Being wet. If you plan on visiting the tropics, get used to it. There is simply no avoiding moisture.
Most people make the mistake of assuming the worst comes from the rain. And indeed, the rain here is truly intense. A tropical downpour is something you really have to experience to believe. It just seems impossible that so much water could fall from the sky for so long, and happen so fast. Where is it all coming from? How do raindrops get so big and fall so fast? Or land so hard?
I’ve seen rainfall come down so hard that the water on the ground doesn’t even have time to flow away. Seriously, there have been times where water has puddled on an inclined surface. Drops can be deafening, even without thunder. Plants and roofs have been crushed in the deluge. Without wind. Those weren’t even real tropical storms or monsoons. Those were just heavy showers!
But what really gets you here is the humidity. Stepping into this climate for the first time is like being smothered with a hot wet towel. It’s like breathing steam. I can’t fathom how so much water can be in the air and still be invisible vapor. You can be sitting still and be pooling in your own sweat. Papers wilt and mold in days. Electronics short and corrode.
And the best rain gear money can buy does not help. People arrive here with fancy Gore-Tex rain coats from REI leave with soggy clothes and bitter regrets. Supposedly sealed backpacks become water traps for the stuff inside. Waterproof boots lead to damp socks and, if left unchecked, footrot.
The problems begin at home. Most retailers and travel advisors suggest high-tech breathable rain gear to stay dry and avoid overheating. But the important thing is this: most companies like REI and Patagonia only test their products in temperate climates. The clothes and the staff are unprepared and unqualified for the tropics. “Breathable” fabric that lets water vapor escape but repels water droplets (at least in theory) only works when the air around you is drier than you are. Most sealed material wears out in direct sunlight, especially so in lower latitudes. And none of those “water resistant” or “water repellant” products take into account the force of tropical rain.
My advice? I don’t wear anything breathable. It just isn’t worth it. It won’t keep you dry here, and once waterlogged, it molds easily. I stick to heavy rubber ponchos. They allow enough air flow to keep temperatures bearable, and are easy to clean. A big enough one can cover me and my backpack as well as most of my legs. It saves on multiple layers and seals that can let in little trickles of water. For my feet, I use tall leather or rubber boots. Low-ankle composite boots don’t cut it, and I have yet to find one of them that was completely waterproof. I try to air everything out when I can, and check it often.
And the electronics I mentioned before? I’ve learned the hard way that waterproof flashlights and cameras just don’t hold up in constant humidity. I store things in sealed ziplocs with rice (it’s a desiccant) and without batteries. If things get wet, I leave them under cover but in an area where they can get direct sunlight. With luck, they dry out and can be recovered.
For jungle wet work, simple is best. Or you can do what most local people do here: just stay under cover more when it rains. You don’t have to dry if you don’t get wet.