Friday, May 20, 2011

How to Pack for the Jungle

Traveling to the jungle is probably one of the greatest adventures a nature and wildlife lover can experience. Cradling the equator, around the world, there are still some relatively pristine tropical jungle destinations to explore. 

However, If you are traveling to the jungle there are some essential items you’ll want to take with you. If you’re flying in, such as I did last year from Cusco, Peru to Boca Manu, in the Peruvian Amazon, it will probably be on a small airplane and you’ll have weight restrictions on your luggage. The limit on my trip was 22 pounds. These limits are even more challenging if you’re a photographer with a lot of camera gear.

The most practical way to carry your stuff is in a light duffle bag which won’t add much to your weight. Also you can fold this up in your suitcase, which you will want to leave behind at a trusted guesthouse or hotel, located the point of your departure to the jungle. You will also need a good day pack for those day hikes to animal and bird viewing sites. If you’re a photographer, a daypack (like Tamrac or Lowepro) which carries both your photo equipment and hiking essentials, is ideal.

This was the inside of my cozy bungalow at the Manu Wildlife Center.
I had a small duffle bag and daypack which had to weigh less than 22 pounds!

Aside from the obvious—passport, airline tickets, and money—here are some essentials you won’t want to leave behind (in no particular order):

1. Insect repellant with Deet! Deet! Deet! Need I say more! If you live in the United States, buy it at home, before your departure (not sure about Europe and other countries). It’s usually stronger here, with 30% to 100% Deet. However, I’ve used the 100% before and it made my hands peel. I prefer the 30% for that reason. Carry it in a plastic baggie.

2. Camera & gear: You will have to prioritize on this one if you have strict weight restrictions. But, if you’re shooting in the jungle, in low light, I definitely recommend a lightweight carbon fiber tripod. 

Shinji, a well equipped member of our group, and Marlena, our fearless guide.

3. Binoculars for wildlife and bird viewing.

4. Lightweight clothing that’s easily washable and which dries quickly (try to stay away from cotton). I really like my REI synthetic convertible pants, which I can wear as shorts, and have lots of useful pockets. I also love my button down REI shirts which have zippered meshed air vent openings on the side. But there are many brands out there which do the same job. I brought two changes of clothes with me and would wash them out and hang them at the end of the day. However, three might be better because everything dries reeeaalllly....... sllllooowwwllly in the tropical rainforest! So, I was wearing damp clothes a lot in the evenings! And, socks, forget it! They take days to dry in the rainforest!

Lightweight synthetic clothing works best in the hot and humid tropical rainforest

5. Lightweight hiking boots or trail shoes which are well worn before your trip (no brand new boots).

6. Hiking socks: My personal preference, here in the U.S., are Wigwam socks from REI. But, like I said, they a long time to dry.

7. Rain jacket and pants: Necessary items. After all, it’s called the “rainforest” for a reason! The Manu Wildlife Center provided the rubber boots. Otherwise that would also be a required item.

Not surprisingly, it rained a lot!

A soggy day on a viewing platform!

Ponchos will work too, and protect your backpack at the same time.

8. Hat: For sun and insect protection.

9. Water bottle: It’s very important to stay hydrated in hot climates.

10. Swiss Army Knife, Leatherman, or similar multi-purpose tool. I never leave home without one.

11. Flashlight: Actually I prefer to bring 2; one a Petzl headlamp which leaves you free to use both hands; In addition I like to bring a Mini Maglight which you can unscrew the top of and also use as a “candle”.

12. Sunglasses: Preferably with polarizing lenses which cut the water glare.

13. Sunblock and Chapstick with SPF of at least 15. I’ve been told by a dermatologists that it’s better if your sun protection has zinc oxide or titanium oxide rather than an ├╝ber high SPF factor. 

14. Any medications you might require, including an anti-Malarial prophylactic if you are going to an area which has malaria carrying mosquitoes. 

15. Your own personally customized First Aid Kit. Yours may be different than mine!

16. Electronic gadgets and their accessories: In addition, don’t forget extra batteries, camera chargers, memory cards, plugs, and any electronic device and its accessories, which you cannot live without! Although we did not have electricity at the Manu Wildlife Center, where I went last year, the staff did turn on the generator for several hours each evening so that guests could charge their camera batteries. Oh, and to make cocktails!
Other random stuff that I like to have:
  • Purrell or any other hand sanitizer.
  • A bandana which is good for a number of purposes.
  • A small microfiber towel. It’s the jungle, it's hot and humid, and you will perspire!
  • A backpack cover to protect your gear, when it rains. Or, you can get a poncho that will go over you and the back pack!
  • A pack of Kleenex or facial tissues.
  • A journal and a couple of pens.

When you have a strict weight limit it’s a good idea to pre-plan the packing at home, prior to your trip, exactly what you will be taking to the jungle, and weigh it. Every item and ounce counts, so pack wisely.

And, have I mentioned the Deet? For goodness sakes, don’t leave home without the Deet!

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