Tucked away in the middle of Central Vietnam’s jungle is a nondescript entrance to the world’s largest cave, a cave so massive that it could fit multiple full sized airplanes and 40 story skyscrapers. Inside the cave is a mystical world unlike any other – complete with its own ecosystem, climate, and even clouds.
Here’s some basic information about us and our trip!
Month of our expedition: March
Age: late 20s
Physical preparations: Rock climbing, 4000-footer hikes in New Hampshire, lots of squats!
Porters are hardworking humans, not robots!
Your belongings that do NOT go in your day pack must be under 6kg
In my daypack, I had my camera gear, a couple of wet wipes, my cell phone, long sleeve shirt, some small drybags, and my ID. Oxalis will provide a helmet and a water bottle. I did not ned to carry any snacks, first aid supplies, etc. They’ll take care of all that for you.
Everything else goes into a clear plastic bag that cannot be more than 6kg/13lbs.
To keep things organized in that plastic bag, I used these lightweight packing cubes. I believe I had 5 or 6 cubes in total.
I believe my plastic bag was about 3kg / 7 lbs.
Below is a list of literally everything I packed. If anything I wrote on this guide helps you, even a little, click on an Amazon link and buy something. I get a tiny kickback, and I’m going to buy bubble tea with it… or save up for my next adventure 🙂
This is from the first doline in Hang Son Doong. See the tiny white light in the upper middle of the frame? That’s the headlamp from one of our porters!
Son Doong Packing Tips
I love the quality of Osprey and specifically chose one that had a ventilated tensioned mesh backpanel. It was lightweight for 8+ hours of trekking, but large enough to carry my photography equipment. Even though I was sweating like crazy, my back never felt disgusting. The hip belt was also great for weight distribution so my shoulders never got tired. The women’s version was ideal because of the thinner straps.
Jason’s father had gone on the expedition a year before we did and they all used this waterproof backpack. Jason borrowed it from his father.
Though it didn’t have the mesh back panel like mine, the one feature I did envy was that it was completely waterproof via the roll-top access on the top. No pockets on the inside, but he didn’t really need it. It was super lightweight and easy to pack inside of another back when we traveled from the US to Vietnam.
Both bags are 24-25L, which I’d recommend as the perfect capacity.
Dry Bags within the backpacks
Even if your bag is already waterproof, doubling up and putting your essentials in a colorful drybag is a good ideas so that moisture doesn’t creep in and ruin everything. Even though Jason’s backpack is 100% waterproof, he still utilized some of the small drybags for camera equipment.
Pro tips for dry bags
- Get different colored ones so that you can separate stuff appropriately!
- The fancy ones (like this one) has a window in it so that you can easily see what’s inside.
- They make heavy duty ones for scuba diving and boating, but if you’re using them within a backpack, the lighter weight ones are perfectly fine.
Here are the drybags that I used and loved
Clothes to pack for Son Doong Expedition for women
I get a lot of e-mails about clothing, specifically for women, so here’s exactly what I packed, with links to everything!
Let’s start with the most important. I brought four pairs (total) of these lightweight socks. Some prefer medium weight socks, but it’s already a thousand degrees in the jungle. Yes, they are more expensive than other socks, but here’s why they’re necessary:
- Merino Wool and lightly cushioned – Any adventure-goer will know about merino wool.
- Hugs perfectly at the ankle and arch of foot – These are performance socks for comfort.
- Calf height – Pull them all the way up!
- No blisters – I can’t say the same for. the rest of my trekmates…
- Pull your socks all the way up and tuck your pants INSIDE of the socks. This way, sand, dirt, and LEECHES don’t find their ways inside.
- Put these socks on. Put your shoes on. Then go into your bathtub and SUBMERGE your foot up to as high as you can. Then go outside and. walk a mile. BREAK THEM IN!
- Each day, the socks will get wet within 10 minutes. You could probably get by with 2 pairs total if you wanted to.
I brought 5 shirts in total.
What to look for in shirts
- Quick dry – This is a must, because you’re either wet from the jungle or from your sweat.
- Breathable and sweat wicking– Self explanatory
For me personally, I love tank tops with built in bras. I find them comfortable for any sort of athletic and adventure activities.
I am in love with these tank tops with built in bras. I could wear them all day.
This long sleeve shift was excellent for the campsite in the mornings. I wore it daily because it was chilly when we woke up, but never chilly enough for a fleece. I carried with me in my day bag, but never used it.
- Wear one of your t-shirts as a sleeping shirt. On the last day, wear this shirt to trek.
Fleece / Outerwear
Light fleece – I never wore this fleece. Never took it out. I wish I didn’t bring it at all.
I brought 3 pairs of pants in total. I. did not pack shorts.
- Wear one of your pants as pajama pants. On the last day, wear this pair of pants to trek.
- I liked pants/leggings that tapered off at the ankles like these ones so that I could wear my socks OVER my pants. This way, so that leeches wouldn’t crawl up my legs. My husband had regular pants, and he just tucked them into his socks.
Shoes for Son Dong and Hang En
I brought two pairs of shoes: Canyoneering trekking and a pair of flip slops.
I had 5:10 Canyoneering boots, which were the best and highly recommended by Oxalis. They were out of stock for women, so I just sized down and purchased men’s shoes.
Before we left for the trek, there was a safety briefing and intro night at the farm stay. Many porters mentioned that I would love my 5:10s, and they were right. There are some steep parts, and I was happy to be able to trust my shoes so much.
Bring flipflops or sandals for the campsite. I really like the reef brand.
What to look for in trekking shoes
- NOT waterproof – It’s important that the shoes can drain
- Ankle support – For some of the jungle treks, river crossings, and scrambling, having good support was helpful, but not necessary.
- Avoid Gore-Tex – They’re great in other situations, but not this ones.
- Excellent grip – There are parts in the cave, where you just need to trust your shoes. Soft and sticky rubber soles are best.
I brought one pair of underwear for each day – 6 in total. 5 pairs in total.
It was really nice to change into a clean and dry pair of undies when we got back to the campsite. I really liked these undies. Do not bring cotton. It’s not going to dry, and it won’t feel very nice.
E-mail me if you want to talk more about lady things. My time-of-the-month hit during the beginning of the trek. If I can do it, so can you.
Oxalis will provide you with a caving helmet, which is excellent. Petzl graciously sponsored me with this one, and I loved it. It breathed well and the light was super bright.
This headlamp was great to have around the campsite and nighttime bathroom runs
Sleeping Bag Liner
At 4.6 ounces, this silk sleeping bag liner made sleeping so comfortable. Oxalis does a great job cleaning and labeling your bag, tent, sleeping bag so that you always get the same one, but having this just made me feel so much cleaner after a day of humid trekking.
Biodegradable Wet Wipes
I want to recommend these wipes to everyone. These are MUST HAVEs.
Jason and I shared one pack. They’re BIG wipes. We used two wipes each in the morning to freshen up (face, neck, arms, legs) and two at the end of the day before crawling back into sleeping bags.
Reminder: There are zero shower or bathing opportunities.
If you wanted to bring one full pack, you could share with your trekmates. They will love you for it.
- Hypoallergenic & Unscented
- Eco friendly – 100% biodegradable and start to decompose after 28 days
- Not-So-Fun fact: Baby wipes contain plastics and can take up to 100 years to degrade.
I didn’t shower or bathe for the entire trip except for the one swim.
This towel set came with three towels – a full bath one, a medium one, and a small face towel. I brought the middle one, and it was more tha enough.
You want to look for:
- Small (15 inches x 20inches.. or even smaller)
- Quick dry
- Hang loop
Seeing as this was a trip of a lifetime, I wanted to make sure that I had the best camera for Son Dong and Hang En.
I love mirrorless cameras. They’re small, powerful, and pack a punch. Both the below cameras have incredible dynamic range.
The Sony A7R III was great for its resolution. We made some large prints, and they’re stunning.
The Sony A7III is another great choice – incredible high ISO capabilities.
- Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 – If it’s in your budget, you’ll want this. GO WIDE. You’ll want to shoot wide to capture the grandeur of the scenery. 2.8 was ideal to let in as much light as possible when going handheld. Here’s the f/4 version, its less expensive little brother.
- Sony 85mm f/1.4 – I’m a portrait photographer, so I loved having this with me.
- Sony 24-105mm f/4 – This is a fantastic versatile travel lens that Jason loves.
I have four of these SD cards. The Sony A7 III and A7R III both have dual SD card slots, so two were always in the camera. and two for backup.
This Peak Design tripod is lightweight and beautifully designed. I love how quickly the legs extend out and the easy locking mechanism. It always feels secure.
At half the price, here’s the MeFoto tripod. It’s definitely not as nice, not as well designed, and can get frustrating , especially locking the plate in and opening the legs. However, it’ll get the job done!
Pre-moistened lens wipes
Bring these lens wipes so that your glass will always be clean! They’re useful for phone cameras too.
Grab a small Anker Portable battery pack, probably enough to recharge your phone once or twice. You won’t have any service in the middle of the Central Vietnam Jungle, so if you put your phone on airplane mode, it’ll likely last for 2-3 days without a charge.
What NOT to pack
- Dry shampoo/Shampoo/Conditioner – I didn’t bathe at all, and you probably won’t either. I believe there’s only one spot on night #1 that has bathing water. I just tied my hair back in a French braid and left it for a few days. Again, get these wipes!
- Soap – I brought a small bottle, but again I didn’t bathe at all. I did take wet nap baths daily, and it was awesome. Don’t bother with soap.
- Deodorant – I am less prone to body odor. I’ve been told it’s because Eastern Asians have fewer apocrine sweat glands. The daily wipes kept me clean. However, there was one person on our trip that was a little stinky, and I wish this person took up my offer of these wet wipes. I’d find an eco-friendly small bottle if you’re prone to be stinky.
- First Aid Kit – The safety assistants have everything and a kit will always be within earshot of you. Don’t bother bringing your own bandages and whatnot. If you have specific medicine, go for it.
- Talcum Powder – I brought a small ziploc, but again… it wasn’t needed. When we got back to the campsite, my wet socks and shoes would come off. I’d use these wipes to wipe down my body and my feet, and then I’d wear flip flops so that my feet would dry.
- Water bottle – I had brought a few 1L Platypus Ultralight water bottles, but at the start of the trip, they give you a 1.5L water bottle and it’s much easier to refill that. Do NOT bring a camelback. The mouthpiece will likely get wet during one of the river crossings, and there’s a high chance of you getting sick from the Central Vietnam Jungle rivers.
- Food & Snacks – The tour provided an abundance of amazing food and snacks. I was shocked at how delicious everything was. I’m a HUGE snacker, and feel like I’m constantly eating. There was plenty of fruit, salty snacks, sweet snacks, crackers, etc. My KIND bars and CLIF bars went completely untouched.
- Shorts – I brought a pair, but it was too cold at night.
- Hiking sticks – Utterly useless. You’ll need your hands to scramble. This is my biggest regret. I left them at the farm stay and didn’t even bring them on the trek. I found a stick and had fun carrying that, but even that wasn’t needed.
- Tent – Oxalis provided the most glorious tent I’ve ever slept in.
- Sleeping bag & Pillow – Extremely comfortable and clean. They’ll label your name on it, so that you get the same mat, pillow, and tent each time. I did really like my silk sleeping bag liner, though.
- Sleeping mat – I’ve never slept with such luxury in tents before. It was so comfortable.
- Bug spray – It’ll probably be useful when you’re at the farmstay, but I had packed it in my 6kg pack, and never used it at all.
- Gloves – Oxalis will provide for you.
That’s all I’ve got! Have any questions? Drop me an e-mail below.
Plenty of scrambling
On the first night, we camped in Hang En Cave, the third largest cave in the world.
Here’s our new Australian/South African friend, Jonavan, pulling us in the inflated raft
Our master chef is making us spring rolls
We started our morning with a bowl of pho and fruits. My favorites were the dragonfruit!
Throughout the five days, there were over 30 river crossings. Our socks and shoes were constantly soaked.
This is the tiny entrance to Hang Son Dong Cave
Naturally formed cave pearls. Some of them were the size of baseballs!