Caves have a very interesting climate. They tend to be cold, wet, muddy and extremely humid. The latter is very important in terms of your choice of clothing as you’re likely to sweat a lot yet your sweat will not evaporate due the high level of humidity within the cave so cotton is a bad choice for upper body layers of clothing as it tends to withdraw the heat from your body when it’s wet which will make you feel cold. Synthetic and woollen materials are usually preferred. You can also buy specialist nylon cave suits which are purpose made for cave exploration if you’re serious about caving.
Safety Comfort and Climate
An old pair of jeans is fine for caving. They are sturdy and durable and, as you’re likely to get them snagged on rocks occasionally, they offer you more protection against cuts and scrapes and are less easily ripped. For more serious cavers, you can buy a set of coveralls which you might prefer to jeans and upper body layers or which can be used in combination as outer layer clothing.
Gloves, whilst not mandatory, are highly recommended as the mud that your hands will encounter on a trip can dry out quickly leaving your hands chapped. Decent gloves will also reduce the risk from cuts and scrapes on jagged rocks in the cave and will also improve your grip when encountering muddy rocks which you may need to hold on to in order to navigate your way through the cave.
Knee pads are also optional but are useful protection if you plan on having to navigate through narrow passages with limited head room in the cave which requires you to slither through on all fours or on your stomach.
When choosing appropriate footwear, sturdy boots are your only option. Normal waterproof or water resistant hiking boots with good traction will do just fine but you’re definitely going to encounter mud, rocks and water so training shoes or plimsolls and similar footwear simply won’t do.
Two layers of socks are also recommended. A cotton or nylon base layer of socks will make it easier to wring the water out of your socks when you’re on dry land and a thicker woollen pair will provide your feet with an insulation layer.
The great thing about caving is that it is a relatively cheap hobby to pursue. In fact, apart from the clothing, the only item of equipment you’ll need on a basic caving expedition is a hard, protective helmet with a built-in light and that’s about it really, although it’s useful to also carry spare bulbs and batteries for the light.
Any old hard-hat will do as a helmet, but you should try to get one that has a light built into it to leave your hands free whilst you’re exploring. You will never know how much of a burden carrying a torch is when caving unless you’ve experienced it and a light built into your helmet is much safer too as your hands are both free to help you navigate your way through the cave. Obviously, the more serious you become about caving and the more difficult caves you explore, you’re likely to pay more to buy a specialist caving helmet which gives you greater protection and offers you better light penetration.
Any remaining equipment you take, apart from spare items of dry clothing will be determined by the length and type of expedition you’re embarking upon but other items you might wish to consider are a water bottle for drinking and a belt to keep it attached to you, a pack in which to carry spare bulbs and batteries, a first aid kit, some rope for making hand lines across steep slopes and maybe a binbag which can be used to remove rubbish from the cave and which can double up as both a rain suit and an emergency layer of heat retaining clothing in case of an emergency.