Gorilla Trekking Gear – The Essential Packing List

Gorilla Trekking Gear – The Essential Packing List

Trekking gorillas, in our opinion, concluded over thousands of African safari hours, is an experience like none other. When safari consultants loosely throw around the words of life-changing experiences, I think this one was at the forefront of their minds’ eyes.

Embarking on your first gorilla trekking adventure in Rwanda is an exciting endeavour, but being well-prepared is the key to ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience in the captivating landscapes of the Volcanoes National Park.

Like many outdoor experiences in the wilds of Africa, gorilla trekking can be exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. And while these mountainous hikes do not require you to bring any specialist mountaineering equipment or navigational aids and accessories, some basic clothing items are a must.

Choosing the appropriate attire for a gorilla trekking adventure is crucial to guarantee a safe and unblemished journey to the assigned gorilla family amidst challenging weather conditions and rugged terrains. The significance of packing the right gorilla trekking gear cannot be overstated, especially considering the unavailability of purchasing options on-site, where items may come at a premium cost.

Remember to leave your expensive and unnecessary gear at home. Gorilla trekking is an experience that requires comfort and the right gear to suit the environment. Bright colours are not advised; black can sometimes attract bugs, and camouflage could be frowned upon by the local army….

Drawing from our personal experiences exploring gorillas in Rwanda, we’ve put together this informative gorilla trekking gear – the essential packing list as a guide to assist you in planning your unforgettable journey.

The Essential Packing List of Gorilla Trekking Gear

Rain Jacket (Waterproof):

Why? The mountainous areas that gorillas inhabit are tropical, lush, and green for that reason. Rains can occur anytime and will happen, even in the dry season.

Your rain jacket could even be the most essential item of gorilla trekking gear to bring, next to your comfortable boots, drinking water, and your happy-hiking face.

Hiking Shoes (another critical factor to plan well in advance):

Two of the most essential factors are grip and as waterproof as possible.

Grip comes in handy when stepping over, and often onto moss-laden logs, and is waterproof for long-distance walking comfort.

While the local park rangers, porters and guides make it look all too easy in their gumboots, your choice of shoes will make or break the experience. Ankle-high waterproof gore-tex hiking boots are highly recommended and keep you warm even when crossing small streams, puddles and calf-deep mud.

Some things to consider when buying a pair of waterproof, gore-tex hiking boots:

  • Make sure the boots reach at least your ankle to protect you from twisting it in case of a fall or if you slip in the slippery and muddy terrain.
  • Do not be afraid to spend some money on these; they can make the difference between a miserable experience and a memorable one. Also, they will probably last you a lifetime, and you can use them for all your outdoor trips.
  • Brands like Timberland have been making gore-tex boots for decades. 
  • Make sure they are hard leather so the boot tip protects your toes from hitting rocks. The Timberland ones below do that; the leather at the tip of the boot is so hard that you can pretty much kick a rock, and your toes will feel nothing.
  • Pick a size that can fit a pair of thick socks.

A most important point in your preparation in the footwear department is that new and unworn boots are not recommended. If you must purchase new boots specifically for your gorilla trekking experience, wear them a good number of times at home to ensure they become comfortable and mould to the shape of your feet.

I was lucky enough to have an older pair still in great condition, and I entrusted them to a new owner in need at the end of my Rwanda experience.

Long Safari-Style Trousers: 

It is essential for shielding against bruises, scratches, and potential reactions to nettles in dense vegetation. Once again, opt for earthy tones like shades of green or brown to seamlessly blend with the natural surroundings.

When selecting the ideal gorilla trekking gear trousers, there are several factors to take into account:

  • Ease of Tucking and Freedom of Movement: Opt for easy trousers to tuck into socks, allowing you to trek up and down mountains while ensuring freedom of movement. Avoid excessively tight clothing for optimal comfort.
  • Consideration of Pockets: While pockets can be helpful, it’s probable that you’ll have a backpack and the assistance of a porter to carry your belongings. Therefore, prioritise practical trousers and avoid relying solely on pocket space.
  • Waterproof Trousers: While waterproof trousers are a commendable choice, there’s no need to stress about it overly. The primary focus should be keeping your feet and body dry, and water-repellent trousers suffice well when trekking in the rain.
  • Packing Detachable Trousers: Some, especially multi-destination safari-goers, prefer packing detachable trousers commonly associated with safari wear. This versatility allows you to convert them into shorts during other parts of your trip, particularly in hotter climates. This adaptability ensures you’re well-prepared for various weather conditions throughout your journey.

Gorilla Trekking Gear – The Essential Packing List
Long Safari-Style Shirts or T-Shirts: 

One thing the Safari Guru team can’t stress enough to our travellers is preparing for a day’s safari with layers, and this is essential for the upper body. Choosing comfortable layers of either wool or cotton will extend your safari activity hours by allowing you to adapt to varying weather conditions and provide warmth without sacrificing comfort. Specifically for primate trekking, long sleeves offer much-needed protection from plants and bushes encountered along the way.

In the high altitudes of Volcanoes National Park, the weather can change pretty quickly, from cold to warm and humid. My fellow Safari Guru travel partner, who is clearly a lot more in touch with her travel accessories and outfits, chose a merino wool layer which (apparently) can keep you really warm if necessary but will not suffocate you if the temperature rises.

I personally chose a breathable and light cotton shirt under my rain jacket, which I usually use for East African safaris, and it provided the perfect comfort, knowing that my rain jacket would suffice should it get windy and chilly on an extended hike.

A few items to take into consideration when picking your gorilla trekking gear shirt:

  • Are you travelling to other safari destinations before or after Rwanda, such as Kenya, or a walking safari in Tanzania? If so, the same safari-type khaki, green, or brown colours would be best.
  • Long sleeves are a must, and I noticed a few people with those t-shirts with a thumb hole to protect their hands from getting scratched after shirt creep – remember you’ll be reaching out to support yourself over branches and logs, all part of the fun.
Headgear (Cap, Hat or Bandana style covering:

The rainforest can be thick, and the gorillas are generally in different locations each day; therefore, the trekking path will likely be freshly cut and have branches, seeds, and things that will get tangled in long hair.

A head covering can save you from nasty snags and keep some sun out of your eyes when passing through open clearings, whereas bandanas are light, and you can pull them down as soon as you get out of the park if it is hot.

Socks & Gaiters:

High socks offer an extra layer of protection from nettles in the forest and, if pulled high under your long trousers, will essentially go unnoticed. They will also add another level of protection under the gaiters that most lodges in the area offer to their overnight clientele.

Gaiters come in very handy in Rwanda as extra protection against the millions of sticks, branches and nettles that will magically reach out and attach themselves to your lower legs. It’s worth checking with your Safari Guru consultant if the lodge they booked for you supplies Gaiters.

NB. Nettles are everywhere in the Volcanoes National Park, growing tall and lush. There’s little wonder they are one of the gorilla’s most common dietary items. These are the wild, super strong variety, so if you touch them or they touch you, expect a bad memory of the experience.

Things to know when choosing gaiters for your gorilla trekking gear:

  • The best gaiters are the ones that reach up just under your knee and are hooked under your hiking boots so they do not get lost as you hike. Ensure they reach your knee, or you will not be protected from the nettles.
  • Waterproof ones are also useful, so they keep your feet and ankles dry in case of rain.
  • Ensure they are adjustable and are not too big for you, especially if you get loaner gaiters from the lodge. One of my gaiters kept sliding down.

Gorilla Trekking Gear – The Essential Packing List

If you plan to carry anything in your backpack that is moisture-sensitive, then a waterproof pack is a must. Gorilla trekking is generally done in the morning, and your bag will get soaked daily, although your porter will try to look after it as much as possible.

Remember, Porters and the other ground personnel work for gratuities and will look after you the best they can. Remember to carry suitable denomination and enough for your porter, guide and rangers.

Things to pack in your backpack:

Mosquito Repellent – Mosquito repellent is a no-brainer in Rwanda, even in the rural capital of Kigali, or Uganda, where malaria is still pervasive and the tsetse flies can give you a horrible bite. But the important thing is to pack powerful repellent that can protect you in the thick tropical forest areas of the parks.

Sunscreen – While these dense foliage-laden forests often block out much of the sun’s rays, there will be times that you walk out in the open or between bamboo forests with penetrating sun, and even at times when the gorillas choose to spend a lazy morning in the open rehabilitated farmlands that once took over their habitat – as was the case with my very first trek, which threw me, and all of my preparation.

Snacks and water – Sometimes, you will stop and rest as you catch your breath stolen by the high altitude (The Volcanoes National Park ranges from 2,400m to 4,507m). This is the perfect time to nibble and stock up on much-needed protein and energy. Each trek can last several hours, so if you’re a needy snacker, take sufficient stocks to keep you going – although you will not be permitted to eat near the gorilla families. 

Your guide will ask you to leave all your gear and equipment behind, take only your camera and binoculars and leave the rest with the porters a few meters away from the gorillas.

This safety measure ensures that you do not leave anything behind and do not cause the gorillas to be close to the smell or food. Make sure not to take any food in your pockets in this last stretch when you finally spend time up and close with the gorillas.

Gardening Gloves – A welcome addition to your gorilla trekking gear if you trek in Rwanda because of the low-lying vegetation and nettles. I found the trekking here to be through narrower parts of the forest with lower branches and more ups and downs than in Uganda. The gloves are handy so you can have some leverage when grabbing parts of the forest, like branches or tree trunks, to help pull yourself forward.

Some tips for picking the right garden gloves to compliment your gorilla trekking gear:

  • Since you will be wearing long sleeves and a rain jacket, you do not need the gloves to go all the way up.
  • Make sure to pick gloves which are thorn proof, like some of the ones selected below and which come with padding on your palm.
  • Choosing gloves that support touchscreen technology is a huge benefit, especially when whipping out the trusty old iPhone for your smiling gorilla selfie.

Lastly, don’t forget to have your permit, as these will be requested on the morning of your gorilla adventure at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters. Here, they will do a briefing, and you’ll meet your group of fellow trekkers.

Now that you have the essential packing list for gorilla trekking gear, you’re all set. Happy trekking! Feel free to contact the Safari Guru team if you have additional questions or require more accommodation options while exploring explore other regions of Rwanda.


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