Caving—also occasionally known as spelunking in the United States and potholing in the United Kingdom—is the recreational pastime of exploring wild (generally non-commercial) cave systems. In contrast, speleology is the scientific study of caves and the cave environment.
The challenges involved in the activity depend on the cave being visited, but often include the negotiation of pitches, squeezes, and water (although actual cave diving is a separate sub-specialty undertaken only by very few cavers). Climbing or crawling is often necessary, and ropes are used extensively for safe negotiation of particularly steep or slippery passages.
Caves have been explored out of necessity (for shelter from the elements or from enemies), out of curiosity or for mystical reasons for thousands of years. However, only in the last century or two has the activity developed into a sophisticated, athletic pastime. In recent decades, caving has changed considerably due to the availability of modern protective wear and equipment. It has recently come to be known as an “extreme sport” by some (though not commonly considered as such by its practitioners, who may dislike the term for its perceived connotation of disregard for safety).
Practice and equipment
The type of clothes worn underground varies according to the environment of the cave being explored, and the local culture. In cold caves, the caver may wear a warm base layer that retains its insulating properties when wet, such as a fleece (“furry”) suit and/or polypropylene underwear, and an oversuit of hard-wearing (e.g.,cordura) and/or waterproof (e.g., PVC) material. Lighter clothing may be worn in warm caves, particularly if the cave is dry, and in tropical caves thin polypropylene clothing is used, to provide some abrasion protection whilst remaining as cool as possible. Wetsuits may be worn if the cave is particularly wet or involves stream passages. On the feet boots are worn – hiking-style boots in drier caves, or rubber boots (such as wellies) often with neoprene socks (“wetsocks”) in wetter caves. Knee-pads (and sometimes elbow-pads) are popular for protecting joints during crawls. Depending on the nature of the cave, gloves are sometimes worn to protect the hands against abrasion and/or cold. In pristine areas and for restoration, clean oversuits and powder-free, non-latex surgical gloves are used to protect the cave itself from contaminants.
Ropes are used for descending or ascending pitches (“Single Rope Technique“) or for protection. Knots commonly used in caving are the figure-of-eight– (or figure-of-nine-) loop, bowline, alpine butterfly, and Italian hitch. Ropes are usually rigged using bolts, slings, and carabiners. In some cases cavers may choose to bring and use a flexible metal ladder.
In addition to the equipment already described, cavers frequently carry packs containing first-aid kits, emergency equipment, and food. Containers for securely transporting urine are also commonly carried. On longer trips, containers for securely transporting feces out of the cave are carried.
During very long trips, it may be necessary to camp in the cave. This necessitates the caver carrying sleeping and cooking equipment.
Reference: Wikipedia Caving