Every once in a while new cavers ask me what vertical gear they should purchase.

This list is for beginners and is basic gear setup which will make their life easier, however experienced cavers also use the same gear.

 

General

 

Central carabiner or Maillon

 

D or Triangle shaped screw link or carabiner. The expectation is that, unlike general carabiners, central carabiners can be weighted in every direction.

For beginners I would recommend steel maillons because of its durability. With some caution however an aluminum maillon can work just as well. 

Although it is the most expensive, the Petzl Omni is a great solution for both the experienced and beginner vertical caver.

Harness

 

When choosing a caving harness the most important aspect is durability and the low central carabiner attachment; compared to these aspects comfort is secondary. Keep in mind that you might get off better if your harness is small and good to crawl in, than a big harness which is comfortable to sit in. You will move during a rappel anyway.

Chest Harness

 

Chest harness should be lightweight and easily adjustable.

The picture shown is a commercially available chest harness, however these can also be made at home using a piece of webbing. It's not a safety device so handmade solutions are welcome. Like the harness I also recommend a lightweight solution. The most important part is that you should be able to fasten/unfasten with one move, without any further adjustments.

Cow's tail

 

The cheapest and easiest way to go is to buy 3m (~10 feet) dynamic, single (>10mm) rope, and tie it for yourself.

- Dynamic ropes are better because they are more durable, and can handle more high fall ratio falls than static ropes.

- Simple "8 knot" can be used however I recommend the use of the "9 knot".

Don't forget to use a rubber band (section from bicycle inner tube) on the loop to keep the carabiners always oriented.

Commercially available solutions are equally good.

Carabiner in long cow's tail

 

Locking (screw gate), asymmetric, big carabiner.  I recommend locking carabiner, but it's not a necessity. For general use it's not required to lock this carabiner.

Carabiner in short cow's tail

 

Small, non-locking, bended gate carabiner. You will clip and unclip this carabiner all the time. Don't make your life miserable by buying a locking carabiner. In this case a "key lock" type gate can be really helpful.

Ascend

 

Chest ascender

 

All chest ascenders are basically the same. I don't want to mention too many brand names here, but in the case of chest ascenders it's important to note that ABC and CT (Climbing Technology) chest ascenders are painful to use, especially in hard situations. I recommend Petzl or Kong products.

Hand ascender

 

Can be handled or non handled. You should buy left handed! This is probably the most important part of this list: buy a left handed ascender! For an explanation see this post. Regarding non handled ascenders sometimes only right sided versions are available. If you are persistent on non handled buy a chest ascender and use that in place of the hand ascender (those are the left sided, non handled versions). 

Foot loop

 

The best foot loop is the simplest. It can be as simple as using only a prusic rope, or simply a piece of webbing. For me the best one is a loop of webbing to step on and a prusic attached to the loop. With this solution I can benefit from the fact that I have a spare prusic in my foot loop and still have the comfort of stepping on webbing.

 

The foot loop should be attached to the hand ascender with a small carabiner (for me the "Kong Mini D" is the only working solution).

Foot ascender

 

It's not an absolute necessity but a great device. It will help you stay oriented and will pull the rope out from the chest ascender.

There are locking and non-locking solutions out there, however I would suggest using the non-locking ones. It may take some time to learn how to not kick the rope off all the time, but with a little practice you can get the device off and on rope without touching the device. This will  make your rope work faster and more comfortable.

If you decide to buy one of these, buy right footed. If you follow my instructions you will use your left foot in the foot loop with the left handed hand ascender.

Descend

 

Descender

 

If you are thinking about serious technical caving use a STOP type descender. As I will show later on, there are many technical tricks that you can only do with a STOP type descender.

There are other self-braking descenders out there, however these work very poorly in muddy caving situations.

Rappel racks are great, but they aren't for technical work. Although people are likely to forget, it is still important to use a safety backup (shunt, prusik) for non self-braking devices such as racks. With this said, I'll let you decide if the smooth descent that a rack can provide is worth it or not.

Accessories

 

Additional carabiners

 

Your gear should have at least two oval, screw locking carabiners. One for attaching the descender to the central carabiner, and a spare one for "you will need it" situations. When I say "you will need it" I mean it. This spare carabiner will be used! Maybe only to hang your caving pack, but you also might need to do a rescue where it can be extremely important.

You should also have a non locking, aluminium brake carabiner. With use this carabiner will lose a lot of its original strength and therefore it should never be used as a safety device again.

Prusik

 

Always have at least one (ideally you should have two) prusik rope with you. This is usually a 5-6mm diameter rope, about half the diameter of the main rope. In America when using 11-11.5 mm diameter main ropes even 7mm prusiks can be used. It's cheap and you can use for hanging your caving bag, or as a belt in the meantime. But it's a great thing to have if you need a backup safety or when your ascender fails. 

Wrench

 

After a big group travels through a cave, the bolts get loose. Everybody in the caving party should therefore be able to re screw them. Most of the bolts open with a 13 or 17 wrench. You can hang the wrench on the additional oval carabiner. I also attach a small (2mm) kevlar string to it so that I won't drop it. In emergencies the kevlar string can be used to cut rope as well.

Pulley

 

A pulley can be extremely helpful on a dig or rescue. Of course this  isn't an item everybody must have, but at least one or two should be around in a caving group.

Sky hook

 

For technical caving and rigging this was one of my best purchases. This item is only needed for technical cavers and I would discourage beginners to get one of these. I only mention it here to give an idea what to think as a next thing to have, when you start to do rigging in caves.