Whether you are new to spelunking or a veteran cave explorer, it is imperative that you have a quality light source. LED flashlights come in many sizes and levels of quality; thus, there are some important factors to consider when purchasing your light source for spelunking. This article provides some suggestions on what to look for when choosing your LED flashlight.
The first thing to considerer—and the most important in the case of an emergency—is the battery life of the light source you are using. While an old-fashioned torch or kerosene lantern works, this is the 21st century! What you need is something that will last, especially if you are embarking on an extensive cave exploration (more than 1 or 2 hours). Naturally, the best quality flashlights and headlamps tend to use more juice. Flashlights generally have longer battery life than headlamps, but the tradeoff is maneuverability. In either case, if your headlamp has only 4-15 hours of runtime, make sure you bring some backup batteries, flashlights, or both. If you choose to go with just LED flashlights—not as exciting for spelunking, mind you—purchase a model that has around 30-40 or more hours of battery life. The last thing you want is to run out of batteries—it really numbs the caving experience when you have to rely on someone else’s light source!
As mentioned, headlamps are the way to go for spelunking. Keep your hands free and your body flexible at all times by having your light source attached to your head, instead of handheld LED flashlights. There are a few things to consider when choosing a headlamp. One: is the headlamp easy to adjust and attach to your spelunking helmet? If not, find one that is more adjustable and fits better (e.g., one that has elastic straps). Second, beam distance is important. If you are exploring a rather large cave network, go for a higher beam distance model, to make sure you’re able to see any dangers in time to react. Finally, you should consider a headlamp that has variable light levels. Not only does this feature save batteries, but also comes in handy when spelunking in smaller quarters where you will want a smaller, dimmer, and more focused light (whereas, in a large cavern you will need maximum illumination).
Lumens, Light Levels, and Lanterns
The lumen level of your light source is key to getting the most out of your spelunking experience. While adjustable light levels are beneficial, it is better to err on the side of caution (entertainment!) and make sure you choose a light source that has a high lumen level. The reason is simple: in almost all cases it is better to see more than see less. You can always switch to your smaller flashlight or lower light setting, but you can’t always switch to a brighter, larger illumination. Thus, it is always in your best interest to bring light sources with high lumen levels (60 lumens output or more). Generally, you can’t go wrong with a light source that has multiple LEDs. With larger parties, it might be better to bring an LED lantern for moments when the group is resting—lanterns can provide a wider illumination than even a headlamp or LED flashlight.
Caves are rocky, dirty, and wet. Expect to drop your flashlight or light source at some point or another during your spelunking adventures. In some cases you might even need to drop a flashlight or headlamp in order to find your way up or down. So, when choosing your light source, get something that is durable to the elements and the rocky nature of cave exploration. Metal or polymer casing is a must; rubber is also good for cave durability. Additionally, a waterproof flashlight is a solid choice if you are exploring a cave that is known for high levels of water and moisture. Every spelunker knows that a good sporting knife is essential to a successful adventure. But, did you know that you can get a quality sporting knife with an LED flashlight in it? Sporting knives with LED lights fit nicely in your belt or pack, giving them added durability over a flashlight or headlamp—something to consider.
Just remember, spelunking is not a science, it is an extreme sport. The goal of it is to have fun, explore and exercise at the same time. LED flashlights and headlamps are the chosen light source for most spelunkers.
[Photo by: Jeff Hunter]