Gear list for tropical hikes
Hiking in tropical weather can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. However, it is important to keep in mind that tropical weather can be hot, humid, and unpredictable, and may present certain specificities that you may not encounter in other climates. To make sure that you are having a blast, here are some recommendations for a gear list for a tropical hike.
To prevent sunburn, choose a t-shirt made of a lightweight, breathable material that provides adequate skin coverage. Light-colored shirts are also recommended as they reflect more sunlight than darker colors and keep you cool throughout the day. It’s best to avoid t-shirt materials that are heavy, non-breathable, or retain moisture. Some materials to avoid include:
- Cotton: heavy and slow-drying, cotton t-shirts can hold moisture next to the skin, causing discomfort and chafing.
- Denim: a heavy, non-breathable material that retains heat and moisture, making it a poor choice for hot-weather hiking. These jean shorts and jackets might look awesome in the picture, but you might regret wearing them once it’s time to get moving.
There’s so much to say about sunscreen! Here are some factors to consider when choosing a good one:
- SPF (Sun Protection Factor): Choose an SPF 30 or higher (SFP 50 is my everyday pick), and make sure it provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Ingredients: Preferably look for physical sunscreens (known as mineral sunscreen). It is a type of sunscreen that works by creating a physical barrier on the skin to block or reflect UV rays from the sun. It contains active mineral ingredients, such as zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, which sit on top of the skin and form a protective layer. Compared to chemical sunscreens, they tend to be less irritating and less likely to cause allergic reactions. They are also effective immediately upon application, whereas chemical sunscreens require about 20 minutes to take effect. One potential downside of physical sunscreens is that they can leave a white or chalky residue on the skin, especially if not blended in. However, newer formulations of physical sunscreens are now available that use smaller particle sizes to help reduce this effect.
- Water resistance: look for a sunscreen that is water and sweat-resistant, to maintain protection during physical activity.
- Texture: look for a lightweight and non-greasy formula that won’t cause skin irritation or impede sweat evaporation.
- Packaging: consider packaging that is easy to carry and apply while on the go, such as a tube or a compact bottle. Even better if the pack is recyclable (the cherry on top of the cake if it’s made from recycled material).
- Reef safe: if your hiking location is also in an area where you might enjoy a little plunge in the ocean, you should choose a sunscreen that is labeled reef-safe or coral-safe. These types of sunscreens are free from harmful chemicals that impact coral reefs and marine life, particularly oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are known to damage coral reefs and contribute to coral bleaching.
Hydration pack/water bottles
Hiking in tropical weather can make it easy to become dehydrated. The hot and humid conditions cause the body to lose water more quickly through sweating.
Dehydration can cause a range of symptoms, including thirst, dry mouth, headache, dizziness, fatigue, and muscle cramps. In severe cases, it can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke, which can be life-threatening. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and even after your hike. Aim to drink at least 1 liter of water per hour of hiking, and more if you are sweating heavily.
It’s also a good idea to plan your hike during the cooler hours of the day, such as early morning (I usually start before sunrise) or late afternoon, and to take breaks in shaded areas.
In addition to plain water, drinking water with electrolyte tablets can be useful for staying hydrated as they typically contain a combination of sodium, potassium, and magnesium that help replenish the body’s fluid balance and support proper hydration. It’s also helpful to have salty snacks for the same reasons. You can start eating those salty snacks after the first two hours of the hike, even if it’s only 8 in the morning!
If going on a very long day of the hike with no information on where to refill your water, you might want to add purification tablets to your packing list. They allow you to clean water taken from a river or other natural water source and could avoid carrying 6kg of water with you.
They work by releasing a disinfectant that kills bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms in the water. They are effective against a wide range of waterborne pathogens and are relatively easy to use. You simply add them to the water and wait for a specified amount of time (usually 30 minutes to 4 hours) for the tablets to dissolve and the water to become safe to drink!
Tropical locations often go with proximity to the equator and thus shorter days. Even in summer, you might be caught in the dark at around 18h30. If you planned a long day or started in the afternoon, consider taking some light with you.
Other items for a tropical hike gear list:
- Basic tools (e.g. knife, multi-tool, bandages for blisters)
- Map and GPS device
- Snacks or energy bars
- A cap, or even better, a hat that will also protect your neck
- Insect repellent
- Trekking shoes and sandals