The first time I went on a jungle expedition I packed way too much stuff. I also spent days stressing over what clothes, shoes, socks and underwear to take, so hopefully this list will help you with your kit choices. What you take will be partly determined by how remote and how long you are going for. If you are doing day trips from a field station then you can probably afford to take more things. My latest trip was in a remote, unexplored rainforest and we had to set up camp in a different location every day, so this list is based on that:
Socks – Bridgedale Active Light Hiker. Made from cotton and Coolmax they are designed for hiking in warm weather and have cushioning in all the right places. I’ve tried several brands of sock and and none of them held up as well as these. You can get them online for around £12-15 a pair.
Underwear – In the past I have used Runderwear because they have a chafe free guarantee and the last thing you want is chafing in the jungle. Open wounds can quickly become infected and even if they don’t you’ll be in agony. They are very lightweight, dry quickly and I can confirm that they didn’t give me any chafing. The only downside is that they feel very cheap and don’t seem to be that well made. On my next trip I might look at trying something a bit tougher, like underarmour.
Boots/Shoes – Initially I purchased a pair of Altberg Jungle Microlite boots which are very tough, have good tread and also have drainage holes to let out water from crossing rivers etc. but I foolishly didn’t leave enough time for me to break them in. So I contacted the explorer Benedict Allen to ask what boots he wears and this is what he told me:
Have “boots that your feet are well accustomed to – that won’t shift, thus rubbing your skin, and that are not going to press your toes, e.g. downhill. I’ve abandoned my army-type, say Magnum jungle boots for a lightweight but robust walking shoe with heel support and that breathes. Feet will get wet anyway, so don’t need them to be waterproof and bigger leather boots get too heavy when wet.”
I scanned through his photos and saw that he wore a pair of Merrell Moab 2 ventilator hiking shoes. If they are good enough for a famous jungle explorer then they are good enough for me, so I went out and bought a pair. They held up excellently in the jungle and they were incredibly comfortable.
If you are going to be spending a lot of time in and around water (say surveying along a river) then it might be worth considering some sort of amphibious shoe. You’ll want something with good grip as jungle rivers are often strewn with very slippery rocks. Ive heard good things about vivo barefoot but they are expensive and I haven’t tested them. They also change their range often and last time I looked they had discontinued some of the lines that looked most suitable for jungle river use.
Flip flops – Not essential but I use a pair of cheap (99p) Primark flip flops to walk around camp in and to let my feet breathe after a day of being in boots. They wont protect you if you step on a snake but it does stop you getting thorns in your feet if you need to nip out of the tent to go to the toilet!
Shirts – You want something that is lightweight, moisture wicking, tough enough to handle jungle thorns etc and has long sleeves. I use Craghoppers Nosilife Adventure II because it also provides protection from biting insects, UPF40+ for sun protection, has a secure zip pocket and a roll out collar to shade your neck. They claim that it provides odour control but in all honestly I stank. For a week long trip I would take two of these shirts. One shirt actually got damaged by my backpack but I emailed Craghoppers and they sent me a free replacement.
If I could afford it I would love to try out the shirts made by Vollebak, but I haven’t yet been able to justify the price.
Fleece – Any lightweight fleece will do. Depending on elevation it can get cool at night
Lightweight raincoat – I took a poncho but didn’t end up using it as the rain wasn’t too bad. Anything that is lightweight and packs down really small is ideal. Don’t bother with waterproof trousers.
Trousers – Anything lightweight that allows good movement. In the past I’ve used very cheap Karrimor trousers that double up as shorts. They won’t last forever but they dry quickly and are comfortable. My advice would be to get a pair that has some give in the crotch area as you’ll be scrabbling around in a multitude of positions and you don’t want a restrictive gusset (which can also cause chafing). There are lots of better trousers than the ones I use so the best thing is to go and try a few pairs on and see which ones you find the most comfortable and least restrictive.
Lightweight shorts – go for something baggy and with an elasticated waist (think football short material). The are comfortable to get into when you’ve cleaned up after a hard day trekking. They are also ideal for when you need to squat for a poo as they can be pulled out of the way easily.
A clean t-shirt – Your day clothes will be damp and stinky so its nice to have one clean shirt put aside solely for use in the camp. I use a lightweight exercise top like this one from Trespass.
Hat – If you are travelling by open boat into the jungle a good sun hat (and a high factor sun cream) is a must as you’ll risk sunburn and sun stroke without even realising it. A colleague of mine got heat exhaustion from being on the boat and we had to delay the fieldwork for a day whilst she recovered. In the jungle it is usually very shady so its unlikely that you’ll be affected by the sun too much but a hat helps to keep stuff off your face and it also absorbs some sweat and stops it running down your face. Last time I used a cheap baseball cap (which got so sodden with sweat that it starting dripping off the peak!). I now have a Filson cap which feels indestructible. Depending on preference you may prefer a wide brimmed hat to provide better sun protection.
Sun cream – Choose a high factor (30 or above). In deep rainforest you probably wont be affected by the sun too much but do not underestimate the power of the sun in the tropics. In a jungle clearing it is still very easy to get burned and it’s also very easy to burn when it’s cloudy. As someone who has recently lost his mum to melanoma, I can tell you that skin cancer is not a trivial matter.
I find sun cream disgusting. It clogs me up and I sweat it out. Over the years I’ve tried multiple brands – most of which claim to be non-greasy (lies!). Ive found that Tesco’s own brand sun cream (Soleil) is as good as any named brand creams available and has a 5 star rating. It’s also a fraction of the price of named brands. For my face I tend to use LaRoche. It’s expensive but it is the least greasy of all the sun creams that I’ve tried. Boots also do a face sun cream that isn’t too bad either.
Travel towel – Something lightweight that packs down small and dries quickly (nothing really dries in the jungle though, but damp is better than sodden).
Water purifier – This is one of those things that you can spend a fortune on if you want to and there are some excellent models if you are going to be undertaking multiple trips where you might need one – like the MSR Guardian. I’ve used a much smaller filter – the Sawyer Mini as I found it useful to attach to the end of a water bladder tube. I’ve also gone without and used boiled water from a clean river and didn’t have any problems, but it does take a lot more time.
Water Bladder – Incredibly useful if you are trekking as it means you don’t need to keep stopping to get your water bottle out of your bag. Go for the largest one you can afford as you will drink a LOT in the jungle. In fact it can be really difficult to drink enough to replace what you are sweating out. I use a Camelbak reservoir. Last time I took a 2L one but next time i will use the 3L version.
Penknife – A small Swiss Army knife has all the tools I’ve so far needed. If you are travelling with guides than I’d expect them to have larger knives for cutting paths and firewood etc. If you’re going alone then you’ll need a machete.
Paracord – I haven’t had to use this yet but a length of tough cord has multiple uses in the jungle – lashing things together, emergency boot laces, something to hold a tarp up etc. The one I take is tied into a little bracelet, so I just attach it to my backpack somewhere as it doesn’t fit round my wrist. If you want to you can make your own paracord bracelet or you can buy one cheaply from most survival/outdoor shops.
Sweat rag – handy to wipe sweat from your face and neck. Just Google ‘jungle sweat rag’ and there’s plenty of places to get them from. Quite disgustingly you can buy used ex-army sweat rags on EBay – not for me but whatever floats your boat!
Anti-mosquito spray – seems to be most useful in the evening when you are sitting around camp. Something with a high concentration of DEET will also repel leeches but it’s nasty stuff and will melt anything plastic. It also destroyed a pair of my socks by making them really baggy – presumably by melting the nylon component, but it did stop the leeches. I would like to try Smidge to see if that works in jungle – it works brilliantly on horseflies in the UK and they are way more persistent that mosquitoes. If anyone has tried Smidge in the tropics please let me know.
Backpack – In the past I’ve used the Osprey Farpoint backpack as it was the bag I already owned. Ive also used it on other non-jungle long distance treks and it has held up surprisingly well. But I wouldn’t really recommend it if you are looking for a new jungle backpack. Although it has lots of great features, it also has relatively poor padding on the straps and the hip belt isn’t great. I would however recommend Osprey as a brand and on my next trip I will be buying a different model that is more suitable for trekking in a jungle environment. My advice is to go to your nearest outdoor shop and try on a range of models. Most shops have weighted packs to fill the bags with so that you get a better feeling for how they will feel when fully loaded.
Packing cubes – Useful for keeping various bits of clothing and equipment separate. Also doubles up as a pillow.
First Aid Kit – Take all your essential medication and it might also be worth checking if any of the drugs you have are restricted/illegal in the country you are going to. If that’s the case be sure to take a copy of your prescription with you. As well as all the usual first aid equipment I would suggest taking the following: suture kit, blister plasters, vaseline/anti-chafe cream, sudocreme, antiseptic wipes, anti-fungal cream, talc for your feet, anti-diarrhoea meds and plenty of rehydration mix. If you are a woman then also consider taking some emergency sanitary products – a friend of mine took medication to stop her period and it didn’t work. It took a lot of frantic google-translating to try and find sanitary products in the nearest (remote) village! It’s also useful if at least one person in your team actually knows how to perform first aid!
Wet wipes – it’s likely that some days you wont be able to wash properly and wet wipes hide a multitude of sins. It also important to keep your feet and crotch clean. A build up of sweat and dirt will lead to chafing and potentially infection.
Ziplock bags – useful for keeping used wet wipes, tissues and rubbish etc in to bring back out of the jungle with you. They also double up as useful scientific sample bags.
Personal hygiene – Chances are that at some point you will be able to have a wash in a river or have a makeshift shower. Make sure you use a non-toxic and biodegradable body wash to avoid contaminating the environment. I take a travel tube of toothpaste and a cheap toothbrush that I cut most of the hand off to save space. The jungle is so sweaty there isn’t much point in taking anti-perspirant but that’s a personal choice.
Power bank – obviously there is nowhere to charge your electronics so a power bank is an essential bit of kit. I use a 20,000mAh model which has enough capacity to charge a smartphone for about a week. Why am I taking a smart phone to the jungle you ask? Well it’s also a good camera/video camera that is very portable.
Camera – as well as the camera on my phone I also take a Nikon D3300 DSLR (which I want to upgrade). To save space an 18-300mm lens should cover you for most eventualities. I haven’t taken my 600mm telephoto lens because it just weighs too much and in the deep jungle you aren’t likely to need a telephoto lens of that size. If you are into macro photography then you’ll likely want to include one of these lenses but I just use my phone.
Binoculars – I use Hawke Endurance ED 8×32. They are waterproof and gas filled so won’t fog up in the jungle environment. For the price the image quality is excellent.
Head lamp – There’s so many models to choose from but my advice is to get one that is rechargeable but also allows you to use disposable batteries as well. I have used the Petzl Reactik+ for a number of years and it has never let me down.
Scientific equipment – if you are performing research then what scientific equipment you take will be determined by the type of research you are doing.
Tent/hammock – Anything lightweight that can handle a heavy downpour. If you opt for a hammock then get one with a mosquito net and rain cover.
Sleeping bag – the night time temperatures will dictate which sleeping bag you should take but generally speaking it is going to be something very light. I use the Ayacucho 700 Lite sleeping bag.
Sleeping mat – Don’t bother with those fancy, expensive inflating ones. It will get punctured before you know it and you won’t want to be trying to repair it in the jungle. An old school foam mat will do the job. Obviously not needed if you are sleeping in a hammock.
Pillow – not essential but there have been many occasions whilst I was lying in my tent, tossing and turning, wishing that I had something comfortable to put my head on. If you don’t want one or don’t have room for a travel pillow then using your fleece or resting you head on one of your packing cubes is sufficient and saves on space.
Food – on my last jungle trip we went with 3 local guides and we ate a LOT of rice. Rice and dried shrimp, rice and jungle spinach (Celosia sp.), rice and ferns, rice and chilli sauce and rice and fish. I substituted this bland diet with a few packs of energy bars. Next time I will be taking pre-packed expedition meals as rice was barely enough to sustain me and it became so monotonous that I started to dread meal times. Coffee was also a Godsend.
GPS beacon – not strictly essential but worth considering depending on your circumstances. My colleague took one as we were heading to a very remote location. You can get models that are pretty small and although I’ve (thankfully) never had to use one, if you became ill or fell and broke your leg in the jungle it could quite literally be a lifesaver.
A final note – pack as light as you can! Lightweight versions of everything are available and if you can afford them then buy them. You will be glad that you did! Whilst packing, deliberate over each and every item and ask yourself ‘do I really need this?’ – if you aren’t sure then chances are it’s best to leave it out. Also don’t underestimate the importance of keeping aside a set of clean, dry clothes for use solely in the camp.