There are plenty of things to consider while planning your hike in Nepal; ‘Do I really need a porter?’ (No.) ‘How can I train for a 10-20 day hike in the Himalayas?’ (If you’re anything like us, eat a lot and spend a lot of time sitting on your butt on long bus rides.) and even ‘What on earth am I thinking?’ (Can’t help you with that one.) …
But perhaps even more important than these questions is: ‘How much, and what the heck, should I pack?’
The first thing to think about is the size of your pack. For a week-or-more long trek, a 40 or 50L pack seems about perfect to me– big enough to fit in all the essentials, but not so big that it tempts you to add all sorts of extras. Sadly, both my packs (at 20L and 70L) are both pretty far from this ideal size. In the end, I went for the 20L.
Next, is clothing. The first (and last) few days of the hike are plain ol’ hot. Sweaty, sunny, and hot. As you start climbing, the temperature will drop, and in a week or so, you’ll most likely be layering up against chilly winds, ice, and snow. So what I’m saying is, your clothes will need to be multi-weather-able. Bring warm clothes, cool clothes, and in between clothes.
Everything you read about the Annapurna Circuit (and similar treks) is in agreement about one thing: Whatever you do, whatever you wear, do not, I repeat not, buy your shoes in Kathmandu and trek in them before breaking them in. So, this sound advice echoing in my ears, I went to Kathmandu, bought some cheap shoes, and trekked in them before breaking them in. Good call, right?
Right-ish. I got some pretty horrendous blisters, but so did everyone. People with new boots, people with old boots, people with no boots (okay, I can’t back that up.) Anyway, the point is, you’re gonna get blisters. I like to think of mine (currently transforming into bad-ass callouses) as sort of painful, pus-y badges of honour. That said, if you have the choice, breaking boots in before you have to spend 8hrs a day – every day – wearing them isn’t the worst idea ever.
Another factor to consider is whether to stock up in Kathmandu/Pokhara or to grab everything you need back home. We had most of the gear we needed, so didn’t buy too much in Nepal. That said, we absolutely could have. The tourist areas of both Kathmandu (Thamel) and Pokhara (Lakeside) are crammed full of trekking stores, stocking cheap fleeces (around 400RS for a lovely northface knock-off), boots, ‘gore-tex’ jackets, water bottles, down jackets, socks, gloves, moisture-wicking t-shirts… All in all, you could arrive in Nepal with nothing, do some shopping, and be trek-ready without investing too much time or money. I’m not saying you should, but you could.
Okay, with all that preamble out of the way, here’s what actually made its way into my pack:
2 x thermal longjohns
2 x long sleeved thermal tops
3 x plain ol’ cotton t-shirts
1 x boardshorts
1 x tank top
5 x underwear
1 x bra
6 x socks (1 small pair, 3 crappy-but-cosy pairs, 1 nice woollen pair of legit trekking socks from REI, and 1 REI toe separating pair, stolen from/donated by Ahi)
1 x big fleece jacket
1 x rain/windproof jacket
1 x rad sherpa hat
1 x multipurpose buff thing
1 x pair jandals
1 x pair hiking shoes
1 x pair fleece gloves
1 x sleeping bag (comfort temperature +5)
1 x synthetic sleeping bag liner
1 x 1.25L imitation nalgene water bottle
1 x mp3 player
1 x camera (and battery charger)
1 x kindle (and charger cable)
1 x tube SPF30 sunscreen
1 x chapstick
1 x baby powder
1 x diva cup
1 x pack wetwipes
1 x bottle hand sanitizing lotion
1 x small tube toothpaste
1 x toothbrush
10 x bandaids*
1 x bar soap (stolen from some guesthouse or other)
6 x granola bars
4 x snickers bars
1 x packet juice powder
(*Ahimsa carried the lion’s share of our first aid supplies, including – among other things – some emergency diomoxin.)
Having a relatively small, light pack kind of saved my life. Sure, it was a bitch to pack up every morning. Sure, I had to come up with a fairly ridiculous strapping system in order to attach my sleeping bag, but having slightly fewer pounds on my back meant having slightly fewer knots in my back every night. Worth it.
Having some ‘camp shoes’ (jandals, for me) was lovely, and almost essential for toilet trips.
On the whole, I wouldn’t pack much differently. If anything, I would have been fine with fewer pairs of socks and underwear– although there are some spots where it’s impractical, I had plenty of chances to wash and dry them. 3 pairs of each should do. My raincoat turned out to be almost entirely unnecessary (I wore it during some drizzle on one of the last days of the trek, mostly to justify its presence in my backpack), but I probably wouldn’t recommend going without.
‘My’ sleeping bag (inverted commas because Ahi, the big ol’ bear, actually used the +5 one while I snuggled up in the -10 one we rented in Pokhara) was way too chilly for the higher towns, but my liner and the blankets provided by the guesthouses helped.
- Pack light. Really. Having a lighter load makes a huge difference. Plus, if you realize you’re lacking in essentials along the way, you can pick them up relatively cheaply in some of the towns — Chame and Manang are especially well stocked. For real, the circuit has been used for a long time, so the villages know what trekkers want.
- Bring chargers. We were surprised at the number of guesthouses with either in-room outlets or pay-per-hour outlets in communal areas.
- Don’t stress about your gear. Even if you don’t have the raddest, most high-tech gear, you can do the circuit. Cotton may be rotten, but I survived just fine wearing cotton t-shirts.
- If possible, bring a water filter. Plastic mineral water bottles are a huge problem in the villages on the circuit, and although New Zealand (yay, New Zealand!) has installed ‘Safe Drinking Water’ stations in some villages, they seem to be disappearing from some towns. Plus, the water supply actually freezes in the last couple of towns, forcing you to rely on 200RS/$2.40USD mineral water.