Borneo clothing advice for holidays in the Jungle
Kit required for the jungle is geared to keep you protected from the elements while providing as much airy comfort as possible. Sometimes it is quite the balancing act, but the key is to select clothing material that is breathable and doesn’t hold a smell.
What sort of luggage can I bring to Borneo?
- We recommend using soft trekking bags or duffle bags instead of hard suitcases. For holidays where you are on the move a soft duffle and a day pack will be your best combination. If you are travelling on a hotel-based holidays, then a suitcase will be fine but do also take a lightweight soft bag for day visits.
- Any trips onto Mount Kinabalu will require a rucksack for the porter or a duffle bag with arm straps so it can be carried on the back.
- For jungle trekking trips, for example into the Penan, a waterproof duffle bag will be useful and a daypack for walks or overnights. The big bags will go in 4x4s, on boats and be carried by porters.
- A number of dry bags are essential for jungle trekking trips as it will rain. You can also use a rain cover for your backpack or a waterproof bag for your duffle bag if it's not waterproof.
What activity you partake in will drive what type of luggage you should bring. A daypack is always necessary for excursions.
What clothes are recommended for the jungle?
Clothing for a Borneo holiday depends on the activity and location.
If you are on a hotel based wildlife safari holiday which involves mainly boat travel or river cruises or 4x4 safaris in the reserves, then lightweight, long-sleeved clothing with good sun protection will be necessary, along with light jumpers or jackets for the evenings and night safaris, plus light waterproofs for rain showers. Good walking shoes or lightweight trekking shoes are useful on jungle game drives, otherwise sandals. Cotton gets damp quickly and is slower to dry, so consider quick-drying synthetic materials for T-shirts or shirts. Swimming gear and sarong or light towel are also important, as well as sun hats and sun protection, plus toiletries and personal items. Charging is not always possible in the lodges so we would advise bringing a power pack for electrical items.
Hanging out with the giant trees of Sabah on a jungle trekking holiday.
If you will be joining us on a jungle trekking holiday and planning to sleep in hammocks or homestays, you will want to have dry bags and a wet/dry system for clothes. The object is to always keep a set of dry clothing in a dry bag to change into at the end of the day when you have finished hiking, and wash your damp day clothes in the river for use again the next morning. So do bring materials that are quick drying and moisture-wicking. During the day you can hike in a T-shirt or shirt, shorts or trekking trousers and trekking sandals (for example Teva sandals) or lightweight hiking shoes with a pair of lightweight socks. It's important to prevent chafing so a good idea is a pair of cycling shorts instead of cotton underwear. Leech socks are not always necessary in the jungle but a pair of long football socks are actually just as good. You can buy lightweight plastic shoes in town which the locals wear in the jungle which are like Crocs but they do take a bit of getting used to and can cause blisters.
For sleeping in the jungle please bring either a very lightweight sleeping bag, or a sleeping bag liner (cotton or silk). There will be either mattress in the homestays with blankets to borrow and mosquito nets overhanging, or hammocks to lie in with built-in mosquito nets. For the hammock experience in the Penan area, the local people will show you how to make a cover out of large leaves and how to hang the hammock between two trees safely, and it's probably better to have a light sleeping bag for this. At Lupa Masa Jungle Camp there are wooden platforms or hammocks and blankets available to borrow, so you still need to bring a liner or sleeping bag. Do also consider earplugs, it's very noisy at night and a headtorch. You can wear shorts and a T-shirt to sleep in and have your sarong and sandals at hand for a toilet visit.
Some more general clothing tips:
- A sarong is very useful for bathing and walking down to the shower/river or just for wearing in the evenings. Sarongs also make good, light blankets.
- Take seamless socks – due to the wet environment you tend to get blisters around the seams. To avoid leeches, consider football socks instead of the cumbersome and uncomfortable leech socks. Have a look at our leeches in Borneo page and if you do happen to get one, then the main advice is to keep the wound clean so it doesn't get infected. Leech socks or football socks are not necessary for the wildlife safaris, but useful for treks to the villages and into the Penan area.
- Wear your wet trek clothes from the day before and have a change of dedicated set of long sleeved dry clothing for camp which is kept in a dry bag. One set of day trousers is fine (for a 6 day) trip, but take several tops – they do get pretty wet and damp.
- Shorts are fine for trekking clothes, and most locals wear shorts but trousers do give you more protection from spiky branches, insects, and leeches. Avoid cotton, choose trekking pants or shorts that are designed to dry quickly and not rub. Consider cycling shorts under your shorts/trousers – good leech protection. Running/sports tops are good for your day clothes – you need something that has the best chance of drying and doesn’t hold too much moisture. Avoid cotton. Instead, choose quick-drying synthetic materials.
- Adidas Kampung shoes cost a few dollars are good for trekking shoes in the jungle but to the uninitiated, they can be hard and uncomfortable. They are made of plastic so you can go through streams easily and the sole does grip on muddy slopes. However, you can also wear trekking sandals like Tevas or lightweight trekking shoes with a pair of light socks.
If you are on a harder trek then a hiking boot with ankle support is necessary. On Mount Kinabalu the same applies, trekking boots which are also waterproof since it is very likely to rain at some point and the rocky plateau can be slippery. Take something else to change into for the evening and wear them with socks and long trousers to avoid insect bites at dusk. If your trip entails mostly wildlife game drives, sightseeing and visits to the orangutan centre for example, then lightweight outdoor shoes are perfect and a pair of sandals.
- Rubbish is best carried out if you are in the jungle so take a plastic bag for small items, and ask about where to put rubbish in the villages.
- Consider a book about the flora and fauna of Borneo and a pair of binoculars.
Will I need to bring a sleeping bag to the jungle?
For sleeping in the jungle please bring either a very lightweight sleeping bag, or a sleeping bag liner (cotton or silk or fleece). There will be either mattresses in the homestays with blankets to borrow and mosquito nets overhanging, or hammocks to lie in with built-in mosquito nets.
For the hammock experience in the Penan area, the local people will show you how to make a cover out of large leaves and how to hang the hammock between two trees safely, and it's probably better to have a light sleeping bag for this.
At Lupa Masa Jungle Camp there are wooden platforms or hammocks and blankets available to borrow, so you still need to bring a liner or sleeping bag. Do also consider earplugs, it's very noisy at night and a headtorch. You can wear shorts and a T-shirt to sleep in and have your sarong and sandals at hand for a toilet visit.
All the hotels and lodges have beds with bedding provided.
Is there electricity in the jungle?
- Most lodges will have access to power and Borneo uses a 240v G plug type.
- There is nowhere to charge electrical items in the safari reserves or remote jungle villages and camps; consider taking a spare camera battery or a portable charge pack. Keep your phone on airplane mode with your location services off if you prefer to use your phone as a camera. This will help preserve battery life.
- Keeping your electronics protected from the humidity is essential while travelling in the jungle. Consider investing in a stout phone case built for harsh environments or leave electronics stowed away in dry bags.
Central area at the Lupa Masa Jungle Camp, quite basic facilities but built right in the heart of the forest.
Are there any items I need for food and drink while trekking in Borneo?
- Take some snacks/energy bars with you – these can be bought in the towns easily.
- AquaPure traveller water bottles are recommended for trekking trips: there are enough streams along the way for you to fill up when you run out, so this really cuts down the amount of water you have to carry. When camping in the jungle you will always be staying by a river or stream, all the villages are very close to a river.
- A backcountry water filter is also recommended if you don’t use a self-filtering bottle.
- In more developed areas with hotels, the tap water is quite chlorinated and safe, but we would overall recommend bottled or boiled water.
- Take a plastic bag for all your rubbish if you are going into the jungle on a trek: any rubbish you have needs to be taken back with you and disposed of properly.
Vaccinations for Borneo
You need to make sure that you receive all the relevant immunisations, therefore you need to contact your GP or travel clinic as early as possible to allow time for this process.
When visiting your GP or travel clinic you will also need to seek advice on anti-malarial drugs. There are a number of different medications available and we advise that you speak with your own GP who will make a recommendation.
A closer look at the Birds found in the state of Sabah.
Staying healthy while you are in Borneo
Once in Borneo, there are a whole host of things that you can do to keep yourself healthy and comfortable. Some of these may seem obvious but we include them as they are all things that we have seen in our considerable prior experience:-
Keep your hands clean. Toilets are often communal long drops without running water so bring a small bottle of hand sanitiser gel. If you are using toilet paper in the jungle then please do bring recycled paper and bury it.
Protect yourself from the sun. The UV near the equator is intense in Borneo and you can get burned quickly. Take a high factor sunscreen with you and lightweight long sleeved and legged clothing and a hat that will shade your face, neck and ears.
Heat exhaustion - aside from the effects of the sun on your skin there is also the danger of heat exhaustion and its more serious development, heat stroke. These are both caused by the body's internal temperature being raised beyond its functional level and can lead to potentially serious complications. The ambient conditions in Borneo are hot and very humid. The way to minimise the risk is to stay out of the worst of the sun, particularly in the middle of the day, to keep cool and not to overexert yourself. You will also need to stay hydrated to help your body to cool its self through sweating. A hat is invaluable for keeping the sun off your head and face. You will get used to the heat and humidity but it will take a week or more for the adjustment to be made by your body. In the jungles of Borneo, the majority of the time you will be under a canopy of shade and often close to a river.
Trekking and walking in the oppressive jungle heat can quickly wear on you. Take time to acclimatise.
Watch what you eat and drink - street food is all part of the experience of being on holiday, but be careful of badly cooked food or anything that looks or smells wrong. Try to order dishes that will have been cooked to a high temperature and avoid cold dishes and ones that might have been cooked in untreated water, for example, salads. If you eat fruit, choose ones that have a skin or peel that you will not eat, such as bananas. Order bottled or boiled drinks like sodas or tea, always check bottles to see that the caps are still sealed.
Take time to acclimatise to the heat and humidity. When you first step off the plane you may find the heat and especially the humidity overwhelming. However, over the course of a week or so your body, mind and physical behaviour will adjust and it will be far more manageable. It is important therefore to take things easy at first and don't over exert yourself.