in the case of emergency. Keep them in a separate zip-locked bag.
Chemical light stick
If all else fails, chemical light sticks can provide you 10+ hours of dim light. You should not count them as a spare/extra light source.
If you have other ideas for what a cave pack should include that are not listed here, let us know in the comments!