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Tips And Gear For Jungle & Rainforest Wildlife Photography

Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) in the rainforest in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia.

Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) in the rainforest in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia.

I’ve spent a lot of time photographing wildlife in the rainforest. I’ve done hikes and camping trips in Borneo to see rare monkeys and orangutans. I’ve trekked for five days through the jungle of Sumatra, where I was growled at by a tiger and walked over elephant tracks. These treks have been some of the most memorable experiences of my life, but also some of the most challenging.

I’ve compiled a list of some gear I recommend having if you decide to go on a photoshoot in the rainforest, combined with some tips I learned along the way.

Monopod

If you are only doing wildlife photography and not planning any landscape shots, I recommend skipping the tripod and going with a more lightweight and portable monopod. I use a SIRUI P-326 with a Really Right Stuff MH-01 tilt-head. I keep this in a side-pocket of my backpack while I walk, or use it as a walking stick for the up- and downhill portions of the trek. For animals that are moving around a lot I prefer a monopod as it makes it easier to move around and get different animals while still keeping the camera steady.

A Waterproof Backpack

When I did the five day trek in Sumatra I brought a Peak Design backpack, which is waterproof on the outside. I thought that would work well since it is waterproof without needing to carry an extra rainfly. I was so wrong. By the time I walked out of the jungle it was soaking wet all the way through. It took a lot of detergent and scrubbing in the river before I got the smell out. Next time I would bring a dry bag like the Itinerant backpack from The North Face.

A Packable Clothesline

I recommend bringing a small clothesline like the Sea-to-Summit Lite Line, which I mentioned in my article on travel. It packs down to almost nothing (about half the size of your palm) and comes in handy at the campsite when your clothes are soaked with sweat, river water, rain, and dew at the end of every day. Don’t expect your clothes to dry in the jungle because they won’t. They may even be wetter the next day if you don’t hang them by the fire. But a clothesline will at least keep them off the ground and free of dirt and most bugs.

Only Two Outfits

I recommend you take 2 outfits - one you keep in a plastic zip-loc bag inside your backpack and wear only at night after you have bathed in the river (or wiped yourself off with a towel at least) and one that you wear every day during your hikes. You can rinse the latter in the river every day to keep it clean. But never rinse the former or you will be lounging in wet clothes for the remainder of your trip.

Vibram Five-Fingers

If ever there were a pair of shoes built just for jungle trekking, the Vibram Five-Fingers V-Alpha are them. I have walked through rivers, mud pits, solid ground, rocks, any type of warm-weather terrain you can think of in these and they have been amazing for all of it. When you get home just throw them in the washing machine with a bunch of detergent to get out any smells and they are as good as new. No need to take your boots on and off when walking through the water anymore.

And that’s it. I think it goes without saying that you should bring lots of batteries, a weather-sealed camera, and the right lenses. You might need to bring a tent or something to sleep in, but I’ve always gone with a guide who provided everything necessary.

Have you ever been on an extended jungle tour? Was there anything you brought that you found invaluable?