Page 1 of 3

Alternatives to a Caving Suit?

PostPosted: Jan 24, 2007 11:05 pm
by Ozymandias
A question from a new caver... What type of apparel alternatives exist to an official caving suit? As someone who's tall and thin (6'4" with a 33" waist), I would have to purchase a "custom made" suit, and I'm not sure my budget supports such an expense yet.

It's very difficult to find something at REI / EMS or Dick's / Sport's Authority that satisfies all the necessary criteria:

1. Rugged
2. Light-weight
3. Waterproof / Moisture Wicking

The default has been jeans, a synthetic athletic Tee, and a fleece hoodie. The jeans seem to hold up pretty well -- I feel insulated, not too wet, and don't get scratched up much. On the other hand, WET jeans weigh 30 pounds and don't dry very easily.

Last trip, my girlfriend bought some cheap nylon workout pants from Target. Waterproof, light-weight... until they ripped right down the back when going through the first squeeze. (Hilarious photos, but I've been threatened with my life to keep them private. :) ) Still, they had potential... maybe ones from REI would hold up?

Of course, a couple times ago... I ran into a college student wearing sandals and shorts (and pads). My first thought was "Spelunker...", but in retrospect -- it's lightweight, he knows he's going to get wet and muddy, why not? It's relatively warm in TAG, and if you need to, you always have that trash bag for a heat tent.

Any other thoughts? I'm kind of at a loss here.

PostPosted: Jan 24, 2007 11:15 pm
by JoeyS
I caved alot in TAG with army BDU's and a T-shirt. Carried a polypro top just in case. I was fine.
Another option for wetter caves is Chilliheads in Signal Mountain, TN. She makes some great leggings that are tough as nails, and will still keep you warm when wet. They are the Cordura type, FYI. They are only 30 bucks and I've got at least 20 trips i n a pair without a single tear. Good stuff :kewl:

It just occurred to me that you can get a custom sized suit for probably the same price as a Meander or Lost Creek suit and less than a Petzl suit by giving you measurements to Cecile of B&C Wunderwear (sorry no link, just google it). I think she charges around 130-140 for a suit and since she makes everyone by hand, they're all custom. I see lots of them, being around Nashville cavers, and I think she could help you out..

PostPosted: Jan 24, 2007 11:39 pm
by fuzzy-hair-man
I generally wear shorts and a polypro(thermal) top under polyester blend overalls / coveralls (or what ever they are called in the US). The polyester overalls are warmer when wet, don't soak up as much water, are tougher, and dry quicker than cotton.

Polyester blend overalls (get overalls with as much polyester and as little cotton as possible) should be available just about anywhere, look for them where mechanics or workmen get thier gear, they should also be available in all sizes.
You may find polyester a bit warm if so reduce the layers you have on below your overalls.

I think the less cotton your wearing the better especially if you are going to get wet. Jeans are cotton generally that's why they are so heavy when wet.
Wool socks are nice too, wool insulates when wet but it will get rather heavy.

PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 1:45 am
by Lava
For semi-wet mid-50sF caving, you can't beat polypro bottoms with some tough synthetic shorts over them, and a synthetic T. And maybe a thin fleece for the colder moments.

PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 7:10 am
by Squirrel Girl
Lava wrote:For semi-wet mid-50sF caving, you can't beat polypro bottoms with some tough synthetic shorts over them, and a synthetic T. And maybe a thin fleece for the colder moments.

Yep. If you're wearing kneepads, the main place you need abrasion resistance is on your butt, unless you do a lot of tight crawling. So tough shorts over polyester (which I prefer to polypro), works well.

Alternatively, Campmor has some nylon travel pants on sale for $20. They're not super rugged, but, for $20.... And they're not gonna soak up the water like denim as you've found out. That model doesn't have the zip off legs (to convert to shorts) which I think is good to avoid the leg zipper.

PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 7:15 am
by driggs
Cave naked!


PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 9:38 am
by Ozymandias
Thanks for the suggestions, all!

The shorts with polypro tights on seems like a good idea... if I could get past laughing at how ridiculous I look. :grin:

I hadn't thought about checking out non-Sports/Outdoors type shops for coveralls, either. Do you think Home Depot or Lowes would have some synthetic coveralls / overalls?

(I wish I could afford one of those cave suits from B&C Wunderwear... I have a few other purchase priorities first: a Swaygo, and a frog system).

PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 9:47 am
by Andy Shoun
I've been caving in Carhart Jeans or
polypro long underwear and nylon shorts.

I use a t-shirt, polypro shirt and light jacket on top; depending on activity level and type of cave.

PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 9:54 am
by Scott McCrea
Ozymandias wrote:I have a few other purchase priorities first: a Swaygo, and a frog system).

Good to see you have your priorities in order. :laughing: :banana:

For coveralls, Wal-mart and K-mart usually carry inexpensive poly/cotton coveralls. I have also seen them many times at Goodwill and other thrift stores for less than $10. I started out with a pair of these. I hand stitched pockets on the knees for pads. They held up fine for a year or so before I got some real caving coveralls.

PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 12:27 pm
by Tim White
Here is a good thread on Caving pants to take a look at.

PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 12:28 pm
by killian
Lightweight nylon paints under jeans and long sleeves. Wool socks and boots that is all you really need in my opinion. unless you are caving in like great x were you could get hypothermia or something, but that is all i ever wear.. :bash:

PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 1:34 pm
by Ralph E. Powers
In Utah I used two different types of coveralls. One was my regular cave suit (which I use now for all TAG caves) made I believe are the ballistic nylon coveralls made by a popular vendor. It's warm and keeps me relatively dry but the age requires it to be re-treated with a water repellant to make it fully servicable again... but for now it works well enough.
My other one is/was a pair of cotton coveralls that were good for the warm drier caves of the state. Here in TAG I'd be looking for the "drier" caves and pits to wear that one. ... if I had it with me.

I honestly cannot see caving without either types. Coveralls not only protect you against the surfaces of the cave but it protects the surfaces of the cave from you. Sure lint and tiny bits of thread are left behind and it's regretable but IMO it's better than tiny bits of skin and blood (from cuts/scrapes).
Besides, out of the cave you take them off and the clothes underneath are relatively clean, a mite stinky from sweat but clean enough to get back in your car/truck for the drive home or to the resturant afterwards.

PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 2:40 pm
by ian mckenzie
Surely, it depends on where you are caving. Are you primarily interested in keeping warm; keeping dry; or keeping clean? Out here here in the Rockies we likely have different priorities in clothing than TAGgers.

Some supply companies rent coveralls to businesses (mechanics, warehouse workers, etc), then sell them off cheaply after they're a year old or so.

PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 2:47 pm
by hunter
It is really dependent on the type/temp/wetness of the caving you do. Some Lech cavers where shorts, t-shirt, and boots because the cave is frigging hot when you are exercising.
Things that I didn't see mentioned:
I think boots are key. I know one or two cavers that use sandals but I've seen some bloody toes which, even if your tough, is bad caving ethics to my way of thinking. It would suck to be in a belly crawl and run across a fresh blood trail...
For warmer caving I use german military surplus tanker coveralls gotten from Sportsmans Guide. I'd provide a link but they don't have them listed right now (the supply varies). These are tough and for the 12$ I paid they last great. I'm 6'1" and the large fits me. I've also used Nomex flight coveralls. They are nice but not as tough as the tanker coveralls. The key downside to all the military coveralls I've found is that they don't handel mud and water as well as the nylon caving ones. Anyway, for really cheap army surplus can work.

I've seen custom made nylon caving pants that last very well. With a pattern this might not be bad to sew...


PostPosted: Jan 25, 2007 2:49 pm
by Squirrel Girl
In a few weeks, Ian can report back on my caving attire!

Especially, my beautifully altered caving suit! Not to mention my nylon shorts and pants. Plus my fantastic wetsuit that will allow me to go where he won't!
:woohoo: :banana: