Form-fitting Caving Suits

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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby Buford » Dec 28, 2011 10:06 am

Yesterday, I ‘finished’ the plan-view survey of Catfish Cave (need to return for more x-sections and bio-collections). I had to hammer silicified limestone off narrow joint-controlled walls as we progressed in order to get through the passage. It is the hardest passage to negotiate in the Archer Caves region and maybe the hardest in all of Florida’s dry caves. It is harder than Warrens Cave’s Cashew Squeeze used to be. It is harder than Brooksville Ridge Cave. It is harder than Breath of the Rock. The walls have fingers that grab at clothing and body joints. At one point, wall fingers snagged 3 or 4 places on my tee shirt alone, plus several places on my britches, plus… It takes 15 – 20 minutes to move ahead 40 ft in one place. This is why I want 21st Century caving material. I imagined myself slithering thru that passage, hands out in front of me holding a light, hammer and surveying gear, propelled by the tips of my boots and gliding over the rock. Oh, la! Yeah, yeah, I know…

Such a suit would have to be extremely tough, form-fitting, padded in a streamlined manner, and the padding must protect my bod from the rock while simultaneously not retaining body heat. Don’t anyone tell me such padding cannot be had. You can get anything in America! (At least that’s what my Bosnian ex said). If we can get Kevlar/Lycra and Cordura/Lycra hybrid materials, surely such padding must exist. An open-cell foam for instance, would breathe as it flexed.

Ian, you post some very useful info on Cave Chat, and I appreciate it. For instance, your missive on another thread about how to disassemble Suunto clinometers is almost perfect. I intend to get together this summer with my uncle, a master mechanic, to figure out how to find the hidden slots and go fer ‘em. Then I’ll probably be able to find another Cave Chat thread on how to fix the eyepiece so that it won’t leak dirt and water, and I’ll fix that. Here, the ref to Dan Green and his advanced cave suit sounds really neat. I found a “dan green” on another Cave Chat thread and have emailed him via that link, so maybe something will come of it. Thanks!
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby MUD » Dec 28, 2011 12:24 pm

:waving: Hello Buford!

We make ALL types of custom cave/outdoor gear. PM sent! :grin:

:cavingrocks:
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby Buford » Dec 28, 2011 1:54 pm

Cavemud - thanks for the PM, but...

Your Cave Chat msg to me cannot be read (or I can't find the appropriate button to press, sigh), I don't know who you are so I can't look up your email address to send you a 'real' email, and your email address isn't listed on this forum.

My email address is in the MM. Thanks!
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby self-deleted_user » Dec 28, 2011 3:25 pm

I think you are looking for Spandura. It's 4-way stretch cordura, basically combines the properties of cordura (toughness) with the properties of lycra (think swimsuit wear how for fitting and stretchy that is). You can get it for about $15-$18/yrd from places such as Seattle Fabrics. Im sure other places carry it too. Its not gonna be as tough as plain cordura, but it will get your your stretch. Plan on 4 yards to make a suit (really need about 3 usually, but cutting it tight especially depending on your size). I made my first suit using a modified adult one-piece costume pattern. Basically...no tail and kitty ears hahaha. You can get patterns at any fabric store. Modify it put in elbow and kneepads as you like, double the fabric on the bum area, put a velcro'd fly over the entire length of the zipper to keep mud out of it perhaps. (those were mods I did, I also did an internal belt to hold it up as it got heavy with mud so the crotch woudl stay up in place, but dunno if you'd need that with Spandura). Hope that helps some. =) I would potentially worry about open cell foam as it is my understanding it gets heavy if in water, and breaks down easier, and open cell foam is not gonna be dense and super-padding. It is very weak. I'd stick with closed cell, honestly. Think of open cell foam as walking on bubble wrap that pops under your feet and doesn't give much padding but closed cell as walking on a bunch of balls in a ball pit, they won't pop and they provide cushion even with your full weight.
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby NZcaver » Dec 28, 2011 5:15 pm

Buford wrote:Cavemud - thanks for the PM, but...

Your Cave Chat msg to me cannot be read (or I can't find the appropriate button to press, sigh), I don't know who you are so I can't look up your email address to send you a 'real' email, and your email address isn't listed on this forum.

FYI - to read your PM's, scroll up to the top of this page and look under the NSS logo. Below "board index" you will see in brackets "X new messages" (where X is the number of unread messages in your inbox). Click on this and go to your message inbox. There you should see your mail patiently waiting for you. Click on the title of a message and all will be revealed.
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby MUD » Dec 28, 2011 6:40 pm

:clap: Yea, what NZ said!

I sent ya an email! The website isn't up yet or I'd just send ya there. :big grin:
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby Buford » Dec 28, 2011 7:04 pm

Actually, NZ, I did that, but there's nothing in the email! I swear it!!!
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby Dan Green » Dec 30, 2011 12:02 pm

I did build custom suits for a while and Ian points a lot of cavers my way, but am now out of it until I can sort out some pattern updates and outsource the production. This would probably be a long way off, but there are some one piece suit opportunities with my work (I do R&D in outdoor and military softgoods equipment) where I could get a lot of parallel work done on the pattern front. One piece suits in air force, law enforcement, chemical suits, and workwear could easily be improved with pattern re-envisioning and textile choices that Rockies cavers like Ian have been enjoying for a few years.

I agree that form-fitting suits would be ideal, but the reality of textile development is that we still require stretch to come from spandex woven into thin nylon fabrics that can get badly snagged and ripped in sharp passages. This is less of a problem in form-fitting thicker wetsuits, but overheating then becomes the problem. An equally thick nylon stretch woven that shields as much spandex as possible could be durable, but the problem is weight and water absorption (nylon is hydrophilic and absorbs a lot of water molecularly, causing stretch, some weakening, and added weight; by comparison polyester absorbs nearly zero water but is far less durable than nylon). Spandura was the first commercially available stretch woven, but there are far better options we use in military apparel from a US source- if anybody is interested I can find out if they want to sell off some small yardage.

I've found a good balance between high quality static nylon weaves and innovative patterning to keep my suits far trimmer but far more mobile than other suits. By far the best durable static synthetic has been high tenacity (HT) 630 denier nylon in maximum yarn construction with a thin PU coating, though it is nearly impossible to source now due to most HT yarns being gobbled up by China's booming automobile airbag industry (630d has always been an airbag fabric). Invista (from Duponts textile division) is bringing Asian production online to address HT yarn supply, so you'll be stuck with poorly constructed 500d and 1000d air textured fabrics for some time (these 'fuzzy' fabrics used to be known as Cordura, though Cordura has been badly marketed to cover ALL Invista's HT nylon yarns for about a decade).

There are some newer tough polymers getting out there these days too, but nothing yet has replaced the affordability and scale and tough properties of HT nylon textiles. I still see ideal design being scaleable- the one-off designs with miracle fabrics are great but ultimately dead-ends. I've seen early versions of hydrophobic nylon, which if ever commercialized would be a step forward. I have a good relationship with Gore's military and commercial development divisions- they are doing interesting stuff and have the capability to make awesome fabrics. It's possible that some new barrier developments coupled with tough face fabrics could make good cave suit fabric, but I'd have to get this into an industrial product in larger scale to make it available. Would you guys pay $1000 every few years for a cold/wet conditions cave suit that outperforms the sweaty/cold, non-athletic stuff available today?
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby Buford » Dec 30, 2011 2:16 pm

Dan - You are so far over my head that it will take me some time to research what you wrote in order to understand it all. For example, what the heck is a pattern update? My imagination concludes it is how one modifies a pattern to reflect the particular characteristics of a new and more desirable material (or an aging bod), but I’m just guessing. The mention of “static weaves and innovative patterning” is, however, far more understandable in the context of the informative first sentence of the third paragraph. Thanks for that.

And you discuss spandex whereas all other sources quote lycra. Perhaps they are the same thing under diff names? I’ll go look that up in my Funk and Wagnalls. Regardless, your concern about the hydrophilic-ness of nylon does not concern me in my dry caves. A lot of the world’s caves are dry, and I can attest that polypro weighs heavily when it's wet too. Furthermore, I might indeed be interested in obtaining the (unnamed) referenced military material options.

The situation in re HT is interesting, but obviously disappointing and not a real choice for me. OTOH, it does give me another reason to be disgruntled over China, for whatever that’s worth LOL.

In re to one-off suits being dead ends, being a former cave diver, I can point to a couple of notes of interest there. First, one-off wetsuits are common. A diver gets his body measured in the neighborhood dive shop and the suit arrives a few weeks later. It is slightly more expensive than a standard size and costs a few hundred dollars. Every scuba/cave diver must have a wetsuit, so the market is not exactly dead-end unless I misinterpret your meaning. Secondly, scuba/cave divers pay a thou or more for dry suits. That’s expensive, but if you’ve ever done a scuba dive that took 2+ hrs of bottom time plus 5+ hrs of deco, you know that dry suits are well worth the investment. Not all cave divers have them, but all of the leading cave divers do. Subaerial caves in FL and elsewhere are often quite tight - hence the term "pushing" - so advanced form-fitting suits would make caving easier and less damaging to our bodies and caves, and thus would be worth a reasonable premium. OTOH, I am retired and living on a limited budget, and don’t have a thou to drop on a dream suit, thus am looking at materials in conjunction with Sungura’s recommendations (although I do like ears and tails! LOL).

Everybody - I remember when carbide lamps were de rigueur, goldline was the best caving rope available, and every caver knew how to properly negotiate a cable ladder. We dumped those technologies as soon as better ones were available – after all, cavers love to push envelopes - but we are not doing that with caving suits and I believe the only reason is that no manufacturer is making advanced suits available. Make no mistake about my intention: I am aiming at nothing less than a revolution in caving suits. The standard baggy cordura and PVC caving suits, garden-variety polypro and shorts combo, and jeans and tee shirt ensembles are all obsolete considering the advanced suits made of space-age materials worn by athletes. You mark my words – streamlined, form-fitting, tough and stretchy caving suits will come and they will be adopted by serious cavers as soon as a visionary manufacturer starts making them.
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby ian mckenzie » Dec 30, 2011 3:06 pm

Buford wrote: what the heck is a pattern update?

Dan discusses two things - materials, and design. He goes to great lengths discussing materials, but what has always impressed me with his suits is the design, where seams are moved away from wear points, and built-in articulation allows for a relatively snug fit without restricting movement. I thought that he had it figured out, but if he's still looking at 'pattern updates' then I guess he's not satisfied yet. I think his materials discussion is most relevant to alpine caving, whereas his design features are important to all cavers.

Buford wrote:In re to one-off suits being dead ends ... the market is not exactly dead-end unless I misinterpret your meaning. .

I think he means that one-offs are impractical for manufacturers, as opposed to standardized sizings.

Buford wrote:We dumped those technologies as soon as better ones were available – after all, cavers love to push envelopes - but we are not doing that with caving suits and I believe the only reason is that no manufacturer is making advanced suits available. Make no mistake about my intention: I am aiming at nothing less than a revolution in caving suits. The standard baggy cordura and PVC caving suits, garden-variety polypro and shorts combo, and jeans and tee shirt ensembles are all obsolete considering the advanced suits made of space-age materials worn by athletes. You mark my words – streamlined, form-fitting, tough and stretchy caving suits will come and they will be adopted by serious cavers as soon as a visionary manufacturer starts making them.

You almost sound like Dan there...

$1000 for a suit sounds like alot, but that's about the cost of a plane ticket for just one expedition.
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby Scott McCrea » Dec 30, 2011 4:15 pm

Buford wrote:You mark my words – streamlined, form-fitting, tough and stretchy caving suits will come and they will be adopted by serious cavers as soon as a visionary manufacturer starts making them.

Ugh. The thought of some cavers in form-fitting coveralls is going to give me nightmares. :yikes: :rofl: :tonguecheek:
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby LukeM » Dec 30, 2011 4:38 pm

Scott McCrea wrote:
Buford wrote:You mark my words – streamlined, form-fitting, tough and stretchy caving suits will come and they will be adopted by serious cavers as soon as a visionary manufacturer starts making them.

Ugh. The thought of some cavers in form-fitting coveralls is going to give me nightmares. :yikes: :rofl: :tonguecheek:


Forget that, it's the chaffing I'm dwelling on. Let's just hope that if this ever gets made certain areas are gusseted generously.
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby shibumi » Dec 30, 2011 5:12 pm

Putting on my cave suit manufacturer hat here.

I have experimented with lots of different types of materials to make cave clothes out of and it boils down to cost vs durability.

I know a lot of people complain about the cost of a cave suit but at a wholesale cost I am not making a whole lot of money on them. That's the downside of having a product made in the US, the cost of materials and labor is higher than when you can pay someone a dollar an hour. There aren't many fabric mills left in the US, so materials costs are higher.

Then throw in the fact that not everyone is the same size and shape. Nor are their expectations the same.

Stretchy materials simply do not hold up to abrasive environments as well as tight weave materials in abrasive environments. I have performed some extensive testing and materials that have the ability to stretch enough to allow for freedom of movement do not last nearly as long, and when someone drops a hundred or two hundred bucks on something they want it to last a long time.

I have custom made cave clothes for people including shorts, jackets, bibs, etc. I have the option of making our standard cave suits out of a heavy cotton duck which is nicer for warmer environments because it breaths. I have put stretch material in the crotch and the pits, I have sewn stretch material panels inside the suits...

And in spite of the fact that I own a company that makes cave suits and can make anything I want, the only time I wear one is when I am going to be moving slow in a wet environment since I normally cave hot and I cave fast. Or if I am leading a novice group and want to be able to wear my regular clothes underneath so I can just take the coveralls off when I am done. If I'm going to be immersed in water then I am wearing a thin wetsuit with something over it to protect the wetsuit. Otherwise, 90% of the caving I do I am wearing cotton, a t-shirt and jeans, and I cave a lot (couple of times a week on average). If it's a cooler or wetter cave, I might add a layer of polypro under. In hotter caves like Lech I wear cheap tights because you're not often in highly abrasive environments. I've caved in 40 of the 50 states and in several countries and in 15,000 hours underground most of which wearing cotton, it hasn't killed me yet. If I am going into a wet environment wearing my normal attire, I have a dry polypro top and bottom and balaclava available waterproof containers in my pack along with heat sources.

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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby Buford » Dec 30, 2011 6:08 pm

Scott – Unlike you, in a streamlined caving suit, I too wouldn’t look as good as Bode Miller in his Olympic ski suit. I agree there are people who shouldn’t wear tights, and maybe I’m one of them, but just wait until you are my age, young fella. Nonetheless, I want one, and I promise to hide behind something when the photographers point their cameras at me. Fair enough? :roll:

Luke – how about a codpiece, or were you talking about Anna Nicole’s ‘flowers?’ :rofl:

Shibumi – I hear you, and you certainly know more about this than I do, but I’m also hearing from others that materials do exist that might come close to what I want. However, I can’t let pass your writ on your clothing preferences. People differ in temperature preferences and temperature restrictions, in their tolerances to wetness, and in their sensitivities to various other elements of caving. In trips to FL’s Catacombs, for instance, where you get wet to your neck at the entrance and then are in and out of water for the rest of the trip, I require a wetsuit whereas other cavers do fine in polypro. Similarly, fat cave divers have great buoyancy control whereas skinny folks have to work quite hard at it. Some cavers insist on using knee- and elbow-pads, whereas others are happy to go without padding. So what works for your body might not work for Jack or Jill. As for the cost, yeah, some cavers are poor, and I’m one of them, but you ought to see what some cavers are willing to spend. You can’t even get into cave diving, for instance, unless you are willing to spend $10k upfront, plus another $200 per dive, yet there are lots of cave divers. :yikes:

Plus, folks, we haven’t even started to talk about kits. What if manufacturers provided kits consisting of pre-cut materials and instructions (at a fair profit), and we sewed them up in our spare time? They wouldn’t even have to provide materials pre-cut to actual size – just supply standard sizes and the buyer measures himself and then cuts the materials more precisely according to the instructions. High labor costs? Hey, I work for less than a buck an hour, and sometimes just for beer! :popcorn:

Some of what I’ve read makes me seriously consider cutting down my cordura caving suit to match my body. However, it is so hot that I would also have to go without clothing underneath. BUT, my cordura suit is so scratchy against my skin that it would need to be lined with lycra. How hard is lycra to apply by myself at home? I bet it doesn’t just iron on.
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Re: Form-fitting Caving Suits

Postby shibumi » Dec 30, 2011 6:25 pm

Buford wrote: However, I can’t let pass your writ on your clothing preferences. People differ in temperature preferences and temperature restrictions, in their tolerances to wetness, and in their sensitivities to various other elements of caving.


That is my point and why I have a problem with blanket statements like "cotton kills."

In Jewel Cave in South Dakota I was in a 47f environment in a 40 mph wind at a constriction in the Miseries trying to take a picture of the constriction for the rescue preplan and spent about 20 minutes there because the wind was blowing so hard through it that the camera could not focus properly and I could not open my eyes enough to manually focus it. I was wearing a long sleeve shirt and jeans and was fine. Rene was in three layers and a balaclava out of the wind and was very cold.
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