Note: This blog is about what to pack, not how to pack your backpack. Here is a link for tips on how to efficiently pack a backpack. On the Dhading trek you will experience every season so it is very important to bring layered, breathable clothing. With that said, you do not need to bring a dozen changes of clothes. Once you get to Tipling/Lapa (3 days in), the local village women offer hand wash laundry services for around 200-500 NR (it’s a nice gesture to bring your own soap for them to use). For this reason, I was able to make do with three changes of clothing. Many of the medical professionals wore scrub shirts at the medical camps. You will also be at several non-medical campsites, which will require cold weather clothing. Depending on the time of year you go, the first part of the trek will be very cold and could include snow and freezing rain as well as temps below freezing. The majority of the trek will be warm/hot weather. Tip: everything on the list can be purchased in Katmandu, however the mosquito spray may be difficult to find. Do not wait until you get to Kathmandu to produce or print extra Visa photos. Power outages make this problematic. It could take hours or days to produce. Even if you have been on the treks numerous times, you still will be required to provide extra Visa photos.
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Trekking Newbies take note:
Why The Garbage Bags?
Use the zip-locks to organize your items. You can store all of your socks, for instance in one baggie, and your hygiene items in another. This helps when organizing the set up of your personal space inside the tent. (BTW-the Mountain Hardware tents ROCK!)
You will be hiking through the rain-forest/jungle. Prepare yourself for this. It’s brutal! The bugs are wicked aggressive. Although I am sure somewhere in Kathmandu there is mosquito spray, I would plan ahead and bring a small sprayer of it from home. I highly recommend the highly toxic 98% DEET. You will feel like a walking hazmat site, but the bugs won't go near you.
I used the carabineers to attach suncreen or waterbottles to my daypack for easy access, hang lamps/lights inside my tent. T he bungee cords came in handy for stretching across the ceiling of my tent to hang socks and other items to dry out, using the clothes hanger clips. Tip: Some of the repeat trekkers decorate the exterior of their tents with prayer flags purchased in Kathmandu or homemade signs as well as other items. Makes the site very festive.
HHC allows one duffel per person on the trek. You will leave additional baggage at the hotel. If for some reason you need to bring additional bags on the trek for medical supplies and the like, speak to Anil and Soni about this ahead of time and plan on paying double for porter tips.
Make sure all of your duffels have locks and your name written on them. Baggage left at the hotel will need to contain a clean change of clothes, shampoo and other hygiene items for your return from the trek. Do not lose the storage claim ticket! (I attached it to my passport, which I carried on my body during the trek.)
HHC does not recommend a large backpack as your duffel. Backpacks and duffels with wheels are painful for the porters to carry since they haul 5 or more duffels at a time. (it is a sight to see!) The duffel needs to be medium to large (NOT extra-large) to store all of your trek items. Again, HHC allows for one bag per person. The porters will carry your duffel; you will carry your day pack. Make sure to lock your bag during the trek and do not attach anything to the outside of it or in the pockets. I guarantee items will go missing otherwise.
Whatever kind of day pack you bring, just make sure YOU can carry it. The porters trek hours ahead of the volunteers so it is not practical for them to carry your day pack. Pack only what you need and can carry for the day (water, snacks, sunscreen, meds, blister stuff, extra socks etc). If for some reason you get sick or injured, HHC will arrange for someone to carry your pack. I would highly recommend if this happens, you add a significant increase to the amount of the tip HHC collects at the end of the trek and let them know who carried it for you. Tip: I highly recommend physical training at least 3-5 months prior to the trek. Walking or hiking hills for an hour or so several times a week with your day pack loaded with your daily items will condition your body. Remember that you will be hiking at extreme altitudes (over 10K feet) so make an effort to train yourself for endurance, exercising your core to handle the uphill and downhill terrain. It is NEVER flat.
Seems like the best snacks are items that can be grabbed quickly such as nuts, trail mix, power bars. I would avoid things like energy gels, anything that can melt, and items that get rock hard at freezing temps. Tip: Plan on sharing your snacks. It is good for bonding with your teammates. Beef Jerky does NOT taste good at high altitudes and is difficult to eat in freezing temperatures.
HHC meticulously boils and treats the water during the trek. The water, most times will be boiling hot when it is available. I recommend bringing two 1-liter water bottles. If possible, fill the night before so the water will be cooled down for the trek. Top off before you head out for the day. I found that I drank both bottles before lunch and two bottles after lunch. (Then another liter at night) Better to have too much water than run out. I would not bother bringing a Camelback. There is no way to clean it safely and after a day or so, those things get really nasty! Yuk! Some people put their water bottles in the cold river to cool it quickly. Although it seems like a good idea, keep in mind that the river water is filled with parasites. Tip: Many of the trekkers add flavors to their water since Gator-Ade tends to cause stomachaches in some folks. A good substitute is Crystal Lite sugarless water flavoring.
This seems like a no-brainer right? One thing I noticed on the treks is how many people did not bring or use these items and ended up severely burned and painfully blistered. Trust me on this, your skin and lips, no matter how “tannable”, will need the highest protection even if it is overcast, you’re under the tree line and wearing long sleeves and a hat. Remember, you are in the Himalayas and trekking at very high altitude. The sun is deceivingly harsh and burns quickly. I highly recommend the waterproof sports sunscreen with 30 protection or higher. I brought a full size and travel size, which I attached to my pack with a carabineer. I had to refill it everyday. Don't forget the chapstick. Tip: While you are at it, get a large bottle and travel size bottle of hand sanitizer. Keep the travel size with you at all times and refill nightly. I guarantee, you will get sick if you do not make a very good effort to wash your hands often. Make sure to share with your trek mates.
Well…no, BUT you will wish you had them when you trek through the snow and the jungle. The first few days of your trip (in the spring) will bring snow. The gaiters will keep the snow out of your boots and pants. Some folks used duct tape and it works quite well, however it is a pain to get off. Why worry about the jungle? Leeches! Keep in mind that there really is not much you can do to prevent leeches from hitch hiking on you. They are small and you most likely will not notice them until they are full. They will drop off on their own when they finish feeding and you won't feel a thing. Here is a link to read more Leech Info. You will not just find them on the trail. These little buggers will be everywhere-on the leaves in the trees, on the ground, on the rocks, even in the latrine! Tip: Bright colored gaiters will make it easier to see them hitching onto your legs and boots. Newbies assume the trekker up front will be the recipient of all of the leeches (the spider web theory). Guess again. The lead trekker will wake them up. The leeches will be lying in wait for all those that come after. Google "leech images" to learn what they look like at various stages. Ask Anil to tell you his leech stories. Don't forget that leeches are just another burden local villagers have to deal with so do not make a big stink about them. Think about what they locals must go through during monsoon season!
What to know what happens to your feet when you hike in ill-fitting boots? Read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. For the hiking, make sure you bring footwear that fits well and is already broken in. The last thing you want to do is to bring a brand new pair of hiking boots, only to discover they turn your feet into hamburger. I would recommend breaking them in while wearing your loaded day pack at least a few months prior to the trek. The extra weight will change the way your foot lands, pivots and rubs. You need to put a lot of miles on them to break them in. If they don’t work out, you still have time to purchase a different pair. I purchased 6 pairs before finding the perfect boots. And for the love of Pete, learn how to tie up your laces. Improper lacing is a major cause of the boots butchering your feet. Tip: On the back-end of the trip when the team is going downhill, many of the folks wear athletic shoes. However, I prefer hiking boots because I believe the downhill portion of the trek is the most difficult due to fatigue and the heat. The trail is pretty much above the treeline, full sun and HOT (temps at or near 100 degrees!). Also, I always pack a pair of fresh socks and flip-flops so I can air out my feet on breaks.
There are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of burning your feet up.
1) Invest in good quality boots and socks. Again, make sure to test them out before your trek. What works for your best buddy may not work for you. I went through several pairs socks before settling on the right ones. (NO COTTON!!!)
2) Keep your feet dry! During lunch breaks, remove your boots to air them out and change your socks. Make sure to dry off your feet before putting them back on. I put moisture-absorbing powder in my socks and boots.
3) If you start feeling hot spots, it is most likely due to your socks bunching up and or poor lacing. This is a great lacing video to prevent blistering.
4) Wrapping your known hot spots really helps cut down the blistering. I use Leukotape and don't remember the last time I got blisters. Don’t wait until you already have a blister to treat it. Wrap your toes and feet before! If you already have a blister, place a piece of gauze or moleskin on it and cover with duct tape or Leukotape or both.
Tip: If you go the duct tape route, Gorilla tape seems to work the best and now it comes in cool fun colors. Make sure to air and dry out your feet during lunch breaks. Bring a pair of flip flops in your day pack and wear during the break.
Pack plenty of first aid supplies and meds to treat stomach issues, headaches, allergies, sinus infections cuts etc. HHC has limited meds and supplies available for the patients therefore; it is inappropriate to expect them to provide pharmaceuticals to you unless it is an emergency. Whatever you don’t use, can be left with them.
Electronics are a separate blog topic. I will publish one soon. If you bring an mp3 player, consider adding a white noise app or ear plugs. Sometimes the porters stay up playing drums and talking and at times it can get loud. Don't assume the generators will be working. Bring a solar charger for your gadgets. You will need to bring appropriate adapters which I recommend purchasing in Kathmandu or borrowing from your hotel.
Games. You will have down time and having card games to play is a fun way to pass the time and bond with your teammates.
If you have a guitar or harmonica bring it! The team has lots of downtime at night and we spend a lot of time talking and looking at the stars. Plus, the sherpas bring their drums and flutes. Perhaps you can jam with them. Non-musicians plan on dancing!
Seems ridiculous to use an umbrella when the Nepalese do not use them. Rain won’t hurt you. Just make sure your rain coat has a hood. If you do use an umbrella, expect a few disapproving groans and eye rolls from your trip mates as well as stares from the locals. Disclosure: I used an umbrella ONLY to cover thousands of dollars worth of video equipment. I never used it to shield my body from the elements.
I brought 3 pairs of sunglasses with me simply because I knew I would lose or damage them. I came back home with one pair! Do not get caught without sunglasses. The Himalayan sun will cause serious eye damage. Tip: You can pickup sunglasses pretty cheap in Kathmandu.
Headlamps and Lanterns
Everyone knows to bring a headlamp. No need for a fancy one since no one is trekking in the dark. You will need one at night to get to and from the latrine, dining tent and getting around the campsite. Also, some of the exam rooms do not have lights. In addition to the headlamp, I bring a small LED lantern and a few of those small push lights I bought from Home Depot. I like having a lot of light in my tent. Lanterns also also come in handy when you are in Kathmandu during the nightly power outages. Tip: Buy your batteries in Kathmandu.
There are two items I don't leave home without.
Ex-Officio brand undies
The Fem Funnel is an easy to use two-piece contraption that allows you to pee standing up. This comes in handy during the trek, especially in leech and snow country. You don’t have to take your pants off. Just unzip and place it where it needs to go. The tube is flexible so you can direct the flow away from you. Warning, do NOT point it at a rock or tree or you will wear your pee. It is easy to use with a pee bottle. You do not need to worry about cleaning it after each use. Nothing sticks to the plastic. No odor. Just wipe it down with a tissue or wet wipe. Make sure you practice using it before the trek.
Tip: Bring a good size wide mouth pee bottle (clearly marked). You have no idea how much pee you produce at high altitudes. Make sure to consider multiple pee events per bottle. It comes in handy to avoid late night latrine runs or when a torrential rain storm traps you in your tent. Make sure you empty your bottle in the latrine!
I have tried every brand of outdoor wear undies. Ex-Officio is the best because the material is very durable, dries very fast, has anti-wick material and does not hold odors. Yes they are a little more expensive than other brands, but you get what you pay for. They are worth every penny. Make sure you label yours with your name in case there is a mix-up with laundry. (it happens!)
Leave your daisy duke shorts and tank tops at home. Think modesty when packing your clothes for Nepal. Women dress conservatively in Nepal, especially in the villages. Avoid packing anything that shows too much skin, is too tight or would draw attention. If you bring convertible cargo pants, make sure the zippable shorts are an appropriate length. Most of the female volunteers wore scrubs, cargo pants with knee length zipped shorts and Capri pants.
Coming up: Gadgets For The Trek