Things we're glad we packed for Rwanda
What to bring?
What to bring?It took us a long time - and many trips to REI - to figure out what to pack. Plus, we weren't just going on safari -- we were also going gorilla trekking!
- Hiking Boots: The hike to visit the gorillas was full of mud and buffalo dung. It was bad enough that it sucked a low-top hiking shoe off one gal in our group -- three different times! (Fortunately, she was able to shove her foot right back into her shoe, without stepping in the...ahem..."mud" :) ) Not everyone needs hiking boots, and the Eagle Scout in our group got along just fine without hiking boots. But the rest of us loved (or wished we had) hiking boots.
- Gloves: This may be the best $8 or $10 you spend! Don't buy the cheap gloves, buy the nice thick gardening gloves which are made for thorns. We bought a pair that was covered with rubber on the palm. When you're hiking up that hill to see the gorillas, the stinging nettles are everywhere. And they really hurt! The gloves are great, as they allow you to grab the thorns and push them aside. After we finished our hike, we left our gloves with the guides.
- Pants that are thicker than those lightweight convertibles: The stinging nettles will tear right through those really lightweight, zip-off convertible pants. We originally had the really thin pants, but when we went to REI, one of the folks there told us flat out that they wouldn't work. We're glad we each splurged and spent an extra $60 on another pair of pants. Those nettles would have stung us right through the thin hiking pants. (I know, because they stung me many times, through the heavier duty hiking pants that the REI folks convinced me I'd better buy!) I ended up buying a pair of women's women's Mountain Hardwear pants, which were great. (I bought the convertibles, but the closest I can find now is the Yuma pant.
- I never actually converted them to shorts, though - too many bugs and mud!) On day 1 hiking into the forest, I wore the Mountain Hardwear Convertible pants, and tucked them into my REI socks, so I wouldn't get muddier than I had to. The nettles stuck me, even through these pants. I hate to think what it would have been like if I'd been wearing a thin pair of convertible pants! On day 2, I wore the Mountain Hardwear pants, but on top of that, I pulled on a thin pair of lightweight convertible pants - much better! If you can't find "thicker" hiking pants, another option would be to bring an extra pair of pants and just layer them. (see next bullet point)
- Pants we could layer: "Did you bring these?" About 45 minutes into our hike, our guide stopped, opened his backpack, and pulled out a pair of what looked like lightweight waterproof pants. Then he looked at us, and told us to pull ours out if we had them as well. (We didn't.) When we went back the next day, most of us had layered our pants. You know those lightweight hiking pants that are otherwise not so useful against the stinging nettles? When I went back the following day, I wore my heavier duty hiking pants, and layered them with the lightweight hiking pants. And like I said... much, much better.
- Gaiters: Alternatively, one of the hikers that joined our party (since we had only 6 and they take up to 8 to each gorilla family) had a nifty pair of gaiters that his hotel lent him. These were perfect since 70% of the nettles were below the knee. For an example, check out Outdoor Research M's Verglas Gaiters.
- Longer socks: I brought mostly ankle socks, but it's really good to have longer socks. That way you can tuck your hiking pants into your longer socks, to also protect your ankles. By day 2, we were all tucking pants into socks - whether to protect against nettles, tsetse flies (in Tanzania), or simply so we would get less muddy.
- A few extra t-shirts: A couple of us brought extra t-shirts - just clothes we already had from races, giveaways, competitions, school - then gave away the shirts.
- Dri-fit clothing: We brought all dri-fit clothing, so that we could wash (and dry) our clothes at night. We only did laundry at places where stayed two days in a row.
- Ex Officio Underwear: Buy a few pairs of this dri-fit underwear! You'll be glad you did - they are very comfortable and can be easily washed in the shower with a little soap and dry very quickly in the African night so you'll have a new clean pair every day or so. ExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer from Amazon.com or ExOfficio Women's Give-N-Go Bikini Briefs
- Rainjacket or Poncho: Really helpful, since it started raining as we were hiking. This came in handy in both Rwanda and Tanzania. Note: The thin-shelled "rainjacket" that they sell for California weather at REI, doesn't work when it pours in Rwanda. Even wearing our rainjackets, we got wet. REI has a great customer care policy. When we explained to them that the rainjacket we'd bought wasn't actually waterproof, they offered to take it back and issue a full refund. It's hard to say what to bring, really. I really enjoyed having that rainjacket in Rwanda, because it was yet another layer of protection against those nettles. (btw, note that you may or may not encounter those nettles! It all depends on how tough a hike you want to do, which you have some say in once you get there the morning of the hike. Day 1, we went through the nettles and the thick hiking pants, the rainjacket, etc -- all the extra layers were super handy, as the guides whacked through the brush with their machetes. Day 2, it was a half-hour walk, super easy.) Anyhow, once in Tanzania, the cheap poncho seemed like it would have been a better choice - it takes less space and it works pretty well. Disposable Poncho w/Hood from Amazon.com
- Chocolate: Any snacks will do, but we brought chocolate, and we were really glad we did. For some reason, after we'd spent an hour hanging out with the gorillas, everybody suddenly seemed to get hungry. Chocolate was just the thing! You can't actually bring food anywhere near the gorillas, but you leave your backpacks outside (under the watchful eyes of trackers), and when you get back out, you can dive into the chocolate!
- And a bonus item... a Safari Vest: We really, really debated about this. Because, let's be frank, it almost sounds too cliche - to be buying a safari vest as you head on safari. However, this came in super handy. In particular, when you hike in to visit the gorillas, you're not allowed to bring your backpacks or bags. There's good reason for this -- often, we found ourselves scrunched together on the side of a hill. There just wasn't room for a bunch of bags. (Plus, if you brought food, you're not allowed to bring that in, either.) So while taking photos, it was super handy to have a place to easily tuck away that lens cap.
And one thing we're glad we didn't pack:
- Walking Sticks: We went back and forth about this, and looked at a bunch of walking sticks at REI (as well as online). We finally decided against buying/bringing them, which was a smart idea. The guides were kind enough to offer us walking sticks. (They also helped tow, or push, us up the mountain.) We're glad we didn't bring hiking sticks, because it would have just been one more thing to carry (and more money to spend).
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