cave diver

The Most Important Equipment for Cave Diving

(Hint: Don’t over inflate it.)
by Paul Montgomery:

Firstly, let’s start with the disclaimer, also known as “In full disclosure…”, that while I am a Full Cave certified diver (I was certified in the cave systems of North Florida and actively dived those systems)  I have not been actively diving in overhead environments in recent years. So, the argument can be made that I really shouldn’t be authoring a short article about The Most Important Equipment for Cave Diving. Fair enough point. However, I’m going to give it a go anyway.

Having spent some time over the years with some of the most highly experienced and respected cave explorers, cave instructors and cave divers, it was always interesting to listen in on the conversations and debates about a given piece of kit, the manufacturer, or how it was used to its most effective intent. “After all, if the wing isn’t functioning as designed, it’ll distract you and you’ll lose focus” Or, ” Well there is no way that you’ll be able to propel yourself properly and do helicopter turns if you’re not using Brand X fins with the oversize foot pocket”. I don’t dare to bring lights into this. Primary. Backup. Backup to the backup. Helmet mounted (I think someone just shuddered). Oh… and open circuit or CCR?

Divers across the globe
I mentioned just previously that I’ve had the good fortune to be in the company of some of the most respected overhead divers/instructors/instructor trainers spanning the globe. It generally occurred when I was conducting the Instructor Trainer Workshop and these brilliant divers were participating. I mention this specifically because it afforded me the opportunity to observe them in a teaching environment as well as the aquatic environment. And of course, they would often arrive with their favorite kit. This also afforded me the opportunity to ask them, always in the opening segment of the ITW, “What is the most important thing you’ll need during this program?” The responses ranged from the most recent copy of TDI Standards & Procedures to the SDI Open Water Instructor Guide to a fresh notebook and beyond. To each I would respond no. I would reply, “The most important thing you need during this course is your mind and it needs to be open”.

It’s you
Which brings me to The Most Important Equipment for Cave Diving. It’s you and specifically your mind. It’s an amazing piece of equipment. It’s The Most Important Piece of Equipment for Cave Diving. Like any other item of gear, it needs maintenance. Think vacation and an opportunity to recharge, refresh and relax. Your mind also needs to be worked and used, such as problem solving and analytical thinking. It needs to be open as well. Open to different opinions, new techniques and the ability to determine what is right for you. It needs to be protected. We’ve only a limited (for the most part) number of brain cells and while I can’t speak for anyone else, I need all the brain cells I have. In addition to the obvious avoiding trauma to the noggin, it also needs to be protected in the sense of alcohol or drug use while diving. You know, it really should go without saying, but there’s always that one person or team.

Consider this
Consider what the mind of a cave diver can do. From the very beginning, it collects, sorts, assembles and organizes data. From the very basic, “Don’t touch that stove, its hot”, to the ability to calculate run times, deco planning (you don’t rely on the 3 dive computers you’re carrying, do you?) and the ability to find your way home after the dive. Although occasionally we do get distracted on that one. From the very beginning of the planning stage, “Hey Jon, let’s go to Ginnie next month”, to making the arrangements to equipment setup to predive briefing to immersion to following the line to stops to where are we eating after the dive….your mind has been in gear the entire time. Certainly I can’t discuss the finer points of neuroscience (actually I can’t discuss any of it, what do you think I am a brain surgeon?); those neurons firing off during your dive are pretty important, important enough that it keeps you alive.

Bad choices can have dire consequences
As divers overall, we also should be aware that often actions occur before we actually think something through its entirety. Or even chose not to think clearly or completely. This is where the hint in the title above comes in. Don’t Over Inflate It. Don’t allow the ego to overwhelm you, cloud your thought process, and place yourself in situations where this bad decision or bad choice can have dire consequences. Pushing past gas limitations, exceeding depth that you’re trained for and eating that second burrito are classic examples of making bad choices and decisions. This wonderful brain, this amazing piece of neurological function, can mislead you. All with your permission, by the way. And the results can be final.

So for me, as I use The Most Important Equipment for Cave Diving, my mind, I’ll stick with my roomy rubber foot pocket thermoplastic blade fins. After all, they work pretty well. And I’m going to protect my remaining brain cells! If you would like to know more about diving in the overhead environment, here is a great place to start: overhead diving. Or, to locate a TDI Overhead Instructor, you can start here: TDI Cave Instructor.

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5 replies
  1. Robert - Washington State
    Robert - Washington State says:

    Some excellent points. Kudos to the writer.
    Here is the conundrum presented with an open mind: if after twenty years of successful diving in adverse conditions, one might counter his/her current methods work and to interject new or other practices right counter his/her practices and/or muscle memory. You bring top some good point with respect to an open mind. But this is an interesting counter. One point to add to this wonderful article is that, failure analysis is our best method for learning what went wrong and why. Please don’t interpret as gaining a total understanding when someone actually dies diving in a cave. There may be other cases, processes, or methods easily interpreted as failure such as failure to communicate (a pun on cool hand luke, but it’s Friday) or failure to complete the dive, or maintaining situational awareness. A diver gets the benefit of new information if he/she keeps an open mind.

    • Paul Montgomery
      Paul Montgomery says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Robert. All valid points that you raise, to which I agree. I would add that we do see failure analysis at times….what we don’t see or hear about are the “near misses”.

  2. Ron Carmichael
    Ron Carmichael says:

    Absolutely right on the money I’m an active TDI & NACD Cavern/Intro Cave Instructor. Your brain is the most important piece of equipment for all types of diving. Folks need to be active and constantly sharpen the mind. As an instructor I can fix skill issues with time and practice, but I’ve found I can’t always fix “Stupid” or “poor attitudes”.

  3. David
    David says:


    Nice artikel, i just finished reading a book from a german cave diver. This open mind goes thru the book.
    also nice is the Artikel from Garreth Glock (may have the name wrong) about focus and “not knowing what we don’t know) , a good video on this is the basketball video :

    thanks for the artikel,


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