Caving, also known as spelunking, is primarily a recreational sport that consists of the exploration of caves by hobbyist. The recreational form of spelunking is enjoyed by all ages and both genders. Caves have been explored for thousands of years. Evidence suggests that prehistoric men ventured into caves for shelter and protection rather than for recreation.
Besides being a recreation, caving is often used by scientist and geologist to study the interior formations of the earth such as stalactites and stalagmites. The interior view of the caves gives scientist clues as to how the earth was formed. Also studied are the numerous animals that can be found in the dark recesses. A person who studies caves from a scientific point of view is known as a Speleologist.
Cavers can venture into caves in the ground, in the ice, and caves that are submerged underwater. The ground caver utilizes equipment such as flashlights, ropes, helmets, gloves, knee pads, and waterproof gear to assist them in their exploration. The ice cavers utilizes ice climing equipment as well as traditional ground caving equipment. The underwater caver utilizes specialized equipment that includes scuba gear to assist in breathing.
The challenges of the sport depend on the cave being visited, but often include the negotiation of pitches, squeezes, and water. Climbing or crawling is often necessary, and ropes are used extensively.
Caving is often undertaken solely for the enjoyment of the activity or for physical exercise, but original exploration, or physical or biological science is an important goal for many cavers. Unexplored cave systems comprise some of the last unexplored regions on Earth and much effort is put into trying to locate and enter them. In well-explored regions (such as most first-world countries), the most accessible caves have already been explored, and gaining new caves often requires digging or diving.
Caves have been explored out of necessity for thousands of years, but only in the last century or two has the activity become a sport. In recent decades caving has changed considerably due to the availability of modern protective wear and equipment. It has recently come to be known as an "extreme sport" by some (though not commonly by its practitioners).