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10 Essential Clothes For Rainforest Trekking: A Wildlife Photographer and Guide’s List

there are some essential clothes for rainforest trekking if you want to stay safe and comfortable

Ever since I rented my first Eyewitness VHS from my local library (the series with the scarlet macaw flying through the museum in the intro), I’ve been in love with tropical rainforests. When my parents would take me to the Vancouver Aquarium, my favourite part was always the open-air Amazon exhibit with the arapaimas, sloths and parrots. 

Over the past 7 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to live out my jungle dreams, having spent thousands of hours exploring, living in and guiding in tropical rainforests all over SE Asia and Latin America.

Through experience, recommendations and trial and error, I’ve learned which articles of clothing you absolutely must have if you plan on spending time hiking or trekking through tropical rainforests. With that in mind, below is my guide to the 10 necessary clothes for rainforest treks. They are:


Jungle Clothing #1: A Rain Poncho – Snugpak Patrol Poncho

A rain poncho is one of the universally necessary jungle clothes for rainforest treks because these forests get water year-round. The amount of water that falls varies from region to region, but if you spend enough time in tropical wet forests, you will eventually find out why they’re called rainforests. 

What’s more, if you spend enough time in wet environments, you’ll eventually realize that if you’re out there long enough, nothing is waterproof. In the wettest forests, a “waterproof” jacket simply won’t do.

In places like the Choco-Darien forest (which stretches from Panama through Colombia into Ecuador) or the Amazonian piedmont, or any national park in southern Thailand during the monsoon season, you need something like the Sungpak Patrol Rain Poncho

(it’s also thick enough to keep mosquitos and other biting insects at bay)

The Snugpack Patrol rain poncho is lightweight and breathable while still windproof. This is important because even in hot climates, if you’re soaked to the bone, and the wind picks up, you can still get hypothermia. Another thing I really like about it is the fact that it has a large velcro pocket at the front and is roomy enough to completely cover a backpack

This last aspect is a deal-breaker in a rain poncho for me because I’ve been caught out in crazy rainstorms while hiking into lodges and arrived with everything in my supposedly waterproof backpack completely soaked, clothes and all. It’s paratex (hydrophilic polyurethane coating)100% waterproof fabric is as waterproof as you’re going to get

If you’re looking for something a bit less expensive that also doubles as a picnic tarp or emergency shelter, check out the PTEROMY Hooded Rain Poncho:

Demerits

The only real flaw I could find with The Snugpack Patrol rain poncho is that the sleeves were too short. It advertises itself as full-sleeve, but if you’re over 5’7, you will likely have a few inches of your wrist/arm exposed. Not a deal-breaker for me, but if you’re a taller person, it won’t cover your arms up to your hand. 

Check it out here

Jungle Clothing #2: quick dry pants – Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge Convertible Pants

I usually bring two pairs of quick-dry hiking pants with me when I’m in the rainforest, and I try to make sure I have at least one dry pair at all times. Nothing is worse at 5:30 a.m. than having to don cold wet pants before heading out to a birdwatching spot. 

This is why quick-dry hiking pants are part of my necessary clothes for the rainforest. Big, heavy cargo pants or tactical pants might seem more comfortable (and they do provide more protection against mosquito bites, I’ll give them that), but they take forever to dry, and if you’re in a place with no washer/dryer, air that is almost always saturated with moisture, and sunlight is never a guarantee, you want clothes that dry fast. 

I like the Columbia Men’s Silver Ridge Convertible Pants because these dry fast, they are very comfortable zip-ups and I really like that you can make them into shorts. If you reach a stream or spring that you want to take a dip in, these easily convert into a bathing suit. 

For women, check out the Columbia Women’s Saturday Trail Ii Convertible Pant.

Pro-tip: Buy a waist size up with either of these quick dry pants and bring a belt.

They run a little tight, and it’s always better for jungle clothes to fit a little baggier (harder for insects to bite through). It’s also better for using the cargo pockets because something like a flashlight, trail bars or a small point-and-shoot camera can feel uncomfortable if your pants are too tight. Roomier pants also make it easier to raise your legs to climb over roots or up rocks. 

Demerits

The mesh pockets are a little weak, so you would have to be careful about putting anything sharp in them. It would be nice if they were more robust.

As mentioned above, they’re also a bit tight around the thighs. This is always a pet peeve of mine with hiking pants. Tight pants make your movements more strained, and you can actually end up wasting energy because of it. 

All things considered, a good pair of quick dry pants to add to your necessary clothes for rainforest trekking packing list.


Necessary Clothes For Rainforest #3: Jungle Boots – Altama PX Men’s Slip Resistant Jungle Boot

Jungle boots are definitely the necessary footwear to go along with your necessary clothes for rainforest excursions. While they aren’t designed to stop water from entering entirely, they are water resistant as well as efficient expellers of water

The Altama PX Men’s Slip Resistant Jungle Boots are very nice anti-slip boots made by a company that has been manufacturing military specification boots for the US department of defense for decades. 

If you would like to read a more complete review of various different jungle boot options, check out my 5 Best Jungle Boots For Tropical & Wet Forests review. 

Jungle boots are necessary clothes for the rainforest because they are lightweight, breathable and comfortable while offering great foot protection. The best ones are a good mixture of sturdy nylon and leather, adept at draining sand, mud and water from around your feet. This is the best boot for tropical wet forests, especially for longer treks (much more 

Specs

Weight:
1.75 pounds
Waterproof:
– Water-resistant exterior
– In-step drainage vents keep water and moisture flowing out. 
Durability: 
– LENZI non-metallic anti-penetration board.
– Steel plate foot protection
– High-strength 1000 denier Cordura nylon that is both breathable and tear-resistant
Comfort:
– Removable, cushioned, polyurethane insole
– Molded thermoplastic heel counter and toe box for both lateral support and comfort
Fit: 
Reviewer comments indicate sizing can be difficult. (search “fit” in the “customer questions and answers” bar)
Zipper system for quick on/off: No 

Demerits

As I mentioned, jungle boots are not “waterproof” in the same way a rain poncho would be. They aren’t designed to keep water out, they’re made to be water repellent to a certain extent (though certainly not extended submersion-proof) and to effectively expel moisture from inside the boot. Your socks and feet will get wet with these on, but they won’t stay waterlogged. 

Additionally, some reviewer comments indicate that the sizing is a bit difficult to gauge.


Essential Jungle Clothing #4: Quick Dry Socks: MIRMARU Trekking Moisture Wicking Cushion Crew Socks

Another of the necessary must-have clothes for rainforest trekking is quick-drying socks–several pairs. I’m of the Lieutenant-Dan-in-Forest-Gump school of thought when it comes to the essential clothes for rainforest expeditions: take care of your feet and try not to do anything stupid like get yourself killed. I.e., socks, socks, socks. 

I always bring a dry bag with me when I’m heading into the rain forest (either in my backpack or as my daypack) and inside you will find my phone, a camera, batteries, a small first aid kit and, invariably, an extra pair of quick dry socks. A pair of dry socks is like a warm cup of chicken noodle soup on a cold day, but for your feet. 

After wet pants, there is nothing quite as demoralizing in the jungle as wet socks (I’d rank it even worse than a wet t-shirt). Your torso produces a lot of heat because that’s where all of your organs are, so there is a lot of warm blood being pumped to that area, heating up your skin and drying things out quicker. Wet socks seem to stay wet forever

You might think that socks are socks, but not so in the jungle. The MIRMARU Trekking Moisture Wicking Cushion Crew Socks are necessary clothes for rainforest trekking because they have extra cushion in the sole, built-in elastic arch and Achilles support and breathable fibres

You might be wondering why something that looks kind of thick for the jungle. Don’t be fooled, these are still quick-drying, moisture-wicking socks. Even in warm weather, your feet will not be boiling.

I also tend to prefer a bit thicker sock in the jungle (and certainly not a sport sock that exposes your entire ankle and lower shin) in the event that ants get in. 

It’s amazing how quickly your boots can become overrun with ants, especially pissed-off army ants. You’re standing there looking up at a monkey or bird for 30 seconds, and when you look down, there are hundreds of ants covering your feet–some of which may have infiltrated your boots (it happens). 

Demerits

Can’t really find any with these to be quite honest. 5 pairs of quality, quick dry trekking socks for this price is a really good deal. A very nice addition to your necessary clothes for rainforest treks list. 


Essential Jungle Clothing #5: Mosquito Net Hat: CAMOLAND Sun Hat w/Removable Mosquito Head Net

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe

There is somewhat of a misconception out there surrounding mosquitoes in the rainforest. People who have spent a lot of time in thick primary rainforests know that mosquitos are not really an issue outside of dusk and dawn hours. This is because mosquitoes are crepuscular by nature and are actually quite vulnerable to the heat of the day, especially direct sunlight exposure. 

It’s a whole different story, however, after a rain, at dusk and dawn hours, in and around bodies of water (especially heavily shaded areas) or if you’re up in a canopy tower birdwatching. For this reason, I recommend a mosquito net hat on my necessary clothes for rainforest trekking list (particularly in lowland rainforest that contains swamp and seasonally flooded forests). 

I like the CAMOLAND Sun Hat w/Removable Mosquito Head Net first and foremost because the mosquito net is easy to see through. Obstructed vision tends to be my biggest issue with other mosquito net hats I’ve used, but this one from CAMOLAND is great. 

The net is detachable so you can wear it as a mosquito net hat or a regular wide-brimmed outdoor hat. I also like that it folds up small and is super lightweight polyester. You can stuff this in a bag or suitcase and forget about it. 

Demerits

The main drawback of this hat: it’s 100 percent polyester and therefore, not waterproof, which is not ideal in the rainforest. You can easily up the water resistance by applying something like otter wax to it, though, which should work just fine. 

All in all, however, a great, affordable mosquito net hat that is easy to travel with, keeps the insects away from your face, head and neck and can be worn as a regular wide-brim hat–which I think should be among the necessary clothes for rainforest trekking with or without the mosquito net. 


Essential Jungle Clothing #6: Cotton Quick Dry Shirts – Columbia Men’s Bonehead Ls Shirt

In addition to quick-drying pants and socks, another necessary addition to your clothes for rainforest trekking list should be some cotton quick-dry shirts. 

Quick-dry shirts are important for the obvious reason–HikePak Anti Leech Hiking Socks –and they also are good for keeping your shirts smelling as good as they possibly can. Things get stinky fast in the jungle and having quick dry everything minimizes the stink you impose on others. 

I really like the Columbia Men’s Bonehead Ls Shirt. It’s 100 percent cotton, so it’s lightweight and breathes really well, and it’s a fishing shirt, which means it’s designed to be a little bit roomier in the torso and the back for storing fishing gear.

For a women’s version of a similar shirt, check out the Columbia Women’s PFG Bahama Ii UPF 30 Long Sleeve Fishing Shirt.

Looser-fitting fishing shirts are not only nice for storage purposes but also for keeping the mozzies at bay. There are actually a surprising number of garments and fabrics that aren’t mosquito-proof

Its four pockets on the front (two of which are button-up) are also nice because I like having certain things handy when I’m hiking–snacks, an extra camera and flashlight batteries. 

Important: To reiterate, it’s a fishing shirt, so if you order your normal size in this shirt, it’s going to be a bit loose-fitting by design. Again, you want this because tight-fitting clothing offers no insect protection in the rainforest. 

Demerits

The problem with cotton is that it wrinkles easily, but it’s a jungle shirt at the end of the day, so who cares. Cotton is also more absorbent (but far lighter and more breathable) than polyester, so it doens’t wick your sweat away as quickly, but it will still dry out fast. 

All in all, if I had to choose, I would opt for a cotton fishing shirt over a poly safari shirt (and certainly over a lycra compression top or anything like that) in my necessary clothes for rainforest trekking wardrobe.


Essential Jungle Clothing #7: A Hooded Sweatshirt

I don’t have any particular recommendations here, but a hooded sweatshirt is another of my necessary clothes for rainforest living. When you’re shooting the breeze and having a beer around a lodge’s dining area or leafing through a field guide in a hammock, it’s nice to have a hooded sweatshirt to stay warm and keep the mosquitoes away from your head. 

If there is anywhere that mosquitoes tend to be a problem regardless of the time of day, it’s in covered, cooler areas. 


Try to avoid black fabric, if possible, because some studies have shown that in the presence of CO2 (which human beings emit a lot of), female mosquitoes are more likely to be attracted and want to bite black targets.


Essential Jungle Clothing #8: Sweat Pants

This might sound counter-intuitive, given that presumably, you’re preparing to head to the tropics while reading this guide, but nighttime temperatures can still get down to the low 20s in the rainforest (depending on where you are and the time of year). You can still wear sweatpants and be comfortable in those temperatures. 

Sweatpants are nice cosy jungle clothes you can slip into at the end of the day, and I recommend you buy them a little bit longer if you can so that they protect your ankles. I get most of my mosquito bites around my ankles when I’m sitting with my feet under dining tables at rainforest lodges, and a nice pair of sweatpants (not pyjama pants, they’re too thin) helps me reduce the bites. 

Again, try not to buy anything black (re: the above study I linked to regarding female mosquito preferences for black objects).


Essential Jungle Clothing #9: Boxer Briefs

I’m not going to recommend anything in particular here because everyone has their preferences when it comes to what they wear down there but fellas, do yourselves a favour, wear boxer briefs in the jungle. 

I’m going to share a story here. In 2018 I was hiking through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It’s not a tropical wet forest but rather a highly threatened tropical dry forest. Most of the same clothing that I would consider necessary for rainforest trekking would also apply there. 

Various parts of the 6-hour trek involved cutting through cattle pasture. Now ticks will live anywhere, but they especially love livestock and their blood. Long story short, when I emerged from the bush at the end of the hike, I was covered in ticks (probably 2 dozen) from head to toe.

Good bush hygiene and safety means doing a tick inspection whenever you’re anywhere with ticks, and when I eventually got to my crotch, held my breath and went in for inspection, low and behold, I had a passenger. 

I was stupidly wearing normal cotton boxers because they feel nice and breathe well. Big mistake. If there is ANYWHERE penetrable in your clothing, ticks will find and exploit it, and if you don’t catch them before they burrow, you will be left with an INSANELY itchy reminder of your foolishness.


Bonus Item: Leech Socks – HikePal Anti Leech Hiking Socks 

This is a bonus addition because leech socks are not necessary clothes for rainforest trekking everywhere. I’ve never had a problem with leeches anywhere in the Americas, only Asia. If you are planning on heading to rainforests in SE Asia, invest in some leech socks. 

Leech bites don’t hurt, but they itch like crazy (and for a surprisingly long time) and the anticoagulant they inject you with makes you bleed a startling amount. I’ve taken my boots off after a night of hiking in SE Asia to find socks so red that you’d think I’d been slashed with a piece of broken glass. The culprit is a squishy little inch-and-half-long f**ker.


I think the most amount of leeches I’ve ever seen was in Borneo’s Danum Valley, and others will attest to the strange preponderance of tiger leeches there. I know Danum valley either gives or lends (I don’t recall which) all visitors a pair of leech socks in preparation for the sheer number of the critters they’re going to encounter, but leeches are a reality in many places throughout SE Asia, so it’s always wise to be prepared.


What Went Into My Selection Process for My 10 Necessary Clothes For Rainforest Treks List

Thousands of hours (day and night) walking, hiking, guiding, planting, working, sleeping and eating in the rainforest over the past 7 years. 

In 2016 I moved to Colombia, and since then I have lived back and forth between the Americas and SE Asia. A lot of my time in these regions is spent in the jungle, looking for wildlife. I’ve spent a lot of time and money on gear, researching it and using it, and know a lot of rainforest gear heads. 

I took that experience, along with many hours browsing forums and review sections, cross-referencing my own preferences with what other experienced people out there have to say and came up with this list of 10 necessary clothes for rainforest treks.


Important Rainforest Safety Tips

Your clothing is an important part of staying safe and comfortable in the rainforest, but there are other things to always keep in mind to ensure your safety in these amazing, foreboding and often hostile environments. These tips will have their regional particulars but they are fundamentally universally applicable. 

They are: 

  • Always tell people where you’re going and when to expect you back 
  • Know the animal risks in the areas you travel 
  • Never go out without a flashlight and spare batteries, regardless of the time of day
  • Avoid areas where you can’t see the ground in front of you
  • Always take the most conservative route possible
  • Always take water and water purification tablets with you when you head out
  • Watch where you step 
  • Watch where you put your hands
  • If you aren’t sure where a trail stops or starts, don’t continue
  • Don’t touch!

Always tell people where you’re going and when to expect you back 

A lot of people end up in dire straits in the bush because they venture out without telling anyone where they’ve gone and when they expect to be back. Always, always tell someone when you’re heading out and, if possible, when to expect you back. 

This could be a friend or family member via social media or it could be a fellow guest or an employee at a jungle camp or lodge. If you’re heading out on a trail on your own, especially if you aren’t intimately familiar with the it (and even if you are), let someone know so that if you don’t show for a long time, they will know something is up. 

What’s more, if you do find yourself lost in the jungle (or anywhere for that matter), it’s helpful to know some of the common mistakes that lost people make so you can make better decisions. 

Know the animal risks in the areas you travel 

Different places carry different animal risks. In rainforests around the world, one of the constants is venomous snakes. It’s always important to know which venomous snakes inhabit an area and where they are likely to be found. If you are bitten by a venomous snake, it’s also important to know what to do.

In addition to venomous snakes, depending on where you are, there are other animal threats to look out for. In some national parks in Southeast Asia, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, tigers, elephants and sun bears are real threats. In certain regions, especially near rivers and estuaries, saltwater crocodiles become a major threat. 

In the forests of equatorial Africa, large, powerful apes and some monkeys like Mandrills can be dangerous. Elephants and other large mammals can also be threats in places like Gabon, as can lions, depending on the habitat.

In the Americas, American crocodiles and (very rarely) jaguars can pose a threat to humans. Depending on where you are, when you enter the jungle, you are no longer at the top of the food chain. 

Never go out without a flashlight and spare batteries

Regardless of the time of day you head out on a hike, never go out without a flashlight and some charged spare batteries. You never know if and when you might get turned around (even experienced guides get lost) and spending a night in a rainforest with no light is a very intimidating and stressful experience. 

Check out my guide to the best hiking flashlights. They’re all great lights from respected brands like Fenix, Olight, and Streamlight that use high-intensity Li-Ion batteries and LEDs.

Avoid areas where you can’t see the ground in front of you

This is a rule for avoiding snake bites. You never know what is lurking in dense underbrush or tall grass. If there is a way around patches like this, take them. Ground you can’t see is dangerous ground in the jungle. 

Always take the most conservative route possible

If there is a longer, safer way to get from point A to B, always take it. This is especially true if you’re lost, when the stakes are much higher and injuries more threatening. The jungle floor is slippery. Rocks and roots are covered in algae and moss. You can turn an ankle or take a nasty spill quite easily, especially if you’re exploring creek and river beds. 

Always take water and water purification tablets with you when you head out

Never head out into the jungle, even for a short period of time, without water and water purification tablets. In addition to needing to stay hydrated in such a humid environment, it’s going to be a massive weight off if you find yourself temporarily lost, knowing that you have a means to collect safe drinking water should you need to. 

Watch where you step 

Another snake-related tip, always know where you’re stepping. You should be confident that the ground in front of you is clear of venomous snakes before taking each step. 

Be Mindful of Falling Branches and Trees

A rainforest is a place of constant death and rebirth. Old, waterlogged trees fall all the time, crashing through the foliage below, opening up space for new plants to emerge and race towards the sun. 

The threat of falling branches and trees in the rainforest is very real, especially after especially heavy downpours. I’ve heard plenty of massive trees and branches fall in the rainforest and seen the aftermath. 

Watch where you put your hands

If you are climbing an embankment or grabbing onto a trunk or branch for support, always know what’s around your hand. There might be a scorpion on the other side of that tree trunk, or a coiled-up viper resting out of view under a leaf.

If you aren’t sure where a trail stops or starts, don’t continue

If you’re using a trail system that you are unfamiliar with and at any point the direction of the trail becomes ambiguous, don’t continue on. Getting turned around in the rainforest is scarily easy. 

Don’t touch!

Don’t touch any animals and plants you aren’t familiar with. There are caterpillars that can send you to the hospital.


Why Investing in the Necessary Clothes for Rainforest Trekking Makes Sense

If you’re going into the rainforest, you should do it right. It’s one thing to walk along a highly-transited path in an easily accessible patch of forest somewhere that is geared towards the general public, including families and the highly inexperienced. Those places exist and they are great for what they are. 

If, however, you are heading into denser, more remote areas, taking the necessary clothes for rainforest hiking, camping and living can make or break your experience. 

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