Wondering what to wear gorilla trekking? This gorilla trekking packing list has you covered, with tips for choosing the right clothing and other essential gear to pack for this amazing experience.
One of the most incredible bucket list items in the world, seeing mountain gorillas in the wild is an experience you won’t ever forget.
For most people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you don’t want to spend the brief time that you have with these magnificent creatures stressed out because you forgot an important item or because you were wearing inappropriate clothing. This gorilla trekking packing list will help take your mind off the planning and focus on the experience.
I’ve pulled together this packing list based on what I wore and took on my gorilla trek in Uganda.
You’ll find that I refer to gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda throughout the article. This is because these are the most popular and safest countries for gorilla trekking, but this list applies equally to gorilla trekking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. You can check out my full gorilla trekking guide, which includes how to get permits, what to expect on the day and how much gorilla trekking costs.
If you’re wondering what to wear in Rwanda or Uganda or anywhere else in East Africa, I have a full guide in my East Africa packing list.
This blog post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you).
Gorilla trekking packing list
You don’t actually need to pack a lot for gorilla trekking – and you don’t want to weigh your porter down (or yourself if you decide to carry your own backpack).
But you do need to think through the right clothing to wear to protect yourself from the elements, bugs and plants.
One of the first things you need to think about for your gorilla trekking packing list is the right hiking boots.
You need boots that are waterproof and that have good grip. It’s more than likely that you’re going to walk in mud at some point. The terrain can also vary, so boots with good grip will help you stay upright and not go sliding down a hill. Your trusty but worn sneakers aren’t going to cut it on this trip!
It goes without saying, but make sure they’re boots that you’ve already worn in. It might take 4-8 hours to reach your gorilla family and get back to your car. This is not the time to discover that your boots are just one size too small.
I’ve seen pictures of people hiking to see the gorillas in shorts and I’d advise against this. At times, you might be walking through scratchy bushes, or have to deal with bugs, so cover your skin unless you want itchy legs covered in welts and bites!
If you’re worried about getting hot, then go for lightweight, wicking pants that will keep you cool and covered up.
For all your clothing, choose neutral colours to provide a natural camouflage (but don’t wear camouflage print – this is what soldiers wear). Avoid white because you’ll just end up a muddy mess!
It can be chilly in the mornings of your gorilla trek – but then no doubt you’ll heat up as you’re hiking through the humid rainforest. For this reason, I’d recommend layers.
You could wear a wicking t-shirt with a lightweight hiking shirt over it, or a tank top under a long-sleeve merino wool top (like the Icebreaker merino wool top pictured to the right.)
Either way, similar to long pants, you do need to wear something long-sleeved to avoid those bushes and bugs.
I wore a t-shirt underneath a lightweight running top. I found that was enough to keep me warm in the chilly mornings, but I also didn’t need to strip off my layers because I got so hot.
It’s likely to rain or at least lightly drizzle during your hike (even in the dry season), so pack a lightweight rain jacket or poncho with a hood that you can easily roll up. This could serve as one of your layers as well.
Make sure your jacket breathes well, or you’ll be creating your own sauna inside your clothes while you hike!
Primates are highly susceptible to human diseases, so pack – and wear! – a surgical mask for your trip. An N95 mask is best.
As far as I can tell, wearing a mask isn’t a requirement of either Uganda or Rwanda, but it’s just the responsible thing to do. If you’re not feeling well, be honest and don’t go on the trek. Please don’t expose these beautiful animals to any chance of getting coronavirus.
Don’t forget to also pack hand sanitiser in your backpack.
Pack some good quality, thick hiking socks. You can even find ones that are treated with permethrin to repel bugs.
One trick I have learned over the years is to first put on a thinner pair of socks and then add a thicker pair over the top. This can help prevent rubbing when hiking.
You’re going to see bugs on this trip, and there’s also going to be mud and dirt. One way to keep all of that out of your shoes and socks is with a pair of gaiters.
At one point during our hike, we all stopped to watch the gorillas playing and then realised we were standing on an ant’s nest. These ants were HUGE and quickly crawled up our legs.
I didn’t pack gaiters but they would have been handy. If you don’t take them, simply tuck your pants into your boots to provide a bit of protection.
Hat or buff/bandana
Keep your hair off your face with a buff or bandana. I actually like to dip mine in water and then wear it around my neck to help keep me cool.
There are some sunny spots on some hikes – and some have a lot of exposed areas – so a hat is also a good idea.
Even the most sure-footed person is going to slip and slide at least once on their gorilla trek. As we all know, our first reaction is to reach out and grab something – and it’s most likely going to be a rough or spiny bush or plant.
A pair of decent quality garden gloves will be sufficient to keep your hands out of the mud and avoid scratches and cuts.
Backpack with rainproof cover
You’ll need to take a good backpack with you, preferably with a rainproof cover if the backpack itself isn’t waterproof.
Don’t overfill your backpack. You have the option to hire a porter for the gorilla trek, but that shouldn’t mean that you load your pack up with tonnes of unnecessary stuff.
Water is essential while trekking to see gorillas, and it’s recommended that you have around 2-3L per person.
Most people on my hike had small plastic bottles, but I find that it’s much easier to drink from a water bladder. You don’t need to stop and open your backpack every time you need a sip of H2O – you can simply draw from the hose, which I find so much more convenient.
Walking poles can be handy for keeping your balance on slippery, uneven areas, and for taking the pressure off your knees when going downhill.
I didn’t take poles because I don’t actually like hiking with them, but a lot of people in my group had them. Your guide might also be able to rustle up a sturdy stick to use as a walking pole.
While most of your hike will likely be in shaded areas, there will be areas that are exposed, so take SPF50+ sunscreen with you and re-apply regularly throughout the hike. This is an essential item for your Uganda packing list.
Baby wipes are handy for wiping down your face or for toilet breaks.
Just remember to pack everything out with you, so have a small bag or extra pocket that you can pack used items in before popping it in to your backpack.
I’ve seen people recommend packing eco-friendly toilet paper because it breaks down. That’s fine to bring – but you should be taking it out with you. Take everything out with you – rubbish, food scraps, everything. You shouldn’t even spit on the ground, because gorillas can catch diseases that way.
Insect repellant wipes or spray
The bugs are real! Pack some spray or insect repellant wipes – an essential item for your gorilla trekking packing list.
Basic first aid kit
While your tour guide will have a first aid kit, it may be a while before you see him or her, so it’s worthwhile packing a few key items in your backpack like insect bite ointment for immediate relief, Band-Aids or blister packs and painkillers.
Waterproof case for your phone
One thing you won’t read about on any other gorilla trekking packing list? Take a waterproof case.
I packed one for my iPhone and it was really handy because it’s on a lanyard, meaning it was easily accessible for photos and it was also safe from rain and mist. This is one of my must-take items on most trips I do.
Do NOT forget your camera! You are going to want physical (or digital) memories of this experience.
The night before the trek, charge up your camera and extra batteries, and check all your memory cards to make sure you have plenty of space.
Remember, you can’t use flash around the gorillas, so if you’re not familiar with how to turn off that function on your camera, spend some time figuring it out.
If you’re taking just your phone camera, do the same thing – make sure it’s charged up the night before. You might also want to consider taking a portable charger.
Lunch and snacks
You might be out hiking for 7-9 hours so take plenty of snacks. Your hotel will usually arrange lunch and some fruit for you, but triple check this the night before so you’re not hungry.
I also took some extra protein bars and Hydralyte (oral rehydration sachets that I mixed with water – take a spare bottle for this).
You will need your passport as identification when you arrive at the park. This is an important item on your gorilla trekking packing list as you won’t be allowed to go on the trek without it!
Unless you’ve arranged your gorilla trek independently, then your tour company will have this for you.
Take some cash so that you can tip your porter and guides. This may be their main or only source of income, and they do such a fantastic job, so thank them. You can take U.S. dollars (make sure you have the right notes – they can’t give you change) or Rwandan francs or Ugandan shillings.
At the end of the trek, you’ll also likely come across women selling handmade jewellery and toys. So, if you feel like a bit of shopping, you’ll need some cash.
Don’t forget to arrange travel insurance for your visit to Uganda or Rwanda. If you get injured while hiking, this will cover you for medical treatment (as well as loss of luggage, theft etc – travel insurance is a MUST). My provider of choice is World Nomads.
Read the policy carefully to make sure you’re covered for adventure activities like trekking to see mountain gorillas. Check that a Medevac is included.
In the briefing for my gorilla trek, there were jokes about helicopters being able to rescue you if, halfway through, you found the hike just too hard and wanted to turn back. In reality, these “helicopters” were people who’d carry you out on a stretcher.
One of the best things at the end of my trip was pulling off my hiking boots and slipping on a pair of flip flops for the drive back to my hotel! Make sure you put flip flops or other light shoes in your backpack (or leave them in your tour company’s car).
Gorilla trekking packing list: Final thoughts
This guide covers my tips for the must-bring items for a safe and fun gorilla trekking experience. Seeing gorillas in the wild is such an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This gorillas trekking packing list helps you forget about the details and focus on what’s in front of you.
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