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The crux of knowing what take is knowing what to expect.
This list is for our normal high altitude Nepal treks but please feel free discuss further.
Do have a look over what people are wearing in the photos of each trip too, that is a great indication of conditions and what is suitable.
From April to the end of October (~summer), it is warm, even hot during the day. Cool, light clothes are best, and longer shorts are acceptable.
In winter, November thru to the end of March, it is still usually warm during the day and a single layer will often do, but in the evenings you will want a jacket, and during late December thru to February, a light down jacket is better for eating/drinking outside.
The hotel stores luggage free of cost whatever you don't take trekking, and of course they have a laundry service. You might want to plan with a clean set of clothes for your return from the trek.
You carry a day pack with your camera, jacket, water and snacks. The porters (or sometimes yaks/mules) carry everything else, and pack this in a duffel/kitbag rather than backpack.
Because we fly in to Lukla, we miss the low, hot country, and slightly different gear is needed. It is usually sunny but cool when trekking; however, we should be minimally prepared for all types of weather. During a fine winter day, the sun is warming even if the air temperature is not. At medium altitudes, a shirt will do; higher up, a thermal top or thermal and T-shirt are a good combination. If there is a breeze, walking in a fleece, thermal top and fleece vest or windproof jacket becomes practical. Trousers are standard wear, rather than shorts (although long shorts are OK up to Namche in the hotter months).
In the evenings the lodge usually have a potbelly stove and so most dining rooms are warm, but in a few a thick down jacket and fleece pants and/or long johns and trousers are necessary.
Washing clothes at altitude is difficult yet most people get by with only two changes of top and a single pair of pants. When deciding on warm clothing, the principle of only what you can wear at once should apply. Take another thermal top to sleep in but your evening long johns should do for sleeping as well. Take the best but no excess.
Basically you should plan with 4 specific climates/functions in mind:
+ travelling and trekking in the hot low country
+ fine weather trekking in the cooler high country
+ difficult conditions when pass crossing/high country trekking (rare, but you should be prepared)
+ COLD high country evenings
Obviously, much of your gear will fulfill multiple roles.
For Kanchenjunga, Manaslu and Annapurna treks it really can be hot and sweaty in the initial low country. For spring (Apr-May) you will also want an umbrella (available in Kathmandu), better in rain than any Gore-tex.
Especially for Oct-Nov-Dec treks you really do want WARM gear for the evenings, a good down jacket and some insulated pants, and a real -30C/-20F sleeping bag.
Assorted clothing styles of ~5000m high country wear on a chilly day - Jamie
Celesta in pink: running cap, Goretex jacket, Buff, thin thermal and thick thermal top underneath, softshell pants, all leather hiking boots
Matt with beanie: Windstopper jacket, t-shirt, thick wool thermal, thicker trekking pants perhaps with thin thermal (longjohns) underneath
LeeAnn with cotton scarf: ultra-light anorak over a thermal top and fleece, softshell pants, tough but light hiking boots and attitude!
Virtually all trekking gear is available in Kathmandu and we are happy to show you the better shops. Tridevi Marg is a street with mostly top notch imported gear, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, Marmot, Black Diamond climbing gear plus head torches and others, and prices are reasonable, roughly no tax USA prices.
Locally made gear is much cheaper and must be tried on carefully and checked carefully for quality, but on the whole it is OK.
If price/time is a concern, you can by the majority of your gear in Kathmandu, but do allow time for this.
For all the treks your gear that is carried by the porters or yaks is best packed in a strong kitbag. A simple design without wheels and without foldable handles is best. You can buy in Kathmandu, although they are not as tough as say the popular North Face Base Camp Duffel. Mountain Hardwear duffels look tough but are not. My favorite is the Patagonia Black Hole duffel, 120L (or 90L if you are a compact packer).
Down-filled bags are better for Nepal and beg, borrow or steal a good one (ie 4-5 season) because high altitude nights will be cold.
Teahouse trekking: in lodges there are quilts that can cover a thinner sleeping bag, so you can get away with a three season bag but if you have a 4 season bag, definitely bring.
Camping treks: high country 5000m nights are cold and you need a 4-5 season sleeping bag, so a bag rated better than -24C/-10F and for high altitude late October or November nights a rating closer to -29C/-20F is best (the extreme rating, NOT the comfort rating). Note often your bag will get damp and you might not have a chance to dry for several days, and in the lower oxygen environment, you feel the cold more easily.
Good down is fluffy, light and thick. A muff (an extra section around the neck) makes a big difference to the overall warmth of a bag. Reasonable sleeping bags are cheaply available for rent in Kathmandu. Alternatively add a fleece sleeping bag liner to add warmth to a 3-4 season bag.
Cotton, silk, thermal or fleece. Saves washing your sleeping bag and adds warmth. Available in Kathmandu.
For camping trips, we provide a closed cell mattress as standard and bring your own air mattress for the highest level of comfort. If you don't have an air mattress, you can buy in Kathmandu or we can provide a sponge foam mattress, which is relatively comfortable but not as comfortable as the new generation of air mattresses.
This should be comfortable and a good waist band that transfers some of the weight to the hips is most important. It needs to be big enough to take a jacket, fleece, water, camera and odds and ends. Kathmandu now offers a range of cheap fall-part packs to fantastic Mammut and Black Diamond range of day packs. Osprey packs are also some of the best however not generally available in Kathmandu.
For a happy trek you need comfortable feet. Good boots have good ankle support, plenty of toe room for long descents, a slightly stiff sole to lessen twisting torsion, and are light because with every step you lift your boot up.
Gore-tex boots have an inner liner that help with warmth but your feet tend to sweat more in the warmer low country. You don't necessarily need Gore-tex boots. Good lightweight trekking boots or light all leather boots are perfect. Boots must be lightly worn in before trekking and this should include some steep hills to show up trouble spots.
The rougher the trek, the longer the trek, the tougher and newer your boots should be. If you are trekking in heavier boots then it may also be worth taking along some light trail running shoes (eg Salomon XA's), and wear these for the first few days, switching to real boots in the higher country or when it rains. My absolute favorite boots are the La Sportiva's Trango TRK GTX which are lighter and more flexible than a web picture might show, and available in Kathmandu. Also check Scarpa's range as another starting point. Normal running shoes are NOT suitable, the sharp rock trails quickly tear them up.
In the low country your feet will be warm or even hot while walking so quality cotton mix sports socks can work well, or light hiking socks. Three to four pairs are enough. Thick trekking socks are better for higher up and cool evenings, three-four pairs. Mostly modern trekking boots fit snugly so wearing two pairs of socks at the same time is impractical. Socks with a high natural fibre content, either wool or cotton, are usually more comfortable and less smelly than mainly synthenic socks. Avoid Coolmax socks.
Luxury and convenience for your feet at the end of the day. Sandals are good for treks with plenty of warm low country camps, and combined with socks higher up. To back boots up on remote treks consider cross-trainers/trail running shoes which double as spare trek shoes. For teahouse treks where you can shower regularly flip-flops or crocs are essential, and cheaply available in Kathmandu.
Most trekkers consider this essential, but alternatives are a thick thermal top or a light down jacket.
Almost essential for the cool evenings. If you don't already have a jacket, they are readily available or easily rented in Kathmandu for around $1 a day. A down jacket is the best option, although a vest can also be brought along (ie bring a jacket as well).
Waterproof and breathable. Gore-tex (or similar) jackets are recommended for treks over passes or climbing trips. Plastic ponchos or non-breathable raincoats are not suitable.
Good thermals, both tops and bottoms, are one of the secrets to cold weather trekking comfort. A mid-weight top (zip-T style) is great for high country day wear. Lighter thermal tops are still useful in the low country and an expedition-weight thermal top is a good warm but light system for the real cold.
Silk-weight is light yet still warm, but for cooler treks mid-weight is perfect. A toasty (but not hot) sleep is essential for a full recovery.
Great for the chilly evenings, thicker is better (except for when the stoves
in the teahouses really heat up!). Readily available in Kathmandu.
Primaloft pants are the expedition camper's best friend though.
T-shirts are popular but a travel shirt is more versatile. The collar protects the back of your neck and the sleeves can be rolled up or down. Take two so you can swap damp for dry.
You will live in these. Light material, loose and medium-coloured is best. You can survive with only one pair, although two is better, and if heading high, a soft shell pair is really useful.
If you have softshell trekking pants then special wind pants are not needed. If you do bring a pair, it is not necessary to have Gore-tex. Similar, non-waterproof is quite OK.
Nice for the evenings, and useful for cold trekking days. Beanies work, so do buffs.
A buff is versatile however for winter trekking a fleece neck gaiter is really the best.
Definitely useful, especially on steep, rough terrain, and we do recommend bringing however, if you are not used to using them, you can survive without. One pole is useful for easing long descents.
Bring good wraparound glasses suitable for snow, its bright up there, but specialized glacier glasses with side pieces are not needed. Contact lens wearers report very few problems except cleaning them in the conditions. Ski goggles are unnecessary.
A good pair of wind-proof gloves is essential. Available in Kathmandu, both budget and originals.
This should be one liter or more in capacity, take boiling water and be leak-proof. Wide mouth Nalgene bottles are best however European-style aluminum bottles are adequate, all available in Kathmandu. You need a minimum of 2 water bottles, or at least 1 water bottle IN ADDITION to a Camelback or hydration system.
Hydration systems are loved my many people however are more hassle to deal with in a trekking environment, and you have to be a careful expert to get through a long trek without an accident, and so suggest against.
Very useful on cold high country nights! You can buy a cheap one in Kathmandu.
The Black Diamond LED headtorches seem to be better than Petzls now. The whole range is available in Kathmandu.
Useful; Black Diamond now make a series of small lanterns that hang in a tent.
Essentials for the month only. The smallest tube of toothpaste available in Kathmandu is perfect for a month. Teahouse trekking, there are a surprising number of showers or buckets of hot water available. We provide toilet paper for camping treks and expeditions, you bring or buy along the way for tea-house treks. Deodorant can spare you grief with your room mate/tent partner...
Bring only a small one trekking, a camp towel or simply a facecloth. Tthe hotel supplies towels in Kathmandu.
At altitude the sun is strong, especially after snow. Bring sunscreen (high factor protection) AND lip balm WITH SPF 15, and better still SPF 30+. The best lip balm brand is Banana Boat, which is now often unavailable in Kathmandu.
A small tube for sensitive or well cared for skins. The air is dry and the sun harsh.
A technical running cap is ideal. A wide-brim sun hat is also good, giving added neck protection.
We carry a comprehensive med kit with Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, decongestants, lozenges, various antibiotics for Nepalese varieties of diarrhoea and chests infections, Diamox (an acclimatizing aid drug), antiseptic, antihistamine cream, oral rehydration, splints, bandages and band-aids.
You should bring any personal medicines that you need, and if you have had blisters in the past, a good blister kit.
On camping treks we provide filtered water morning and evening (or boiled water when particularly cold), and so you can get away without water purification but, especially for a hot trek, it is nice to have more options on the trail during the day. This could be a bottle of iodine tablets or a strip of silver-based tablets, or a Steripen.
I have a dated discussion. If bringing only your iPhone or similar, do ask about charging. On treks led by Jamie, we do have USB solar charging.
Bring one or two with high swapability. Kathmandu has some great second-hand book shops. Kindles work well for trekking too, although they are more safely carried in your daypack.
Most people find wearing one while trekking is a hassle and keep it buried in their kitbag or daypack. The Kathmandu hotel has safety deposit boxes.
Not needed but if you have them, consider bringing them if going above 4000m.
Not needed for trekking - trekking is walking, not climbing.
The fleece lined colourful wool socks available from some clothing shops in Kathmandu are a great addition to your kit and perhaps more practical than down booties although either will be a luxury for chilly evenings.
Around camp you can wear camp shoes, sandals (for non-winter treks) or leather boots. No matter what altitude and what season, it is cool to bloody freezing in the evenings. By far the best clothing is:
+ a down jacket, light or thick, available in Kathmandu. Fleece and layers isn't really enough.
+ Primaloft pants (available in Kathmandu) or thick fleece pants
+ fleece hat and neck gaiter
+ thick sox
+ Nalgene or Aluminum water bottle filled with boiling water
+ thick camp socks
You will feel your best with plenty of good food and keeping hydrated. We provide the food and the water. However you will also want wholesome snacks and vitamin tablets. Chocolate, chocolate bars, dried fruit bars and dried fruit are readily available in Kathmandu, but Clif bars, Power bars, energy gels and the like are not usually available.
Easy to rent items in Kathmandu are down jackets and sleeping bags.
Available in Kathmandu or bring from home
Some of the items available in Kathmandu will be of a different quality/different brands from what you may be accustomed to.
Sleeping bag liner
Extra passport photos
One litre water bottles
Gaiters (not needed on most treks)
Bring from home
Tevas and/or sandals
Night wear top
Day wear shirt x2
Toiletries and odds and ends
2x Passport photos
USD30 cash for visa
For camping trips, we provide all the tents, a closed cell mat, all the cutlery and utensils, cooking pots, stoves; LED dining lights, tables and stools, kitchen tent, dining tent and toilet tent; all the main meals and afternoon tea while trekking but not trail snacks; and the best service we can manage.