Cave Diving Helmet

So, with or without a helmet?

cave diving helmet

To helmet or not to helmet?

Have you already noticed that some cave divers are wearing a helmet and others aren’t?

Some are wearing their tanks on the side and others on the back. Here we say they use a different tank configuration. But why a helmet? Is it because they swim faster? 🙂 Or maybe that they can be subject to fallen rocks/debris that could hurt them? To carry their lights? To look cool?

A bit of history about cave diving

The first cave have been dived in France in 1878 and a helmet was used, it was in Fontaine du Vaucluse. What we call a hard hat commercial type diver went to explore this spring. In 1877, a year earlier another report of attempt was made without success as the brave man who tried to face the unknown did hit his head on a rock and fell unconscious. The first successful attempt to pass a sump was made by Frenchman Norbert Casteret in 1922. No helmet either and as for lighting, a simple candle stick allowed Norbert Casteret to discover what was beyond the first sump.

The cave exploration era was on as their were some written reports of these attempts. The way into the caves was opened.
(Ref. The Darkness Beckons, Martin Farr)

So from that point on, cavers and cave divers, started to evolve alongside each other with a similar mindset. Redundancy, safety and practicality.

So, helmet or no helmet?

As we see on this early stages of cave exploration, the helmet was to make the dive possible and the other…well, there was no other option until later in history when dry cavers grew into spelunkers and started to use techniques like rappel and abseiling. Due to the nature of their activity, a helmet was of safety obligation.

It was also very practical to carry a light. The famous acetylene light that was not producing smoke and was very bright. Further down the line, as batteries became the norm, it was going to be the only option for those having to put on dive gear to pass sumps or simply, start an exploration from the main entrance of a flooded cave.

French Cave Diver uses a helmet to carry his lights

French Cave Diver uses a helmet to carry his lights

Although French cavers (dry cavers) had a good experience, when it came to ‘becoming’ cave divers, the approach was, as there was no specific equipment available, to become very creative. Be it with the regulators configuration and the way they were going to use the helmet. Most of the caves in France turn into sumps some times of the year, others are pure sumps. So the diver is also or should I say the caver is also a diver… Hence the consistency in the use of a helmet. Dry cavers need/must wear a helmet. They rappel or abseil (as you prefer) and can be victim of falling rocks…Hopefully not too large!

What the future holds?

In fact, it was not so much due by the evolution of equipment than to geographical regions.
In England they were using the helmet the same way, most of early dry cavers were doing and so it was for those experienced sump divers. The thing is, when you have to go as far in as the exploration was sometimes taking you, you had to carry the gear yourself. So what you wear is often what you will use, plus ropes, more ropes and maybe some food and other surviving kits.

Some sumps being so remote that few trips were made to bring more gear to an advanced dry station to increase the chances of pushing the limits of exploration.

The helmet had since the early days been the best friend of cavers and sump divers.

So why is there that today, some divers see the helmet as a necessary tool and others see it as “being a tool” if you use one…?!? I ask the question? 🙂

I personally started by cave diving and was introduced to dry caving only few years after. As I started cave diving in backmount config, I was not given a helmet but then, when I transition to sidemount config, I was told to get a helmet…mainly to put my BULs (back-up lights) in an accessible location and at the same time, as I was getting into smaller cave, protect my dear little head.

Cave Diver Helmet

Cave Diver’s Helmet

Today, in Florida, wearing a helmet while sidemount cave diving, is “seen” as unnecessary. Here, in Mexico, the GUE divers are not in favour of using a helmet. They use things if it has to be a tool, a necessity.
When I look at the grooves I got going through some small cave, I am happy to be part of those who think a helmet, in sidemount caves, is a necessity.

I see some GUE friends making fun of an eventual situation where you had to use your BULs, communication would force you to say OK or ATTENTION with your head,,,a neck breaker! It is true, when you think about it… But if they knew that, us, good sidemount cave divers that we are, we always carry a spare BUL in our pouch, to be able to communicate in case it is needed and doing so, without looking like a troll! 🙂

In conclusion

I guess there is a choice for every cave diver out there. I still believe firmly that when sidemounting, or even backmouting in small cave, a helmet is a good idea. In exploration, not knowing what you will find, if it is a sump, you are better equipped if you wear one.
Anyways, we could argue hours on end about this topic. I leave it to you my dear readers, followers, haters and/or worshipers (not sure I have those!), to leave a comment and take part in the talk.

IN the same time, cave safely, wear your protection if you go out and be nice to others. 🙂



About Jason

Essential Scuba Training is aimed at divers looking to better their skills in recreational and technical diving while using a holistic configuration. Be it recreational or technical and/or cave diving, Essential Scuba Training will put it's twenty years of experience at your service. View all posts by Jason

3 responses to “Cave Diving Helmet

  • Cristian Cristea

    Initially I got a petzel climbing helmet but I didn’t like it on my overhead diving as it was too big, so I got a light monkey helmet which it’s much more lighter. But still didn’t like the inside harness, so decided to take it out and leave just the shell of it, and that fits my skull like a glove The only downside it’s that it doesn’t offer too much impact protection, the 5 mm neoprene hood that I use taking all the shock. Meanwhile for dry caving I used the petzel helmet
    I personally think that using a helmet in high flow caves/rivers or while scootering in an overhead environment should be mandatory… unless cave environment protection becomes primordial and we would rather use a hood instead of a helmet to avoid any damage to the prehistoric formations…

  • Kevin

    GUI divers in Mexico aren’t in favor of anything! They are a cult. They were 100% anti sidemount until halcyon came out with a system. Now sidemount is ok , as long as you only use their products.!

    GUI have fallen behind the times and are no longer relevant to advancing the sport.

    my Helmet has saved my head many times and I couldn’t wish for a better place to store my bul’s.

  • Steve Davis

    Agree Jason, the utility of head protection plus an easily accessible place to store BULs makes a helmet a good choice for overhead environments. This should become DIR!

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