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Spelunking vs Caving

caving vs spelunking

Cave exploration is an exciting outdoor activity that brings so much excitement and fun to those who have already done it. The adrenaline of having to explore an unknown place with no idea of what is inside means excitement and thrill to adventure seekers.

But when it comes to exploring the cave, two terms are always being compared because of their similarities and differences. The word spelunking vs caving is often compared due to the fact that they are actually the same but also different in every sense of the word. Please read this article to understand what I mean.

Feature Spelunking Caving
History Latin word: Spelunca Latin Word: Cavea
Purpose Explore to See and Enjoy Explore to do Research, Study, and Investigate
Skill Level Normal Caving Skills Highly-Skilled
Preparation Little to No Preparation Well-Prepared and Planned
Experience With or Without Experienced Highly Experienced Explorers


One way to differentiate these two terms is to know where they originate. Doing this action will somehow teach us the meaning of these two words. In 1940, an American caver named Clay Perry wrote about a group of cave explorers who called themselves spelunkers. It was the first time that the word was heard in the cave exploration circle.

The word spelunkers were derived from the Latin word spelunca, which means cavern, cave, or den in English. Also, the word spelunca itself comes from the Greek word Spelynks which simply means cave.

During that time and until the 1950s, the word spelunking was generally used in America for exploring caves and was used freely without any other meaning. Meaning, caving and spelunking practically had the same meaning during that time. In the early 1960s, cave explorers started to give negative connotations and meaning to the word spelunking.

It was during this time that the meaning of spelunking and spelunkers degraded its meaning to cave explorers that are untrained, unknowledgeable, and do not have the right equipment to do a proper cave exploration.

On the other hand, the word caving comes from the Latin word cavea or cavern. This word means “to cave” or exploration of caves. The difference between caving and spelunking began to surface in the 1960s when experienced cave explorers referred to spelunkers as inexperienced and ill-equipped cave explorers.


If you are familiar with the history of these two cave explorers, then you can also tell the difference between the two in terms of the purpose they are doing when doing cave explorations. For spelunkers they are exploring caves as a form of leisure.

They will come into the cave similar to a tourist, which is to enjoy the view and see what the cave offers in terms of the surroundings and other features. Spelunking is like a hobby of visiting a cave to enjoy its view and the other things the cave can offer.

On the other hand, caving has a totally different purpose. Caver explores a cave to study and investigate all of the things that are happening inside the cave. Some cavers are professionals who are there to study any phenomenon happening in the cave.

For example, a certified geologist will go inside a cave to investigate and research rock formations inside. Other scientists like to visit caves to explore and study the overall ecosystem inside the cave. In other words, caving has the specific purpose of researching and studying anything inside the cave.

Skill Level

difference between caving vs spelunking

Another fundamental difference is the skill level between cavers and spelunkers. In today’s caving practice, it does not need to be skilled or experienced spelunkers to participate in cave exploration. They do not need to be knowledgeable or proficient to do spelunking.

There are even caves that do not need guides to explore. When you are spelunking, you just go to the cave and walk on your own with or without any experience to enjoy the view and the overall experience of navigating inside a cave.

On the other hand, caving needs you to be highly skilled and experienced when exploring the caves. Since cavers study, research, and investigate a subject inside the cave, one must be highly skilled and knowledgeable to perform the job.


The type of preparation for cave exploration will also tell the difference between caving and spelunking. There is little to no preparation for spelunkers when doing the cave exploration. Sometimes, it is just a spontaneous idea to go to a cave and explore.

On the other hand, caving requires long preparation to do the purpose or objective successfully. Usually, the preparation and planning happen a few months or even years before the actual cave exploration takes place.

The preparation and planning usually involve the details of the different things that need to be done during the course of the exploration. It also involves plans for the safety and protection of the explorers.

The preparation also involves all the equipment and tools needed throughout the exploration. The equipment used by cavers will also tell the difference between spelunkers. Cavers have all the necessary equipment and tools to carry out and do the exploration objective.

Cave Exploration Experience

You can also tell the difference between caving and spelunking by the experienced level of the explorers. Since caving needs knowledgeable and experienced individuals, it is expected that the cave explorers are experienced and knowledgeable to carry out the purpose of the exploration.

For spelunkers, it does not need you to be experienced to explore a cave, especially if your objective is to enjoy the view and be a tourist inside. If you do not have experience in cave exploration, people from the caving circle will probably label you as spelunkers.


Learning the difference between spelunking vs caving will make you realize the importance of having a purpose in doing cave exploration. Most of the experienced cavers usually have a legitimate purpose in exploring a cave. On the other hand, spelunkers want to enjoy what the cave offers in terms of view and experience.

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