Welcome to Volcanoes Safaris Week on the Black Blog of Travel! This week JG Black Book of Travel will be featuring Black Book Collection member, Volcanoes Safaris, in each of our posts. Volcanoes Safaris is an award-winning pioneer in ecotourism that opens to us the world of the great apes in the misty forests of Rwanda and Uganda. This week's travel Necessities are 4 packing tips for the perfect safari from writer/photographer Molly Feltner.
By Molly Feltner
It seems natural to start Volcanoes Safaris Week the same way you'd start a gorilla trek - with packing! So here are my four tips to keep in mind when preparing for a gorilla trek in Rwanda or Uganda.
1. Dress for success. I’ve seen gorilla tourists dressed in all kinds of outfits, from young women in skinny jeans and tennis shoes to well-heeled adventurers decked out in North Face gear that would rival anything you’d see at Mt. Everest base camp. Personally, I think you need to be prepared for muddy trails and changing weather, but it’s not necessary to spend a fortune to be prepared.
Here’s what I recommend. On top, wear layers. Start with a shirt made of a synthetic material that dries quickly. I usually spend most of the trek up the mountain in a t-shirt as it can get quite warm and muggy in the forest. I usually add a fleece layer when the group stops and I start cooling down. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a third rain layer. Rainstorms can happen at any time in the forest and it’s no fun, not to mention dangerous, to be cold and wet for hours. You can bring a waterproof rain jacket but a cheap poncho will also work.
On the bottom I wear long pants, also made of a synthetic material. Between the potential for cold weather and the stinging nettle plants of the forest, wearing shorts is an invitation for misery. Some trekkers also bring waterproof pants to wear on top of regular pants, but I usually don’t unless it’s the peak of the rainy season in April and May.
We recommend the adventurer shirt, and a waterproof jacket (pictured right), both available on the Volcanoes Safaris store as well as the classic convertible pants, also from our online store. These are the foundation of any adventuring outfit and are a great preparation for gorilla trekking.
2. Wear proper footwear. Boots that fit above the ankle are a must. You’ll probably walk through ankle-deep mud at certain points, and sometimes even knee-deep mud that threatens to suck the boots right off your feet. Because of this, you should wear gators over your boots that go up to the knee. When I trek, I go like the locals and wear knee-high rubber wellies with treads on the bottom. I’m guaranteed to stay dry up to knees and the boots can be quickly cleaned and dried out for the next day. We recommend the Merino Hiking Sock available online and the Event Waterproof Hiking Boot, suitable for a wide range of terrain and incredibly reliable and durable.
3. Pack enough food and water. There’s no place to buy food and water once you get to the national parks so make sure you have at least a liter of water and some snacks to pack with you. Some treks last well into the afternoon, so I try to bring some energy bars and fruit to keep me going. Volcanoes Safaris’ lodges provide packed lunches for trekkers but it’s always nice to have a few favorite snacks from home in case you’re a picky eater. To keep food dry and away from the elements, especially if you don’t have a rucksack, the Waterproof Whanganui Sac is ideal and is suitable for storing electronic devices such as phones and cameras as well!
4. Make sure your camera is forest ready. Flash photography is not allowed as it disturbs the gorillas, so make sure you have your camera manual with you so you know how to disable the automatic flash and automatic focus light functions. Photographs of gorillas in the low forest light often turn out dark due to underexposure. To avoid this, I tend to shoot at ISO 1250 or higher when in the forest. These days, newer models of both point-and-shoot and DSLR camera can handle relatively high ISOs without adding too much noise.
No matter what kind of camera you bring, make sure you keep it in a waterproof bag (another moment for the Waterproof Whanganui Sac to shine) to avoid getting the camera wet. I’ve seen way too many nice cameras destroyed by African rainstorms.
Molly Feltner is an award-winning writer and photographer dedicated to telling stories about conservation and the natural world. She currently works for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.