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Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 24, 2011 6:12 pm
by Buford
When watching snow skiers, bicyclists, scuba divers, parachuters, and other adventurers on TV, I am struck by their really keen suits. They fit close to the body, don’t wrinkle, don’t flap and dangle, and are aerodynamic and hydrodynamic. See, for example:

Cavers, OTOH, wear baggy clothing that is not at all athletic. For instance, in warm Florida, I usually go caving in cottons, which become soggy with sweat and subsequently floppy. I am currently pushing some fairly tight joint-controlled passages that tug and grab (and tear) loose clothing, and am dreaming of elastic, rip-stop duds that will allow me to slip through the cracked rock like a fish.

In TAG, I wear polypro underwear protected by cotton shorts and knee/elbow pads. Those protective devices rotate on the body, however, which causes pads to stop protecting my knees and elbows, and pads and shorts to snag on rock projections. I have a cordura caving suit, but it is even baggier, not to mention too hot to wear in Florida.

Why don’t cavers have form-fitting clothing? Why don’t we wear outfits that are streamlined and allow us to move through tight passages with a minimum of hindrance? I have a Lycra one-piece suit that is not rip-stop, and I would use it but am afraid it will snag and tear in the passages I am pushing.

Such material does exist. For example, “stretch rapid-dry wickable nylon lycra (r) ripstop fabric (52-in 3.1 oz/sq yd)” is used in some athletic clothing ( Could material such as this be used in caving suits? I admit I don’t look like an athlete in tights, but it wouldn’t be any sillier than wearing cotton (or nylon) shorts over polypro undies along with heavy boots.

What do cave clothing/gear manufacturers reading this think of the idea?

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 24, 2011 9:22 pm
by Chads93GT
My friends and I do wear streamlined form fitting clothing for caving. All synthetic and NO cotton. First rule of outdoors. Cotton kills. I'd never wear it even In a dry cave not only for the reasons you stated but for the fact that it sucks out your body heat and in a bad situation where you become immobilized. Hello hypothermia.

I wear only synthetics and as far as shirts to they are skin tight to avoid snagging. Leggings have to be somewhat baggy to allow moving unless its river caving then it's wetsuit only. Pads and cordura shorts. Never seen a need for a cave suit yet but then again I have yet to do a wet multidrop cave In tag where water spray will cause hypothermia.

Cave suits have their use. I just haven't needed one yet. I find them too restrictive from watching others.

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 24, 2011 10:30 pm
by Buford
Florida's caves are 72dF - no hypothermia threat here. So, exactly what "streamlined form-fitting clothing" are you wearing? How do you keep the pads from rolling around round arms and legs, or keep them from catching on grabby rock?

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 24, 2011 10:37 pm
by Chads93GT
Hate to tell you this but 72 degrees is enough to kill you when immobilized or incapacitated. It's 26.6 degrees colder than your core and exposure at that temp can do you in. Will it take longer than 57* caves? Sure. But if there is one thing I have learned this year, anything can happen underground.

I wear synthetic compression shirts by underarmour in warmer caves where I won't be submerged in water.

As for knee pads not staying put, I rarely have to adjust them. They don't move that much. Only in sticky mud where the suction is a problem.

If I was in a 72 degree cave I would be wearing a compression t shirt on top only and synthetic pants. I'e No cotton.

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 25, 2011 10:12 am
by Buford
Chad, I hear you re cotton (in fact, I knew all that several decades ago LOL), and I don’t disagree with your statements in general, but come down here to Florida and crawl a mile in our caves and you’ll see that cotton tee shirts are not all that dangerous in local dry caves. Missouri mileage may well vary, and of course, cotton tees in wet caves are totally out of the question.

Ok, getting back on topic…

Mud will cake-up on caving clothing that does not stretch. Jeans, pads, and boots emerge from Florida caves with a quarter-inch layer of black organic mud. Clothing that stretches, however, sheds mud cakes. Cotton tee shirts and nylon socks shed mud cakes as soon as they start to stick because of their inherent stretchiness. It occurs to me that rip-stop cloth is not an answer because it is not stretchy. Indeed, I have a shirt of rip-stop cotton/polyester that I quit using for caving because mud caked on it and it was too hot.

A nylon thread dragged across a rough limerock surface will snag, but if you weave nylon threads extremely tightly, they will glide across the rock. That is why pit rope doesn’t catch on limestone surfaces. I have a form-fitting nylon shirt and some nylon-lycra bicycling britches, and both would snag and tear unacceptably in Florida caves because they are loosely woven, not to mention thin and flimsy. I see no reason why stretchy material cannot be woven tightly. It would lose some of its stretchiness as the thread count increases, but perhaps the curves would cross within an acceptable range of toughness and stretchability?

Ultimately, I envision a composite material that has a (a) very thin, very stretchy material adjacent to the skin, (b) polypro insulation outside that, (c) Gore-Tex next, and (d) the above-discussed tough, stretchy material on the outside. It could be a one-piece suit or two pieces that overlap like wetsuits. Legs could be continuous to the toes like a comfort suit. Stretchy Velcro would do the fastening instead of rigid zippers (which are also vulnerable to mud-jamming). Admittedly, the fully loaded version would cost an arm and a leg, but lesser increments could be available and cost much less; for example, cavers in the Tropics and Subtropics might not need Gore-Tex or an insulating layer. Similarly constructed, loaded ski suits can run to $800, whereas stripped versions are only $220 and used suits even less. Other accessories could be added to the suits, such as padding, pockets, P-thru valves, etc.

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 25, 2011 10:20 am
by Chads93GT
I get very hOt. Very easy. If I have too many layers on. That's one main reason I've never considered buying a cave suit as well. If I was in a cave that was 72 Degrees and I had a suit on. I would literally overheat and that would be bad. I always figured suits were more for cold caves where retaining body heat is a must. I understand what it is you are looking for but Compression layers work for my body due to how easily I build up heat and since they are form fitting but they do snag. They do rip and they do tear but that's fine. I don't need a cave suit that can glide over razor blades hehe

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 25, 2011 4:38 pm
by NZcaver
I've worn fitting under-armor style tops or polypropylene as an outer layer in warm caves, as well as a base layer under my suit in cooler caves. Despite the popular mantra cotton does not generally kill in warmer caves, and is in fact standard practice among cavers in places like southern Arizona and Hawaii. Army surplus clothing is popular in both places, as are denim jeans. Having something more form-fitting is definitely a benefit in crawly lava tubes, and synthetic seems to be the best material for that. Much of this has already been discussed in topics like Cave wear for hot caves

Have you seen "Chilliheads stretch cordura leggings?" They've been mentioned on the forum in the Caving pants topic, but the link to the actual product is now dead. GGG and others make caving pants and bibs which are a little more form fitting than regular caving suits. The stuff is out there.

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 25, 2011 10:05 pm
by LukeM
I was going to mention the Chilliheads leggings and also point out that no matter how durable form fitting stretch fabric is it will probably never be as abrasion resistant as 1000 or 500 denier cordura nylon, which is what most cave suits are made of - and they still rip, tear and need patching after a while. Also, in colder climates people like to have an outer layer that sheds spraying and dripping water. Are there any tough, stretchy fabrics that also repel water well? Considerations in Florida are different though. There may be something form fitting that works for your typical caves. I'd be interested to know.

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 26, 2011 5:42 pm
by Buford
The other threads that were recommended here are not appropriate to my request. Again, I am pushing tight, gnarly, grabby, dry, warm passages in subtropical Florida and need form-fitting, stretchy, tough material. Conditions in and clothing for TAG, Montana, Ozarks, cold and water are not appropriate for my situation. I am uninterested in anything knit like polypro or anything thin like bicycling gear. Coveralls, caving suits and trousers, all of which do not fit close to the legs, are inapplicable. Again (he wrote in exasperation!), I need form-fitting (but will accept nearly-so), stretchy, tough material. Such material is indeed available; for example, cordura/lycra weaves, Kevlar/lycra weaves, etc. The recommended Endura MT500 Tights are the closest thing to my needs I have seen a picture of, but they are sold by a UK company that wants US$121 just for the britches.

The closest thing to what I am looking for just might (maybe, possibly, perhaps) be Chiliheads’ stretch cordura leggings, BUT I have never seen them and anyway Chiliheads’ website is kaput. GGG does not have a clothing link on their website. I don’t have the ability or inclination to sew my own. In the past, local tailors have sewn various things for me, but they are usually oriented to making bridal gowns and don’t want to get into the cave clothing bidness. Sierra Outpost carries double stretch cordura britches, but they are loose-fitting and designed for rock climbers. Campmor was said to have travel pants that might work, but they are convertible and baggy.

A google search on “stretch cordura leggings” produces this thread and links to tripod coverings. A google search on “stretch cordura pant” produces links to motorcycle pants that might work great but start at $400. For example, Motoport has pants to pant for: Kevlar/Lycra/Dynatex 4-way stretch that molds to the body in 30 minutes or less, Velcro pocket closures, pockets can be removed, breathes better than jeans and claimed to be more comfortable in hot summer weather than a tee shirt and shorts, can put it on and take it off even while wearing boots, comes in 5 colors: ... evlar_Pant

A search for Kevlar/Lycra/Dynatex material produced no links. A search for cordura and lycra material reveals the cloth can be had for $17/yd, which is quite reasonable. A one-piece jumpsuit might be made for 3 yds of the stuff, I would guess. Since I want it to be close-fitting, however, I’m not sure I can just ask a cave clothing maker like B&C Wunderwear or GGG to make one without being personally measured for a one-off garment. OTOH, if a manufacturer makes clothing for a mass market, the garment should be a standard size that would fit close enough to be cost-effective. Ski and motorcycling clothes are the closest I have found so far.

I’m going back tomorrow to that hideously small, grabby strenuous passage I’ve been pushing, and I’ll be wearing a long-sleeved, long-tailed cotton tee shirt with Levi’s blue jeans. But what I need is “form-fitting (but will accept nearly-so), stretchy, tough material.”

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 26, 2011 7:30 pm
by LukeM
Perhaps until something better is made available you can just wear some cheap synthetic compression clothing from Walmart or the likes and just replace them every so often as they get beat up. It would certainly be way better than a shirt and jeans and could serve as a temporary fix to your problem.

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 26, 2011 8:57 pm
by jlillest

Your only good option may be to make your own suit. All the good cavers that I cave with either make their own from scratch or heavily modify the commercially available suits. You may luck out with finding a commercial suit that matches your dimensions, but just like T-shirts and caps they generally make them with a "one-size fits many" mentality.

The only suit that I had that ever fit me marginally well was a Dales-wear which no US vendor has carried for over 6 years.

I got my pattern from the old Artz designs. Mike was the only US caver that I'm familiar with that ever made custom-made suits for original cave exploration.

Good luck,

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 27, 2011 3:50 pm
by NZcaver
Cavemud here on the forum makes custom suits. As I recall, GGG also does custom suits to order and I think most other manufacturers will too.

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 27, 2011 5:41 pm
by boogercaver71
I wear softball pants as an outer layer. They are cheap (12-14 bucks), stretchy, and hold up fine in muddy, chilly, wet MO caves. When I anticipate being in water for extended periods, I wear a cold base layer underneath. They dry fast (80% nylon, 20% lycra), and was up well. You also might consider kayak dry pants with the wide waste band , but cost about 100 bucks.

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 28, 2011 1:12 am
by ian mckenzie
In The Canadian Caver #66, Dan Green talks about his innovative oversuit design that directly addresses Buford's opening post, i.e. the need for "athletic" cavewear that moves with, not against, the caver. Dan uses prototype materials and incorporates design features that give a snug fit without restricting movement. I have a Green suit; the best i've ever owned (and I've had a few...).

Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

PostPosted: Dec 28, 2011 1:13 am
by Adventurer
I live in the Annapolis Valley,Nova Scotia, Canada,and scooting around the basalt talus slopes for the caves hidden i get hot also.Ive purchased a pair of durable nylon snowboarding pants( ... n~p~14771/ )from a thrift shop,and have been searching for a jacket of similar outer shell material.Reinforced knees and bum,you can strip them of the fleecy liner,and they are snug enough to stay close but loose enough not to cause intense sweating in warmer places.Also,they dry fast,causing mud and dirt to fall off fast.I plan on taking padding and inserting it into the knees as well,under the reinforced layer,and sew it in ,other people Ive seen do this claim it works like a charm.When i get a jacket,the same for the elbows.
Another option is to check your local Army/Navy used goods/thrift/supply store,chances are they have something you are looking for-i envy the goodies my friends south of Canada can get for cheap.