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Teaching outdoor adventure skills: caving

This is an excerpt from Technical Skills for Adventure Programming by Mark Wagstaff & Aram Attarian.

Movement Through Caves


This lesson covers how to maneuver safely and efficiently through a cave using basic techniques. The lesson emphasizes specific techniques such as crawling, stooping, rolling, squeezing through tight passages, and negotiating slopes. Suggestions for practicing basic movements before going into the first cave are offered as well. These may be particularly appropriate for groups with lower levels of ability.


Proper energy conservation techniques are useful to those leading or participating in a caving experience. Group leaders must understand techniques and maneuvers appropriate for those of all skill levels so that they can guide their participants in a successful, safe experience. Improper technique leads to injuries and extremely difficult evacuations. Proper movement also helps maintain the integrity of the environment.


To develop students' ability to use proper techniques to move efficiently and safely through a cave.


At the end of this lesson, students will be able to

  • understand various techniques and skills for maneuvering in a cave (cognitive),
  • practice the appropriate technique for a specific application (psychomotor), and
  • feel confident moving through caves while using various techniques (affective).

Equipment and Areas Needed

  • Seven or eight chairs of various heights and widths
  • Five or six tables of various heights and widths
  • Other objects that can be used in an obstacle course such as boxes, pipes, uneven areas, slopes, and so on

Risk Management Considerations

  • Because students will be crawling and climbing, check the instructional area for sharp objects and unstable chairs or tables. Spotting may be necessary.
  • Make students aware that muscle strains and sprains may occur when they practice movements.

Lesson Content

Introduction (20 Minutes)

The basic concepts to remember in movement through caves are to use controlled movements and a steady pace and to assist one another through spotting when necessary.

While reviewing basic concepts, demonstrate uncontrolled movement and an erratic pace, such as

  • walking and not looking ahead,
  • fast-paced walking,
  • walking quickly over a log or balance beam, and
  • walking close together in a group so as to hinder movement.

Facilitate a class discussion on the safety concerns of each improper way of movement.

  • Provide basic information about and a demonstration of the task of spotting.
  • Encourage students to spot one another when necessary.
  • Spotters should have a solid stance with feet spread apart to ensure balance when breaking a fall.
  • Spotters should raise their hands and be ready at all times when spotting is required.
  • Spotters should keep their eyes and attention on the climber at all times.
  • Spotters should constantly communicate with the climber.
  • Climbers should feel comfortable asking for a spot when needed.
  • Climbers must communicate with spotters and begin climbing only when spotters are prepared.
  • To ensure consistency, consider teaching a command system like the following:
  • Climber: "Ready."
  • Spotter: "Ready."
  • Climber: "Climbing."
  • Spotter: "Climb."

Main Activity

Basic Movement (30 Minutes)

Begin this activity with some basic reminders:

  • Avoid touching formations unless doing so is the only way to avoid a fall. Touching formations can cause irreversible or long-term damage.
  • Stretch before entering the cave or start slowly to allow the body to warm up.
  • Use three points of contact-typically two feet and one hand. Using this method will ensure secure contact that will prevent a big spill. Three points of contact can also mean using your feet and butt to slide down a wet or muddy area. In some areas of a cave you may want to use four points of contact-both hands and both feet.

Next, describe and demonstrate the following techniques.

Crawling on Hands and Knees Conserve energy and crawl at a comfortable pace. Use arms and legs together rather than just pull yourself forward with arms only. Allow enough space so that you can't grab the feet of the person in front of you. Instead of pushing the person in front to move faster, the follower should slow down. Some folks will become anxious when crawling because people crawling in front of and behind them create a closed-in feeling. A leader can address potential problems before the group enters a crawlway. The leader can have hesitant cavers follow directly behind him or her so that they can be coached and monitored. Knowing the names of the person in front and the person behind fosters quick and efficient communication.

Crawling on the Belly The other common crawl is the belly crawl. This technique allows cavers to negotiate narrow passages. Keep the arms out in front of the head to prevent them from becoming pinned at the sides. This technique makes the caver smaller.

Stooping Moving with this method tends to make backs sore! The bear walk (four points of contact-both hands and feet) is a common technique. People may run into formations because looking up is difficult. People tend to rush because of discomfort and may trip and fall. The duck walk, crouching down and shuffling on both feet, is another common technique, although it can be tough on the knees.

Rolling This technique is not widely accepted except in well-known, safe areas. The caver lies on the cave floor, stretched out, and rolls (like a rolling pin) through a passageway. The technique is useful when the ceiling and floor are so close together that the caver cannot stand and does not want to crawl on hands and knees for a long distance.

Rolling can be an effective way to cover long distances under the right conditions. It takes less energy than crawling does. But rolling offers little control, and a caver may roll over sharp objects or cave life or into formations.

Steep Slopes The caver should maintain three or four points of contact, sitting on the butt if necessary and keeping the feet forward. The idea is to create as much friction as possible by maximizing surface area contact. Maintain adequate spacing between cavers. Provide spotters if needed.

Chimney When walls are close together and the caver must accomplish a vertical or horizontal climb, several techniques are useful. The basic concept is to wedge the body between the walls. The caver essentially makes the body as wide as possible and creates opposing forces on each wall to move slowly horizontally or vertically.

Movement With a Pack or Equipment Keep control of your gear. Don't throw it because gear may fall into cracks and out of reach. Gear can be passed by the group in a chain format and organized in a designated place. Passing gear though a passageway is easier than dragging or pushing it. Cave packs can be pushed ahead by someone crawling in a tight passageway.

The ball-and-chain technique requires the caver to loop the pack strap around an ankle and drag it while crawling. Do not tie the strap because if the pack snags, the caver will be stuck.

Closure Activity

Obstacle Course (20 Minutes)

Have students maneuver their way through an obstacle course using the movements that they have just learned. For more fun, divide the group in half and turn the activity into a race. The time required for this activity will vary depending on group size and the length of obstacle course.

  • Build the course out of simple props. Use chairs for crawlways. Place tables on their sides and push them together for a side squeeze. Make formations from rolled-up paper or spray foam. Attach them with Velcro or tape under a tabletop to simulate a crawl with obstacles to go around.
  • Also attempt to simulate simple climbing problems. Spotting may be necessary.
  • To spice it up, turn out the lights and use helmets and headlamps so that the obstacle course has the feel of a real cave.

This activity is particularly helpful when you are attempting to size up the physical ability of the group. This information can help you choose a cave for their first trip.

Follow-Up Activity

Practicing Movement (One to Two Minutes per Student)

Take students on a caving trip to practice their new skills and gain confidence. While caving, allow each student an opportunity to describe an appropriate maneuver for that area of the cave.

Be sure to debrief the group after the trip ends. This discussion is an excellent time for students to reflect on challenging parts of the cave and the techniques required to meet the challenges.


  • Check that students understand various techniques and skills for maneuvering in a cave by having them assess appropriate techniques during their first trip as described in the follow-up activity.
  • Assess whether students practice appropriate techniques in a variety of applications by observing them during practice and on their first trip.
  • Assess whether students feel confident moving through caves while using various techniques through observation and student self-reporting after a trip.

Teaching Considerations

  • Have the class assemble their own obstacle course. They can change and adapt the course to challenge themselves at all levels.
  • Ensure that all students are able to participate (because of various personal size constraints, that is, height and weight).
  • In more difficult situations such as steep slopes or climbs, consider establishing a hand line. After beginners become more comfortable and confident, you can eliminate hand lines.

This is an excerpt from Technical Skills for Adventure Programming: A Curriculum Guide.

More Excerpts From Technical Skills for Adventure Programming