Ever since watching National Geographic, I’ve dreamed of visiting Borneo. Borneo is HUGE, so when I finally got my chance to visit, I ended up focusing my time on visiting the Malaysian part of Borneo as well as Brunei as it was easier to get around.  However, one does not simply land in Borneo without significant preparations and a well-thought packing list for Borneo.  Keep reading for tips on what to do before you leave for Borneo (including vaccinations and malaria tablets), what to pack for Borneo, and what you’ll definitely want to know about leeches in Borneo.  
 
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Included in this Borneo Packing List:

  • Weather in Borneo
  • Borneo Packing List for Two Weeks
    • What to pack for jungle trekking in Borneo
    • What you need to know about leeches in Borneo
  • Medicines to bring with you before you visit Borneo
    • Do you need malaria pills for Borneo

What’s the weather in Borneo?

Keep mind that Borneo is actually composed of THREE countries (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia) and it’s a huge island.  Depending on where you are planning on visiting, the weather might be quite different.

​That said, on average, there’s a dry and a rainy season.  Expect Borneo weather to be hot and humid with average temperatures in winter being about 27 degrees Celsius (81 F) and average temperatures in summer nearing 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees).  That said, the humidity is often an issue, so it will feel hotter than it is. I was constantly sweating through my clothes.

Rainy season in Borneo can bring a lot of rain, on average, over 400mm of rain in January/December, although the average drops significantly in summer and spring.  If you’re trying to guarantee good conditions for trekking in Borneo, you might want to avoid rainy season.

Borneo Packing List for Two Weeks

Keep in mind that my itinerary for Borneo was a diverse one, including a mix of cities as well as trekking.  I’d say that I spent most of my trip out in nature although I stayed each night in a basic accommodation or hotel.  If your trip is more trekking intense, you might want to ask your tour guide on what is specifically needed for long-term trekking hikes as this Borneo packing list is more intended for people who intend to dodaily day hikes rather than week-long trekking.

My trip was more nature focused with nine of our days spent doing day trekking in the Malaysian and Bruneian jungle with returning to our accomodation each night.  It wasn’t continuous as I had never done jungle trekking before this trip and I wasn’t sure how it would be.  The rest of the trip was split between city sightseeing in Malaysia (Sabah/Sarawak) and Brunei, paragliding in Ranau, and snorkeling off the coast.    I did not do a week-long trek like some people, but you still might find some useful advice for your Borneo packing list here.

This is what I actually brought with me to Borneo plus a few things that I wish that I had packed for Borneo. Nobody sponsored our trip and this is a no-bs guide to packing for Borneo.  My goal is to have you prepared for your trip to Borneo as I really felt like nobody gave me definitive answers in terms of preparations before leaving.  I’m not about expensive gear, so don’t worry and save your money for the incredible wildlife experiences in Borneo that you’re visiting it for!

Photo of monkey in Borneo. Read what to bring to Borneo with a complete Borneo packing list with advice on what to wear jungle trekking.

What to wear for jungle trekking in Borneo

Borneo was a dream trip for me, so although I definitely splurged on experiences, I was not interested in spending a lot on fancy jungle trekking clothes as we weren’t doing weeks of jungle trekking.  That said, if you’re doing a lot of trekking, you might want to bring more sets of clothing.  You’ll want to be aware of how quickly your clothes dry as the humidity means that your clothes dry slowly​.

We did proper jungle trekking for about nine days out of our two week trip, but it wasn’t all in a row and I had 3 sets of “hiking” clothes to ensure that I always had something that wasn’t dripping with sweat.

Lightweight, sturdy long pants for Borneo trekking

Lightweight, but sturdy LONG trousers that aren’t black and that quick-dry. I recommend bringing at least one pair (ideally two pairs) as one might get dirty/wet from trekking. I recommend avoiding black trousers as it makes it harder to see leeches. You’ll want to pull your socks OVER your pants to make it harder for them to get onto you. Keep in mind that leeches can eat through fabric, so you are not immune to leeches if you’re covered up (like I thought I was).

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My husband wore his trusty cargo pants, which helped for holding our electronics. I wore a similar pair of cargo pants although I didn’t end up having a good pair that was quick-dry, which I really regretted. It took forever to have my clothes dry and even when they were “dry,” they were still moist. As much as it’s great to look fashionable, you don’t want to pack for Borneo trying to look fashionable. You won’t.

Click for a good pair of men’s trekking pants for Borneo.
Click for a good pair of women’s trekking pants for Borneo.

A few quick-dry long sleeve shirts for jungle trekking

Be sure to bring lightweight quick-dry long-sleeve shirts depending how often you’re going trekking. At minimum, bring at least two shirts as one shirt will probably need to dry for at least a day. ​

Why long sleeve shirts? You need to wear long-sleeve shirts in Borneo as you don’t want the plants scraping against you and leeches getting on you. Tiger leeches wait by the waist level to hop on you as you rub against bushes, so it’s a good idea to wear long sleeves in Borneo. You’ll thank me for this if you’re trekking in Sabah. Be sure to pack good breathable lightweight materials for Borneo as long-sleeves make you very prone to sweating. It takes a while for your clothes to dry. I saw a lot of people in stereotypical jungle trekking shirts, but honestly, any quick-dry long sleeve shirt meant for hot weather will do.

Click for a quick-dry men’s long-sleeve shirt for Borneo
Click for a quick-dry women’s long-sleeve shirt for Borneo

Good waterproof hiking shoes for trekking in Borneo

I’m not going to claim definitively that I found the best shoes for Borneo. The shoes that I found worked well enough and I’ve been pleased with them. It’s easy to blow a lot money on gear for Borneo, so if you have a good pair of hiking sneakers, you should be fine on shoes for Borneo.

A good waterproof pair of hiking shoes is one of the most important items that you’ll need to pack for Borneo, especially if you’ll be trekking. I wore my Saloman Women’s Ellipse 2 LTR W Hiking Shoe, which kept my feet dry and comfortable. Some people prefer a higher cut for their hiking shoes to avoid their ankle from rolling. You can spend a lot more on hiking shoes, but I was interested in the cheapest decent pair of hiking sneakers for Borneo that I could find. I’ve used them on other trips since and they’re good hiking sneakers.

My husband bought Jack Wolfskin boots in a higher cut. They’re also on the cheaper side for waterproof hiking boots for Borneo, but he’s been pleased with them given the price point. For a little more, it’s easy to buy quality hiking boots.

A waterproof day-pack

While trekking, you’ll need to carry your water bottle, food, and any extra supplies that you’ll need for the day. It might start pouring while you’re trekking, so be sure to pack a good lightweight day backpack to Borneo. I think it’s good to have something that folds up to take up less space, so you don’t need to wear two backpacks, however my husband uses an army surplus backpack that he bought in the US years ago and it works amazingly well. If you’re planning on carrying a lot on your day hikes, get an army bag. It was very handy for Bako National Park where you’ll need to carry your lunch with you for day hikes.

If you’ll be visiting Mount Kinabalu, a fleece sweater/sweatshirt

The elevation on Mount Kinabalu means that it can get quite cold at night, so be sure to bring a fleece sweater with you as most agencies have you do the final descent prior to sunrise.

Enough pairs of underwear and socks

Pairs of underwear (one per day and two for trekking days) and for women, at least 3 sports bras as you’ll be sweating through your clothes. I recommend packing more pairs of underwear if you’ll be trekking in Borneo as you’ll want to change out of your clothes once you’re done trekking. I recommend wearing long socks as you won’t want to be continuously pulling up your socks.

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Leech socks (coupled with a surprise item below)

..So, I actually got bit by a leech while in Borneo because I didn’t wear leech socks. Our guide told me that we’dknowwhen there was a leech on us, however depending on the leech variety and how new you are to this, you might not realize it’s a leech and assume it’s something else.  I was fairly careful, but my biggest mistake (beyond not wearing leech socks) was wearing long dark pants and dark socks as it made it difficult to visually check my leg for leeches.  The leech that got mechewedthrough my sock until it got to my ankle. I didn’t see a leech, but I felt a mild buzzing pain (apparently typical for a tiger leech). I checked myself and didn’t see anything.  I kept going and I can only assume that the leech happily fell off after drinking my blood. It took hours for my ankle to stop bleeding although my pride was still more hurt from bragging to my husband (who the leeches kept hopping onto) that I didn’t manage to attract any leeches.  Luckily, leeches don’t carry diseases.  Beyond the obvious disgusting factor and  your wound bleeding, you’ll be fine.
I struggled to find any cheap leech socks before we left, so if you have an extra day in a major city (e.g. Kota Kinabalu), you should be able to buy a more reasonable leech sock. Some say thattightly woven soccer socks are mostly effective against leeches, but I wasn’t comfortable doing this in the end.  Be sure to pull the socks OVER your pants and consider soaking them in tobacco.

Mosquito Repellent

Mosquito repellent. The strongest that you can find. The reality is that if you’re prone to getting bit by mosquitos, you’re going to get bit A LOT in Borneo. This can be an issue if you’re traveling to areas where dengue fever and malaria are an issue. Some people choose not to take malaria tablets, but personally, I would not risk it given how many mosquito bites that I’d find on myself each day after getting a sub-par mosquito repellent. As much as I wanted an all natural product, products with a higher percentage (at least 30%) DEET work well for jungle trekking. Some people go the whole mile with coating their clothing with mosquito repellent spray although it can impact the color of your clothing. My issue was that I have a cat and I had some concerns about her licking the bag.

Trying to figure out the Borneo dress code? Tips on what to put on your Borneo packing list and you'll want to pack for your trip to Borneo.

Kampong Ayer water village in Brunei

Items to pack for sightseeing in Borneo

Women: One dress

Borneo has some fantastic cities and you might want to experience the nightlife (or just walk around the city). I particularly enjoyed the night markets in Kota Kinabalu and it was great to have a lightweight comfortable dress to throw on after a day of trekking. Although I saw A LOT of foreigner women walking around in shorts and cropped tops, I felt much more comfortable in a knee-length dress.

A light layer (sweater)

It cools down considerably some nights and similarly, you might be visiting a couple restaurants with intense air conditioning during your trip (especially in Brunei) I recommend having a comfortable light layer that you can put on.

One pair of Jeans or clean non-trekking pants (Can be substituted for shorts)

Trust me, your trekking pants will be all nasty after a couple days of trekking, so don’t forget a comfortable pair of jeans for Borneo.  In Brunei, I lived in my jeans.  I’m not really one for shorts and I felt that I stood out a lot more in shorts compared to jeans.   That’s your call.

Short-sleeve t-shirts

When not trekking, I lived in my basic cotton short-sleeve t-shirts. I recommend a light color to ensure that you’re not too warm. You don’t need anything too crazy, but bring quite a few. I also brought a colorful scarf with me to dress up the t-shirts as I felt my outfits were kind of boring otherwise. I brought six t-shirts with me, which got me through the first week until I was able to do my laundry.

Bathing suit

When you’re not trekking, you might stay somewhere with a pool, you might want to go diving in the incredible coral reef (Sipadan), or even stop while trekking for a dip in a jungle pool. Be sure to bring your bathing suit!

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Comfortable Sandals

For walking around the cities, you’ll want to have a comfortable pair of sandals. Some people prefer a thong sandal (although I personally am not a fan as it was often a little muddy and my feet would get nasty after walking around!) . I’d recommend a slightly elevated shoe for women to prefer icky stuff from getting into your shoes or a comfort sandal (like a Tevas).

Other items to pack for Borneo

A DSLR with a zoom lens

Photo of Proboscis monkey. Read your complete Borneo packing list with tips for what clothes to wear for jungle trekking and what to pack for Borneo.

I cannot tell you HOW many people I saw trying to take photos of the monkeys up in the trees with a basic phone camera or GoPro. Although phones are great for CLOSEUP photos and Gopros are great for taking selfies/videos, they do not cut it when wild animals are 50m up in the trees. For this, you really need a DSLR camera with a good zoom lens, which means that you can get photos like the one above of a proboscis monkey. My husband didn’t have binoculars, so he was forced to actually look through my zoom lens in order to see the wildlife (especially hornbills) as they were far enough away that it was hard to see them. You’ll need a zoom lens that extends up to 200/300mm.

I always consider great photos my best souvenir from a place and investing in a not-too-expensive zoom lens was worth it 100% for me. I have a Nikon D3400, which is an affordable DSLR that comes with a great starter kit WITH a free zoom lens. I have this camera and it’s traveled all over the world.

I had this zoom len stolen from me when our rental car was broken into in Spain, so I ended up replacing it with a cheaper Tamron zoom lens that worked perfectly for my trip and was in my budget. (You can see my photos from Borneo taken with this lens.)

Keep in mind that if you have a different camera type OR you have a full-frame camera, you’ll need to research a good zoom lens for YOUR camera.

A bag of loose cheap tobacco (for your leech socks)

Bear with me here.  I’m not advocating smoking, but our guide swore by tobacco for slowing down leeches.  What you’ll want to do is to soak the tobacco in some water that you lightly spray to your pants/shoes.  Others swear by keeping one pair of leech socks lightly soaking in tobacco water about two days before (before letting them dry).  You don’t need a lot, so buy it cheaply in the city before you head to Borneo.

Borneo Guidebook

I got the Lonely Planet guidebook, which is a must-read if you’re considering doing adventure travel in Borneo. It’s a bit hard as it’s very spread out, however I felt the Lonely Planet guide for Borneo was a good basis for figuring out what we wanted to go and which regions to focus on. I also read the guide that included Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia, but I felt it was less suited to the kind of adventurous trip that I wanted to do. Click to check the price of the Lonely Planet guide.

A good water bottle

It’s going to be very hot and honestly, you’ll be drinking a lot of water.  Some people swear by also carrying their own water purifier for longer trekking, but we simply just carried enough water for us on our day-hikes.   I love my Nalgene bottle!

One set of Tupperware

You’re probably wondering why do you should bring tupperware to Borneo? Depending on your plans, you’ll probably go trekking. ​Carrying your lunch in a plastic bag is a terrible idea as many of the macaques are smart enough to know that there’s food in your bag and you might have some competition for your lunch. Macaques are very aggressive and short-tail ones are the most aggressive of the monkeys you’ll encounter in Borneo. They are fearless and they are known to bite people without warning. I saw macques chase after people with plastic bags, so consider bringing a set of tupperware with you to put your lunch in. This way, your lunch doesn’t spill and you’re not advertising to the monkeys that you’re someone with food.

Some guides/agencies will carry the food for you, but if you intend on going to one of the national parks where you can go trekking in Borneo without a guide, you’ll need to carry your lunch with you from the nearby canteen.  A lot of people in Bako National Park go for the day and forget food, so they end up carrying a plastic bag with a styrofoam box along the way with their lunch.

Large sealable plastic bags

Borneo is wet and if you’re going to trekking or even taking a boat upriver, you’ll want to protect your electronics from water.  I recommend carrying a few sturdy sealable plastic bags with you for your electronics (camera/phone).  Make sure they’re watertight!

A good deodorant

Between the heat, humidity, and jungle trekking, you’ll need a good deodorant. Keep in mind that some scented deodorants can scare animals away/attract bugs, so try to get an unscented deodorant if possible.

A travel adapter

Depending on where you’re going in Borneo, you’ll need to pack a travel adapter. In Brunei and Malaysia, they use a British-style plug while in Indonesia, it’s the European-style plug. If you get a good adapter that is solid for most countries, you’ll have an easier time not needing to carry extra adapters around. I recommend carrying a universal travel adapter with USB ports as you can charge up your phone and your camera at the same time!

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Good Sunscreen

The sun in Borneo is probably more intense than what you’re used to. Be sure to put on a strong sunscreen every day even if you’re wearing long sleeves. Be sure to reapply it too! Similarly, if you go snorkeling, be sure to wear waterproof sunscreen. I made this mistake for TWO HOURS and I ended up being completely burnt. I had no idea that I was getting sunburnt until later that night when I discovered how painful and red my back was. It also was really awful to sleep as it hurt that much–and to carry my backpack. Simply, don’t forget your back and your shoulders!

A good 50L backpack with a rain cover

For some places that we visited in the Kinabatangan region, it’s possible to have a suitcase if you’re staying in the same hotel for day. However, for some of the more out of the way places and budget travel, a suitcase would have been a nightmare, especially for when we stayed overnight for a couple days in Bako National Park and took a boat back from Bako National Park during low tide. We had to walk down the beach (barefoot) prior to wading through the tide while wearing our our bags in order to catch our ride, which would have been very difficult with a non-backpack. I didn’t end up trekking for long periods with my bag, but it’s important to have a good bag for Borneo if you’ll be carrying all your stuff with you the entire time.

I have the Quechua 50L bag, which requires being checked, but you’ll be able to fit all your stuff into it AND have room for souvenirs. Check prices here  

The rain cover doesn’t always come with every backpack, so be sure to get a rain cover fit for your bag.

Soap and Shampoo + toiletries

Once you’re in Borneo, you’ll be able to buy soap and shampoos in the big city.  However, if you have curly hair, you’ll want to plan your products ahead as the humidity is very intense. Similarly, it’s good to have a soap that is less likely to leak, so consider buying a bar soap.

Pajamas

Kind of a given, but depending on whether you’re staying at accomodations with air conditioning or not, you might want to pack a mix of shorts and long pants for your pajamas.

LED Headlamp

I came to Borneo to see wildlife, so while in Bako, we did a night trek. I was hoping to see a slow loris, but I ended up seeing a flying lemur, which was amazing. For night trekking, it’s really good to have a headlamp just to see where you’re going and to ensure you don’t step on anything. I’ve been using my Black Diamond headlamps for years now and they’re well made products.

Optional: Phone bungee


This is ONE item that I wish that I had brought with me to Borneo. While doing the canopy walk in Ulu Temburong, I really wanted to take photos, but I was really nervous about dropping my phone. It’s kind of geeky to have it fastened to your wrist or around your neck in a waterproof case, but it’s pretty handy if you don’t want to worry about your hand slipping! Check prices here

Optional: Trekking poles

A lot of people only do hiking with trekking poles. The terrain can be at times very mushy in rainy season, so I would have benefited a lot from trekking poles as we did some steep hikes where the footing was fairly difficult due to the mud.

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Optional: Binoculars

If you’re into bird watching or just not a big photo taker, consider bringing a good pair of binoculars as the hornbills are absolutely fascinating to watch. Even using decent zoom lens, they’re often too high to see them very up close, so I think binoculars are important if you’re coming to see animals. You don’t need anything too fancy and my husband ended up borrowing a pair of binoculars as he struggled to see the hornbills without them. The only instance that you might want a better pair of binoculars is if you’ll be doing a lot of night walks.

What to do before you leave for Borneo: Vaccinations and Medicines

Although some people choose to visit Borneo with few preparations, your physician may disagree as depending on your activities, you’ll probably need some vaccinations, just in case. All travelers are encouraged to get the Tetanus, the same updated shot that you may have had as a child (Diphtheria, Measles, Mumps and Rubella), and Hepatitis A.  It’s good to know that if you get the follow-up injection for Hepatitis A about six months after your first injection, it will last for around a year.

Be sure to talk to your physician about your plans for traveling to Borneo with specifics as they’ll need to know what vaccinations you need as well as if you need malaria medicine.  Similarly, if you’re allergic to many antibiotics, it might be worth it to carry a small prescription on you as access to a stocked pharmacy will be difficult if you intend to do a lot of trekking.
I’m not a doctor, so I recommend discussing your trip with your doctor as you might require additional vaccinations/requirements if you intend to do more trekking or stay in very rural areas.  You might need to go to a special travel doctor as your doctor might not be knowledgeable enough. If you’re planning on doing more adventurous activities (like at least a week of jungle trekking), you might be encouraged to get the Hepatitis B and Rabies vaccination.  I opted not to get these as I didn’t feel that our jungle trekking was that intense, but I might have gotten the Rabies vaccination considering how many close calls we had with aggressive macaques while in Borneo.    The vaccinations cost me about 100 euros in the Netherlands.

Do you need Malaria tablets for Borneo?

Depending on where in Borneo that you’re visiting, youmayneed to get malaria tablets.  Your travel doctor should have a map of the regions of Borneo where you need malaria tablets.  (For instance, you don’t need to take malaria tablets for Bako National Park in Sarawak.)  Not all of Borneo has mosquitos that carry malaria, so definitely tell your doctor your plan and keep in mind that it’s often worth it to get the more expensive malaria tablets to avoid the nasty side effects that you’ll get with the cheaper ones. In Sabah, the Kinabatangan area required taking malaria medicine.
Keep in mind that some malaria medicines require that you start taking them almost two weeks before your trip, so if you’re planning your trip to Borneo on the wire, this might impact your malaria medicine.  Talk to your doctor and do your research on malaria drugs.  Personally, I was very nervous about the side effects from Malarone and ended up being prescribed Chloroquine.  The side effects were minimal besides feeling tired a lot and getting an upset stomach when taking it prior to food.  ​​

Your Borneo Packing Checklist.

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Download your free Borneo Packing Checklist to help you figure out what to pack for Borneo and what to wear while jungle trekking!

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Have you been to Borneo? Anything that you wish that you had brought with you?

Your complete Borneo Packing list with what you need to pack for Malaysia, Brunei, and Borneo. Includes what to wear for jungle trekking! #Travel #Borneo #Asia #Malaysia