Introduction to Caving

Caving is a sport where you willingly submit yourself to claustrophobia, darkness, hypothermia, and pure adrenaline. It's great! Check out this introduction to caving to learn what we're all about.

Online Waiver

A waiver needs to be signed to participate in any of our trips, practices, or other activities. It only needs to be signed once a year. MIT certificates are required to access the Docusign link. If you're a minor, don't have MIT certificates, or your religion forbids you from signing electronic waivers, please use the PDF form linked below, contact us at to make alternative arrangements, or get a physical copy at the next club event. Please sign the waiver using your MIT e-mail address and either email the completed form to or print and bring it to the next vert practice!


Gear Checklist

Going on a caving trip and don't know what to bring? Here is a complete list of everything that you'll need. It is categorized by items you can rent from the caving club for $5 (contact the gear manager - - to do this) and items you need to provide yourself. If you would like another resource on what to bring, here is one.

  • Wetsuit
  • Neoprene Booties
  • Gloves
  • Headlamps x2
  • Batteries
  • Helmet
  • eBlanket
  • Knee Pads
  • Elbow Pads
  • Cave Pack
  • Vertical Gear (only for vertical trips-see below)
  • Food/lunch/snacks
  • Inner non-cotton layer
  • Outer protective layer
  • Extra light source
  • Extra batteries
  • Lots of water
  • Complete change of clothes for after the cave
  • Money for gas and food (if car stops on way there/back)
  • Ziplocs for anything you don't want drenched in water

Purchasing Gear

Thinking about buying your own gear? Here are some good places to start.

Vertical Caving

Verical caves are ones in which you have to use ropes and something called rappelling in order to access some or all of the cave. On the other hand, with horizontal caves, you are able to walk, squeeze, and ocassionally climb a bit through.

Rappelling is when you use a rope to either get up or down something that would otherwise be impassable. With rappelling gear like a harness and a rack, you are able to go into caves that you would not be able to safely access otherwise. To rappel, you wear a harness with a rappelling device clipped on that is attacked to a rope anchored to something at the top. By holding the rope that comes through your rappel device and changing the angle at which you hold it, you are able to control how much friction is on the rope, and therefore you can control your speed of descent. Ascending is a little different, as it requires ascending devices attached to your harness that allow you to move them up with either your hands or feet but then grip the rope with lots and lots of friction when you pull down on it. That way, you can go up a rope without sliding all the way back down.

  • Harness: The harness is what is strapped around your waist and what everything else attaches to. A caving harness is different than a climbing harness because you can sit in it for much longer periods of time, and it is made of sturdier material to not get ripped on a rock.
  • Rappel device: A rappel device increases the friction between the harness and the rope so that you can control your descent. There are many different types; the most common one we use in the Caving Club is a rack.
  • Chest ascender: This is used for ascending a rope. It is connected to a strap that goes from the front of your harness to the back and allows you to be able to sit normally in between ascending.
  • Hand ascenders: This is your second ascenders and safety ascender for going up a rope. You alternate between putting weight on the chest ascender and the hand ascender so that at all times you have one ascender that is gripping the rope and one that is sliding up so that you can move further up. You should have a safety attached to a cowtail for changing over and other meneuvers.
  • Cow tail: This is attached to your harness and allows for you to always be able to clip on to an anchor, as it has carabiners on its end(s). They are also used for the hand ascenders and foot strap.
  • Foot strap: This is connected to one of the hand ascenders to allow you to stand up in order to move the chest ascender up the rope.

You always have to make sure you have someone who is comfortable rigging ropes in order to do vertical caves. Proper rigging is crutial, as it would be very unfortunate if you were halway down the rope and the improper knot tied at the top slipped out. Another common hazard when rappelling against a rock face is causing rocks to dislodge and fall down to the people below you. When this happens, you should yell "ROCK" so that people know someone above is falling. If you hear someone yell that, do not look up to see what is falling very quickly at your face. Instead, keep your head down, and if possible, pressed against the rock face.

Here is a list of vertical gear that the caving club has for rent (contact our gear manager,, to inquire about renting gear):

  • Caving harnesses
  • Racks (rappelling device)
  • Figure 8s (rappelling device)
  • Bobbin (rappelling device)
  • Chest ascenders
  • Cow tails
  • Foot straps
  • Hand ascenders
  • Carabiners
  • Webbing
  • Canyoning ropes
  • Caving ropes ranging from 80ft to 280ft

In order to go to a vertical cave, you must pass a vertical checkoff. A vertical tripleader must have you perform each item on this checkoff with no help. It is very hard to help someone changeover or something in a cave because they might be far below or far above, and everyone doing vert caving should be able to do these things by themselves. Vertical certifications must happen when a vertical tripleader is present.

Participants, by themselves and with no instruction, must be able to:

  • Assemble all of their vertical gear correctly
  • Rappel on a rack
  • Ascend with the frog system
  • Changeover from rappelling to ascending
  • Changeover from ascending to rappelling
  • Lock off a rack

If the participant cannot do any of these things without instruction, they do not pass but are free to try again anytime.

In order to be a Caving Club vertical tripleader, you must attend a vertical tripleader training session and be deemed safe by the qualified vertical tripleader running the session. After that, you must either do a vertical ghost lead or run at least your first vertical trip with another vertical tripleader (can be another new vert tripleader). They must demonstrate all necessary vert skills to keep everyone safe in a vertical cave and be able to deal with minor vertical emergencies.

Please contact with any questions or concerns.

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