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Preparation & Safety

Jungles, by their very nature, are hot and humid, may have difficult terrain, poor visibility, biting bugs (or worse!), and untimely downpours of rain. Jungle trekking can be a laborious and exhausting experience if you're not familiar with the climate, and potentially dangerous if you're not prepared.

Having said that, if you take a few basic and simple steps, it is quite easy to ensure your safety and comfort.

Preparation & Safety
Before You Go
> Before You Travel
> Before the Trek
What to Pack
> Clothing
> Footwear
> Water
> Food
> First Aid Kit
> Emergency Kit
> Miscellaneous
> Camping Gear (overnight)
> Local Equipment Suppliers
During the Trek
Potential Hazards
> Trail Hazards
> Biting Things
> Irritating Plants
> In the Water
> Infectious Diseases
Emergency Contacts
Trek Locations
> Bako NP
> Gunung Gading NP
> Kubah NP & Matang
> Lambir Hills NP
> Mulu NP
> Niah NP
> Santubong
> Tanjung Datu NP
Before You Go

Before you travel to Sarawak

  • Consult your GP or family medical practitioner. The issues you will need to raise include
    • malaria prophylaxis (see below),
    • vaccinations (typhoid, polio, MMR, tetanus, Hepatitis A are essential, Hepatitis B and Japanese B encephalitis vaccinations are probably recommended, the later especially in rural areas and National Parks ),
    • medical conditions which you have which might exclude or restrict jungle trekking.
  • Ensure you have adequate supplies of any prescription medicines for your trip, and a letter explaining any medical conditions you might have.
  • Take out travel insurance.
  • Consider putting together your first aid kit
  • If you're thinking of tackling larger trekking excursions involving significant climbs or carrying a heavy pack, work on building up your fitness levels before you go.

Before the actual trek

  • Be realistic about your own (and your group's) fitness level. If you're used to a temperate climate, try and acclimatise before undertaking a big trek.
  • Read up on the area you'll be visiting and check out any available maps.
  • Never go trekking alone and always inform others of your intended plan, and likely return time.
  • Anticipate the duration of the trek and allow some leeway, for the trek itself and for getting to and from.
  • Consider the possibility of sudden weather changes, and the time of day when you'll be outdoors and be equipped.
  • Always carry water, a first aid kit, basic emergency supplies (see below), and snack food. Keep a card with some basic personal details (name, age, passport no, next of kin, travel insurance details) on you.
  • Consider taking a guide.

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What to Pack

Clothing

There's a good chance that you will not even see another person while trekking many of the trails described in this site, so remember that functionality rules - who cares what you look like! Here's some tips on what to pack:

  • Loose, thin, light, light-coloured clothing - synthetic pants may be hotter to walk in but dry faster and weigh much less than cotton pants when wet. Trousers are preferable to shorts when walking through thick vegetation and also protect from insects. Loose long-sleeve cotton button-down shirts are often more comfortable than fitted t-shirts, and provide additional protection from sun and insects.
  • Hat - for sun protection
  • Raincoat - cheap locally available loose plastic ponchos will do the trick, and may be more comfortable than a fitted gore-tex.
  • Lightweight warm clothing - if venturing to higher altitudes
  • Light nightwear - comfortable light-coloured long-sleeved top and pants for night time wear helps protect against insect bites
  • Sweat-rag - this may sound gross, but it can be handy to have a small cloth with which to wipe the sweat from your brow, so you can see where you are going. And believe us, you will sweat!

Footwear

  • Boots - necessary for longer walks, especially if carrying a pack. These should be waterproof, with a good gripping sole and ankle support, and should be worn-in before attempting any long treks.
  • Sneakers/runners/trainers - are suitable for most shorter walks, provided they have a good gripping sole
  • Socks - when wet, polypropylene socks provide much better cushioning than wet cotton socks, and can help to wick water away from your foot. Also consider 2 layers of socks to prevent blister formation on long walks
  • Sandals - it's useful to have a pair of reef sandals for camping trips, for moving about camp at the end of the day, and for pottering around beaches or creeks.

Water

  • Water bottle - have an accessible water bottle at all times - either carried separately but easily accessible in your pack, or a water bladder with a hose and mouthpiece.
  • Water filter/iodine tablets/water purifying tablets - for longer walks (even longer day-walks), it will not be possible to carry with you all the water you will need. Check maps and trail descriptions for likely running water sources. You will need to boil or purify all water collected in the forest, unless you are absolutely sure about it. (Tap-water in Sarawak's major cities is generally safe to drink.)
  • See more about keeping hydrated under the section called During the Trek, below.

Food

  • For shorter trips, most foodstuffs are suitable, but be aware that the heat and humidity spoils most "wet" food within a day in the tropics.
  • For longer trips, food like instant oats, instant noodles, packet soups, etc are ideal because they are lightweight, high energy and quick to cook.
  • Food suitable for camping is widely available in supermarkets most cities and towns in Sarawak.

First Aid Kit

  • medicines
    • aspirin, paracetamol, cold and flu tablets, antihistamines, antinauseants, antidiarrhoeal agents should be standard. Consider some antibiotics eg malaria prophylaxis. These are generally available in local city pharmacies.
    • rehydration mixture
  • wound care
    • band aids, crepe compression bandage, dressings
    • antiseptic eg iodine ointment or solution
  • miscellaneous
    • insect repellent (some "normal" plus some with DEET for use in high-disease-risk areas and circumstances)
    • sunscreen (SPF 15-30+)
    • soothing creams or sprays for insect bites, sunburn
    • tweezers, scissors, latex gloves

Emergency Kit

  • keep these in a waterproof pouch or container which you can throw in your pack whenever you go on a trek. This may include:
    • torch, matches, candle, pocket knife, compass, space blanket / aluminium foil, pen and paper, large plastic garbage bags, and possibly also your mobile phone - depending on where you are, you just might get coverage.

Miscellaneous

  • camera
  • spare film
  • torch (flashlight)
  • spare batteries
  • binoculars
  • a compass or GPS is probably not necessary - all trails described in this site are well marked, or require a local guide. Further, detailed topographical maps are not available without government security clearance, so your compass and GPS would do you little good. But if you want to lug the latest gadgets around with you to impress your friends, feel free...

Camping gear (overnight treks)

  • Backpack - 50-70 litre capacity is necessary for most camping trips, and should have an internal frame, and hip belt to transfer the load onto the hips
  • tent, or fly, or mosquito net (depending on weather);
  • lightweight sleeping sheet / sarong;
  • sleeping mat
  • cooking stove and appropriate fuel;
  • cooking and eating utensils

Suppliers of camping and trekking equipment in Sarawak

A range of camping and trekking supplies can be purchased in both Kuching and Miri. However, the range is reasonably limited, and the gear is almost all imported, so don't expect any super bargains. Having said that, prices seem to be fair (like what you would pay at home), and you can get all the basics. See Gear and Outdoor Suppliers on our Further Information Page.

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During the Trek
  • Hydration is probably the most important health concern in jungle trekking - the heat and humidity, exercise and resulting profuse sweating will soon have you becoming dehydrated unless you are careful about replacing your fluid losses. You may notice dehydration by feeling thirsty, developing a dry mouth, lethargy, muscle aches or headache. Most importantly, very concentrated (or no) urine is a real danger sign. Frequent breaks to drink, or ongoing consumption of water or isotonic rehydration solutions will avoid this problem.
  • Rest - Don't overdo it if you can't keep up the pace you had hoped. The heat and humidity mean you won't be able to keep up the pace you might usually keep back home. Take plenty of breaks and enjoy your surroundings. You're much less likely to get dehydrated or fall or trip, and more likely to notice special details in the rainforest which you would miss if you just went crashing on through.
  • Energy snacks - Keep some snacks, eg muesli bars, fruit, biscuits, chocolate easily accessible - for quick energy bursts.
  • Except in closed jungle, sun protection is essential - even when overcast. Some terrain will be more exposed to the sun (eg. beaches, fire padang), which will increase the risk of both sunburn and dehydration. Make sure you apply sunscreen regularly (every 2-3 hours), wear long-sleeves, a hat and sunglasses. Sunburn and heatstroke are easily preventable, but painful and potentially disastrous when they happen.
  • Use insect repellent (DEET products work best, but use caution when using DEET-containing compounds on children and sensitive or inflamed skin). Dark clothes and perfume attract mosquitoes - avoid these (it's easier to see any leeches on light clothing, too - see below for Hazards)
  • Keep an eye on the time, the trail and the other people in your group. The jungle can get very dark very quickly when the sun goes down (especially if it's overcast). Night really "falls" in the tropics.

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