Cavers are a weird bunch of people but we would like everyone to be safe on any of the trips that you may go on. First we will go over what the bare essentials are for caving then we might get a little more fancy about things. Whenever you are caving you should have at the bare minimum the following items. A downloadable check list is also available.
This is also called the brain bucket. Mainly because it keeps your brains together if you attempt to spill them. Now you can pick up any old helmet and use for general horizontal caving but it really comes down to how much your brain is worth. So a quick suggestion is to go and find a good name brand helmet that is UIAA rated. That means it has past some tests and is probably made of quality material. It also probably has a chinstrap and some other funky things. These things aren't cheap so go borrow one for your first couple of trips. The grotto has several!
Hey, it's dark in there! In truth caves are about the darkest thing you will ever encounter. If you run out of light while you're in there you are in real bad shape because you aren't going to crawl out. Some quick rules of thumb for lights are finding one that is helmet mountable either via a clip or via some form of elastic strapping. The helmet mounting thing is good because it keeps your hands free to catch yourself and do other fun things like hold on from slipping. Now your primary light should have ample light output for you to see but it also has to last at least as long as your cave trip. Good rule of thumb there is to only use about 50 percent of your light while in the cave so that you will have around 50 percent to spare if you get lost or something which rarely happens. Now you don't necessarily need a light that will function for 10 hours if you will be in for 5 it just means you should have ample batteries and bulbs to make it last that long. And speaking of light you have to be prepared if you primary goes out in a major catastrophic failure while you're caving. To do this you need another light that will function the same as your primary light. Good rule of thumb here is to have one that uses the same batteries and bulbs so that you don't go wasting away extra storage room with useless parts that you may not use. And after you find room for all of this add another light for good safety measures. This one can be a flashlight or something along those lines but again it should use the same types of batteries as all of the rest.
Food & Stuff
This is probably the most overlooked category when getting ready for a cave trip. You don't need to go and get drastic here but you should do some preplanning of your cave trips. First take a pack that will hold everything you plan on taking. This pack should be fairly rugged since it will be abused somewhat dragging around the cave. It also has to hold everything. Once you got the pack it has to hold some essentials like the extra lights but also some other things. At the minimum you should take in enough personal food and water for 24 hours. People do get hungry and thirsty while doing something strenuous. Make sure the food is cave worthy like granola bars and things like that which you have packed inside zip lock baggies to make them waterproof. Caves are sometimes very wet. After this stuff goes in the pack throw in a garbage bag that is large enough for you to fit in. Amazingly this will come in handy if you for some reason need to sit for awhile because it will trap the hot air around your body assuming you have decided to stick your head out into the fresh air and not die of suffocation. A great thing after this is a couple of candles to use as heat within the trash bag. Amazing amounts of heat if you need it. And finally, bring along some minimal first aid supplies. This is especially important if you have to take medication of some sort. Speaking of medications, if you have to take any form of medication or things like that don't let it stop you from caving but please let someone else on the group know about it and where they can find your medication. You may need them to get it or let someone else know about your problem in an emergency.
This is the area that you will really upset the person that you are riding with if you are not properly prepared. You don't need to go out and purchase any fancy cave suits or anything like that but you do need to preplan some for your cave trips. The clothes you will need in the cave first have to start at the feet. You need boots that provide good ankle protection and that have good traction. They also have to be boots that you don't mind getting completely wet or muddy because this will happen to them. Since your feet go into these boots you need to keep your feet warm and a good solution here is a layer or two of wool socks. Wool is good because when it gets wet it still retains your body heat unlike cotton materials. Once you've protected your feet you need to think about other body parts. The hands are fairly easy and a cheap pair of leather gloves is probably the best bet. The extremities are taken care of now so start working on the core. A big thing to remember here is that these clothes will get extremely dirty. That means no good clothes. It also means you need clothes that can get muddy and wet and will still retain some body heat. Good choice here is some of the fancy synthetic thermal underwear. This stuff can be had real cheap at hunting places like WalMart around hunting season for about $20.00 for the top and bottom together. You'll love the stuff and even if you don't go caving again it's great for keeping you warm in the snowy winter. Now on top of this layer you need some very rugged clothes. For the first couple trips jeans and wool sweaters are probably a good safe bet. Go find those clothes you said you will never wear again and use them or go down to the Goodwill store and look around.
Now you're probably wondering why the person you're riding with may get upset if you haven't prepared correctly, so here goes. You've went caving and you're outside getting ready to leave and you're all muddy and wet. Do you think they want you in their clean shiny vehicle? You bet they don't so have a garbage bag or two for the old clothes and boots and pull out a completely clean set up clothes to change into for the ride home. This is probably the most overlooked aspect of caving for the first timer.
TAKE A CHANGE OF CLOTHES!!
NOW GO CAVING AND HAVE FUN!!