University of Bristol Spelæological Society

Equipment Guide

Getting Started


The only things you really need to start off with are a pair of old boots and some old clothes. Wellingtons are probably the best and are what almost everyone uses, but army boots are an alternative. Walking boots with lace hooks should be avoided as the hooks tend to get caught on the wire ladders we use. Trainers are totally unsuitable, as they offer no protection and minimal grip. Wellies and boots can be bought cheaply from any army surplus store (see end of section).

Clothes can be anything that you don't mind getting wet and muddy - remember that they will get trashed. Several thin layers are better than one thick layer, and a "cagoule" and overtrousers keep you even warmer, but be warned, it is more than likely they will be ripped. Caves are fairly constant in temperature at about 8-10C. A boiler suit on top helps to stop clothes rolling up or down in crawls, and is a very good idea. If you came to University with nothing but your party gear, then try places such as charity shops. We have some old clothes lying around in the tackle store - but not enough for everyone.

Hiring / Borrowing Equipment

The club has some lights, belts, and helmets, which are available for hire at £1.50 a time. A general rule of first come, first served operates, so if you are planning a trip which will need extra lamps, it is advisable to enquire a few days in advance as to whether they will be available. The club also owns two SRT kits for hire at £5 for a weekend. Lights and SRT kits may be obtained from the tackle warden.

Caving Equipment

Caving equipment can be divided into two sets - group equipment i.e. ladders, ropes etc. (which the club provides) and personal equipment (which you provide). This section describes the personal equipment you will need.
The equipment that you need to go caving must fulfil four basic necessities:

Exactly how well your gear has to perform these tasks depends on the type of cave you are visiting.

Time to spend some money....

Sally using SRT kit

Once you have realised that caving is an excellent sport, you will happily blow some of your loan on caving gear. Getting properly equipped means you will be able to go on longer and more interesting trips. The first item people usually buy is either a "furry gear" or a wetsuit. Furry gear consists of a one-piece fibrepile undersuit covered by a waterproof oversuit (think: onesie). After getting wet, the fibrepile drains very quickly and warms you up again in a few minutes. An oversuit prevents heat loss through evaporation. Costs (all taken from the Starless River website) are about £85 for the undersuit, whilst oversuits range in price from around £70. The alternative to furry gear is a wetsuit. These cost about £85-£175 new, though secondhand ones do occasionally become available. If you buy a wetsuit new, then it is best to buy one specifically designed for caving as they are a lot better, erm, suited.

The choice between a wetsuit or furry gear is a difficult one - most members end up owning both! Wetsuits are fine in wet caves; they give you buoyancy and keep you warm, even when submersed. They are, however, rather restricting and can leave you cold when you're not moving. Furry gear is less restricting and warmer - but is not much use when perpetually submerged! By the time you get round to buying this gear, you'll have a fair idea of what to go for, but don't feel shy about asking for advice on the subject.

At about this time, not being able to go on trips because there are no club lights available might start you thinking about buying your own. There are two basic types of light in use. The one you will have used up till now will have been an electric lamp. Two main sorts are available. The "Oldham" miner's lamp can be bought secondhand for about £20, or new for around £70. Good ones last about 16 hours on one charge - the downside is that they are quite large and heavy. The "FX2" has the advantage of being virtually idiotproof and smaller but lasts only about 9-10 hours (cost: about £90 with charger). The club has chargers for lead-acid (Oldham) batteries, kept in the tackle store and also a multi-charger for the "FX2". The alternative to an electric lamp is the carbide lamp. These give off a superb amount of light, but will go out when in contact with water. They are also banned from many caves on Mendip and in South Wales on conservation grounds - they are more suited to Yorkshire or expedition caving. (Carbide lamps burn acetylene gas which is produced by water reacting with calcium carbide).

You will also need a helmet on which to mount your light. The only type of helmet worth considering is a proper caving helmet (cost: from £50 upward).

It is worth remembering that the club puts in an order for new gear about once a year - ordering your gear with this can often mean a fairly large saving. For more details ask our Tackle Warden.

Where to buy caving gear in Bristol

See the Links Page for shops in Bristol and other areas of the UK .

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