In the northeast there is a good chance that you will get moist if not wet. Cotton is a terrible insulator once it is wet so in general it is a good idea to try to wear as little cotton as possible. It is understandable that a beginner is not going to invest in a cave suit, but if possible opt towards man made fabrics or wool.
Also note that you are going to get dirty. Most of the mud will come out during a wash, but not completely. Your clothes can also get a good beating crawling around, so make sure you are not bringing anything that you mind getting torn.
Loose fitting jeans, or any pants of a similar durable nature are advised.
The caves in the Northeast tend to be rather cool in comparison to others throughout the US. So, hypothermia is always a concern. Thus, it is highly recommended that you wear "polypros", i.e polypropoleyne underwear, both tops and bottoms. Do not wear cotton long johns.
Long Sleeve Shirt:
In addition to the polypro top, a long sleeve T-shirt is also advised to be worn into the cave.
Wool Sweater, Fleece:
An old wool sweater (cotton is a useless insulator once it gets wet) should be brought into the cave in the event that you get cold later. Opt for many thin layers over one big bulky sweater.
Ankle support is also important, so you need to have boots with very good ankle support. Don't use expensive boots because they will get muddy, scratched and wet.
If you have a wool cap of the type worn by skiers, bring it. If you get cold, you can easily put it on ( over 60% of body heat is lost through the head).
Cheap gardening gloves of the type usually sold for 2 or 3 dollars in most convenience stores should be worn into the cave. In addition to providing you with some protection from the cold, these gloves will help you to maintain good traction as you use your hands to move over slippery surfaces. They should be loose fitting.
If you have loose fitting coveralls (i.e. able to stretch your arms over the head with no problems), bring them. Otherwise, something like a military surplus field jacket will do just as well.
Each person should have 3 independent light sources. Thus, if your have already made arrangements to borrow a grotto helmet with a headlamp attachment, you still need to bring two flashlights into the cave also.
In addition to the batteries in your lights, you should bring one complete set of spares as well, especially an full extra set for your headlamp.
Plastic Garbage Bags:
One of a cavers best friends. Bring several large plastic garbage bags. One should be taken into the cave since it can always be used as an emergency heat tent. The others will be needed to put your damp clothing into following the trip. Bring extras as someone will always need one. They can also be used as a mat to change on.
Fluids and Munchies:
Bring a small bottle (not glass) of water or some other fluid in order to prevent dehydration. If you bring ready made Gatorade, you are advised to dilute it by one half. On your first few cave trips, Gatorade type fluids containing electrolytes is a very good idea, as opposed to just plain water. As you cave more often, you will soon be able to judge as to whether just a bottle of water is enough. One or two candy bars, or power bars is also a good idea. In addition to providing electrolytes, in the case of Power Bars, these foods will give you a quick source of energy should you become tired and/or cold.
You should have a small over the shoulder day pack of sorts to carry the above equipment and supplies. A fanny pack also seems to work for some. The important thing is that your hands should be free of all objects when moving in a cave.
Updated by Ben Peikes 9/19/2002