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I have said it before when writing this packing post and I will say it again but I find most packing lists on travel blogs these days to be absolutely useless. Sure, if you want some fashion advice go and have a look but other than that – do you really need someone telling you what you should pack for a Europe holiday? Or how many pairs of undies you need for a week in Florida?
Mind you, my not so favorable opinion about packing lists changed a bit when I went to Uganda last year and was faced with the dilemma as to what constituted proper Gorilla trekking clothes. I was pretty sure that I couldn’t do what most of the Instagram beauties do and pull off a stunning yet casual ‘Out of Africa’ outfit with a pretty wide-brimmed hat and casual white linen shirt. But I also have a severe dislike for zip-off hiking pants and khaki and didn’t want to look like a complete frump either. I wasn’t so much concerned about looking good in my gorilla selfies (others glow, I drip so I was pretty sure that good looking wasn’t an option after hours of hiking) but I did – don’t laugh at me – wanted to simply look good for the occasion. Because honestly, how often do you get to meet a gorilla family?!
In addition, we had gotten some advice from the PR rep from Uganda Tourism on what to pack and so I realized had I found a complete list for gorilla trekking clothes before which would combine both, functionality and style, I would have been incredibly grateful.
With that said, this list is mainly geared towards any kind of trekking attire where you will need to get down and dirty. When it comes to the question of what to wear on safari you will be able to take some liberties with this list. While some things might be the same and safari clothing needs to be practical, you could get away with the occasional Instagram-worthy piece because chances are you will be comfortably sitting in a safari vehicle. When it comes to jungle clothing just remember that there will be no comfortable seating arrangements and any shade of white is a no go (if you are a regular human being that is, some IG gods may disagree).
And as per usual, a lot of this advice for trekking clothes comes in hindsight.
My Hiking Gear List for Gorilla Trekking Clothes
The rainforest is not called rainforest for no reason so proper rainforest clothing is a must. We left in glorious sunshine only to get drenched a few hours later. Man, I was so happy that our trip back from the gorillas only took half an hour because I was soaked.
With that said, don’t bring a stylish fabric backpack like I did because chances are it will get soaked. Especially if you are carrying extensive camera gear make sure to invest in a solid, waterproof backpack or at the very least in a rain cover.
You will be able to hire a porter which is not only the smart thing to do but also the right thing as the money for these porters goes directly back to the communities. With that said, there is a weight limit on what you can bring and ask them to carry and chances are most of your backpack will be taken up by water for your trek. I absolutely love these new backpacks by WAYKS which have just been crowdfunded. Especially for photographers, those are great as they come with a separate camera compartment. This sounds perfect for a gorilla trek because the last 100m we ended up scrambling up a hill, cameras precariously dangling around our necks as the porters had stayed below with our backpacks. Having my camera safely stored in one of their camera bags would have been a lot less worrisome. And for those torrential downpours, they also offer an extra rain cover while the backpacks themselves are covered with water repellent material though are free of PFC.
With that said, their price is definitely something and if you don’t want to invest that into a backpack below are some good alternatives. I would base the decision on what kind of backpack you chose on whether you are planning to bring a big camera setup or just something for water and your iPhone.
Rain Gear for the Rainforest
Our list for trekking equipment also mentioned an umbrella. This confused me a bit to be honest because an umbrella seems quite impracticable when trying to get through a dense forest. However, once we met our gorilla family I did see a lone photographer who had one and to be honest, he was the driest of us all once it started to pour.
Still, as an alternative, I would rather invest in a good rain poncho or parka with a hood. While these may make you sweat underneath they do keep you dry and fold up quite small too unlike the cotton parka which I chose (what a rookie error that was though I now quite like it for sunny cool days). While some in our group were wearing rainjackets, I personally don’t think they suffice because have I mentioned – when it rains it pours in Uganda?! You definitely want something to cover your bum and part of your legs and not just a chic little windbreaker.
As I mentioned I am not a big fan of the usual hiking pants that are out there. I know why you are supposed to wear camouflage colors but this didn’t really apply to gorilla trekking and in general, I find beige pants incredibly unflattering and very high maintenance even if you get them in water & everything repellant fabrics.
When I started to think about my trekking clothes I set out to find the best hiking pants ever which would say Lara Croft and not Frump of the Jungle. With these lofty ambitions, I ended up on the Northface website. I find North Face to be an interesting company as they seem to cover all their bases when it comes to trekking gear from ugly waterproof hiking pants in 50 shades of beige (sorry Northface!) to really cool activewear in a myriad of colors. And then there were these, the perfect base for my jungle outfit:
My dreams had come true – I had found the perfect Lara Croft Northface walking trousers. They were black, they were slim and almost cut like clever, reinforced leggings and were as sturdy as they were comfy. And they came with pockets (for treasures and knives and stuff)! Best of all, they were even available in my size, not a given these days when you are above a size 10. I still got them and think they are one of the best pair of pants I have ever owned. Alas, they are not available anymore so I searched and searched and found these great alternatives for you:
Regardless of what kind of pants you chose in the end, make sure they are made out of solid material and are long. Even better if they sit somewhat snuggly around your ankles so you can be sure no creepy crawlies will find their way inside.
Jungle Clothing – Tops
To be honest, I wasn’t really concerned about my tops after I had found the perfect pair of pants. Again, some people may want to invest in ‘proper’ safari shirts but unless you dig the look I really don’t think that is necessary.
When it comes to trekking clothes the importance is comfort and practicality which meant breathable cotton and long-sleeves for me. I wore a cotton sports bra, a tank top, and a long-sleeve cotton button-down shirt. There are probably better fabrics out there which transport and don’t trap moisture but personally, I just wanted to make do with something that was already in my wardrobe. With that said, just make sure you have layering options and definitely keep something long sleeve on you.
You will definitely need hiking boots for your gorilla trek because the terrain is muddy, rocky and anything in-between. I know that packing hiking boots is always a bit of a schlepp especially if you don’t hike a lot on your trip but for a Uganda holiday they are well worth taking. If you have a limited luggage allowance just wear them on the plane to save on space.
I wore my ancient pair of trekking boots which died after having seen the gorillas and I was so glad I took them. If you have to buy a new pair make sure to break them in properly before you do any major treks. I personally make sure that they give me lots of good ankle support and that they are waterproof. The latter is especially important when gorilla trekking because not only does the rainforest get quite wet, you may have streams to cross. We came across one right at the beginning of our trek and my friend Chris who was just wearing sneakers ended up wading barefoot through the water so he wouldn’t have to do his hike in wet shoes afterward. So while yes, some people do their gorilla trek in sneakers, I’d say you need to be very surefooted and willing to get wet in one way or another.
While we weren’t advised on wearing leech socks, I strongly recommend you get some solid hiking socks. This way your feet stay comfy and you can make sure that no leeches, insects or black mamba babies will find their way into your pants.
Extras you will need for Gorilla Trekking
On our hiking gear list was also a walking stick. This is not something that you need to buy an advance but can either borrow from your lodge or at the gorilla center before you enter the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. If you are like me and have somewhat wonky knees and ankles a walking stick is a must! But even if you are generally very surefooted, I strongly advise you to take one. Walking sticks are great in the Impenetrable Forest because it can get muddy and steep and it will keep you from slipping and sliding.
Trekking gloves were something I hadn’t even considered and almost didn’t bring. However, my dad happened to have a pair of fitted gardening gloves he let me borrow and I was so glad I took them. At some point you will need to pull yourself up a hill or steady yourself on the way down and to be honest, you can’t ever be sure where you put your hand in the Ugandan rainforest so trekking gloves are the bomb. You will be able to hold on to and grab branches and won’t have to worry about poisonous plants or thorns.
Some say you will need a trekking hat, but I honestly think you don’t. Because you will be walking through dense greenery a hat that is too big and Insta-perfect will just get caught in branches all the time. The alternative is one of those bush hats that are floppy and usually tie under your chin and needless to say I would not ever be seen with one of those. They might be practical but they are not adequate gorilla attire in my eyes.
So skip the Insta-hats, skip the Indiana Jones vibe, and definitely skip the under-chin-tie ugliness. Get yourself a hooded parka for when it rains and a cap for sun protection (which you will probably not need as most of the gorilla trek happens in the shady forest).
Mosquito repellant is a must. Uganda was one of the few countries where I followed doctor’s orders and took malaria prevention (I took Malarone which my German insurance covered to 90% and had no issues whatsoever) and sprayed myself generously with deet. While I usually opt for something deet-free or natural, I wasn’t going to take any chances here and neither should you.
To summarize the packing list for your gorilla trekking clothes: Rain poncho and waterproof backpack, Lara Croft style trekking pants, hiking boots and long socks, breathable cotton layers for the top, walking stick, hiking gloves, and deet.
Have you been gorilla trekking in the rainforest before? Anything else you would recommend one should pack or bring?