India summer trek gear discussion
The crux of knowing what take is knowing what to expect. Above, atop a 5600m pass, Lobsang with the big backpack, and doo look thorugh trek photos to see what people are wearing.
Please discuss with us anything you are not sure about. This list is for our wonderful Indian summer Ladakh treks.
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, 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. 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 - Jamie
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.
Delhi is almost always scorching hot so bring light, loose and cool clothes.
Summer in Leh is dry and hot during the day, 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 September, as summer ends.
Trekking in Ladakh requires some planning to be comfortable. You can expect a variety of weather conditions daily, far more, say, than trekking in Nepal. 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. Do not believe the "It never rains in Ladakh".
During the day all trekkers should carry a warm layer (mid-weight thermal or warmer) and a windproof/waterproof top layer. For river crossing days you need to have a trekking pole and tough river crossing sandals.
While hiking travel shirts also work well in the heat but don't layer as easily, that is the advantage of a technical t-shirt. They come in a wide variety, long sleeve, zip top, short sleeve. The long sleeves and collar versions are great to keep off the sun and are comfortable over a wide variety of conditions. Alternately a local cheap, 'hippy' cotton shirt will work.
For leg protection shorts do work but you will wear pants more. Zip off pants are popular although zip chaffing is occasionally an issue.
A good sun hat is vital, either wide brim or with a neck protector, or ordinary hat and light cotton or silk neck scarf.
In the evenings in India we have no lodges to retire to, instead our mess tent is cosy but can still get chilly, thus you need the Himalayan trekkers' best friend, a light down or Primaloft jacket, which can also double as your pillow.
A warm beanie is useful for the chilly evenings, and fleece or liner gloves for pass tops.
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
Comparing with Nepal
We are comparing summer with 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 in your day pack).
It is rare for the night temperatures reach 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 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, 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.
Camping treks - what you are planning for
Basically you should plan with 5 specific climates/functions in mind:
+ travelling in the Indian summer heat
+ fine weather trekking in the hot high country
+ difficult conditions when pass crossing and high country trekking
+ river crossings - on most treks
+ cool high country evenings
Obviously, much of your gear will fulfill multiple roles.
India gear discussion
Now with the range of gear available, choosing becomes a choice of layers that combine together; taking a holistic approach seems to work the best. Note that rain is rare, even if it threatens often, and so having good wind layers, eg 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 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.
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.
Inflatable sleeping pad
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, and we also provide a 5cm thick spongy foam mattress although if you have your fav pad (eg NeoAir, super-thick Thermarest), feel free to bring instead.
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, most packs cinch down.
For a happy trek you need comfortable feet. 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.
Lightweight trekking boots are ideal, or the lighter leather models if you are going for 6000m. Hiking shoes (as opposed to boots), trail running/cross trainer shoes can work but the trails are rough on them; running shoes with their complex soles break quickly and are completely unsuitable for trekking.
All footwear should be broken in, so a few country walks are in order. Check the Scarpa range as a starting point to see what a range of choices there are. My current favourite though, are the La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX hiking boots, very light and comfortable, and significantly tougher than trail running shoes.
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 light weight wool socks sound more sensible, and are better for pass crossings. Four to five pairs are enough. Thick 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 impractical, and we recommend against, especially in the warmth of Ladakh.
River crossing sandals
Good sandals such as Keens or similar are a necessity for river crossings in Ladakh. Crocs or similar are NOT good enough for crossing rivers. An old pair of trainers is an option but Keens and their ilk are definitely best. We need river crossing sandals on all our trips unless otherwise stated.
Your river crossing sandals can double as camp shoes. Alternatively cross trainers or similar can be a backup for your boots and double as camp shoes for the evenings at camp. Flip-flops, available for cheap in India, or crocs or similar are good for camp but NOT for crossing rivers.
Unnecessary for Ladakh but still convenient for wandering around camp in the evenings. The fleece plus wool apartment socks are a great alternative.
Warm mid layer jacket/vest
Most trekkers consider some sort of fleece jacket essential but alternatives are a thick thermal top or a light Primaloft jacket that can go under a waterproof/windproof layer or under your main warmer down/Primaloft jacket. Layering is essential as the weather can be changeable. A fleece vest or jacket is easy to carry in your daypack, and layers well over a T-shirt and long-sleeved mid-weight shirt.
Essential for the cool evenings, and for India 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.
An overnight dusting of snow, something that happens once or twice every summer
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 warmer country.
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.
T-shirts are popular but a cotton shirt or mixed yarn 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. For warm conditions get the lightest material available. Bring a couple of pairs of pants and a pair of shorts. Again, shorts should be longer (knee-length, or just above) to avoid attracting attention (and humoring) from the villagers.
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; beign windproof is enough.
They're light, so bring enough.
Nice for the evenings, and buff will do for those that don't feel the cold.
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...
Bring a good pair with UV protection, and an extra pair is good just in case.
A good pair of wind-proof gloves are essential and makes packing up camp on cold mornings much more bearable!
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, or European aluminum bottles, are best. You need at least 2 water bottles, or at least 1 water bottle in addition to a Camelback or hydration system.
Very useful on cold nights!
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. There are a surprising number of campsites where we can wash up, and warm washing bowl are provided in the mornings and in the evenings. We provide toilet paper, but you might bring tissues or soft rolls for the nose.
Bring only a small one trekking, or a camp towel. The hotel in Leh provides towels.
Sunscreen/lip balm with SPF
The sun is strong at altitude, especially after snow. Bring at least sunscreen and lip balm with SPF 15, better still SPF 30+. And bring more 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.
Runner's caps are the lightest and the coolest. A wide-brim sun hat is also good.
Trekking to Dat/Dadgo
Bandanas are perfect for keeping the harsh sun off the back of the neck, and scarves ideal for the Lawrence of Arabia look in the often desert-like conditions of Ladakh. Both are locally available. Buffs also work but are often too warm.
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.
For on the trail you may want to have some purification tablets handy, perhaps a dozen or so, or a SteriPen.
Ladakh & Zanskar are extremely photogenic!
Either bring extra batteries or a solar charger.
Bring a few of your favorites; we have a 'library' that we bring with us and keep in the dining tent as well. You can borrow books (please take care of them) and leave your old ones for other trekkers.
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).
Crampons and ice axe
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 casual but gourmet, served on low boxes.
Around camp, you can wear camp shoes, sandals with or without socks or leather boots. Some evenings are warm enough for jsut 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 or mid-weight thermals
+ wool or fleece hat
+ thick socks
Slightly gratuitious, however that is our dining tent - copyright Jamie (image with Getty)
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.
Sleeping bag liner
Tevas and/or sandals
Light wind jacket
Sun hat/baseball cap
Down/synthetic camp booties
One liter water bottles
Extra passport photos
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. We can discuss this further if necessary.
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, cook tent, all supplies and food, ponies and a fantastic staff and guides provided. You just need to bring your personal gear and a good spirit.