Spelunking: Things To Know Before You Go

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at www.caves.org or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Spelunking is the act of exploring caves. You walk or crawl around in narrow and uneven spaces, going up and down. Therefore, it is not for everyone. It is a physically demanding thing and a high risk for the unprepared.

Luckily, spelunking is not always dangerous, as long as you play it safe. It is possible to learn the best practices for getting around the underground. Below are a few things you should know before you go spelunking.

The view of some trees outside a large rocky cave entrance.

1 – Don’t go by yourself.

Make sure to have at least two other people with you as it is really dumb for someone to go into an unknown cave alone. If you are alone, while exploring pitch dark caves, you can easily lose track of where you are. Besides, the formations may look different when you try to escape the cave.

If you are looking for an easygoing, educational experience, try going with an experienced person or a guide. When you are in a new territory, especially as a beginner, do not try things without any experience or knowledge, particularly inside a cave. You don’t know the risks and don’t have any idea regarding what may be found inside a cave. Any miscalculation or wrong step can cause life-threatening injuries or death.

Don’t have a guide or an experienced person? Try the buddy system and go with a group. When you are in a group, there are fewer chances that someone gets hurt, and it is easier to get help as well. Someone can stay with the injured person while the other goes to seek help.

2 – Carry a first-aid kit.

With a good first-aid kit, you can respond to minor injuries and emergencies as you wait for help. Minor cuts, scraped, and burns may occur in any outdoor adventure, so keeping a first aid kid somewhere easily accessible is a good habit in general. Furthermore, with the right knowledge and tools, you can prevent excessive blood loss, which can pose a problem while climbing in a vertical cave. You have the equipment to clot the bleeding before medical help becomes available. In addition, it is possible to successfully prevent a severe injury from becoming a chronic one if you have a first-aid kit and know how to use it.

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3 – Do your research

Choose which cave is right for you. Each cave is different and has its own unique properties. Some caves offer history-based tours while others are great for thrilling adventures. Fortunately, a simple online search can reveal the description of the caves that can help you pick the right cave based on your interests.

4 – Know your physical and psychological limits.

For example, if you are claustrophobic, you need to avoid caves with narrow passages. In case you are afraid heights, vertical caves aren’t for you. They are for active, fit climbers only. People who are not physically active should opt for a horizontal caving adventure. Don’t try to opt for the cave that feels threatening. It would be no fun for you if you get into it only to realize you can’t handle it.

In fact, do not go if you are not physically capable. You have to rule out spelunking if you are a senior and physically not fit. Even in the safer, guided tours, the constant dampness of the cave can make the surfaces unsafe. Moreover, in the majority of the caves, you will be walking on hard-packed dirt and it can be physically demanding.

Sunlight illuminates the rocks of a cave in Vietnam.

5 – Take only what is necessary to have on you.

Though there are a lot of things in the caving equipment list, it is good to have as little gear on you as possible. Some caves compel you to crawl, squeeze, or climb through confined spaces. If you have too much gear, it would be immensely tough to enjoy the trip.

6 – Prepare for danger.

Some caves receive a heavy amount of flood. Particularly, in the monsoon season, caves become dangerous. The water can get higher any time and change the spots or block the paths within a few minutes. If you see the water getting higher inside the cave, leave immediately. In case it isn’t possible to leave at once, try to get to the higher ground. The changing of the spot, pound, or any area is definitely a red flag; you should walk to the exit at once.

In addition, you should always watch for falling objects. In caves, objects like rocks can fall; it is very common. Yell ‘Rock’ if you see any object starting to fall. It could save someone’s life. In the same way, warn others about wet and slippery surfaces if you find some.

Never jump in a cave. As mentioned earlier, the surface can be slippery and hurt you and jumping can cause loose rocks to fall as well, potentially endangering people nearby or below. It is important to walk slowly and keep your feet secure. Other than that, don’t try to disturb bats or other people with lights. When bats fly in groups, they create panic and often disturb fragile rock formations.

A family of bats rests on the ceiling inside a cave.

7 – Visit the National Speleological Society (NSS).

Looking for the spelunking groups? The NSS has an extensive database of local clubs and groups. The spelunking clubs and groups are made up of individual members who sponsor trips, offer training, and practice cave conservation with other members. Some groups even have professional scientists and cave owners; their headquarters are affiliated with the American Association for scientific research.

8 – Dress appropriately.

A man in yellow caving gear and helmet holds the rope for his partner.
A Try Caving session in Long Churn Cave, Selside

Most caves maintain the static temperature year-round. The average temperature is usually around 22.5 degrees Celsius. But some caves do indeed get hotter, the lower you go. Bear in mind, it doesn’t matter the cave is warm or cold, long pants and long sleeves are recommended by the experts. They work for both cool and warm temperatures and keep your elbows and knees scrape free.

In addition, always carry a small backpack with water, food, and a first-aid kit. These three things should be included in the caving equipment list, in every type of caving adventure. It is good to have 2-3 sources of light too such as a headlamp, flashlight, and glow sticks. They will come in handy when you are trapped in the dark for hours.

For more information on caving gear necessities, check out this article when you’re finished here.

9 – Advanced tickets are required on some trips.

You have to call the visitor center and ask about the availability of the tickets. Due to the strenuous nature of the tour, some groups/clubs don’t allow children either; they only allow people with a good physical condition.


With all this in mind, we are certain that you will make sure your first or next trip is a success. Leave a comment below on interesting tips you may have heard of, which we didn’t include here!

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