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Checking my caving gear

It's been two years since I last went caving, and about four since I went on a trip that involved SRT (Single Rope Technique: climbing up and down ropes). I fancy getting back into it again so I dug my caving kit out of the garage today to have a look at it. Most of it was bought when I first started caving ten years ago and has never been replaced.

  • Lamp/helmet: The gas pipe and burner were blocked with spent carbide, the terminals in the battery box were rotten, and the webbing inside the helmet was mouldy. Now fixed (it still looks rather tatty but ought to work fine).

  • SRT kit: The metal parts (jammers, descender, krabs, etc.) all look rather battered and scraped but work perfectly after cleaning and oiling. The fabric/rope parts are starting to look a bit tatty. Not dangerously so, but they'll probably need replacing soon if I get back into caving regularly.

  • Suit: totally knackered. It's a surplus Royal Navy drysuit and wasn't in all that brilliant condition when I first bought it. It's had patches on top of patches, and the last time I wore it most of the important seams fell apart. Daleswear sell proper brand new caving oversuits for £55, so I'll probably just buy one of those (or something similar from their competitors) before I go again.

  • Everything else: Wellies are fine apart from several generations of dead spiders inside; knee pads are looking a bit worn out and never were very comfortable, but they'll probably last a few more trips; gloves I have loads of (I bought a job-lot of them on eBay ages ago). Haven't looked in my tin of carbide yet, but the last time I left one in the garage for a couple of years it didn't work very well afterwards (presumably the lid wasn't completely air-tight).



Climbing/caving kit...ten years...five-year shelf life....*twitch*

Sorry. :)
Surely what matters is how much it's been used, assuming it's been kept in dry storage?

Equipment checking

Ah, good ol' Petzl.

Check this out (needs flash):


Click on "Checking of PPE".
Not necessarily. Stuff (especially ropes and tapes, harnesses etc) degrade over time, especially in something like a garage where things get a little damp over time.

Manufacturers will have a maximum shelf life which, if the kit is older than that, you should seriously consider whether you want to trust your life on it. Using it shortens that life (dirt, loading, heat etc). Of course, manufacturers are conservative in their estimations, but after 5 years I'd be looking at what I've done with that kit and look at downgrading it.

The BMC has an article on this (http://www.thebmc.co.uk/safety/tech/articles/tech_a2.htm) and I've asked a colleague of mine who's on the BMC technical committee to see if I can get a link to the standard checks and process that we use in our team.

At the end of the day it's down to your own judgement. If you're confident that the rope is undamanged and that you'd bet your life on that, go for it. But, then a new 10.5mm Mamut superdry 60m rope is only about 100UKP (bought one about 2 years ago). I'll be considering replacing it in about 3-5 years. It's only 100UKP or so....no it's not cheap, but compared to what I value my life/legs etc. :)

Oh, er, yeah my opinion, not guidance, not the opinion of Mountain Rescue etc etc use your own judgement, consult an expert if in doubt, objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear...
Thanks. I don't actually have any ropes of my own - I'm a member of Burnley Caving Club (or I will be when I rejoin this week) and we go out in groups using ropes belonging to the club. A typical caving trip uses several ropes of various different lengths, which would cost a fortune if you were to buy them yourself. There are a couple of bits of rope in an SRT kit (the hand jammer safety line and the footloop) and I'll probably be replacing those because offcuts cost next to nothing. There's also the cow's tails that are usually made from a bit of rope, but mine are fancy ones made from a sort of dynamic tape. I might replace that with an ordinary rope one. The main thing I'm not certain about whether to replace is the sit-harness. It looks OK, and you don't replace car seatbelts (which are also made from nylon webbing and get a lot more use) unless they look worn. A new one costs £55 and I'm not sure yet if I'm going to go back to caving regularly or just do it once and think "ah, now I remember why I gave up." I think I'll use it for a couple of sessions at the club training tower before deciding whether to replace it before my first actual trip.

As for the harness, I look to replace my harness once every 5 years or so. The Petzl link above has a section on their harnesses which you may want to check. It may be worth talking to someone at the Caving Club (equipment officer?) who will be conversant with kit checks if they hold ropes.