Author Topic: Underground camping experience and equipment  (Read 4427 times)

Offline Loki

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Underground camping experience and equipment
« on: May 10, 2013, 09:14:48 am »
I could not find a thread dedicated to underground camping so I thought I’d put ‘pen to paper’ about my underground camping experiences and equipment used.  I was asked by a uni group some years ago on this topic but at the time the only camping I’d done was in the Berger so not particularly representative of anything hardcore. But now I am a little wiser.
I am not saying I am any kind of expert but thought it might at least generate a discussion and some tips might come out of it to help people in the future. 
Sooo
For the berger camp 1 in 1998 we had synthetic sleeping bags, goretex bivy bags, foam ‘karrimats’, gas stoves, pans, carbide for lighting plus food which if I remember right was tinned as we were not carrying rigging stuff so could afford the extra weight – plus a couple of stubbies for the successful return from the bottom. Oh and daren drums and placcy bags for toileting. Dry thermals to change into.  Bivi bags essential as any draft tears through camp especially if the cave is flooding. Camp in place for whole of exped. Camping experience 5*.
What would I do different today? Inflatable thermarest, dehydrated meals (they are so much better now especially the German ones) LED helmet lighting and spare batteries.
Mainland asia 750m down wet shafts inc complete soaking in canal to get to camp approx 4 hrs from surface – camping 4 nights at a time.  Camp in place for whole of exped.Cave temp around 12C if I remember right.  Camp was dry with limited source of water from a trickle. Used foam mats, cheap synthetic bags, thin tarp over top,  gas stoves, german dried meals, flip flops.  Candles  and MYO XP’s for lighting (helmet lighting was LED by now).  Best modification we made to camp was taking in a length of thin flexible tubing and drilling a hole in a small gour to capture the water supply and direct it closer to camp.  The drum then filled in 20 mins instead of 2hrs.  Camp clothing was shorts and thin thermals with wooly socks.  Caving gear did not dry overnight.  Toilet was in dugout trench.  A couple of books for reading – even the best mates can get tedious after 3 days! Camping experience 4*.
What would I do differently in hindsight?  Take a MP3 player and mini speaker. Thermarest.
Mulu – 5 hrs non vertical caving from entrance.  Carried camp in and out for 2 night stay. Cave temperature 24C.  Caving gear was leggings and long sleeve non thermal top.  Same 2nd set for in camp.  Camp dry.  Thermarests, silk liner with bivi bag (no sleeping bag), gas stoves, noodles, tinned tuna, fruit cake, cheese, crackers. Candles for lighting.  Caving gear almost dried overnight.  Toilet in dugout trench.  Ortlieb ‘kitchen sinks’ for collecting water, washing hands and dishes.  A book and MP3 player with speaker. Good quality sandals with heel straps (eg Teva). Klik lock containers for packed lunch and protecting the cracker supply from impact and water ingress! Camping experience 5*
What would I do different?  Take a kindle to read instead, for the whole expedition. Take dried food as cheese and cake are heavy. However I don’t think dried food was available at the time, and the food choice was tried and tested, it certainly gave plenty of energy for 12hr pushing trips.

Other universal essentials – Nalgene bottles for water storage (or crushable ones) trowel for digging toilet trench, bogroll, string to hang up bogroll (try walking through a cave half asleep in flip flops with precious bogroll in one hand and not falling over or dropping the bogroll). Alcohol hand cleanser. A bar of soap if you have plenty of water.  Ortlieb kitchen sink.
Maybe someone out there has been to some misery wet camps and can add to this?  I cant say I have had a miserable underground camp yet even with little stuff.  Main thing is don’t take anything not essential to support life unless YOU are prepared to carry it – e.g folding camp chair or laptop for entering survey data.  Also don’t take IN something you are not prepared to carry OUT.
LOKI
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Offline cavegirl99

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2013, 12:52:57 pm »
Great idea for a thread, and lots of useful advice thank you.  We are currently at the point of deciding between very long "day" trips or an overnight camp for a cave in Thailand so this is very useful to read.

What do you do about water purification?  Our cave is "below" a village so we carry in bottled water but this is obviously very heavy.  I don't know whether current filtration / sterilisation methods are good enough to deal with the high level of nasties that are likely to be present?

Offline estelle

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2013, 01:40:29 pm »
worth looking at these, i know a couple of people who have used them on expeditions - Aquapure Traveller - http://www.homehealth-uk.com/medical/aquatraveller.htm
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Offline Amata

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2013, 02:35:34 pm »
I camped underground once in a dry warm section of the cave (14c or so).

Thermarest. Definitely. Don't care cave temp rock sucks heat.
Tarp with reflective coating. Totally wrap up in it.

Actuall if I were to do it again I think I would rig up one of my tiny travel Hammocks...much more comfortable and with the tarp I have stayed warm with just that in cold weather. Don't have the sleeping against rock issue. (Well, it was a sandy spot but that didn't matter still sucks heat).

Jetboils are gret. We ate lasagna one of the memebers made and dried. Add hot water and magic!

For one night I don't think water needing to be carried in would be an issue? We carried in. Keep in mind requirement of pee bottles so don't take too few!! And stuff for burritobags! (Solid waste...)

If you get creeped....we had an MP3 player. It was actually really nice to have music around camp and white noise to sleep.
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Offline Blakethwaite

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2013, 03:05:14 pm »
Not done expedition camping but for general overnight, underground camping then easy to pack stuff like rum, good cigars, tasty snacks such as salami & olives & a means of making proper coffee in the morning helps keep the levels of moral high. Get the essentials right & everything else becomes trivial... Thermarests are a good idea however roll mats are even better cos a litre carton of red and a big bottle of water will fit down the middle almost perfectly.

In hindsight am not entirely certain why our idea of camping underground so we could push something remote didn't really work... ::)

Offline Benfool

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2013, 03:06:56 pm »
In China, we have used a water filter very similar to this one:
http://cascadedesigns.com/en/msr/water-treatment-and-hydration/expedition-water-treatment-and-hydration/miniworks-ex-microfilter/product

The surface is mostly farmland, where they dump both the human and pig shit from the local villages, so the streamways are rather polluted. I'm sure drinking the water without treating it would make you very ill and open wounds do become infected if you dont clean them - however we have never had any problems after using one of these filters. We dont usually boil or treat the water afterwards either, usually pump it straight into a daren drum and pour into bottles.

Offline Fred

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2013, 03:56:51 pm »
Nice comprehensive notes, thanks.

I've camped in a couple of Vercor caves and like any camping you want to be familiar with the kit and warm, dry and well fed. I've used a thermarest for camping for many many years and find them best (has anybody tried the neoair style as these fold even smaller). You also need to know what's a good sleeping bag for you - we had people using everything from 2 season synthetics to 4 season down bags on one trip and some were fine others were rather cold (and no a carbide generator is not a good idea to try to use as hot water bottle!).

You also want a "night light" of some sort as well (easy with modern leds) - I found trying to sleep in the true darkness of a cave really difficult but fortunately some else had brought some long burning candles in their emergency kit.

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Offline Joel Corrigan

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2013, 04:39:16 pm »
Few things worth mentioning & apologies if they contradict some opinions.  My random thoughts are based around one or two little jolly camping trips over the years in mainly Alpine environments but with the occasional jungle jaunt thrown in for good measure.   

Drinking water: whatever you do don't piss around with small filters as they're hardly worth the effort for the amount they actually produce (I had a small Katadyn filter in New Guinea & soon remembered what my arm felt like as a teenage boy discovering Gary Glitter’s photo album for the first time).  Go for a bigger one and not one of the little personal ones or you might regret it.  And remember that filters only do part of the job & you're likely to need chemicals as well (I believe that you can no longer get hold of iodine in the UK but am fairly rusty on tropical expeditions so might be wrong); imagine you'll be able to pick some up in Thailand, though.  But as your cave is close to human habitation I'd certainly consider manning-up and carrying water in to the camp as even Gandalf wouldn't be able to treat toilet water!   

If you take luxury items like Rum, cigars, books, wine etc then that suggests you're not carrying enough rope, bolts & hangers which is probably the only reason you'd be camping in the first place!  Anyone carrying that sort of stuff on one of our trips would find themselves on latrine duty for the duration ;-)

I'd think twice about taking thermarests etc as they're great when they're working but a bit less useful when they're punctured (shit happens).  They have a place in cold caves but you should be fine for a few nights on a skinny mat that can double-up as padding for fragile items in a big bag.  And if anyone gets broken then they’re useful for first aid.  Remember that if the shit hits the fan & you need to run for your life (flood pulse, Shelob on the rampage etc) then you’ll regret having to abandon shiny & expensive gear.

Bivi Bags: I spent years & years using them for underground camping & finally it dawned on me that, if the chosen camp site was suitable, a tent would be far more effective.  If using a tent you require less in the way of warm clothing & sleeping bags, meaning that it’s quite likely that your bags will actually be smaller & lighter between the group.  As long as you set the tent up side-on to the prevailing wind then it’ll act as a wind break too.  The Brits seem to be one of the few caving nations that still messes around with bivi bags underground.

Tackle Bags: you’ll need to be able to get all your kit to the camp in the first place & depending upon the nature of your cave I can recommend the Beast Products biggest tackle sacks (not sure what the model is but if you tell Matt that you're after a Hirlatz sack then he'll know what you mean) as none of the other manufacturers seem to make anything large that's well designed or robust enough.  Some bags have drain holes & some don't: depending upon the nature of your project this can be a real issue as bags with holes make it harder to keep your gear dry through crawls & puddles.  On that subject don't waste space with Daren drums etc unless your cave is a brute.  Often in the Dachstein etc we'll simply line our bags with big rubble sacks & pack directly into that as you can use clothing, food etc to protect drills & similar.  In others we'll use the rubble sack & ortliebs inside those (the thinner Ortliebs as the thick ones are needlessly heavy and bulky).  Important to have the rubble sack liner as otherwise sand/grit etc just destroys the ortlieb as it acts like grinding paste between the tackle bag & the fragile ortlieb.

As someone said take alcohol hand cleaner: one by the bog & one by the stove as you really don’t want to get ill underground.  And take more bog roll than you think you’ll need because if someone gets ill it’s amazing how rapidly it disappears.  We’ve terminated camps early because one daft Kiwi only packed one bog roll for a 4 day camp!  On a similar note on every camp I take a film canister of talc & another of Sudocrem; between these two you can go a long way to preventing & curing all sorts of issues brought upon by squalid living conditions.

Lighting: be careful of Petzl Myo’s as they do fail on occasion.  I had one for years that was great but then bought a replacement as a secondary light for exploration down an 1100m deep cave in Germany & when I came to use it there wasn’t a hint of life.  Sent it back & replaced it afterwards but that’s not much comfort when you’re in a deep cave.  You should have a secondary light that will allow you to continue exploration without a second thought if your main one fails AND multiple backup and emergency lights that will get you out of the crap.  I wouldn’t dream of going to a remote part of the world with less than about 5 lights & it stuns me when I see others with just two…. 

Hammocks are a nice idea but often not very practical: you potentially need to waste drill power/bolts, will generally need a sleeping mat anyway, and the chosen camp site may not be suited if the walls are too far apart etc...  If you know the cave then that’s a different matter but highly unlikely that you’ll be lucky enough to find an ideal camp site during original exploration.  If you’re basing your camping needs around a survey & have never been there I’d think this was also a big risk.

Take a watch, ear plugs if you're with noisy buggers (although don't use them in a flood-prone cave as you need to be able to wake up if trouble stirs), one tube of toothpaste between the team, and an ice axe for when you need to fight off slimy little cave monsters.   

Foil blankets are (in my opinion) almost pointless unless you're already warm in the first place as they radiate heat rather than anything useful.  Saying that I sometimes use a survival blanket as a groundsheet in particularly shitty caves.  Some of the foil-coated heavy duty blankets are worthwhile as if you pick a good one it’ll have eyelet holes along the edge for making shelters & they last more than 5 minutes.  Tropical caves are often much warmer so these things may have more of a role but in serious Alpine environments they’re fairly pointless!  Saying that, though, if you’re wet & tired in a warm cave the chances are that you’ll be wearing bugger-all so you’ll still freeze your nads off….

I don't tend to bother with pre-packaged meals as they're often heavy & expensive & there tends to be a lot of foil packaging to carry out.  Love it or hate it but cous cous is the king of underground grub as it takes warm water & seconds to prepare.  Beetroot soup has become a favourite of some of our crew in recent times but don’t see it very often. 

Jetboils aren't stoves for serious expedition use: they're fine for a pot noodle or a brew on a big wall but that's about it.  Find out what sort of fuel is available where you're going & base your cooker around that.  Take spare parts for stoves & know how to fix them.  In Thailand you may want a multifuel petrol stove or even a trangia if you’re limited on supply & I’d certainly test your fuel before committing it to underground use (have heard about dodgy gas cylinders in the past & we’ve had diluted liquid fuel but I can’t remember where). 

Right, bored now & back to doing something useful….


 

 

Offline ian mckenzie

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2013, 06:53:31 pm »
Should give serious consideration to a balance between luxury and weight, depending on the terrain to get to the cave, plus the effort (pitches, squeezes, distance) to get from entrance to camp - and out again.  We tend to be minimalists here.  Also eliminate anything fragile; I will never forget (or forgive) my punctured sleeping mat at the entrance to Castleguard Cave at -25C.

Offline Loki

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #9 on: May 10, 2013, 06:57:02 pm »
ah yes, sudocrem, excellent for preventing chaffage and rottage of the Netherlands.  along with this gents, Nike Pro combat shorts rock for any kind of caving - no seams = no chaffage. or Decathlon tight running shorts - just make sure the bottom of the legs come past your  harness leg loops.
if more than 1 team using camp, make sure there is an extra pad and pencil in camp to tell each other where you are and when you might be back.  ships can come and go in the night as it were, unless youre hot bedding!
oh and if in the tropics masses of athletes foot cream and powder to prevent foot infections.
not used them undergrund but the MSR water pump filter did us well in Nepal and south america.

if worried about water from villages, try to pick water from percolation rather than the streamway and boil it all.  gas/fuel weighs less than carrying 4 days worth of water.

lots of cigarette lighters NOT ALL IN THE SAME CONTAINER!
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Offline TheBitterEnd

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #10 on: May 10, 2013, 07:40:00 pm »
Not done expedition camping but for general overnight, underground camping then easy to pack stuff like rum, good cigars, tasty snacks such as salami & olives & a means of making proper coffee in the morning helps keep the levels of moral high. Get the essentials right & everything else becomes trivial... Thermarests are a good idea however roll mats are even better cos a litre carton of red and a big bottle of water will fit down the middle almost perfectly.

In hindsight am not entirely certain why our idea of camping underground so we could push something remote didn't really work... ::)

Think I'll come on yours rather than theirs  :lol:
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Offline Amata

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #11 on: May 10, 2013, 08:58:46 pm »
Lots of good ideas =) My reply was based on the two caves I am familiar with exploring at length here, which I freely admit is limited as both are similar in many ways...and I'm familiar with them so I know what to expect and what will work!

Someday I dream of doing a few days in Lech. But luckily for that I know people who know what to expect and from what I understand there is a lot of prep meetings by the people running the surveying so have exact jobs and exact locations known to be in doing things, so again, lots of cavespecific knowledge to know what is needed.

I guess I would think in general that would be best - ask people who went to the system/region/area before, because thigns are dependent on that to some extent.

Frankly I dont own a jetboil. I'd take a friggin' pennystove or similar, probably one of my catcan ones for more durability than a sodacan. one measly ounce of many kinds of fuel boils enough water for those deydrated food things. I use it backpacking a lot. Light, durable, tiny. What more could you want? More flexible too, so probably lots better than a jetboil. If it breaks, find a can. Punch some holes. Bam. Fixed. LOL.

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Offline bograt

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #12 on: May 10, 2013, 09:33:22 pm »
lots of cigarette lighters NOT ALL IN THE SAME CONTAINER!

The old method of matches (Not safety matches!) with the business end dipped in candle wax works very well, but make sure you have plenty of abrasive paper (maybe coarse "wet or dry"?) to strike them on, they don't 'arf gunge it up!  :) :)
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Offline SamT

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #13 on: May 10, 2013, 09:46:32 pm »

From the limited camping I've done  a couple of things spring to mind.

These might of been mentioned already, but I only skimmed the above.

Rather than flip flops/tevas for camp - a couple of placcy bags and a wooly pair of socks did me great - Line wet wellies with bags and wear nice warm wooly socks. Bliss.

A small head torch - eg a zipka or some such is preferable to wearing a soggy helmet in camp.

A lightweight dry undersuit for wearing in camp if your main caving one is likely to be wet.

And for chirst sake - make sure you're going to be warm enough, i.e. that your bivvy bag/sleeping bag combo is up to the job.  I bought some daft lightweight sleeping bag for a night in bagshawe (remote digging session) and had probably the most miserable night ever shivering away.

I've found that on thermarests often get punctured and are next to useless when deflated, a 3 quarter length foam karrimat is a better option to give re-assurance of a warm and comfy night.

Offline bograt

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #14 on: May 10, 2013, 10:03:25 pm »
With SamT on all of his points, but with modern developments, maybe a wonesie for sleeping? ;D
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Offline me

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #15 on: May 10, 2013, 10:52:31 pm »
Found this in GoOutdoors.  No gas so can take on plane & train, activated by water and only £27 with 5 refills for under £10.  Haven't tried it yet though.

http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/trekmates-flameless-cook-box-p195259

There is also this at £40  you light a gel which is in a plastic bag for travelling.  http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/fuel-4-x2-eco-cookset-p216532

And this is the ultimate luxury under ground for £1.80  http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/product-search/text/coffee

Offline sluka

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #16 on: May 10, 2013, 10:59:05 pm »
There is one good idea for underground camp: a simple dryer - box from tin material hanging from ceiling where you may hang overalls or wet under-suits and dry them by bigger candle overnight.

Offline badger

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #17 on: May 10, 2013, 11:20:40 pm »
for footwear when we camped we used beach shoes. we camped for 3 nights we had one tackle sack for ropes hangers. and one tackle sack for personnal and group kit. we used  glow sticks to give the camp low level light and petzl tikka

Offline jarvist

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Re: Underground camping experience and equipment
« Reply #18 on: May 13, 2013, 11:40:20 am »
Late to the party, but I put a selection of bits used to great effect deep camping in a cold cave during the recent Migovec explorations (Slovenia) up on a blog post:

http://jarvbites.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/three-years-at-x-ray-underground-camp-logisti/

It's quite specific to location (cold at 2C, clean water, tight cave), but may be some helpful pointers. "minimalist luxury" is a good way to go, small things such as LED fairylights, dry socks, MP3 player, fleecy bits, etc. make an enormous difference.

We bought one of those high efficiency heat-exchanger stove pots for this summer, to see if we can eek even more tea out of our fuel.

The recent Vango synthetic bags make good cheap UG camp hosts, as they now use an entirely synthetic (no cotton) construction, so don't feel damp + won't rot.