This list is a general guide to the things we might take on a trek. Our list will vary depending on the kind of walking we want to do, on the terrain, weather conditions and time of year. The key to packing light is to take clothing or equipment that can fulfill more than one use.
- trekking boots and spare laces
- hat (warm), scarf and gloves
- waterproof jacket, poncho or umbrella
- running shoes, sandals or thongs (flip-flops)
- shorts and trousers or skirt
- wool-blend socks, liner socks and underwear (three pairs, not cotton)
- thermal underwear
- fleece jacket
- T-shirts (two or three) and long-sleeved shirt with collar
- sleeping bag and silk liner
- water bottle
- torch (flashlight), spare batteries and bulbs
- duffle bag (if we have a porter or mules)
- quick-drying camp towel
- laundry soap powder or bar
- toilet paper
- sunscreen and lip balm
- polarising sunglasses
- iodine, water-purification tablets or filter
- medical and first-aid kit
- insect repellent (for lower elevations)
- locks for bags
- stuff sacks
For Treks Going above 4,000m
- thermal underwear
- woollen hat (or balaclava)
- down jacket or down vest
- camera, memory card and battery charger (or spare batteries)
- GPS unit
- small duffle bag (to leave behind in Kathmandu)
- backpack cover (waterproof, slip-on)
- trekking poles
The task of kitting ourselves out for a trek and then packing it can feel almost overwhelming at times, bur preparing for a trek in Nepal is essentially no more complicated than equipping ourselves for a weekend backpacking trip.
The type of gear we bring depends greatly on the type of trek we are planning. We intend to stay in teahouses which simplifies things greatly. Treks above 4,000m require us to be better equipped than a lowland trek.
Some people teahouse trek with almost nothing. When the weather is good, when hotels are not full and we have no health problems, this arrangement can work. But the mountains are not always kind, and we may find ourselves caught in a snow – or rain – storm a long way from hotel, or arrive in a lodge on a cold night and discover there is no warm bedding available. It’s always best to be prepared for the worst in Nepal.
Though we can rent or buy trekking gear in Nepal, it’s much better to know our gear beforehand and to break it in well beforehand, in preparation for our trek.
We are on a group trek, so it is better to have our entire kit organized in advance because maybe we won’t have much time in Kathmandu to shop for gear (plus there are more interesting things to do here). We will make a special effort to reduce the amount of gear we carry. Porters carry a maximum of 20kg, and it is expected that a porter will carry the luggage of two trekkers. Domestic flights also limit us to a 15kg luggage allowance (plus 5kg carry on), so any baggage over 15kg is a complication.
Expect your gear to get trashed on a trek through Nepal. Before I’d even put on my new US$300 backpack for this trip the waistband had beed bent in transit, the side pocket had been puked on and it had been drenched in rain.
Between them, baggage handlers, porters and a team of grumpy yaks can age your fancy foreign gear by about 10 years in two weeks.– Bradley Mayhew
A secretos comfortable walking is to wear several layers of light clothing, which we can easily take off or put on as we warm up or cool down. Most walkers use three main layers: a wickable base layer next to the skin; an insulating layer; and an outer, shell layer for protection from wind, rain and snow.
For the upper body, the base layer is typically a shirt of synthetic material such as polypropylene, with its ability to wick moisture away from the body and reduce chilling. The insulating layer retains heat next to our body, and is often a windproof synthetic fleece or down vest. The outer shell consists of a waterproof jacket that also protects against cold wind.
For the lower body, the layers generally consist polypropylene ‘long-john’ underwear, either shorts or loose-fitting trousers, and waterproof over trousers.
Down – or Fibre – Filled Jacket
Down clothing has the advantage of being light and compressible. It will stuff into a small space when packed, yet bulk up when we wear it. The disadvantage is that it’s expensive. Artificial-fibre jackets (filled with Polargard, Thinsulate or Fibrefill) are a cheaper substitute for down but they are somewhat bulkier and heavier. Down jackets are one of Kathmandu’s best buys. A useful compromise is to combine a down sleeveless vest with a fleece and a lightweight waterproof shell.
A down jacket can become a pillow at night and will protect fragile items un our backpack or duffle bag.
We can rent a down jacket from shops in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
Waterproof Jacket, Poncho or Umbrella
It is likely to rain at some time during our trek. A Gore-Tex waterproof jacket is useful as an outer layer but we have to be sure it’s breathable or the condensation inside can leave us wetter than the rain. Fabrics such us Gore-Tex are supposed to keep us dry by allowing the jacket to breathe, but in Nepal it’s usually so warm, and the hills so steep, there don’t always work as advertised. Armpit vents and map pockets are things to look for when buying a waterproof shell. We have to remember that most of the Gore-Tex equipment sold in Kathmandu is not genuine.
One way to keep dry while hiking in rain is to use a poncho – a large, often hooded, tarp with a hole in the centre for our head. The weather is likely to be warm, even while it’s raining, and we can get air circulation with poncho, while also draping it over our backpack. Inexpensive nylon ponchos (often designed for motorcyclist) are manufactured in Kathmandu, as are waterproof pack covers.
The most practical way of keeping dry is an umbrella, which can double as a sunshade, a walking stick, an emergency toilet shelter and a dog deterrent. Cheap umbrellas are available everywhere in Nepal.
Trousers, Shorts and Skirts
Almost any long, comfortable, quick-drying trousers will do. Jeans are not sensible because they take long time to dry.
The early stages of our trek will likely be hot and humid and many trekkers wear pants with zip-off legs that become shorts. Skimpy track shorts are culturally unacceptable throughout Nepal.
Many women who have worn skirts on treks are enthusiastic about them. The most obvious reason is the ease in relieving oneself along the trail. There are long stretches where there is little chance to drop out of sight, and a skirt solves the problem. Skirts are also useful when the only place to wash in in a stream crowded with trekkers, villagers and porters. A wrap-round skirt is easy to put on and take off in a tent. Many women wear tights under their skirt to stay both warm and culturally correct.
Insulated pants can be an asset on a trek that goes above 4,000m, though a more versatile lightweight alternative is to change to thermal long johns when we arrive at camp. A set of thermal underwear doubles as a warm pair of pijamas and is also useful during late-night emergency trips outside our hotel. Silk thermals are warmest and lightest but less hard-wearing than other materials.
Some trekkers take windproof over trousers: we have to choose a pair with slits for pocket access and long leg zips so that we can pull them on and off over our boots.
A swimsuit or pair of shorts can be useful for bathing in hot springs.
T-Shirts and Shirts
We’ll spend a lot of time walking in a short-sleeved shirt. We have to avoid cotton garments because they retain moisture and get cold when wet from sweat or rain. A polypropylene or other synthetic-fibre shirt is more expensive but wicks the moisture away from our skin and dries much more quickly.
A quick-drying shirt with a collar will stop our neck from getting sunburnt.
Hat and Gloves
Because much of our body heat is lost through our head, a warm fleece beanie-style hat helps keep our entire body warmer. We may even need to wear it to bed on cold nights. A balaclava is useful in very cold environments.
Warm ski gloves are suitable for a trek. Thinner polypropylene gloves have the advantage of staying warm when wet and will allow us to use our hands while wearing them. If we are expecting to be in the cold for a long time, we have to bring a pair of mittens as they keep our fingers warmer than gloves.
TREKKING OR RUNNING SHOES
The most important item we will bring is proper footwear and this is one item we should bring from home with us, perhaps wearing them on the plane in case our baggage gets lost or delayed. Our choice of footwear will depend on the length of the trek and whether or not we will be walking in snow. Lightweight runnings shoes are good trekking footwear, even for long treks, if there is no snow. For more difficult trails and across rocks and scree, the ankle support offered by boots is invaluable, though these are hotter and heavier than low-cut shoes. If the soles of our shoes are thin and soft, the rocks can bruise our feet and walking will be painful. Nonslip soles provide the best grip.
Most modern trekking shoes are made of a leather and man-made fabric. Gore-Tex waterproofing is essential for snow and rain but limits breathability, resulting in some wickedly stinky insoles. We can bring odour-eaters or slip a car air-freshener under our insole.
We have to buy boots in warm condition or go for a walk before trying them on, so that our feet can expand slightly, as they would on a walk. We have to make sure also that we try them on wearing thick socks. The better outdoor gear stores provide inclines so we see how they feel on hills. We should try out the shoes we plan to wear on the trek with several hikes (particularly up and down hills) before we come to Nepal. We have to be sure our shoes provide enough room for our toes. There are many long and steep descents during which short boots can painfully jam our toes, causing the loss of toenails.
If we are traveling with porters, we have the luxury of carrying two sets of shoes and swapping them from time to time. Trekking sandals, light tennis shoes and even thongs (flip-flops) are comfortable to change into for the evening and can serve as trail shoes in an emergency. Sandals are particularly useful if we expect to be fording streams. Low-grade, locally made Teva-style sandals are available in Kathmandu.
Good socks are at a premium in Nepal, so we have to bring these with us. Synthetic materials like Coolmax prevent blisters by wicking moisture away from our feet, while merino wool blends are generally most comfortable. Synthetic socks dry quickly, often during a single lunch stop. A thin liner sock (preferably silk) is useful to prevent blisters. Three pairs of liners and two pairs of thicker socks should be enough. If we are going to do extensive walking in snow, wool socks are still the best protection against frostbite.
Backpack and Duffle Bag
A backpack should have a light internal frame and a padded waistband to distribute weight to our hips. We have to try to find a backpack we can lock, or ate least one with a lockable zippered compartment we can stow valuables in. Waterproof nylon or plastic bags inside our bag will protector belongings (especially our sleeping bag) from the rain, as will a waterproof backpack cover.
If we have porters, they will carry most of our equipment. During the day, we will carry our camera, water bottle, extra clothing and a small first-aid kit (everything we need for that day) in a day-pack. A 35L to 45L day-pack with foam waistband shoulder straps is most versatile and can double as an overnight backpack. If we don’t plan to take a porter, we will need a larger backpack of between 55L and 90L.
Professional porters generally carry their loads in a bamboo basket called a doko, which is carried suspended from the forehead with a tumpline called a naamlo. In this case it’s a good idea to carry our gear in a lockable duffle bag. Duffles are also the way to go if we will be using horses or yaks to carry our gear. End-loading duffles are less practical than top-loaders. Expect our duffle bag to age 20 years over the course of a two-week trek. We can also carry our gear in expedition barrels when trekking with mules or yaks.
Some porters may have troubles with a duffle bag, so we have to try to ascertain how our porter will carry our bag before packing it.
When starting our trek, we will often leave our city clothes and other items in the storeroom of our hotel in Kathmandu or Pokhara. We have to bring a small collapsible and lockable bag for this purpose.
Sleeping bags are not necessary on most trekking, since we will sleep in lodges where they will provide us with all the blankets we need. However, if we are going to travel in a very cold season it is always better to take it with us. Our guide will inform us of the best option for our trekking.
This is one item we should consider bringing from home. Down bags are warmer than synthetic for the same weight and bulk but, unlike synthetic fillings, do not retain warmth when wet, so we have to try to get one with a water-resistant, breathable shell. Mummy bags are the best shape for weight and warmth. The manufacturer’s bag ratings (-5°C, for instance) are generally optimistic at best, so err on the side of warmth. If we are sleeping over 4,000m it makes sense to get a -18°C bag, otherwise a -7°C bag should do. The loft in down sleeping bags varies from 550 to 800 cubic inches; the higher fill, the lighter (but more expensive) our bag will be for the same warmth rating. Compression straps will ensure down items take up the least space possible.
An inner sheet helps keep our sleeping bag clean, as well as adding an insulating layer. Silk liners are lightest and warmest, but they also come in cotton or polypropylene. We can use the liner instead of a sleeping bag in the lowlands when it’s hot.
Heavy dews on treks can cause a lot of condensation on our sleeping bag. A camp towel is useful for drying off minor wetness.
Because we must drink only treated or boiled water, we have to bring a 1L plastic water bottle that does not leak.
Hydration devices are useful because they let you stay hydrated without having to stop and fish our water bottle out of our pack. Some people dislike the plastic taste.
Sunglasses or Googles
The strong sunlight in the mountains makes a good pair of polarized sunglasses essential. At high altitude they are so important that we should carry an extra pair in case of breakage or loss. If crossing snow, googles or sunglasses with side protection are useful. We have to store our googles in a metal or hard plastic case as, even in our backpack, it is easy to crush them.
During April and May, and at high altitudes throughout the year, sunburn can be severe. We have to use a protective sunscreen with a high factor and get a waterproof variety. Climbers or those with more sensitive skin will need a total sunscreen such as zinc oxide cream. Supermarkets in Kathmandu stock several brands. At higher altitudes we’ll also need total sunscreen for our lips, as well as lip balm.
A torch (flashlight) is essential. Any brand will do, although trekkers will find an LED head lamp most convenient.
A sunhat with a wide brim that covers our ears our ears is an essential item and we can easily obtain in Kathmandu or Pokhara. We have to get one with a dorky chinstrap so the hat does not blow away in a wind gust. Baseball caps don’t offer our ears enough protection.
Trekking poles are helpful for stability and if we have bad knees. A small roll of gaffer/duct tape is useful for fixing rips, tear and breakages of any kind.
Nylon stuff bags are useful to keep our gear and food mildly organized. A plastic bag inside each stuff sack is a good idea during the rainy season.
Gaiters are useful if our trek visits high elevations where there is a chance of snow or to keep our boots and socks clean and dry on muddy monsoon trails.
If there are two people traveling, we could divide up a lot of the following items to save weight and bulk.
- Laundry soap in bars is available in Kathmandu. This avoids an explosion of liquid or powered soap in our luggage.
- Antibacterial gel or premoistened towelettes (or baby wipes) are great for a last-minute hand wash before dinner. We can avoid many stomach problems by washing our hands frequently. We have to make sure we dispose of the packing properly.
- A pair of scissors on our pocket knife is useful. Also we can bring a sewing kit and some safety pins (lots of uses).
- Medicines and toiletries should be decanted into smaller trial-size plastic bottles with screw-on lids.
- The most visible sign of Western culture in the hills of Nepal is streams of toilet paper littering every camp site. We have to take our used toilet paper and dispose of it properly.
- We might bring a small shovel or trowel to dig a toilet hole when we get caught on the trail with no toilet nearby.
- We have to be sure we have the wherewithal (moleskin, tape, scissors) on hand at all times to deal with blisters. It’s important that we treat blisters as soon as we discover them.
- We should carry a packet of tissues or a supply of toiler paper with us at all times. We never know when an emergency might strike.
BUYING AND HIRING LOCALLY
It is helpful to have all our gear before we leave home, but a good selection of new and used equipment is available in Kathmandu and Pokhara, often at lower prices than elsewhere, and we can rent most gear. We cannot depend on getting boots and running shoes in large sizes, and socks are hard to find, but otherwise we can fully outfit ourself within one or two days.
Trekking Equipment Shops
Kathmandu and Pokhara have dozens of trekking equipment shops, some of which also rent used gear. A lot of new trekking equipment is now imported, usually from Korea, and some specialized climbing gear is brought into the country by mountaineering expeditions.
The street known as Tridevi Marg, to the east of Thamel in Kathmandu, has a collection of real outlets, meaning we can now get brand-name gear ranging from stoves to backpacks and climbing harnesses, all at prices comparable to the West.
In addition to imports and hand-me-downs there is a wide range of inexpensive, locally produced trekking and climbing gear, including sleeping bags, down jackets, windbreakers, backpacks, duffle bags, fleece jackets, trekking poles, camera cases, gaiters and ponchos. Most items are reasonably well made and will probably last through a trek. However, the nylon fabric, thread and fittings used will not survive the beating of a mountaineering expedition. Many items are copies of high-tech brand-name equipment, right down to fake labels, so we can’t be folded into thinking that we are getting a bargain on genuine brand-name equipment. Common problems with locally produced gear include defective zippers, clasps that break and straps that continually slip back through the buckle. The bulk of jackets emblazoned with the words ‘Gore-Tex’ are not suitable for use as rainwear.
The best ‘fake’ gear is made from real materials, ie imported Gore-Tex and fleece, but produced in Nepal. Some of the best buys include locally made down jackets and vests, duffle bags, waterproof backpack covers and fleece jackets.
The best equipment shops in Kathmandu are in southern Thamel and nearby Jyatha.
We can rent most things we need in Kathmandu, from down jackets to sleeping bags, although we should bring our own trekking shoes or boots. Fewer people rent gear these days and we’ll have to ask at a few shops before we find a rental place. Our guides will also suggest us where to go. The most popular rental items include sleeping bags and down jackets.
All shops require a deposit to ensure we return the equipment in good condition. Cash dollars or euros can solve the problem, so we should carry some extra money if we plan to rent equipment.
A limited supply of equipment is available for sale and rent in Pokhara. If we are trekking around Annapurna, we need high-altitude equipment only for the two or three days it takes to cross the pass.