Beginning SRT Gear List

Having spent thousands of hours with various groups involved with ropes and rigging, from mine rescue, fire dept’s, SAR, climbers to cavers, I’ve seen this question and incident play out many times, What gear do I need? I was told I needed this! (From a well meaning team/club member, or a sales person) Imagine your frustration when you discover that the equipment you bought with your hard earned and saved monies, is incorrect, useless or even worse, dangerous the way you have it setup! (It has happened to all of us)

This is a basic list of equipment required for starting vertical caving, and most important some of the “why’s” behind the list. This does not include, or mention, the equipment required for safe horizontal caving (which would be required as well) except for reiterating the requirement for a helmet and lights.

Now, I am not one who likes to reinvent the wheel, or likes to promote short term memory. There have been articles written about your basic SRT equipment, in the BC Caver and The Journal of Subterranean Metaphysics, as well as many books on the subject. However, I am still coming across gear lists that use static cord for cow’s tails (or nothing at all), a figure eight as the descender, or 6-7mm static nylon cord as the foot loop. So here is my beast, enjoy.

I am including references, as this is not just one person’s opinion. In some cases it is just simple physics.

Have a very experienced caver/instructor/facilitator help you when learning SRT.

Basic Gear List

1 – Pair gloves
1 - Sport helmet (climbing, or caving)
3 – Lights (must be headlamps, or helmet mountable)
1 – Caving seat harness (Petzl's Superavanti or, MTDE's Amazonia)
1 – Master attachment point (Petzl's Omni [screw lock or triact])
1 – Chest ascender (Petzl's Croll)
1 – Hand ascender (Petzl's Basic)
1 – Descender (Petzl's Simple, or Stop)
6 – Carabiners (3 locking carabineers [1-Pear or HMS, 2-Oval], and 3 non-locking [notchless])
1 – Pulley
1 – Braking carabineer (steel, non locking preferred)
3m – Dynamic rope (9-11mm)
4m – Dyneema cord (5mm) or a 120cm Dyneema sling
1 - Manufactured chest harness (MTDE's Garma, or Adventure Vertical's Speloshoulder)
1 – Wrench (9/16” for 3/8” bolts)
1m – Prussik cord (6mm)
1 – Knife (folding)
1 – Whistle (non-ball variety)

* You will have some left over odds and ends from the rope, cord and webbing, depending on your height. Save these as they will come in handy a little later in your caving exploits. 

Gloves

Required

  • Garden, rubber or leather gloves, they do not need to be expensive.

Why?

  • Obviously, to protect your hands from the friction of the ropes (heat etc).
  • For long drops or frequent rope work leather palm gloves protect the best.
  • For short drops the garden or rubber gloves you are using for the caving trip will do.

Helmet

Required

  • A sport helmet (climbing, or caving).

Why? (Why a sport helmet vs construction. Not, why a helmet!)

  • Comfortable, practical (ability to mount lights to it, etc), then stylish.
  • Chinstraps – sport helmets are designed to stay on your head during a fall, construction helmets are not.
  • Brims – A helmet with a brim is more likely to get caught in narrow passages, and also restricts your vision.
  • Most sport helmets have a way to fasten your lights to them, thus freeing up your hands for other tasks, like safe movement.

Lights

Required

  • 3 reliable lights, all of which should be helmet mountable.
  • If possible have the batteries interchangeable (all the same size ie. AA).

Why?

  • It’s dark in a real cave!
  • If you only have one and it fails,...  yes even some of the best modern LED headlamps have failed on my cave trips, and yours as well no doubt (2x for the Sten, wrecked 2 Petzl Myo xp’s, Carbide, Scurion, and the Rude Nora etc).
  • Having lights that are helmet mountable puts the light where you look, and frees up your hands for important tasks, like safe movement.

Caving Seat Harness

Required

  • 1 caving seat harness (Petzl’s Superavanti, or MTDE’s Amazonia).
  • 1 master attachment point (Petzl’s Omni).

Why?

  • While a climbing harness can work, they are less than ideal. Their attachment points are too high on the body, equating to inefficient travel on the rope (lower is better).
  • Climbing harnesses can be awkward during some rescue techniques.
  • Climbing harnesses generally contain many loops to get snagged on things, as well as not being very abrasive resistant.
  • Caving harnesses are purposely built for caving, as climbing harnesses are for climbing. 

Foot Loop

Required

  • 4m of Dyneema cord (5mm), this will leave you with a little extra.
  • Or, a 120cm Dyneema climbing sling in a pinch.
  • 1 non-locking carabiner (small).

Why?

  • Dyneema cord has almost zero stretch, which translates into all of your energy being applied to upward movement. Being light and compact it is a perfect fit.
  • Dyneema has a very high abrasion resistance. Kevlar is stiffer (bulkier when storing) and requires a sheath to protect it from abrasion.
  • Nylon is heavier, wears quicker, stretches more, absorbs water, and is bulkier.
  • If using a nylon sling (flat webbing, not tubular), while being easier to adjust, you will find it gives more resistance when performing certain rescue manoeuvres (pickoffs etc). As well, they have a tendency to catch in the Croll more often than thinner cords.
  • Attaching the foot loop to the ascender with a carabineer, enables you to modify your setup for long drops (not the outhouse kind), rescue, or hauling heavy loads etc.
  • Some people prefer using a maillon (smaller, lighter, and sometimes cheaper [should be rated]). Be sure that you can clip a carabineer into it, and is  also easily detachable (needed for some rescue techniques).

Cow’s Tails

Required

  • To make your own you will need a rated single (not half or twin) dynamic rope with a diameter of 9-11mm, with a total length of 3m. Use dynamic rope for cow’s tails, period!
  • 2 carabiners (notchless).

Why?

  • Abrasion, impact forces, nature of material, and strength of equipment all play a role in selecting the appropriate materials for this critical piece of our vertical equipment.
  • Spectra or Kevlar may offer to reduce weight, bulk, add high abrasion resistance, and superior static strength. However with static cow’s tails (if made from Spectra, Kevlar, or static rope) the impact forces created during a fall on you, the anchor, connecting equipment, et cetera, are huge! High impact forces could lead to injury, equipment failure, or even death.
  • Remember it is not how far you fall, but how far you fall on how much rope/cord that matters (fall factor), as well as the rope/cords properties.
  • Dynamic rope is the only choice for cow’s tails.
  • Manufactured cow’s tails are made of webbing, but they are stitched in a way the stitching will “blow out” if certain forces are exceeded, that said they are not to be used as shock/energy absorbers (such as a “Screamer”). Tests conducted found them not to be good

(see http://www.british-caving.org.uk/rope/lanyard_tests_v6.pdf).

  • Most of the world uses straight gate non-locking carabineers, with the understanding that on icy ropes (plus a few other situations) the carabiner could come off the rope.
  • Ice... in Canada? If using locking carabineers when you are new and starting out, make sure they are notchless.
  • Screw gate carabineers can survive the trials of caving better than ball locks (which are auto locking), or the traditional auto-locking. When the locking mechanism is fouled with dirt, mud, ice etc. and you rely on it to lock automatically you are less likely to check on its function.
  • Do not permanently fix a cow’s tail to the hand ascender (by tying etc), as this will limit its use in certain situations (rescue, traverses, etc).

Ascenders

Required

  • 1 hand ascender without a handle (Petzl's Basic).
  • 1 chest ascender (Petzl's Croll). Currently everything else is just a clone.

Why?

  • The Petzl Basic is the cheaper, and lighter of the standard hand ascenders.
  • The Croll sits flat on your chest (less to get caught) and allows for smooth feeding of the rope.

Chest Harness

Required

  • A manufactured Chest Harness (MTDE's Garma or Adventure Vertical's Speloshoulder).

Why?

  • Homemade is cheaper, and usually easier to acquire (D-rings can be hard to find), but is a pain being slower to adjust.
  • Out of the manufactured chest harness’ MTDE’s Garma, or Adventure Vertical's Speloshoulder wins due to the speed of donning, doffing, adjusting and versatility when rigging.


Descender

Required

  • 1 bobbin style descender (Petzl’s Simple, or Stop).
  • 1 braking carabineer (non-locking, steel preferred).
  • 1 locking carabiner (Petzl's Attache, or similar).

Why?

  • It does not have to be removed from your harness to rig or de-rig (compared to the figure eight), a potential of dropping!
  • It does not twist the rope (compared to the figure eight), a nightmare with rebelays.
  • Less likely to be rigged incorrectly (compared to the brake rack).
  • Easier to control for light weight users (compared to the Stop).
  • Smooth operation with a variety of rope diameters (similar to the brake rack).

 

* Please note that the Simple does not contain a self-belay, therefore one may need to be rigged. Use the 6mm cord (included on the list).

Knife

Required

  • 1 folding knife, with a method to carry it readily accessible.

Why?

  • An emergency extrication tool.
  • A regular tool.
  • To fight off all the cave monsters from the movies.

Pulley

Required

  • 1 pulley (Petzl's Fixe or Micro Traxion).
  • 1 oval locking carabiner.

Why?

  • The pulley will assist in self party rescue, ascending long drops, heavy loads, some complex rigging etc.
  • A fixed side plate pulley is very versatile (Petzl’s Fixe).
  • The Micro traxion can also be used as an improvised ascender in times of need.
  • Oval carabineers are a must for fixed side plate pulleys. Other types of carabiners may damage the pulley under relatively low loads.

Wrench

Required

  • 1 short wrench (9/16” for caving in North America).
  • A method of safely attaching it to your harness (carabiner).

Why?

  • Using loose bolts is not safe. Do not leave it for the next person.
  • Length equals weight, so shorter is better.
  • 9/16” will work on 3/8” bolts, which is the most common size bolt used in western Canada, and the USA. 

Whistle

Required

  • 1 whistle (non-ball variety).

Why?

  • Needed to communicate in loud environments.

 

With standardization of the SRT equipment and set-up, new cavers will find it easier to learn and adapt their equipment to the various underground systems they will come across in their caving career.
The list and setup is adaptable and simple, keep it safe. You can constantly revise and hone it to become a very fast and efficient set up, enjoy.

References:

Alpine Caving Techniques: A Complete Guide to Safe and Efficient Caving

Georges Marbach and Bernard Tourte
The reference manual for alpine caving techniques, a must read!

http://www.dmmclimbing.com/video.asp?id=5

A must watch, explains some very important information about material properties and forces

Vertical
Alan Warild
A must read! It is a book of similar status as Alpine Caving Techniques.
Get it free here: http://cavediggers.com/vertical/
Thanks Al!

Tune Your SRT Rig
Alan Warild
Alpine Karst 2006 Volume 2
A good read.