There are many different styles of camping, from the luxury to the very basic. If you are like a lot of us who like to camp in conditions that are not really the norm and without the luxury of a fully fledged campsite then camping in the jungle maybe something you might want to try. It can be extremely liberating to be out in the rain forest, living with nature, however it doesn’t come without its dangers. An article produced by A Walkabout In The Rio Platano Biosphere explains everything you need to know before embarking into your epic journey into the wild.
Camping in the Jungle: The Basics you Need to Know
Where to set up camp:
Tenting is generally safe to do in most ‘national parks’, biosphere reserves, and protected areas — at most times of the year throughout Latin America. I usually recommend not camping near streams or rivers, which may be prone to flash flooding after a rain – rain which may be falling unknown to you in another valley far from your location. The most common mishap while jungle camping, usually ending in the death of the camping party, is the flash flood. One should endeavor to camp at least 25-feet above rivers and streams — if possible. Setting up camp along beaches in or near an urban center may be a dangerous idea. Avoid this practice if at all possible. Beach camping near urban centers will make you an easy, high profile, and vulnerable target for the criminal. There are always cheap accommodations to be found at around $2-$5 per night. I’ve generally found that camping in remote areas of Central America near small villages, to be a much safer practice. When camping outside National Parks and Biosphere Reserves, try and track down the owner of the land you are contemplating setting up camp on – if at all possible. And, ask permission!
Biting insects and snakes:
I’ve found that poisonous snakes encounters are not that common while camping/tenting in Central America & Mexico. The fer-de-lance is just one of many many pit vipers (poisonous snakes) found on the jungle floor, and, in the trees. The general rule for setting up a jungle camp is: In areas where no clearing is provided for set-up, clear the camping area of low growth with a machete. Always use a hiking staff to probe unseen areas under thick growth for snakes before cutting. The best situation is setting up on a raised platform, off the jungle floor. Remember, many species of poisonous snakes are remarkably small. Some coral snakes are merely a foot long, and, thinner than a small finger; they could indeed slither through a minute opening in the zipper closure of your tent. If platforms are not available, check the forest floor carefully for ant trails and anthills. Avoid camping on or near an ant metropolis. Brushing away ant trails will simply empower these little survivors to bridge the gap again. When planning a camping foray into a protected area reserve, find out where the designated camping areas are before you clear any potentially near-extinct flora.
Do all your bathroom business before getting into your tent for the evening. Avoid drinking fluids in large quantities before sleeping — which will cause you to exit the tent at night to urinate. Getting bitten by malaria infected mosquitoes is exponentially proportional to the quantity of times you exit your tent at night. And remember, snakes such as the fer-de-lance, or “barba-amarilla” in local lingo, are most active at night. Avoid walking around in the jungle at night if at all possible. Or, if you must work in this situation, purchase “snake chaps” before doing so. When walking in the jungle, watch where you place every footstep. When stopped in the jungle, you may look up into the trees. When walking, concentrate on where you place each footstep, not on looking up into the trees! The most common place for a poisonous snake to bite you is on the foot or ankle. Be careful when climbing over logs blocking the trail. Some species of poisonous snakes may be found in higher numbers living along river banks. Ask the local people if there is a snake problem in the general area. Its also a good idea to hire a local to accompany you into the jungle. It probably won’t cost you much and his/her information and guidance may prove to be invaluable.
Antivenon. Yes or no?
One member of your camping group must have at least two “Sawyer venom extraction kits.” Learn how to use the kits before venturing into the jungle; especially when you may be many hours or days away from emergency medical facilities. You may be able to purchase the snake antivenon from several sources in Costa Rica (ie. Instituto Picado); just the administration of the “horse syrum” snake antivenon itself may cause the bite victim to fall into shock and die of alergic reaction. You need to be a trained medical specialist to administer snake antivenon. A sheep syrum based antivenon is currently being worked on, which is far less likely to induce shock and death to its recipient. But this is still far from being available commercially.
Keeping your food from being eaten by critters:
The most efficient way to keep your food safe from rodents and insects, is to keep everything edible inside sealed containers — such as the Nalgene plastic bottle. If you have just a few crumbs inside
your pack, (inside your tent) a rat will certainly snif it out and chew through the wall of the tent, and the pack’s cloth to get at the crumbs. You can be absolutely certain of that. Practice good housekeeping in the jungle. Keep all food outside your living quarters in sealed bottles. Hang all sealed foods from a tree limb inside a food net. Avoid eating in your tent. Store your washed pots and pans in the hanging food net as well. For cooking and drinking water, you’ll have to filter then purify. I use the “Katadyne” filter, because it has proven over the years, to be the most reliable. Period. You can’t afford to fool with your health in the jungle. A new Katadyne “Pocket Filter” will clean 50,000 liters of water on one ceramic filter. There are no filters made that will trap the dreaded virus. Only chemical add-on attachments to some water filters will accomplish this. After filtering the water, add one drop of chlorine (or equivalent POLAR-PURE) per liter, to kill the viruses.
Use a tent which is very well factory seam sealed including the fly – if possible. Make shure there are NO small holes around the zipper closure of your tent. A nasty, vicious biting ant called “sanpopos” crawl out of the ground during heavy rains, and have been known to get inside poorly sealed tents. Getting bitten by one of these ants is like someone putting out a lit cigarette on your skin. Use a sticky “duct tape” to seal the zipper opening if possible after you’ve crawled in for the night. Your tent should be of a design which promotes air circulation under the fly and is the most water resistant possible given your budget. Four-season tents are not a good idea for jungle use. They have a very restricted “air flow” under the fly and are large and heavy to carry. Use a “summer or biking” tent. Remember to seam seal all sewing/stitching in the corners of your tent if this in not already done. Applying a seam sealant in a high humidity environment is not a good idea as the sealant will take forever to cure! Seam seal before you leave for the humid jungle.
Some light-weight $120-$220 tents I recommend for jungle camping:
Walrus Arch Rival two-man. Has factory sealed heavy duty fly made of tough polyester fabric for extra UV and rain resistance. Has no-see-um netting tight weave over a greater area for super ventilation. Optional very heavy duty footprint to keep those sharp spear-like stems you may have cut away to clear your camp area from puncturing your tent floor. This tent is VERY water resistant under heavy tropical rain (provided you set up on well drained ground). Weight about 4.2 lbs.
Similar tents: Kelty Windfoil
Eureka Apex two-man. Has “high-low” climate control system door design to allow greater control of air flow through the tent. Has greater surface coverage of no-see-um netting in four locations throughout the tent. You need to seam seal this tent but after a good sealant job, its quite water-tight. This tent may be used in locales where you are exposed to possible lightening hits – the use of fiberglass poles over aluminum makes it less conductive/attractive to lightening strike (I said “less conductive” not a guarantee). This tent is a little heavier at about 6 lbs.
Similar tents: Eureka Zephyr
Eureka Summer Breeze is a one-man ultra light tent with fiberglass poles. Total weight is 2.9 lbs. This tent needs to be seam sealed well but, is quite water- tight after. This tent is for technical trekkers who want to travel light. There is not much room inside but one could fit their 80-liter pack inside in a squeeze.
Similar tents: Outbound Clip Corona Plus Bivouac, Outbound Clip Andromeda Bivouac
Sleeping bag/sack under $100:
Archipel 900 Gram extremely small packed size about 14″ x 5.5″. Has 350gr of Thinsulate Liteloft. Keeps you warm when fill is saturated with humidity. Dries out very quickly in tropical sun. Weight 2 lbs.
Similar sleeping bags: Archipel Bikelite, Kelty Nomad 55 deg
Camping stoves for use in developing countries under $30:
Transporting any type of fuel for your camping stoves such as naphta, methyl hydrate, kerosene, propane/butane etc…aboard a commercial passenger aircraft from the USA and Canada is absolutely not permitted!. This includes the packing in your luggage of a used camp stove (one which has had fuel in its container). You’ll have to bring down a new campstove in your check-in luggage which is COMPLETELY factory clean of fuel. Compounding the problem of transporting your used camp stove is the fact that there is no naphta or any fancy propane/butane bottles for ministoves available in most of Central America. The only exceptions are some city centers in Mexico and Costa Rica. Even so, you may not be able to find naphta or white gas even there. Also, virtually ALL the unleaded gasoline in Central America is contaminated with suspended solids and sometimes water. This includes K-1 or kerosene. You will clog your generator on your stoves very quickly if you do not double filter any fuel bought in Central America. Finding “clean” kerosene at a gas station is very difficult at best. Last time I was in Honduras (1997) it took us hours to find any facility with decently clean kerosene at all. If you want to bring your Peak I or equivalent, buy at least three spare generators for each week you plan on camping and using the stove. You’ll also need to bring down heating paste to “pre-heat” your generator if burning kerosene. I would have to recommend using “denatured alcohol” or “isoplopyl alcohol” burning stoves – mostly used in Europe. It will take you longer to boil water and heat your food but the fuel is generally available in most pharmacies and hardware stores in developing countries.
Trangia Denatured Alcohol Stove extremely small packed volume with the stand — about the size of a large electric shaver. Weight about 6.5 ozs. (minus the pot & pan set and wind screen). I would highly recommend you get the aluminum wind screen and pot & pan set with the unit (about 14 ozs). This stove is used by the Swedish army and for good reason. The unit is so small that I would bring a second one (minus the wind screen $25) to heat water with. Remember, never use this stove in your tent. The flame is almost invisible. Because of the clean burning nature of this stove the burned fuel produces absolutely NO smoke and therefore NO sooty black pots to scrub. You can also burn isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) in the Trangia but because isopropyl alcohol has 3-carbons instead of denatured alcohol’s 2-carbons, it will produce black smoke and therefore dirty black pots. Trangia products are available from MSR and any MSR dealer. To further decrease the heating/boiling time with your Trangia set, I would recommend you buy a “Hurricane” pot & pan set (sometimes quite difficult to locate a retail store with any stock). This increases the heating efficiency of the Trangia stove by up to 20%. The Hurricane has its own built-in wind screen therefore you don’t need the Trangia’s pot & pan set or the Trangia wind screen. A similar pot & pan set to the Hurricane is the “MSR XPD Heat Exchanger”. The major difference between Hurricane & MSR XPD units are the MSR’s lack of a built-in wind screen. XPD prices are around $34.
Similar alcohol stoves:There is another European (German) made “isopropyl alcohol” stove about the size of a coffee mug but I could not find a reseller in North America. The translated price of this unit in US dollars is: $25.
Special “must-have” clothing for tropical trekking:
Avoid any cotton clothing (underwear and socks included) when trekking and camping in the tropics. Though, I broke this rule once and wore a pair of cotton/canvas expedition shorts. Cotton will never dry out completely in the 80-99% constant humidity of the rain forest. Cotton clothing will go mouldy after stored in your pack in as little as 5-days. You’ll find it very difficult to bleach out the mould and you can never get rid of the “horrible odour” of some moulds. Cotton will get damp and wet and stay wet during your entire expedition — even the so-called “tropical light-weight” cotton clothing. Cotton socks and underwear are absolute no-no’s. Trekking in the hot tropics with a pair of socks with greater than 10% cotton content will almost certainly ruin and blister your feet. Use a “thin topped” and “dense soled” sock such as the ULTIMAX, THOR-LO, DU-RAY, WIGWAM, etc…brands which are made up of apprx. 38% wool, 45% acrylic, 9% nylon, 6% holofil and 2% spandex (for elasticity). If you wish, you may use a thin polypropylene liner sock to wick away perspiration). The above type of sock will keep your feet relatively dry and with good boots, relatively blister free. The above socks will also dry much quicker than cotton socks. Polypropylene underwear is an absolute must in tropical humidity. Cotton underwear will chafe and irritate you and may render you immobile. The cost of this underwear is about four times that of cotton but it is more than worth it.
Royal Robbins Zip n’Go Tropical Pants are made of 100% nylon made to feel like light-weight cotton. The leg zipps off, now you’re wearing shorts! With these nylon pants you can wade through
rivers and walk through tropical downpours — the pants dry in 15-20 minutes while you walk. These pants roll up to the size of a shoe and are at least 50% lighter than similar cotton pants. Could you immagine walking/trekking in wet cotton pants? They would take hours to dry and would weigh a ton. Royal Robbins are the “Rolls Royce” of tropical trekking pants and shirts at about $90 for pants and about $75 for long sleeve expedition nylon shirt.
Misty Mountain “Kwik-Dry” Zip Leg Pants: are far less expensive than Royal Robbins but have far fewer pockets and features. These are also made of nylon made to feel like thin cotton. They also convert to shorts. The cost $40 for pant/shorts and $33 for long sleeved expedition nylon shirt. I have several pairs of Misty Mountain and have put em through jungle hell. They came out in great shape. Not a hole nor torn seam. Misty Mountain products may only be available in Canada. I’ve never seen them in the USA. They may be ordered from Le Baron Outdoor Products Ltd. in Canada, through their web site: Le Baron Sports
Colombia Sportswear Company Bahama Pant: are the middle priced nylon tropical expedition clothing. I’ve not seen Columbia pants with zip-off legs to convert to shorts though. The cost for pant $41 and for the Bahama nylon shirt $56.
Special leg and foot protection for tropical trekking:
Trekking in a tropical rain forest poses unique problems to the health of your feet and legs. The first thing one must contend with is wet muddy terrain. I’ve found that wearing a waterproof light-weight leather oil tanned boot to be a solution. I found the Vasque Sundowner one-piece leather boot to be both waterproof and extremely durable on the wet trails. I coat the boots with a little Sno-seal and leave in the warm sun behind a window for a few hours. Protecting and covering up your feet while walking in the jungle or along riverbanks or shorelines infested with domesticated animals such as pigs is very important. These animals impart various parasites onto the ground. One of these parasites is called a “nigua”. These are found throughout Central America and if they come in contact with your bare foot, they’ll latch on and quickly bore into your toes. They will lay eggs and grow. This could be quite uncomefortable requiring some digging with a pin or knife to carefully carve out the white egg sack. Watch where you walk barefooted or with sandals!
Camping in the Jungle is wonderful experience but we advise that you take all the necessary precautions before embarking on such an adventure. Please share with your friends using the links below