Minimum-Impact Caving Code
Val Hildreth-Werker and Jim C. Werker (Revised March 2016)
These guidelines encourage practices that minimize negative impacts to caves. As more is learned about cave environments, cavers evaluate and redefine caving conduct. Compiled from the experiences and contributions of many cavers, this code describes safety and low-impact caving techniques. Avoid damaging cave resources—aesthetic, cultural, paleontological, geological, hydrological, mineralogical, meteorological, biological, as well as microbial. Move gently and be good stewards. Think safety—take care of yourself and your team. Take care of the caves.
- Each caver wears a helmet with a light attached. Each caver carries water, food, a bottle for urine, and three sources of light with extra batteries (and bulbs if not LED).
- Use freshly washed cave packs, vertical gear, boots, gloves, knee-pads, helmets, and lint-free clothing to avoid transfer of mud, dust, and microbes between cave environments.
- Follow current WNS decon protocols at http://caves.org/WNS/
- Use footwear with nonmarring/nonmarking soles.
- Use soft or padded cave packs. Avoid hard-edged boxes. Choose gear that is smaller, lighter, and more compact.
- Never disturb bats or other cave-dwelling creatures. Watch for insects and avoid crushing them underfoot.
- No smoking or use of tobacco in caves. Smoke and fumes can kill bats, invertebrates, and other cave-dwelling animals.
- Wear gloves. Check gloves for mud, dirt, and holes.
- Know which areas require clean clothes, shoes, and gear. Don’t enter pristine areas with muddy or dusty garments and gear.
- Avoid isolated pools.
- Limit scratching skin and hair. Tens of thousands of skin fragments and debris fall from each human body every hour. Reduce introductions of new matter into cave systems.
- Remove all solid and liquid wastes. Carry an emergency pee bottle and burrito kit. Carry out all urine, feces, spit, vomit, and other waste.
- Avoid dropping crumbs and food particles. Eat over a plastic bag. Carry out crumbs and debris. Don’t eat on the move.
- If you light a candle, catch the wax drips on a suitable base such as heavy foil.
- If carbide is allowed, carry the spent carbide out of the cave in sturdy plastic bottles with threaded lids.
- Stay on established trails. Sit inside the trails. Keep packs and other items within the path. Don’t stray off the most impacted pathways.
- Move carefully and gently through the entire cave—avoid kicking up dust.
- Spot each other on climbs. Safety first—maintain three points of contact.
- Always spot each other in fragile areas. Especially watch heads, backs, hands, feet, and packs.
- In areas of low hanging formations, spot each other, move gently, and remove helmets to improve body control.
- Maintain special care and gentle control of movements when lingering in a fragile area for photography or survey.
- Touch as little as possible. Avoid leaning on walls, ceilings, or speleothems. Don’t sit on formations. Look and avoid trampling floor deposits. When movement requires handholds, look first to avoid delicate features and use small points of contact for balance (knuckles or fingertips) rather than dirty open palms.
- During survey and exploration, establish pathways on durable surfaces to minimize future impacts.
- Take nothing from caves. Removal of natural or historical objects is unethical and illegal unless you have a collection permit for authorized research. (Recently deposited trash usually should be removed—always carry extra plastic bags. Apply common sense and safety precautions. First check with cave managers, archaeologists, biologists, and historians before making decisions about large items or cultural materials.)
- Leave nothing in caves. Never leave your mark on cave walls. No new graffiti. No signatures or drawings. No trash. No waste. Leave no evidence of your visit.
- Point out unsafe or damaging behavior. It’s every caver's responsibility to ensure that cave environments remain as pristine as possible and that every team member is safe and aware of conservation ethics. Cave softly . . . and leave no trace.
Permission granted to share, repost, or reprint: Access these guidelines on Conservation Division pages of the NSS Web site at http://caves.org/committee/conservation/cavingcode