You’ve got to cool down, take it easy

You’ve got to cool down, relax, take it easy

Slow down, relax, it’s too late to worry’  (Bakerman, Laid Back)

For me junglecraft is a combination of skills, gear, attitude and understanding that allow the jungle trekker to safely enjoy their time in the jungle.  I have seen quite a number of people new to the jungle who don’t have any junglecraft and as a consequence tend to have a miserable time and regret going into the jungle at all…this is a shame as they end up joining the growing number of people who see the jungle as somewhere hostile and dangerous that should be concreted over as soon as possible; that the jungle is something you do battle with (the man vs nature misconception) rather than an endlessly fascinating place to appreciate and enjoy.

I though it might be useful to list out the top ten mistakes newbies to the jungle tend to make.   We were all newbies once and many of these are mistakes are ones I made as well.

1. Pack too heavy

This is the most common mistake and one that the jungle will really make you pay heavily for.  Carrying a heavy pack in a cool climate on a gentle walk is not the same as carrying the same pack in the humid jungle environment, where you have to duck and weave through the undergrowth and clamber up muddy slopes.

I have seen people at the point of exhaustion thanks to the load on their back and, what is interesting is that when you take the load off them and distribute it amongst the group their ability to carry on returns almost immediately.

2. Unskilled with a parang

One of the things that really differentiates junglecraft from other types of bushcraft is the reliance we have on parangs: for clearing the trail, processing firewood, digging latrines and a host of other tasks.  Those new to the jungle  are not going to be experts overnight with a parang but they should at least know how to use it safely, how to sharpen it and the basics of  the chopping action…none of this is rocket science but a little bit of practice in the back garden before you set off on your great trip is well worth it (and will toughen up your hands!)

3. Wrong clothes/footwear

Wearing the wrong clothes can really make life miserable in the jungle.  Clothes need to breathe and allow air to circulate as you will be sweating heavily.  Footwear needs to be appropriate for an environment where you’re feet are (often) wet throughout the day and should have grip on wet slimy surfaces (so no Vibran!)

The newbie mistake is to be too anxious about getting cut and scratched by the rattans and undergrowth and, as a result, choose clothes that are thick and overly heavy duty.  I’d far rather get a few scratches and cuts than wear anything heavy duty and, if you look at the natives in the jungle they do exactly that…do they get cuts and scratches?  Of course they do; they just don’t let it bother them too much.

4. Poor risk assessment

They say there are three stages when someone starts going into the jungle: Stage 1: Pretty much sacred of everything and expecting tigers to pounce from every tree and snakes behind every rock.  Stage 2:  after a few trips, and not a single tiger or snake in sight, complacency sets in and the newbie decides that there is absolutely nothing dangerous about the jungle at all and all the stories were just scaremongering.  Stage 3:  Sooner of later you do come across a deadly snake or a wild animal, or a tree branch falls and narrowly misses your head, or you nearly lose your footing on a river crossing and you begin to realise that there are risks to jungle trekking but not perhaps the ones you were most worried about at the beginning,

An example of this is the tendency of newbies to grab onto things for balance without checking first that the tree or branch isn’t full of spines, or covered in ants or even hosting a snake or bees nest.   Similarly when collecting firewood you need to be cautious about what you pick up and using a glove or your parang instead of bare hands is a good practice to get into.

The point is that there is risk but the key is to understand the likelihood of an event actually happening, take reasonable precautions and to know what do if something does go wrong.  Be cautious but don’t get paranoid.

5. Underestimating the ease with which you can get lost

In some ways this is the same as point 4 but I think it is worth emphasising as it is a mistake you really you don’t want to make as the results can be serious.  They key is to practice convoy discipline when trekking in a group – I’ve covered this in an earlier video, but is essence it means that you are responsible for the person behind you on the trail and, if they go out of sight, you stop and wait for them to catch up – as everyone is practising the same discipline it means that should someone fall behind the whole group will automatically stop and wait.

Simple enough, so what is the problem?  The problem is that what usually happens is everyone starts off with good intentions and rigorously applies convoy discipline but after a while they tend to forget and the discipline disappears….and Sod’s Law dictates that it is at just that point that one of your group picks a side trial and gets lost.

And let’s add to this newbie mistake  ‘…not knowing what to do if you do get lost‘.  I’ve covered this in an earlier video and it is something every newbie should be taught – in short: S.T.O.P., call out, build a fire and, assuming you are with a group, wait for them to find you.

Which brings us nicely to…

6. Can’t light a fire. 

Now I’m not talking about starting a fire by rubbing sticks together or any particularly advanced fire starting methods.  I’m talking about being able to collect usable firewood, prep it and start a fire quickly and easily even with a lighter and inner tube.

The jungle can be a difficult place as far as fire lighting is concerned as all the wood tends to be damp due to 1) lots of rain 2) the fact that sunlight almost barley penetrates the canopy so it takes along time for wood to dry out.

Time and again I have seen people fail to light a fire in the jungle because they pick the wrong firewood, don’t prepare it properly or don’t understand the fuel/oxygen/heat inter-relationship.

Again, a little bit of practice (with less than ideal materials) at home can make all the difference and quickly teaches us that preparation (and wood selection) is 90%  of the trick to efficient firelighting.

…and let’s add to this a bug bear of mine which is ‘people thinking they can start a fire with a just a firesteel using tinder from the jungle when the only things they’ve got to light up in the past were vaseline impregnated cotton balls at the camping shop that sold them the firesteel…..aggghhh!

And that brings us to…

7. Unfamiliar with their own equipment

This covers a multitude of sins; from not walking in that new pair of boots to not knowing how to set up a hammock.   It seems incredible to me (and yet I’ve seen it a number of times) that someone can go on a 3 night trek bringing along a hammock that they have literally never set up before.  How difficult is it to find two trees near your home and practice a few times before going into the jungle?  At least learn the knots!

Equipment can go wrong/break/be unsuitable for the jungle environment and the best time and place to test it is at home (or better still on a short overnight trip into the jungle where you aren’t too far from your car) but do your equipment testing before you find yourself deep in the jungle and days from home.  An example of this is is the tent, which works well in some environments but is poorly suited to the jungle whereas a hammock is tailor made for the job….a simple overnighter in the jungle is usually enough to convince anyone of this.

The Orang Asal have relatively poor camping equipment but one thing that becomes quickly apparent is that they understand the limitations of their equipment and treat it accordingly…they know what their equipment is capable of and what it isn’t capable of.  The same applies to our own equipment – e.g. if you go ultralightweight you have to allow for the fact that that sort of gear won’t be as sturdy as the heavy duty versions and you need to be a little more careful with it (but the weight saving more than compensates for this).

8. Trying to stay dry and clean throughout the day.

This might seem a strange mistake to make as who wouldn’t want to be clean and dry through the day?  But what I’m really getting at is that acceptance of a certain amount of discomfort during the day (being wet, sweaty, a bit grubby, getting a few insect bites and scratches) is part and parcel of the jungle experience but not really that big a deal as long as you mentally adjust for it and shrug it off.

The key thing here is to take comfort in the knowledge that when you set up camp you will get clean and dry and you will have nice dry clothes to change into as well as a lovely hammock to relax in….in other words the discomfort is temporary as long as you maintain a dry/wet clothes discipline (i.e. always keep your dry evening clothes dry and put the wet ones on again the next morning).

I’ve seen people make dangerous river crossings on elevated tree trunks when they could simply wade through the river instead….all because they were trying to keep their feet dry.  It’s not worth it.

9. Jumping in at the deep end/over reaching

I’ve had a few people write in about trips they’re planning to Malaysia where they have some over ambitious goal like walking 100km in 5 days (and without a guide) and then am amazed to find that they’ve never even been to the tropics before, let alone the jungle.

This is a mistake and likely to lead to an unenjoyable trip for the over ambitious.  A better idea is to plan a simple overnight camp in the jungle, with a short walk in and out, and see how you get along.  It also gives you a chance to test all your gear without being too far away from civilisation.  If that all goes smoothly then by all means try something more ambitious the next time.

The other issue here is people tend to overestimate how far they can travel in the jungle in a day.  It is best to go conservative and have exit routes planned in case you can’t cover the entire distance in the time (and food!) you have available.

Related to this is the importance of breaking camp early so that you can trek in the relative cool of the morning and ensure that you have plenty of time to reach your next camp site.  I was on a trip recently where, frustratingly, we didn’t break camp until late morning and then not only trekked during the hottest part of the day but didn’t manage to reach the next campsite until late evening.

10. Don’t know how to shit in the woods

This seems like an odd one but a lot of people seem to find it tricky.  It really isn’t.

The first mistake you will come across is people using the river to both pee and shit in.  This is wrong!  Don’t do it!

The jungle floor itself, the earth and insects, acts as a highly efficient waste removal service…poo literally disappears in this part of the world in the matter of a day or two, so, unless you’re making a permanent camp somewhere, there is no need to dig deep latrines.  All you need to do is push away the leaves, do your business, and cover it over with a stack of leaves…nature and the jungle will quickly take care of the rest.

If you’re worried someone is going to wander over and see you, simply tell everyone what you’re going off to do and they will keep away.  Then walk a decent distance from camp and off the trail and that’s about it.  I would recommend having a tree nearby that you can hang onto just in case you lose your balance mid squat!

Related to this is jungle etiquette when it comes to rivers.  Everyone in the group should know that drinking water is collected up stream and then washing up (of dishes) downstream from that and washing clothes and your person downstream from that.   It’s common sense, but you’d be surprised how often people get it wrong.  I once saw a guy peeing into the river just upstream of someone washing their dishes…not good!