Boots should be worn, not sneakers. Any sturdy work or hiking boot, six to eight inches high, should suffice, as long as the sole gives good traction on wet and muddy rocks. I myself fancy war-surplus jungle boots — leather on the bottom, canvas on the top. They have steel toes, knobbly soles, holes to let the water out, and they’re cheap as sin. Wear two pair of socks underneath, one of them woolen, and you’re ready to stroll for hours in an underground river, with no more discomfort than the average spinal tap might afford.
You need knee pads, believe me, and work gloves. If you don’t have them, you might as well just take a belt sander, load it with coarse grain paper, and play it gently over your kneecaps and palms.
A hard-hat is essential. It should be non-metallic, to avoid compass interference, and should possess a chin strap and a mount for a carbide lamp. The importance of the hard hat can not be overstressed. Not only does it protect you from falling objects, it protects you from yourself. Once I was strolling briskly along a spaciously high walking passage, casting my gaze right and left at rocks that looked like Indians kissing Abraham Lincoln, when I walked smack into a low overhand. The impact was sufficient to knock me down and put out my lamp. I lay there, brained, in the dark, unable to ascertain whether I was conscious or not. Without the timely mediation of the hat, I would be decoratively sporting that rock shelf even today.
The carbide lamp is a two-chambered affair, with a nozzle and a shiny reflector. Water goes in the upper chamber and chunks of carbide fill the lower one. Water drips onto the carbide through an adjustable valve and the resulting chemical reaction produces acetylene gas, which burns at the nozzle with a brilliant flame. Carbide lamps are more generally serviceable under a wide variety of conditions than are battery-powered headlamps. But carbide can also blow you to hell, so precaution must be taken with its storage and handling, particularly within the water environs of a cave. You need hands-on instruction, not a newspaper article. Don’t use a carbide lamp or carbide until someone has shown you how, in person.
A surplus gas-mask bag completes your ensemble. Trim and elegant, this bag is worn over-the-shoulder and attached around the waist to keep it from swinging. Wearing a backpack of any kind is futile in a belly-crawl situation. Contents of the bag include small tins of food, candy bars, water, spare carbide, lights, and tools. Why take water into a cave? Because cave water can be very polluted. Whatever people put on the ground up above goes into the water below, eventually. And you know what people put on the ground. Sufficient carbide for 24 hours should be carried on any cave trip, in a watertight container (plastic baby bottles with the nipple turned in are excellent for this purpose). Two additional sources of light should be carried, e.g. a flashlight with fresh batteries and a few stubs of candles. Don’t forget the matches, in another watertight container. Tools might include jacknife, compass and can opener, and definitely include spare lamp parts and a lamp cleaner.