Matt and I recently embarked on our first ever jungle trek in Northern Thailand, a few hours outside of Chiang Mai. It was an incredibly challenging and amazing trip that really pushed me to my limits and showed me a totally different side of Thailand I had never experienced before. When it came time to pack for the trip, I had a rough idea of what I needed and thought I’d covered all bases but, when we got started, I realised there were quite a few things I needed and others I really didn’t need to pack at all. If you’re planning your own adventure here are my tips on what to pack for a jungle trek or hiking trip in Thailand.
But first, watch this…
On our three day Ban Jabo Hilltribe Trek in Northern Thailand, we had to carry our backpacks with all our gear in them the whole time. If you need to do the same for your trek or hike I’d strongly recommend you pack as light as absolutely possible. This list is quite extensive but I made sure to pack the minimum and share things between Matt and me, so we weren’t both carrying a towel, soap and chargers – we shared them. The backpack gets really heavy very quickly so keep it light!
You’ll need a few pairs of thick socks to wear under your hiking boots. I packed three pairs of medium quality ankle socks and wore them under my trail running shoes but I found they were too thin and I started to get blisters on my toes and ankles after the first day. I’d also recommend you pack one pair of socks for each day of your trek and one or two extra pairs as I found I needed more than three pairs for three days.
Matt wore hiking boots and loved the ankle stability they gave him as well as the sense of safety and comfort through dense jungle and high grass areas. I wore my trail running shoes, which are water resistant Salomon shoes. I’m obsessed with mine as they’re a great all-rounder! They’re comfortable, durable, lightweight, water-resistant and super easy to slip on and off thanks to quick-laces.
To be honest, my shoes were fantastic and I didn’t feel the need to run out and buy brand new hiking boots! Packing one pair of awesome all-rounders also meant I didn’t have to lug multiple pairs of shoes around with me. I would say, regular sneakers won’t be good enough unless they’re awesome quality like mine and flip-flops etc are absolutely out of the question. We walked through streams and wet spots and the waterproof aspect of my shoes made all the difference. Don’t wear your favourite Nike high tops though, because they will most likely get trashed!
We only packed our hiking shoes and quickly realised we needed a pair of water shoes to wear on our third day of the trek when we spent the morning wading through knee-deep water. Our guide took us to a shop where we bought cheap imitation crocs for 100 Thai Baht each and they were perfect! If you have a pair of crocs or water-trekking shoes you should pack them. We also wore them when we were going from the homestay to the bathroom and in a few less-than-ideal shower/toilet situations. We also found they were great for wearing around the villages when our tired feet just could not face hiking boots again.
I packed a cotton scarf and it came in really handy in a few situations! It was great for me to cover my face when sleeping, acting as a light blocking mask. I wrapped it around pillows at the homestay, used it as a blanket, wrapped it around my waist and covered my shoulders with it when the evenings got a little cool.
You definitely need to pack a hat as the sun is no joke and you will quickly get burnt or suffer heat exhaustion if you’re not properly protected from the harsh rays. I packed my favourite bucket hat and it was a lifesaver! Nice and loose fitting, it scrunched up easily in my bag at night and offered all-around protection from the sun during hike days.
Matt and I both decided to wear sweat-wicking/activewear tops and were very happy with that decision. I packed one top for each day and two spares, just in case. The two spares were both tight-fitting and I didn’t wear them because I much preferred baggy or loose-fitting tops given the heat. We both loved the material of the activewear tops as they were breathable and light. Also, importantly, they dried very quickly which meant we could wash and wear them again. I definitely wish I’d packed one or two spare tops in the same material that were baggy, not fitted. I wouldn’t have been happy hiking in thick material tops or polyester/rayon.
A few of the other girls wore cotton or regular shirts and I’m pretty sure they said they would’ve liked to have had sweat-wicking, lightweight tops instead. Even though it was sunny and hot, I never felt like I needed anything long sleeve. I did pack a regular cotton t-shirt which I wore in the evenings (see below for more insight on chillout clothes for the evenings).
Matt opted to wear board shorts each day and I went with a pair of active wear shorts. Both of us were really happy with our choices! My shorts had little bike pants sewn into them which stopped any chaffing issues and the lightweight, baggy fabric on the outside gave me plenty of room to move – they were so comfortable, light and breathable. I washed them one night using a wash bar of soap and they were dry, clean and ready to go the next day. They also made it easy for me to jump in for a swim at one of the rivers!
I packed a pair of long tights but never wore them and wished I hadn’t bothered, the little shorts were way better. Some of the girls packed longer shorts in a heavier material and said they wished they’d packed shorts like mine. A few of the girls also said they found the thick material shorts annoying as they didn’t dry very well overnight and would’ve preferred lightweight material that is quick dry. Whatever you pack, be sure to factor in chafe! That’s the last thing you want to happen, and don’t pack anything in rayon or polyester – it’s simply too hot for that material.
In terms of underwear, I packed one pair for each day of the hike plus three extras and that was more than enough. I packed a sports bra for each hiking day and one normal bra for the evenings but I wished I had packed one more sports bra as a back-up, I just found I needed one more than I thought I did.
Once you’re done with hiking for the day, you’ll want to have a shower, get all the dust, dirt and sweat off you and get into fresh clothes. I absolutely got this part wrong and didn’t pack the right kind of chillout clothes for the evenings. In hindsight, I wished I’d packed loose-fitting cotton pants and a baggy t-shirt to relax in comfort. A pair of shorts would also have been great! Instead, I packed long tights and just found they were too ‘exposing’ and fitted after a big day of hiking. You should be able to get by with one set of chillout clothes. If you have space, pack two outfits.
I wore the same pair of pyjamas the whole time – a very light pair of cotton shorts and a singlet/vest top with an inbuilt bra. If I was walking around in front of our homestay family, I’d cover my shoulders with my scarf for a little modesty and so I didn’t feel so exposed. We visited in early April and it was warm enough that I didn’t feel cold.
If you have the room, I thought a pair of sandals would have come in really handy for walking to/from dinner, strolling around the village and all those times when you’re not in your hiking shoes but maybe don’t feel like wearing crocs. It’s not absolutely necessary, you could definitely get away with the crocs/water shoes and your hiking shoes but if you had space, sandals would be nice.
I packed sunglasses, tried to wear them once then totally gave up. I tend to look down at the ground when I’m hiking, which I think is an in-built Australian thing as I’m always looking for snakes, and I found the sunglasses just slipped right off my face and annoyed me. In fact, nobody really wore sunglasses the whole time for some reason. The only time I wished I had them was when we’re in the back of a pickup truck and dirt was getting in my eyes.
Other important things
I packed all my stuff into my Millican Smith ‘The Roll’ backpack and loved it! It is really important your backpack is very comfortable – mine has padded straps and a padded back, which made all the difference. It also has those extra straps that do up across your chest and hips, taking the weight of the backup off your shoulders, which turned out to be really important. One other thing – just make sure your backpack is water resistant or you have one of those waterproof covers just in case it starts to rain.
Music and headphones
One thing I didn’t pack but really wish I had is headphones! We hiked for between 3 and 6 hours each day and I would have loved to have been able to listen to my own music during some of the more challenging parts of the trek. If you have music on your phone or an iPod/music player you can carry with you that would be perfect and just some regular, light headphones (like the ones you get with a new iPhone) would be ideal.
Multi-USB charger and one converter
We weren’t sure there would be power in the little villages we visited but there was! We packed one power converter and a multi-USB charger so we could charger four things at once. It really came in handy for Matt and I as we needed to charge our cameras and phones each day and we could let our friends on the tour who didn’t have a converter use our charger too.
I packed one very small quick dry towel and it was fine. Matt and I shared it, which is a little gross, but it didn’t really matter in the end. The shower facilities are really basic (cold water and a bucket) so sharing a little towel was the least of our concerns. Whatever size you pack, just make sure you towel is quick dry or you’ll be in trouble.
Be sure to pack a good amount of bug spray! We packed one bottle for the two of us and just about went through the whole thing. You apply it in the morning but then need to reapply during the day and again after you shower/before bed. So pack very strong, good quality bug spray and LOTS of it. Our homestay’s had bug nets over where we slept, so we felt really secure at night but still put on some spray just to be safe.
It was very hot in early April when we visited so I found it easiest to put my hair in two plaits and would recommend others with long hair do the same. It was easy for me to put a hat on top and my hair stayed out of my face and was frizz free. I carried a little brush and some of those very small hair ties to secure the ends of each plait and that was all I needed! I did also pack one larger hair tie to pop my hair up in a bun in the evenings once I took the plaits out.
We didn’t go through a lot of sunscreen but we were sure glad we packed it. Each morning we’d slather on some good quality, high SPF, water-resistant sunscreen on our arms, shoulders and the rest of our bodies. I use a dedicated face sunscreen as I hate getting the greasy stuff on my face – a good dose of SPF50 on my face each day was a life saver as one of the girls did get a little burnt on her face one day. One of the girls packed after sun gel and said she wished she hadn’t as it wasn’t needed.
If you’re a light sleeper, you might like to pack something to help you sleep at night as it was very noisy in the village with dogs fighting and barking, rooster crowing through the night and early in the morning, pigs rustling around and the locals bustling around from early in the day.
I packed earplugs and was very glad I did! As I said, there’s a lot of noise in the village (see above). The earplugs did an amazing job of dulling the sounds around me and helping me get the sleep I needed. Matt did not have earplugs and he was very sad about it.
Something for bug bites
Despite the vast amounts of bug spray we were spraying on ourselves we all still found we were bitten by bugs at some point. I would recommend packing something to put on your bug bites to stop the itching or annoying you. Personally, I like to keep a tube of Lucas’ Paw Paw Ointment on me when I travel as it’s a great cure-all.
I was really surprised by how dry it was in Northern Thailand and found great relief in the moisturiser and rosehip oil I had packed! A few of the girls commented on how dry their hands, arms and legs and even their cuticles were. I’d definitely recommend slipping some good quality, thick moisturiser in your bag, at least for your face and hands.
I laughed at Matt when he packed a pair of loofah gloves then had to eat crow and beg him to borrow them! At the end of each hiking day, I was absolutely filthy, covered in a unique mix of bug spray, sweat, sunscreen, dirt and dust. Rubbing some soap over my body with my hands just didn’t seem to cut it and the loofah gloves were amazing at getting the mud off my legs and scrubbing all the grime off the rest of me.
One of the girls packed a headlamp and found it really came in handy! She used it a lot, especially when packing/unpacking her bag, getting ready for the day, going to the toilet late at night – when there are no lights on in the village etc. I used my phone for light but a headlamp would have been much more convenient. Again, not absolutely essential but, if you have one, pack it.
Matt and I packed a little bottle of shampoo and conditioner to share and two little bottles of body wash, up-cycled from travel minis taken from a hotel. They were really all we needed for three days and I didn’t end up using the shampoo or conditioner at all in the end. I used the body wash as a face wash but really wished I’d had proper face wash. I also really wished I had makeup/face wipes as there were a few times I would’ve liked to use one before bed or in the morning. You’ll also need good quality deodorant (seriously, you’ll stink) and we packed a bar of clothes washing soap which really came in handy! You will also need to pack a roll of toilet paper or packs of tissues and have some change on hand as you may need to pay a small fee (usually 3-5 Thai Baht) to use toilets in public places, like a road stop. Of course, you’ll need your toothbrush and toothpaste as well, we shared a little tube to save on space and weight.
We each packed a refillable water bottle and our guides/homestay families supplied us with clean drinking water to refill them so we didn’t use plastic bottles. I’d just suggest you find a way to hang your bottle from your backpack easily, a few carabiners would have gone a long way and I wished we’d had some with us!
I packed a little medicine bag and was really glad I did. In it, I included Imodium/something for an upset tummy, paracetamol and ibuprofen for headaches or injuries, loads of band-aids, hayfever/allergy medication, asthma inhaler, a very strong antihistamine, sleeping pills, valium in-case of a bad anxiety/panic attack, eye drops, cold and flu medicine, throat lozenges and ginger tablets. I didn’t pack travel sickness medicine and needed to buy some as the drive out to the trailhead was very, very windy! You’ll also definitely need hand sanitiser.
Feminine hygiene products
For ladies expecting (or not expecting – am I right?!) to get their period during the trip, you’ll need to pack your own tampons, pads etc. I’d also recommend you bring some little bags to dispose of your used products as there weren’t exactly sanitary bins in the remote villages we visited. We encountered a lot of squat toilets and a few, but definitely less, western toilets so be sure to prepare for that mentally and physically. You will absolutely need to pack hand sanitiser and might like to bring a small pack of anti-bacterial wipes to clean the toilet seat and baby wipes, just in case! Also, pack your own roll of toilet paper!
You might like to bring a separate bag to put your dirty clothes and underwear in and, if you’re very organised, something that smells nice (like dryer sheets or a scented/smelly nice thing) to keep your bag from stinking out and making your fresh clothes smell bad. We also found we needed a spare plastic bag to put our dirty shoes in so the dried mud and dust didn’t get all over everything else in our backpacks.
Matt and I had to pack all our camera gear, of course, and you may like to as well. I would just recommend you pack the lightest equipment you have and bear in mind you’ll need to be able to charge your batteries. If you have a phone with a good quality camera that should be good enough to get great photos but if you’re a keen photographer like us, a lightweight camera is a good idea.
Food and snacks
One other thing I found, we ate rice and vegetables for every meal and, after a few meals like this, my tummy started to hurt. The food was perfectly safe, clean and delicious but I don’t normally eat a lot of rice and I guess my body just isn’t used to that type of food. So, you might like to pop a few muesli bars, some nuts or trail mix, maybe even some dried or fresh fruit (or candy bars) in your backpack for those days when you’re just not up for rice and veggies/meat.
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