CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT
Though you can rent or buy trekking gear in Nepal, most trekkers bring their equipment with them from home.The task of selecting proper gear can almost overwhelm some people, but preparing for a trek is no more complicated than equipping yourself for a weekend backpacking trip. In some ways it is simpler. There is no food, eating utensils, cooking pots or tents to worry about, and less overall concern with weight and bulk.
Some people trek with almost nothing a jumper (sweater) and a hash pipe. When the weather is good, when hotels are not full and you have no health problems, this arrangement can work (although innkeepers and police frown on the hash pipe). But the mountains are not always kind, and you may find yourself caught in a snow or rainstorm a long way from a hotel, or arrive in a lodge on a cold night and discover there is no warm bedding available. If you do head into the mountains totally unprepared, you will be on your own. Few people, either locals or other trekkers, will give up their own clothing or sleeping bag to help you when you run into trouble.
It is helpful to have all your gear – particularly shoes and socks – before you leave home, but some very good new and used equipment is available in Nepal (particularly useful if you’re in the middle of a longer trip through Asia). Most of the gear available in Kathmandu is at lower prices than elsewhere, and you can rent almost anything. You cannot depend on getting boots and running shoes in large sizes, and socks are hard to find, but otherwise you can fully outfit yourself within one or two days.
If you are on a group trek, it is better to have your entire kit organized in advance, otherwise you might have to spend the night before the trek scouring Kathmandu for a particular item. If you are on an organized trek, make a special effort to reduce the amount of gear you carry. Porters carry 30kg, and it is expected that a porter will carry the luggage of two trekkers. Hence, any baggage over 15kg is a complication. North Americans, in particular, haul huge duffel bags to Nepal; these complicate porter and flight arrangements, and much of the gear is unnecessary.
You can omit many items if your trek does not exceed three weeks in duration or ascend above 4000m. You might be lucky enough to trek during a warm spell and never need a down jacket. It might be so standing out in the rain. Fancy fabrics such as Gore-Tex are supposed to keep you dry by allowing the jacket to breathe, but in Nepal it’s usually so warm, and the hills so steep, they don’t always work as advertised.
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 you wear it. You should bring a good jacket on a trek. Most ski jackets are not warm enough and most so-called expedition parkas are too heavy and bulky. The secret is to choose one that will be warm enough even at the likely coldest temperatures, but also comfortable when it is warmer. Don’t bring both a heavy and a light down jacket; choose one that will serve both purposes, preferably one with a hood.
Many experienced trekkers wouldn’t be without a down jacket, which can serve many functions on a trek. It will become a pillow at night and will protect fragile items in your backpack or duffel bag. If you are extremely cold at high altitude, wear your down jacket to bed inside your sleeping bag. Most trekkers leave their down clothing in their duffel bag at lower elevations and only use it during the evening; the time between sundown and ‘soup ready’ is one of the coldest times of day. At higher elevations, carry your jacket and put it on at rest or lunch stops.
A sun hat is an important item, but its design is not critical. Obviously, a hat with a wide brim affords greater protection. Fix a strap that fits under your chin so the hat does not blow away in a wind gust. The Nepal Cap House in the shopping centre at the entrance to Thamel has an amazing assortment of hats. There are outdoor hat stalls in Thamel that offer a selection of locally produced sun hats.
Swimwear Almost nobody older than eight goes without clothing in Nepal or India. You will upset sherpas, porters and an entire village if you skinny dip in a river, stream or hot spring, even to wash. There are many places to swim, although most are ridiculously cold – except along the Arun River in eastern Nepal, where there are some fine swimming holes. There are hot springs in Manang and in Tatopani on the Jomsom trek. Either bring along swimwear or plan to swim in shorts or a skirt and be prepared to wear them till they dry.
Clothing – High Altitude Insulated Pants
Insulated pants are a real asset on a trek that goes above 4000m. You can bring pile pants, ski warm-up pants or down pants and put them on over your hiking shorts or under a skirt when you stop for a break. You can also wear them to bed for extra warmth when the nights become particularly cold.
Often you will arrive at your camp or hotel at 3pm and not dine until 6pm, so unless you choose to do some exploring, there will be about three hours of sitting around before dinner. In cold weather, insulated pants make these times much more comfortable. Down pants, and sometimes ski warm-up pants, are available for rent in trekking shops in Kathmandu and Namche Bazaar.
Strong winds are rare in the places visited by most treks, but a windbreaker is helpful in light wind, light rain and drizzle, when a poncho is really not necessary. If you already have a waterproof jacket as your ‘outer layer’, you don’t need another shell garment. Be sure your wind- breaker breathes, otherwise perspiration cannot evaporate and you will become soaked. A windbreaker is more in the line of emergency gear. If there is a strong wind, you must have it; otherwise, you will probably not use it. If you can afford one, or spend a lot of time in the outdoors, a Gore-Tex parka is a good investment. The colorful parkas emblazoned with the Gore-Tex logo sold in Kathmandu are not genuine.
Nylon Wind Pants
Many people use these. The temperature will often be approaching 30°C, and most people prefer to hike in shorts except in the early morning when it is chilly. Wind pants provide the best of both worlds. Wear them over your shorts or under your skirt in the morning, then remove them to hike in lighter gear during the day. Most wind pants have special cuffs that allow you to remove them without taking off your shoes. Pants with zip-off legs are another good option.
Almost any long pants will do. When it’s bitterly cold, you can wear long underwear under them. Many women wear tights under their skirt to stay both warm and culturally correct.
T-Shirts or Blouses
You’ll spend a lot of time walking in a short-sleeved shirt. Cotton garments are fine, but if you can afford, and find, a synthetic T-shirt, you will be much more comfortable. You will perspire excessively, and a polypropylene or other synthetic (with brand names like Capilene, Thermax and Polartec) shirt wicks the moisture away from your skin. This means that when you put your backpack on after a rest stop, your back isn’t cold and damp. The wicking effect also makes a Gore-Tex parka work better. Strangely, short-sleeved polyester shirts are hard to find in outdoor equipment shops.
Long johns are a useful addition to your equipment. A complete set makes a good warm pair of pyjamas and is also useful during late-night emergency trips outside your tent or hotel. Unless the weather is especially horrible, you will not need them to walk in during the day. You could bring only the bottoms and use a woollen shirt for a pyjama top. Cotton underwear is OK, although wool or polyester is much warmer.
Woollen Hat or Balaclava
A balaclava is ideal because it can serve as a warm hat or you can roll it down to cover most of your face and neck. You may even need to wear it to bed on cold nights. Because much of your body heat is lost through your head, a warm hat helps keep your entire body warmer. As with jackets, pile and fleece are suitable alternatives to wool.
Warm ski gloves are suitable for a trek. There are also polypropylene gloves available that stay warm even when wet. If you are expecting to be in the cold for a long time, bring a pair of mittens as they keep your fingers warmer than gloves.
If your trek visits high elevations, there is a chance of snow and also an opportunity to do some scrambling off the trails. High gaiters are indispensable for keeping your boots and socks clean and dry on muddy trails.
Trekking or Running Shoes
The most important item you will bring is proper footwear. Your choice of footwear will depend on the length of the trek and whether or not you will be walking in snow. Tennis or running shoes are good trekking footwear, even for long treks, if there is no snow. The trails are usually very rocky and rough. If the soles of your shoes are thin and soft, the rocks can bruise your feet and walking will be painful.
There are numerous brands of lightweight trekking shoes that have stiffer lug soles and are available in both low- and high-top models. High-top shoes provide ankle protection, but low-cut shoes are cooler to walk in. Most trekking shoes are made of a leather and nylon combination and many have Gore-Tex waterproofing, but they are expensive.
You should try out the shoes you plan to wear on the trek with several hikes (particularly up and down hills) before you come to Nepal. Be sure your shoes provide enough room for your toes. There are many long and steep descents during which short boots can painfully jam your toes (causing the loss of toenails).
Boots and lightweight trekking shoes, both new and used, are available for sale and rent in Kathmandu. There’s a supply of new Korean trekking shoes in Kathmandu trekking shops. These are inexpensive and will normally last for a trek, but tend to wear out quickly.
Mountain Trekking Boots
Wherever there is snow (likely anywhere above 4000m), proper waterproof boots can become an absolute necessity. If you are travelling with porters, you have the luxury of carrying two sets of shoes and swapping them from time to time. If you are carrying everything yourself, you may have to settle for one or the other.
Tennis shoes are comfortable to change into for the evening. They can also serve as trail shoes in an emergency. Rubber thongs (flip-flops) or shower shoes make a comfortable change at camp during warm weather. They are called chhapals in Nepal, and you can buy them in Kathmandu and along most trails. Carry a pair of these in your rucksack, wear them at lunch and in camp and put your shoes and socks in the sun to dry. Fake Teva sport sandals are available in Kathmandu and would be a good choice if you expect to be wading streams.
Good socks are at a premium in Nepal, so bring these with you. There are some heavy, scratchy Tibetan woollen socks available in Kathmandu and Namche Bazaar.
Nylon-wool blend socks are fine, but the new artificial-fibre hiking socks, like Polypro, (which cost astronomical prices) are the best bet. A number of manufacturers, including Thorlo, Wigwam and Patagonia, make several varieties of hiking socks designed to prevent blisters by wicking moisture away from your feet. You will wash your socks several times during a long trek, and pure wool socks dry slowly. Synthetic socks dry in a few hours in the sun, often during a single lunch stop. Three pairs should be enough.
Footwear – High Altitude Wool Socks
If you are going to do extensive walking in snow, wool socks are still the best protection against frostbite. A thin cotton liner sock is usually necessary with heavy woollen rag socks.
Down Booties Many people consider these to be excess baggage, but they are great to have and not very heavy. If they have a thick sole, preferably with closed-cell foam(Kar- rimat or ensolite) insulation, they can serve as camp shoes at high elevations. Down booties make a cold night seem a little warmer – somehow your feet seem to feel the cold more than anything else. They’re also good for midnight trips outside into the cold. You can buy locally made down booties in Kathmandu.
A backpack or rucksack should have a light internal frame to stiffen the bag and a padded waistband to keep it front bouncing around and to take some weight off your shoulders. There are many advantages to keeping your backpack small: it will prevent you from trying to carry too much during the day; it is a good piece of luggage to carry on a plane; it will fit inside your tent at night without crowding; and will not be cumbersome when you duck through low doorways into houses and temples. Try to find a backpack you can lock, or at least one with a lockable zippered compartment you can stow valuables in.
If you have porters, they will carry most of your equipment. During the day, you will carry your camera, water bottle, extra clothing and a small first-aid kit in your backpack. Do not overload the backpack, especially on the first day of the trek.
If you don’t plan to take a porter, you will need a larger backpack. This can either be a frame backpack or a large expedition backpack, although a soft backpack is more versatile. If you do eventually hand your backpack over to a porter, he will certainly stuff it into a bamboo basket called a doko, which he will carry suspended from his forehead with a tumpline called a naamlo. A frame backpack is difficult for a porter to carry because most will refuse to use the shoulder straps. There’s a wide assortment of daypacks and backpacks available for sale or rent in Kathmandu trekking shops.
This is one item you might consider bringing from home. Sleeping bags are readily available for rent in Kathmandu but the dry-cleaning facilities in Nepal cause bags to lose their loft. The choice is usually between a clean (old and worn) bag, a dirty (warm) one or an expensive new one. A cotton liner inside your sleeping bag will keep it clean. You can use the liner instead of a sleeping bag in the lowlands when it’s hot.
Most sleeping bags available in Kathmandu are mummy-style expedition bags that rent for less than US$2 a day. It is cold from November to March, even in the lowlands, so a warm sleeping bag is important at these times. A warm sleeping bag is a must at altitudes over 3300m, no matter what the season.
Because you must drink only treated or boiled water, bring a 1L plastic water bottle that does not leak. During the day your bottle provides the only completely safe source of cold drinking water. If you use iodine, fill your water bottle from streams or water spouts, add the iodine and you will have cold, safe water 30 minutes later. It used to be appropriate to fill your water bottle with boiled water at night, let it cool and then use it the following day. Fuel problems in the hills now make this practice inappropriate.
Many people require 2L of water during the day. If you are one of those, consider a second water bottle. Good water bottles are sometimes hard to find in Kathmandu, but you can always find (leaky) plastic Indian bottles or empty mineral-water bottles that will do at a pinch. Metal water bottles are also available, but check before you buy one to be sure it has not been used earlier to carry fuel (and don’t hold it in your hand while someone fills it with hot water).
Almost any torch will do, although many people prefer a headlamp, which is particularly useful for reading or going to the toilet. You can get spare batteries almost anywhere in the hills of Nepal if you bring a torch that uses ‘D’ cells, and you can often find ‘ AA’ batteries. Larger batteries perform better in the cold than small penlight cells, but they are heavier. Indian and Chinese torches and exotic torches left over from expeditions are available in Nepal.
If you travel with porters, protect your gear with a duffel bag. Several companies make good duffel bags with a zipper along the side for ease of entry. This is not an item to economize on; get a bag that is durable and has a strong zipper. A duffel bag 35cm in diameter and about 75cm long is large enough to carry your gear and will usually meet the weight limit of porters and domestic flights – typically 15kg. Army surplus duffel bags are cheaper, but they are inconvenient because they only open from the end.
It is impossible to describe how your duffel bag will look after a month on a trek. To get some idea, load a duffel bag with your equipment, take it to the second storey of a building and toss it out a window. Pick it up, shake the contents, then put it in the dirt and stomp on it a few times. Get the idea? When it rains, your duffel bag will get wet. Porters will leave their loads outside tea shops in the rain while they go inside to keep dry. You should pack your duffel bag in such a way that important items stay dry during rainstorms. A waterproof duffel bag and waterproof nylon or plastic bags inside your bag are both necessary.
Use a small padlock that will fit through the zipper pull and fasten to a ring sewn to the bag. The lock will protect the contents from pilferage during the flight to and from Nepal and will help protect the contents on your trek. It also prevents kids, curious villagers and your porter from opening the bag and picking out something they might think you won’t miss. Locally made duffel bags are available in Kathmandu.
Extra Duffel Bag or Suitcase
When starting a trek, you will leave your city clothes and other items in the storeroom of your hotel in Kathmandu. Bring a small suitcase or extra duffel bag with a lock for this purpose.
It is unlikely you will be able to find a completely waterproof duffel bag or backpack. Using coated-nylon stuff bags helps you to separate your gear, thereby lending an element of organization to the daily chaos in your tent or hotel. Stuff sacks also provide additional protection in case of rain. If you get stuff bags with drawstrings, the addition of spring-loaded clamps will save a lot of frustration trying to untie the knots you tied in too much haste in the morning. You can also use plastic garbage bags, but these are much more fragile. A plastic bag inside each stuff sack is a good idea during the rainy season.
Sunglasses or Goggles
The sun reflects brilliantly off snow, making good goggles or sunglasses with side protection essential. At high altitude they are so essential you should have an extra pair in case of breakage or loss. A pair of regular sunglasses can serve as a spare if you rig a side shield. The lenses should be as dark as possible. At 5000m, the sun is intense and ultraviolet rays can severely damage unprotected eyes. Store your goggles in a metal or hard plastic case as, even in your backpack, it is easy to crush them.
In Kathmandu you can easily find cheap imitations of expensive mountaineering goggles, as well as both real and knock-off brand-name sunglasses.
During April and May, and at high altitudes throughout the year, sunburn can be severe. Use a protective sunscreen; those with more sensitive skin will need a total sunscreen such as zinc oxide cream. Snow glare at high altitude is a real hazard; you’ll need a good sunscreen, not just suntan lotion. Supermarkets in Kathmandu stock several brands and you can usually find sunscreen in shops in Manang, Namche Bazaar and Jomsom.
To protect your lips at higher altitudes you will need a total sunscreen such as Dermatone or Labiosan.
If there are two people travelling, you could divide a lot of this material to save weight and bulk.
- Laundry soap in bars is available in Kathmandu and along most trails. This avoids an explosion of liquid or powdered soap in your luggage.
- Premoistened towelettes (or baby wipes) are great for a last-minute hand wash before dinner. You can avoid many stomach problems by washing frequently. If you bring a supply of these, check the way they are packaged. You can buy them in a plastic container and avoid leaving a trail of foil packets in your wake.
- A pair of scissors on your pocketknife is useful. Also bring a sewing, kit and some safety pins (lots of uses).
- Medicines and toiletries should be carried in 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. Bring a cigarette lighter or matches so you can bum your used toilet paper.
- You might bring a small shovel or trowel to dig a toilet hole when you get caught on the trail with no toilet nearby.
- Be sure you have the wherewithal to deal with blisters, and carry this with you at all times. It’s important that you treat blisters as soon as you discover them.
- If you’re staying in lodges, bring a small padlock for the door to your room (in case the hotel does not supply one). If you’re in the habit of getting up at night, consider designating a spare water bottle as a pee bottle. In some lodges it’s a long walk to the toilet.
Buying & Hiring Locally Trekking Equipment Shops
The best equipment shops are in Thamel, the neighbouring area of Jyatha, and Basantapur (Freak St). These specialist in sale of equipment, but most are happy to rent used gear. Some new trekking equipment is imported, usually from Korea, but most of the high- quality gear available in Kathmandu was brought into the country by mountaineering
expeditions. The other source of equipment for trekking shops is trekkers who sell off their sleeping bags and other cold-weather gear before they head off to South-East Asia. Other than Korean trekking shoes, the majority of the imported gear in shops is second-hand.
Because equipment is imported in such a haphazard way, the trekking gear available in Kathmandu tends to be either high-tech mountaineering equipment or low-quality, travel-worn cast-offs. For trekking, you want a middle ground. A down parka suitable for the top of Everest isn’t very practical for a trek to Tatopani. and a sleeping bag that has spent a month on the beaches of Goa isn’t going to do the job at Everest base camp. There is neither a reliable stock of any particular item nor a complete range of clothing sizes. You will have to spend time going from shop to shop looking for the right size, quality and price.
In addition to hand-me-downs there is a wide range of locally produced trekking and climbing gear. Nepali tailors make tents, sleeping bags, down jackets, windbreakers. backpacks, kit bags, duffel bags, fleece jackets, clothing, 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 bearing such names as The North Face, ICarrimor and Lowe Pro, so don’t be fooled into thinking that you are getting a bargain on genuine brand-name equipment. Some items, such as ponchos for Rs 350 and small day packs for Rs 700, are such bargains you can almost afford to use them once and throw them away.
Common problems with locally produced gear include defective zippers, clasps that break and straps that continually slip back through the buckle.
The wind jackets with the words ‘Gore- Tex emblazoned on them are certainly not as advertised and are not suitable for use as rain wear. Buy a locally made poncho, or an umbrella, instead.
You can rent everything you need in Kathmandu, from clothing to sleeping bags and tents, although large sizes of shoes are often difficult to find and socks are not for rent
All shops require a deposit to ensure you return the equipment in good condition. This can cause complications if you don’t want to change money to pay the deposit It is not a good idea to leave signed travellers cheques or a passport with the shop. Cash dollars can solve the problem, so carry some extra money if you plan to rent equipment. A trekking guide known by the shopkeeper can occasionally make a personal guarantee that you will return the gear, thus saving the hassle of a deposit. Be sure to check the bill and receipt carefully before you leave the rental shop.
A limited supply of equipment is available for sale and rent in Pokhara and the Everest region. Namche Bazaar has fantastic trekking equipment shops because many expeditions jettison their gear there. If you are trekking around Annapurna, you need high-altitude equipment only for the two or three days it j takes to cross the pass. Some lodges in Manang and Muktinath have equipment for sale, and you might even find a jacket or sleeping bag for rent. Other than these places, you probably won’t find any gear for rent or sale in the hills.