LIGHT: One of the best and most economical sources of light is the carbide lamp, although hard to find today. Bottles of water and of carbide, and a small kit of repair parts are needed to keep one going. A plastic bag or other sealed container is needed for the spent carbide. The other best source of light is a miner's electric lamp, such as those made by Petzl. It is easier to use and it has a brighter, albeit narrower, beam. However, some are expensive. Sturdy, preferably waterproof, flashlights (at least two fresh alkaline C cells) make good secondary light sources. Ideally, one should have three good independent sources of light, any one of which could be used as a primary light source.
HELMET: The hard-hat not only protects your head, but it also carries your lamp, leaving both hands free at all times. (You might want to try taping your flashlight onto the side with duct tape.) Get one that fits properly, as a loose hard-hat is more of a hindrance than a help. The hard-hat should also have a secure chinstrap. Rock climbing, bicycling, or whitewater boating helmets are suitable protection, but do not have a lamp mounting bracket.
FOOT GEAR: Best are high-top lug-sole hiking boots for their ankle support and traction. Sneakers are adequate, but any hard-sole shoe or boot is sure to cause an injury. Note that your shoes will get very muddy. Given the choice between wearing expensive hiking boots or sneakers, wear the sneakers on the first trip. Wear wool socks for warmth.
CLOTHES: Rugged long-sleeve clothing should be worn. Coveralls are nice. Layering is very important - your outer layer will get very dirty and might get ripped up, so don't wear anything good. Wisconsin caves are 45 to 52 F degrees. People have died from hypothermia at warmer temperatures than this. Dress warmly, but don't restrict circulation or movement. Wool and synthetics are best because they insulate even when wet. Also, bring a complete change of clothing, including shoes, for the trip home. Otherwise, you may end up wearing a blanket, if there is one. If you're caving in the summer, don your cave gear after the approach to the cave - most Wisconsin caves are located near the top of a ridge, and it can be a long, hot hike to get there!
TRASH BAG: Mandatory for your muddy clothes. Folded up in your pocket or helmet, it makes a handy emergency exposure suit for inside the cave.
FOOD: Normally we will not eat in the cave. You might want to take in some small bit of food for extra energy or emergencies, such as chewy granola bars or gorp. Sandwiches turn to mush without some protection.
DRINKING WATER: Not needed for short trips, but essential for longer ones. Do not drink water from the cave. It is often polluted with fertilizer, herbicides, animal droppings, etc.
CAVE PACK: Optional for beginner trips. Don't expect things to stay in your pockets. Use an army surplus butt pack on a shoulder strap. Make sure that the pack seals tightly. Also consider that it might get muddy and ripped.
GLOVES: Recommended, but not essential. Some people like leather-palmed work gloves, while others prefer neoprene. If you are planning to bring a camera, wear gloves to keep your hands clean.
KNEE PADS: Not essential, but many people swear by them. The hard rubber gardening variety is cumbersome, while the wrestling type is not bad. They should not be too tight because circulation problems or painful bruising will result. Don't forget that they could get very muddy.
CAMERA: If you have never been caving before, leave your camera behind. Small inexpensive automatic cameras work well enough. Some people rarely take a camera into a cave they have never seen before; and would rather spend their time exploring, not lugging a camera about. If you use a good 35mm SLR, keep it in a waterproof container, such as padded waterproof 50 cal. ammo box. Remember that dirt and grit will ruin a good camera.
What to Bring to Wear After Caving
Clean set of clothes — including underwear.
Wash cloth or towel
Container of water — for washing up with.
This is the most important thing that is forgotten by many first-time cavers. BRING AN EXTRA CHANGE OF CLOTHES! It is a common courtesy not to get water, mud and cave dust in the person's car who drove you to the cave. Would you like that in your vehicle? The easiest way is to wear regular clothes to the cave, change into your cave clothes at the site and then back into your clean clothes for the ride home.