[Tips] Hiking in The Tropical Climate

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For you guys who have been living comfortably in your developed four-season countries, hiking in the tropics could be a little bit tricky. But don’t worry, as a good tropical boy, I have some tips for you to hike in the equator, especially in Indonesia, which is only have two seasons: wet and dry.

Smart layering

The basics are just the same:

  • Base layer
  • Midlayer (insulation)
  • Wind/rain protection

But the the clothing type is a little different. Hiking in the hot damp climate demands excellent breathable fabrics. Most of trail running equipments (shoes, waterproof jackets and pants) are proven to be very reliable, although they’re quite expensive and especially not for a long-term abuse on the trail.

Insulated hardshell jackets? Bad idea

Rain in the tropical mountain forest is a very damp and very wet experience. Insulated hardshell jackets like JWS North Country or TNF Inlux, even though they have outer waterproof fabrics, it would be perfect only in the drier climate, but here those kind of jackets are the recipe for disaster. What would you wear in the camp if your hardshell jacket, which is also your midlayer, soaked with sweat after you wear it 3 hours non-stop in the torrential rain?

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Rain in the tropics: a very damp and wet experience

Light and warm midlayer

Mountains in the tropics can be very cold too. At some places in a dry season, the temperature could drop below 00C/320F at night, but then after the sun rises the temperature could reach 450C/1130F, tricky isn’t it? Most people here usually wear fleece as a midlayer, it’s lightweight and offers great breathability. But due to the fact that it’s bulky and has no wind protection, people tend to switch to ultralight down/synthetic jacket because of its double functionality as a midlayer and a windbreaker. You’re safe as long you don’t wear a North-Pole-expedition-grade down jacket.

Wear an ultralight down jacket as an alternative to fleece
Wear an ultralight down jacket as an alternative to fleece

Sunscreen is a waste of time

What the frak? No sunscreen in the heat of tropical sun?

I’ve seen so many foreigners put the lotion like nobody’s business when they’re hiking at Semeru or Rinjani, two of Indonesia’s most popular volcanoes. In a dry season, there would be lots of dust on the trail. Can you imagine when sweat, the oily sunscreen and dust mixed up altogether on your skin in humid air? Also, you have to apply the lotion every hour or so to be effective, that’s not very practical and troublesome. After the hike, you’d probably got bad sunburn anyway. So what’s the solution?

Cover all your exposed skin. No kidding.  I’m dark-skinned but I always wear a long sleeve quickdry baselayer, long comfortable walking trousers (sometimes short pants), a running cap, and a buff to cover half of my face when hiking in the hot, dry season. I can avoid getting sunburn, plus, I don’t have to worry about getting my skin dry because the clothing also acts as a moisture trap.

You’d probably think “Wow, cover all of my skin, isn’t that like very hot?”  It all depends on the clothing. Have you ever seen an Arab living in the hot, dry desert applies sunscreen every hour? No, they wear long, comfortable cloth covering almost all of their skin.

As for hiking, I obviously don’t recommend Arab traditional dress, but look for apparel with thinner and strong fabrics with good breathability. Again, you’d probably find the appropriate clothing at the trail running section or summer-oriented hiking clothes, although summer in the four-season country is quite cold for us who live in the equator.

Dressed like a ninja to prevent bad sunburn
Dressed like a ninja to prevent bad sunburn

Other tips from Captain Obvious

  • No ski pants and winter boots.
  • No wool socks when trekking.
  • Winter sleeping bag is a big no-no, unless you’re in the extensive weight-reduction program.

So,  get yourself ready to hike in the hot, damp environment. Here in Indonesia, we have the largest collection of land-based volcanoes on Planet Earth. Most of them are active, have gorgeus landscapes, and they’re awesome.

Gear recommendation

  • Baselayer: Asics Hermes crew, Salewa Fanton Dry
  • Midlayer: Mont-Bell Chameece, TNF Thermoball, RAB Microlight Alpine
  • Waterproof jacket: Salomon Bonatti, TNF Venture
  • Pants: TNF Sentiero, Berghaus Navigator stretch zip-off

 

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