What Is Spelunking?
Editiors Note: Spelunking like all activities require that you think about safety when trying something new. We encourage you to explore new activities but please do your research and be safe!
Campmor does not endorse or recommend unsafe activities and is not responsible for any injuries related to activities discussed on this website.
Spelunking (also known as caving) is the recreational exploration of caves. The difficulty level and danger, not unlike hiking or rock climbing, varies widely.
On one end of the spectrum, there are certainly family-friendly caves that can be walked through leisurely, or even on a guided tour, using a paved path. On the other end, there are caves that can require rappelling down tens or even hundreds of feet.
The challenges involved with spelunking, that can arise at any level of difficulty, can often include negotiating steep ascents or descents (know as pitches), tight spaces (known as squeezes) and even the possibility of cave diving. It is important to note though that while cave diving CAN be experienced during a spelunking trip, it is typically considered to be a separate activity that is far more dangerous.
Where People Spelunk
Across the Unites States alone, there are thousands of caves that can be explored.
While there are resources available online that outline guided tours, such as Cavern.com, and closed networks of spelunkers offering insights and experiences such as Caves.org, the best way to find caves to explore, that are suitable for your experience level is to do a Google search for caves in your area, and use guides created by reputable national publications and organizations that have done the research.
That said, if you are looking for a simple list of caves available for spelunking and/or hiking, Wikipedia has a nice offering that is broken down by state.
What Basic Gear Do You Need to go Spelunking?
No matter the difficulty of the cave you plan to explore, or your experience level, there is a list of gear commonly used in spelunking that you should consider:
- Hard Hat / Helmet – This item is the key to your safety when spelunking. Not only are you surrounded by rock and often in tight spaces where you can’t see the rocks jutting out in every direction, but the hard hat/ helmet will protect you from the possibility of a falling rock.
- Light – When you are deep in a cave, you will be engulfed in complete darkness without the use of an artificial light source. A sufficient light source is critical to your safety. A great option to shine light on the path ahead (or the cave surrounding you) is a simple headlamp, which can strap onto your helmet, allowing you to remain hands free, while you explore.
- Shoes with Tread – No matter the type of shoe or boot you wear when spelunking, you will be susceptible to slipping due to slippery and often damp rocks. That said, it is always good to plan ahead and think proactively by wearing shoes that have a good tread on them. in order to reduce your chances for injury.
- Map of Cave (if possible) – If you’d like help navigating the cave you are exploring, a map can be a great way to allow you to explore as you please, with the safety of knowing you can find your way out, should you get lost. This, of course, is totally up to you, depending on how difficult you would like your next cave exploration trip to be.
- Hiking Partner – For any spelunker, even at the more experienced level, it is very important to have a partner with you when spelunking. There are a lot of unknowns that can occur when exploring a cave, including your light source going out, getting stuck in a tight space or losing your sense of direction, It is always better to have a partner with you to help out when needed.
- First Aid Kit – A simple first aid kit is always a great item to pack when spelunking. Because of the nature of many of the rocks within the cave (sharp edges in tight spaces) there is always a possibility of injury. It’s always better to be prepared than to be left without the means to administer first aid.