General Info
What is the Difference Between Caving and Spelunking?

What is the Difference Between Caving and Spelunking?

We may have been compensated for this post. Please keep in mind that it affects you in no way financially. If an item is being reviewed, we are not obligated to give a positive review and always use our own words. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. If you would like a review done contact Dannelle at

Sharing is caring!

What is the Difference Between Caving and Spelunking? Well, there are thousands of caves on this planet, and while some are yet to be discovered, there are others that are visited daily. People even live in some of them! There are different reasons why people visit caves, either for recreational purposes or for spelunking.

What Do You Call Cave Exploration?

So, what is the difference between the two? Well, caving is a recreational sport that people engage in for hiking or touring purposes, while spelunking is the idea of exploring the underground caverns. Spelunking has become a popular activity over the past few years as people have become fascinated with this amazing feature of nature.

What is the Difference Between Caving and Spelunking?

However, an interesting fact is that many professionals prefer to refer to themselves as cavers while deeming amateurs as spelunkers.


But, seeing they both capture the essence of loving the cave life, the difference is minimal, in my opinion.

What Do You Call Cave Exploration?  

Depending on where you are in the world, cave exploration may be referred to by different names. For instance, in the United States and Canada, the exploration process is known as spelunking, while in other regions like the United Kingdom and Ireland, it is known as potholing.

Being from Wisconsin – potholing has an entirely different meaning, LOL!

All about the kind of potholes we actually drive over – or tray to avoid in paved roadways.

What Does Spelunker Mean and What Do They Do?

A spelunker is a person who engages in spelunking, which is the process of exploring the full dimensions of a cave. Unlike caving, spelunking captures the whole essence of the wildlife existing in a cave setting. Most geologists who focus on caves and their existence can be referred to as spelunkers along with other people who fascinate the idea of learning more about the natural habitat. There are many attributes associated with a cave, and a spelunker takes the time to explore all of these features.

How Do You Go Spelunking?

Spelunking sure does sound like an exciting activity. Still, before you engage in the practice, you ought to ensure you get everything right so the journey and exploration will not only be safe, but successful.

It doesn’t matter if you are a newbie or a veteran caver, there are certain things to bear in mind. When planning to go spelunking:

Never Go Alone

Caves, in general, can be a really tricky place, and the first step to having a successful journey is never embarking on it alone. This is one of the most responsible things you can ever do when it comes to caving or spelunking because you never know what may happen, and you might need some assistance.

There are a ton of movies about disasters that occur from venturing out on your own like the film The Last Descent. It is about November 24, 2009, when a man named John Edward Jones died in the Nutty Putty Cave after being trapped inside for 28 hours.

Never. Go. Alone.

Also let people know where you are going. There is NO cell reception inside a cave – you aren’t going to be calling anyone to come rescue you. You need to have your team aware of where you are going and your time schedule – when to expect you back, as well as people going with you.

Take Multiple Sources of Light With You

When going in caves, bear in mind you might be going underground or in areas where ventilation and lighting are quite poor. It is highly recommended to take at least three sources of light with you as well as take backup energy should the first set fail.

What 3 sources? There are a lot to choose from: handheld electric flashlights, helmet-mounted electric lights, helmet-mounted carbide lights, mini-mags, candles, and even light sticks. Candles and light sticks should be your last resort.

Clothing is Critical

Caves are not like the atmosphere you normally experience so you have to know what to wear and other additional gear to take along with you. Those who have been in a cave can certainly tell you the environment is not so comfortable. Some of the most critical stuff to wear include:

A Helmet

Always ensure you wear a helmet because even though you have lighting, you can’t see everything. There might be sharp stalactites hanging down that can hurt you, something might fall from the ceiling, or you could fall so protecting your head is important.

–>Also, ensure the helmet is fully equipped with headlamps and batteries, along with the light source you have in hand.

Multiple layers of thin clothing

You don’t want to be heavily clothed but don’t want to have on too little clothing either. It is usually a lot cooler underground than out of a cave – no one wants to get chilled, especially if you get wet.

She does a nice job at showing you how to layer well for caving

Make sure what you choose to wear is breathable and not too loose to prevent it from getting caught on any sharp edges while moving along.

Pack Essentially

There are certain things you should pack – and double-check to make sure you have, in your gear collection before going. A first-aid kit must be added to your backpack because there is the potential for bruises and scrapes happening, and they need to be treated immediately.

You should also ensure you pack enough food and water because you never know what you might come in contact with. Bear in mind, spelunking is a technical process, and you might end up in deep areas of the caves as you tend to overlook the fact you have not set limits. You cannot readily tell you might be out in the time planned out before you actually enter the cave.

Stuff simply happens.

I don’t know about you but I would want to haul around a few extra power bars instead of needing them and not having any.

Protect the Cave

Caves are delicate ecosystems and are the habitat for multiple types of bats. Spelunking will see you going deep into the cave, so it is important to consider the life and existence of those who live there. Do not alter the surroundings, damage any lining, or leave any of your trash inside.

Remember – leave no trace.

Be Vigilant

While going through caves, take a few minutes to look back at the trail you are taking as the surrounding generally looks different from another angle. When you look back, it creates an image in your mind of how the journey will look when you are going back to the entrance.

Even for experienced spelunkers, it is sometimes tricky, even when you are close to exiting.

Is Spelunking Dangerous?

Any activity that is not the “norm” in the environment you live in has some dangers. Caving or spelunking can be a tad dangerous, especially if you are not used to it or is completely new to the process. When spelunking, there are potential dangers such as:


Many caves have large water bodies inside, and if you are not aware, you can get caught in a trap and not readily know how to escape. Besides, there could be rushing waters that pour from the caves’ ceiling, and seeing you can never tell how a cave truly is set up until you are actually inside, it can come as a surprise.

Poor Air and Ventilation

Caves generally have poor ventilation as they are underground or may not have openings in them. As such, you risk coming in contact with bad air that can damage your health both in the short and long term. That is why miners used to take a canary down with them.

Exhaustion Leading to Accidents

It can be quite exhausting going through caves, especially when you go deeper than you had expected. This exhaustion can lead to carelessness, shortcuts, and missteps.

You need to be on your game at all times.


Numerous spelunkers have noted they experience slight and major cases of hypothermia while spelunking. This is a serious medical condition that sees the body losing more heat faster than it can produce. This process causes the body’s temperature to drop ridiculously low, and this can cause other issues for the body.

If you get wet and the water is close to freezing, you hit hypothermia in 5 minutes or less. Death can occur in 20-25 minutes. This is a REAL danger.

Other injuries

Many people get injured while spelunking, especially if they are new to the process or experience unforeseen accidents. As for cave diving, it can be a little tricky, even for the most experienced spelunker. Even though the number of cave divers who die in the process has fallen over the years, many still get seriously injured every year. Their doctors have officially ordered many cave divers to cease the practice, while others have been given a temporary ban.

Let’s face it – being in a cave underwater means strict time limits with your oxygen supply. There is a great lesson to be learned here from the Plura cave disaster – which were experienced underwater cave explorers.

Another issue which many cavers have gone through is getting stuck in a cave. Well, this might sound like a mix of fun and scary – it is! While one can easily survive in a cave for up to and over a week with enough resources to keep them going, others need to be rescued as soon as possible.

People have died and been sealed in the cave because it was too dangerous to try and retrieve their body like poor Mr Jones that we already mentioned.

When stuck in a cave, you want to make sure you are not in an area where there is the potential of water filling up your space when you have no way or where to move to safety. While there might be enough oxygen, you have to be mindful that bad air and poor ventilation can quickly corrode this fresh air. If possible, try to stay calm and switch into your survival mode until help arrives.

I will say that more issues like tripping, hitting your head, or freezing will affect you than actually getting stuck. The John Jones story is so well known because it is so rare. Keep that head covered and watch your surroundings and footing.

Can a Cave Collapse?

In short, it is possible but in two different forms – abruptly or gradually over a few years. Caves are designed in a small or large pattern and can be shallow or relatively deep. There is the potential of caves collapsing abruptly should they be altered by spelunkers who are researching and tend to alter the cave’s original setting.

A gradual collapse can happen through the wear and tear of climate change or other works being undertaken by the previous cavers. If you are in the right place, but at the wrong time, you could have a serious issue.

In essence, caving or spelunking, as many people call it, can be an enjoyable and adventurous activity. Keep in mind the tips and make sure you are prepared well before you go. Whether you are experienced in the process or a newbie, proceed with caution, and don’t forget to take your cameras with you as you will definitely come across some interesting features that you will want to look back on!  

Other articles you may find interesting if you like Difference Between Caving and Spelunking:

How Do You Go Spelunking?

20 thoughts on “What is the Difference Between Caving and Spelunking?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *