Notes on Mine Exploration Gear

I was doing some reading tonight, and making notes on up-coming projects and ideas, and a few musings seemed to be worth sharing.
The wrecking crew and I are talking about going back into the mines (a mine, some mine, any mine) sometime soon. It is one of those things that, once you’ve started, get’s harder and harder to resist. The need to go back in starts building, a curiosity at first and then a driving, desperate, need. It’s a great feeling.
With this coming up, and the recent overview of abandoned mine exploration, I’ve been thinking over some gear selection, and wanted to make a few notes.

I commented in the overview article on the need for good head protection, and our use of slim-line multi-sport/tactical bump-shells from Bell and ProTec. Recently, I came across some photos from my first venture into an abandoned mine, in which I wore a construction type hardhat. For those unfamiliar (if there are any) these are molded plastic, with no padding. Safety is afforded merely by a plastic support inside that mounts to the head and keeps the helmet standing off from the wearers skull.
Needless to say these are less beneficial than a properly made bump-shell in terms of security. They are also bulkier, creating a larger profile than a bump-shell, and weigh about the same.
If you can’t get your hands on anything else, go with one of these, but you will be far better served by a proper bump-shell.
You can see the difference in fit and profile between the hardhat (blue) and the bump-shells in these photos:

Note that the hardhat perches atop the head, as opposed to actually encasing it. The bump shell, even though an inexpensive option from Bell, provides much better protection for the whole of the head in addition to allowing a lower profile and more comfortable fit. (Spartan Sticker from MilSpecMonkey [To answer the inevitable question ahead of time]).

Load Bearing:
Credit for this idea should go to Ian Wendt of Special Circumstances, as he voiced the rudiments of it to me some months ago. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it has grown on me to the point that I think I am going to try it as soon as possible.
Backpacks, even smaller, slim fitting models, can get in the way in a mine. Making your profile that much thicker just isn’t helpful sometimes. There are, unfortunately, not many ways to carry a good amount of exploration and emergency gear other than a pack. One possibility however is to transfer some of your load carrying to the front, via the use of a vest or a chest rig.
My spin on the idea is to use a low-profile chest rig, ideally a simple MOLLE panel type that allows for a variety of pouch options and placements.
With a low-profile chest rig, it would be possible to set-up a group of slim pouches to hold spare batteries, flashlights, power bars, camera and simple tools.
For hydration, which is probably the largest reason to use a backpack, it would be possible to simply switch to a low profile bladder carrier, in lieu of having a full sized pack. The bladder carrier would sit slimmer to the back, taking up no more space than absolutely necessary for the bladder.
Using this method, you would sacrifice some storage space, such as for a jacket or shell, but gain a lot of mobility in tight confines. You would also have everything you need immediately at hand on the front of your body, as opposed to having to fish it out over your shoulder or take off your pack.
This would also be a workable approach for more technical exploration as well. Getting rid of the full-size pack would make carrying a rope pack much more convenient. Having your backpack solely for hydration, rope and technical gear, moving your essentials to the front, would make a technical load-out much easier to manage.
This is definitely something I want to play with more in the future. I’ve been wanting to do a general write up on MOLLE chest rigs anyway, and this would be a good vehicle for testing a few under extreme circumstances.

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