Want to go caving for the first time without spending hundreds of dollars? I did to. Let's see what the best caving gear is for cavers on a budget. This article gives you a great beginner packing list for about $60, $150 and $300.
I've actually done the research and compiled three complete caving kits for anyone who wants to test it out before committing to the 'real package'. Of course you shouldn't overspend before you've actually ever tried it.
First of all, I encourage you to rent or borrow a helmet and headlamp for your very first caving trip. You can rent an entire outfit for as little as $20 a day. Then, if you decide you wish to continue caving, I recommend you spend about $150 on quality gear, as this gets you stuff you'll be able to use for a long time.
The main takeaway for this post is that if you are clear on where to spend your money on, you end up with equipment you would want to keep using - even after getting the good stuff.
I Want to Talk Fundamentals
Before discussing any gear, let's talk fundamentals. I try not to over-explain in this article, but I do want to help you understand what to look for. If you want to go in-depth on any gear, please read any of the articles I link to at the bottom of this page.
All caving gear should comply to the following standards:
- Helmets should be safe, resistant to multiple shocks (no impact absorption), and have no roll-off.
- Any lamps should be waterproof, durable, and reliable. Preferably also rechargeable.
- Protective padding should be waterproof neoprene as much as possible.
- Boots should be all-rubber Wellies (no lining) with a thick and stiff sole.
Note: I haven't included any vertical caving gear, as vertical caving is more complex; the gear is quite expensive; and it's usually for more advanced cavers anyways.
What Will it Cost Me?
If you're smart, your first caving trip only costs you about $20. After that, I recommend to invest $150 - $200 in good quality gear, as this ensures you won't replace it anytime soon.
Rental: I've used the average rental prices per day (US). Most rental companies provide premium gear, such as Ecrin Roc helmets, Petzl DUO headlamps, and so on. This is all very high quality gear you won't be able to buy for under $500. That's why I think renting at first is worth considering.
Please note: Prices are a rough estimate based on average salesprices from multiple stores on December 1st, 2018.
The 3 Best Cheap Caving Helmets
If you do want to buy your own helmet, these are the helmets I recommend on a budget (don't go any cheaper on your helmet, as it protects your head, and that is reason enough I belief).
- Tontron Caving Helmet (link to check the current price on Amazon) - This is your budget option. To my surprise, this helmet is actually quite decent. It has low profile, has a headlamp bracket, ABS hard shell, no roll-off. Its major flaw is the somewhat uncomfortable head padding. Please beware: you'll probably want to replace this helmet within the first year.
- Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet (link to check the current price on Amazon) - This is best value for money if you're on a budget. I think it's very good looking, and it has a headlamp/GoPro mount. The profile is a bit high though.
- Petzl Boreo Climbing Helmet (link to check current price on Amazon) - This is still very good value for money, although it's a bit expensive if you're on a budget. I've decided to go with this one myself. Low profile, lightweight, 4-point chin strap and very comfortable. It's actually quite similar to the Half Dome - I just think it looks better. It also has a lower profile and better headlamp clips.
Budget Caving Starters Kit
You're probably better off by spending the money on renting some gear. Really, you can get a decent outfit for $20 a day, and you won't buy anything of real value anyways. Buying three items or more ensures the quality of the items will be so bad, you'll need (or want) to replace them within 6 months, which is a waste I think.
If you do want to get your own gear right away, I'd recommend limiting it to buying just a headlamp and helmet:
- Tontron Caving Helmet
- Petzl TIKKINA headlamp (link to check current price on Amazon) - 150 Lumens, wide floody beam, waterproof. Not bad for a couple of tenners, and actually decent enough to keep as a spare headlamp, which is why I'd feel confident to buy this as my first headlamp.
For the rest, you'll need to do with what you have already. Old clothes, old shoes, a flashlight, and preferably a rain coat. Be sure to check out my article on caving clothes and equipment, in which I give an overview of what you'll need on your first trip.
Quality Mid-Price Beginners Gear
I'd focus on getting a good helmet and headlamp, and maybe throw in a couple of wellies and knee pads. For this kind of money you could actually get good equipment that you'll be able to use for a long time - if you spend it on the right items.
- Black Diamond Half Dome - I like this helmet because it gives you good bang for your buck. The quality of the shell and suspension are sufficient to be a comfortable and safe helmet for years to come.
- Black Diamond Storm Headlamp (link to check current price on Amazon) - This headlamp provides 350lm and is waterproof for up to 1,5 hours. It has a red and green light setting (which is cute), and enough brightness settings to serve any caver well. Don't belief what you read: anything above 150lm is plenty for caving.
- Tingley 31151 Wellies (link to check current price on Amazon) - Best budget Wellies in my opinion. All-rubber, and they provide good traction, which is the most important factor.
- DeWalt Flooring Knee Pads (link to check price on Amazon) - Getting a pair of good caving knee pads at this price is a bargain in my opinion.
If you're willing to double down on the headlamp, I'd definitely consider switching out the Storm Headlamp for the Zebralight H6000Fw MKIV, which is the real bargain.
My Best Value Caving Starter Kit
For this kind of money, you could actually get a good quality starter kit. This is the kit I've bought and am quite happy with:
- Petzl Boreo Club - It's actually quite similar to the Half Dome - I just think it looks better. It also has a lower profile and it has better headlamp clips.
- Zebralight (link to check the current price on Amazon)
- Baffin Enduro PT Wellies (link to check the current price on Amazon)
- Again, the DeWalt Flooring Knee Pads (they're the best)
- Dickies Basic Poly Blend Coverall (link to check current price on Amazon) - Pretty good basic coverall for cavers. The polyblend ensures it doesn't get too heavy in wet conditions. The zippers are good quality and will outlast the coverall.
- GearLight Tactical flashlights (link to check current price on Amazon) (two-pack) - 2 decent backup lamps for about twenty bucks. Not remarkable, but enough settings, and can run on 18650 rechargeable batteries, which is a plus. They're also waterproof and will do just fine.
More Info on all Equipment
- Helmets: If you want to know the ins and outs of caving helmets I encourage you to read my buyer's guide.
- Headlamps: If you want to know more on headlamps, check out my recommendation here.
- Knee pads: You can find all there is to know about the perfect knee pad here.
- Boots: If you want to get specific about boots, I recommend reading this post.