India summer trek gear
The crux of knowing what take is knowing what to expect. Above, atop a 5600m pass, Lobsang with the big backpack, and do look through trek photos to see what people are wearing.
This list is for our wonderful Indian summer Ladakh treks and please discuss with us anything you are not sure about.
Snacks and nutrition
Before we get into gear, lets discuss something I have realized is so important, that it should be stressed before the gear list...
You will feel your best with plenty of good food and by keeping hydrated. We provide good, nutritious food (plenty, all you can eat!) and filtered water, and boiled water too. However, inevitably you want some snacks for that 10am stop and midnight munchies. Since we are exercising hard for several weeks, it is worth focusing on healthy, nutritious snacks. We recommend quality energy bars from home such as Clif Bars/Power Bars or your other favourite, although now in Leh we can get some health-focused India-made gym bars that are also packed with vitamins and similar protein bars. Also, in Leh you can easily pick up all the ingredients for a good, healthy trail mix, although prices are not so different from home, and don't forget some ziplocks. Leh's dried apricots are the best though!
Longer term energy (low glycemic) is best however, sometimes, a sugar hit is needed to fuel that addiction, and there are plenty of chocolate bars in Leh, to save your luggage allowance.
We usually carry Tang (which is mostly sugar) and medical electrolytes however if you regularly use sports electrolytes, bring your favourite. We also suggest fizzy multi-vitamins. In normal life, supplements are not necessarily recommended, however we are pushing our bodies hard and occasional multi-vitamins do mean less sickness and better recovery.
We serve a wide array of meals but 'surprise' snacks to share with the group provide a welcome variety during the trek.
Lastly, after plenty of reading, I realize that while trekking you can never eat enough protein. You need more than a normal diet (any diet!) can provide, and so I strongly suggest bringing along some protein bars, one for every second day or so, or buy them in Leh.
Lobsang with our simple but delicious lunch.
At 5000+m, we are mostly wearing a thermal top or t-shirt with jacket over the top for the lunch break.
While India's traditionalist nature is changing, dressing non-provocatively is still sensible and often earns you greater respect too. For town and trekking practicalities we suggest covered shoulders and longer shorts or long pants; avoid tight leggings.
Delhi stopover, hopefully you are able to keep this short - during the day Delhi is almost always scorching hot so bring light, loose and cool clothes.
Summer in Leh is dry and hot during the day, sun cap, shorts and an airy shirt are enough, and pleasantly cooler in the evenings. We sometimes throw on a thermal top or light jacket for dinner on a cooler evening, or perhaps a light down jacket in early September, as summer ends.
We trek between 3300m/10,000ft and over 5000m/16,400ft so we can expect a variety of weather conditions. In June, July, August and September you must be prepared for sleet, snow, dust storms AND dry heat with hot sun up to a dry 30°C/80°F. River crossings can be easy but after rain they can be up to waist deep, and pass crossings can be under awesome blue skies or whipped by an icy wind. Mostly the weather is more moderate and it rarely rains however we must be prepared.
Like the days of lore, we may get a blistering summer, no snow, indeed not even a cloud for weeks; however with global warming with increasing extremes, there have been summers seasons featuring incredible cloudscapes, and even rare sudden rain and flooding. So, we should be prepared for all eventualities.
Tsomoriri generates spectacular storms, here we didn't get a drop despite the fearsome clouds.
Arabella is wearing a merino t-shirt with a light Goretex jacket as protection from the wind and sun.
Comparing with Nepal
We are comparing Ladakh's summer with Nepal's autumn/spring. While the weather is variable, Ladakh is significantly warmer than the Nepal high country, and pleasantly so. Watching the sun set outside with a fleece or light insulated jacket is comfortable, even with a single layer for pants. Sunny days mean just a light top and shorts or if crossing a pass in sunny weather, a light jacket and trekking pants instead (with backup gear in your day pack).
It is rare for the night temperatures to drop below freezing, even at our higher trekking camps, and so rather different from the frost-encrusted tents in alpine Nepal. While a down jacket is the trekker's best friend, a light down jacket or good Primaloft jacket is fine for Ladakh whereas Nepal really demands a substantial down jacket. Insulated "base camp" pants are too warm for Ladakh and instead some thicker softshell pants, fleece pants or waterproof shell pants are more appropriate for cold pass crossings and cooler evenings.
Who carries what
You carry a day pack with your camera/phone, jacket, water and snacks, trekking pole/s and sometimes river crossing sandals. The horses and mules carry everything else. A duffel is easiest to pack and unpack in your tent, and fits well on the ponies. They are readily and cheaply available in Leh if you want to buy one there. The hotel safely stores left luggage.
Ponies carrying the kitchen boxes and wrapped trekker's kitbags
Camping treks - what you are planning for
Basically you should plan with 5 specific climates/functions in mind:
+ warm summer days in Leh and on the trail
+ fine weather trekking in the cooler high country
+ cold, windy conditions and possibly some cold drizzle
+ river crossings - on most treks
+ cool high country evenings
It can help to visualize what you will wear in each scenario. Obviously, much of your gear will fulfill multiple roles, and we can wash clothes on rest days (or you can pay the crew to wash them). See what trekkers are actually wearing over a variety of conditions in with these captioned 18 photos:
India gear discussion
Now with the range of gear available, choosing becomes a choice of layers that combine together; taking a holistic approach works the best. Note that rain is rare, even if it threatens often, and so having good wind layers, eg a windproof but only semi-waterproof softshell, is more comfortable, with an ultralight rain jacket as the last resort.
Kitbag (duffel bag / duffle bag)
Your trek gear is carried by the ponies and we provide a protective outer bag for your kitbag. A simple design without frames or wheels is essential. You can buy in Leh, 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).
A down-filled bag with a rating of around -12C/10F to -18C/0F is ideal. Add a fleece sleeping bag liner to add warmth to a 3 season or tired 4 season bag (available in Leh). Do bring a good sleeping bag to be comfortable; your sleeping bag must be rated well beyond the expected temperatures. Lobsang has some for rent too.
Sleeping bag liner
Cotton, silk or fleece; silk is definitely the most luxuriously comfortable. Saves washing your sleeping bag and adds warmth. Cotton liners are available in Leh.
Bring your inflatable camping mattress, if you have. We provide a thin closed cell mat as standard to save you flying around with something bulky. This mat covers most of the inside of your tent, so great for kneeling on. If you don't have your own air mattress we can also provide a 4cm thick spongy foam mattress although an air mattress is still a slighly more comfortable alternative.
This should be comfortable with a good waist band that transfers some weight to the hips. It needs to be big enough to take a jacket, fleece, water, camera and odds and ends. Erring a bit on the larger side is better and most packs cinch down.
For a happy trek you need comfortable feet. We are trekking on rough unmade trails, sometimes even just cross country without a trail. There are sharp stones underfoot so you need tough hiking shoes or boots. If you are used to hiking in shoes then approach shoes/trail shoes/trail runners work, however, they will take a beating. Most people should trek in light boots.
Good boots have good ankle support, plenty of toe room for long descents, a stiff sole to lessen twisting torsion, and are light because with every step you lift your boot up.
All footwear should be broken in, so a few country walks are in order. Check the Scarpa range or the La Sportiva range a starting point. My current favourite though, are the La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX hiking boots, very light and comfortable, no stitching to wear out and tougher than trail running shoes such as the Salomon XA series.
Much of the time your feet will be warm or even hot while walking so quality cotton mix sports socks are a good option, although many trekkers default to mid-weight wool socks. Four to five pairs are enough, try mixing them around. Thicker wool trekking socks are better for higher up and cool evenings, so a couple of pairs. Modern trekking boots fit snugly so wearing two pairs of socks at the same time is mostly impractical, and we recommend against, especially in the warmth of Ladakh.
For treks with just the occasional crossing then basic sandals, an old pair of runners or Crocs will do. However, for canyon treks then proper river sandals with toe protection and a heel to hold them on are essential. Keen was the best brand however there is a bigger variety now. If you are sensitive to the cold, consider neoprene socks for the sandals or neoprene booties with a tough sole.
Crocs work well however your river sandals or backup cross trainers can double as camp shoes. The locally available fleece-wool apartment socks are a great in the dining tent, although thick socks work just as well.
Warm mid layer jacket/vest
We endlessly swap between just a single layer and a second slightly more protective layer so this mid layer top is particularly important.
Most trekkers consider some sort of fleece jacket essential but alternatives are a mid weight thermal top or a light Primaloft jacket that can go under a waterproof/windproof layer or under your main warmer down/Primaloft jacket. A fleece vest or jacket is easy to carry in your daypack, and layers well over a T-shirt and long-sleeved mid-weight thermal shirt.
High passes are often windy and a semi-waterproof softshell or breathable (aka Gore-Tex) jacket are essential. Since it doesn't often actually rain, bringing a comfortable softshell with a thin real rain jacket as backup is a good combination.
Plastic ponchos or non-breathable raincoats are not suitable.
Good mid-weight thermals are one of the secrets to travelling light yet warm. Zip-T (ie high neck) tops are great for changeable weather, either as a base later for crossing passes, or as a light "jacket" in the warm country.
Essential for the cool evenings, a Primaloft jacket or trendy ultralight downie is enough but if you only have a mid-weight real down jacket, that will also work well. It is possible to rent in Leh.
A jacket is the best option, although a vest with a good fleece jacket could work for July and August treks.
An overnight dusting of snow, something that happens a couple of times every summer
A silk-weight to mid-weight thermal top is great for overall comfort and for keeping the top of the sleeping bag clean.
These are useful for the very high camps where it might be slightly chilly in the evenings.
There is now quite a choice even in this simple category. T-shirts are the standby, or sun shirt-style with long sleeves, and made of technical synthetics, light merino wool or the less versatile cotton. A travel shirt is looser than a t-shirt and therefore harder to layer however the collar protects the back of your neck and the sleeves can be rolled up or down. Bring at least two tops so you can swap damp for dry.
You will live in these. For warm conditions get the lightest material available. Bring a couple of pairs of pants, perhaps one thinner and one more normal weight, and a pair of light hiking shorts for hot days and river days. Runner leggings are OK on non-village days.
If your trekking pants are reasonably windproof then special wind pants are not needed. If you do bring a pair, it is not necessary to have Gore-tex; being windproof is enough.
They're light, so bring enough to wash only every week or so.
Runner's caps are the lightest and the coolest, a desert cap with neck protector are popular as are wide-brim sun hats (although bring a cap for when it is a little blowy).
A buff (an adaptable, thin neck gaiter) is generally useful for occasional neck or face protection and breathing through occasionally if you find the air particularly dry.
Alternatively, a bandana is perfect for keeping the harsh sun off the back of the neck, and a scarf is ideal for the Lawrence of Arabia look in the often desert-like conditions of Ladakh. All are locally available.
Essential for the evenings.
Some relatively light gloves are useful on a particularly cold or windy pass.
Essential; you must have a trekking pole (or stick) for river crossings, and they are definitely useful on steep trails as well. They save your knees and lessen the risk of twisting an ankle. For use in snow a pole must have a basket, even if small.
One or two? Jamie uses one as he has a camera to look after with the other hand. Most people bring two but some people only use one for the steeper ups and downs. This really depends on your habits.
Trekking to Dat/Dadgo on our remote end to the Markha Valley
Bring a good pair with UV protection, and an perhaps a spare pair just in case.
These should be one liter or more in capacity, able to take boiling water and be leak-proof, and it is better to have a wider opening. Nalgene or a similar brand are best however aluminum bottles also work. You need at least 2 water bottles, although one can be a leftover soft drink bottle (that can't take hot water). We don't recommend Camelbacks or hydration systems however if you love yours, bring it and another water bottle that takes boiling water.
Useful on cold nights or to save effort however it is no problem to have a quick star gaze just outside your tent (no need to go to the toilet tent).
Essential; the Black Diamond range seem the best although there are plenty of other brands.
Useful; Black Diamond now make a series of small lanterns that hang in a tent. We use a couple in the dining tent.
A warm camp in the Markha Valley
Toiletries/odds & ends
Essentials for the month only, and in Leh single use sachets of shampoo and laundry powder are readily available. There are a surprising number of campsites where we can wash up, and warm washing water is provided in the mornings and in the evenings. We provide toilet paper, but you might want to bring tissues for the nose.
Bring only a small one trekking, or a camp towel. The Leh hotel provides towels.
Sunscreen/lip balm with SPF
The sun is strong at altitude, especially after snow. Bring good sunscreen and lip balm (with SPF 15+). And bring more sunscreen than you think you will use!
A small tube for sensitive or well cared for skins. The air is dry and the sun harsh. Local apricot oil is also available in Leh, and great for hydrating the skin.
First aid kit
We carry one with aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen, decongestants, lozenges, various antibiotics for local varieties of diarrhoea and chests infections, Diamox (an acclimatizing aid drug), antiseptic, antihistamine cream, rehydration, bandages and band-aids, tough blister tape (but not moleskin) and the book Medicine for Mountaineering.
You should bring any personal medicines that you need.
We provide filtered water in the morning and afternoon at camp, but only occasionally at lunchtime.
If you are a big drinker you may want to have some purification tablets handy, or a Steripen for on the trail, however these are optional.
Camera and memory cards/phone and powerbank
The sun is often very bright so a phone screen is hard to see. Bring a spare battery/powerbank. We can recharge on sunny rest days. Ladakh & Zanskar are extremely photogenic!
E-readers work or bring a real book or three. We have a 'library' with historical books and a wildlife book that we bring with us.
Money belt / travel pouch
Most people find wearing one while trekking is a hassle, and keep it buried in their daypack (safer than in your gear or duffel bag).
Resealable plastic bags
Bring a few Ziplocks or similar for passport, phone/small camera etc, and if making your own trail mix.
Crampons and ice axe / mini crampons
Not needed on our treks; see the specialist gear section for a climbing trip.
Evening Camp wear
Evenings are a wonderful time for relaxing. We have rugs on the dining floor and shawls/throws for the legs, seating is Crazy Creek-style camp chairs. Dinner is wholesome and healthy, served on low boxes.
Around camp, you can wear camp shoes, crocs, sandals (with or without socks) or boots. Some evenings are warm enough for just one thin jacket but many evenings will be a little cooler and avoid getting chilly with good, warm gear:
+ a Primaloft or down jacket, light or medium or a down vest
+ fleece pants or sweatpants
+ fleece/warm softshell jacket
+ silk to mid-weight thermals
+ warm beanie
+ thick socks
Our dining tent setup with backchairs and box tables
Daywear: what Jamie wears
As an example, I wear a synthetic t-shirt or the long sleeve more protective version, sometimes throw over a mid-weight thermal zip-T, or sometimes a proper windproof softshell jacket - or combine all three in cold, windy conditions. On colder days, the mid-weight thermal is replaced by a light mixed fleece-Primaloft jacket.
What is available in Leh
You can find a variety of cheap Chinese knockoff boots, running and hiking shoes and sandals in in Leh, but be aware that they break easily and sometimes have weird issues, so buying locally is a last resort. There is a range of basic India- or Nepal-made trek clothing, quite serviceable, however there is no brand name, well designed technical clothing available. Trekking pants, sun shirts, fleece jackets, pants, gloves and hats are readily available however the range is limited.
Slightly gratuitious, however that is our dining tent outside - copyright Jamie (image with Getty)
We have a tick box gear list that we send when you book.
What you DON'T need
You don't need a mosquito net; we stay in good hotels where there are no mosquitoes and there is very little chance that you will ever get bitten. Although some of India is a malarial area we recommend that you DON'T take malaria prophylaxis because Leh, Manali and the trekking regions are NOT malarial areas. For a night or two transiting Delhi, the risks are minimal and most travel doctors will say don't bother with prophylaxis.
What we provide
Our camping trips are full-service, with tents, thin sleeping mat to go under your sleeping mattress (or we can provide a sponge mattress as well), dining tent, cutlery, mug, plates, cook tent, all supplies and food, ponies and a fantastic staff and guides provided. You just need to bring your personal gear and a happy spirit.
If you have old outdoor clothing/gear that you are loath to throw out but could do with a new home - our crew will use, particularly smaller sized boots or hiking shoes and day packs!