Another in my sporadic series of blogposts on wider trekking and travelling themes.
Recently I’ve been reading about other trekker’s kit choices and preferences. There seems to be two main types – those who get “the best” kit, researching new gear, buying the best brands; and those for whom looking good is the driver. I’m neither, so I thought I’d write a bit about what I pack when I go on my 4 week high altitude treks in Nepal and Peru.
To set the scene a little:
- By “high altitude” I mean overnight camps around 5000m max, daytime routes up to 5600m. You can read more about my trekking trips on Where I’ve Been.
- The weather on trek has varied – Annapurna started off with 5 days of monsoon-level deluge, Three High Passes was similarly wet, but at 3500m+ this came as hail and snow, and was cold. Early morning pre-dawn starts for high passes and peaks are COLD. Camping at 4500m-5000m is cold once the sun goes down. Lower levels and/or sunny weather is hot, sometimes humid.
- My treks are all portered – I’m not backpacking, but I’m still working to a weight limit – someone has to carry my kitbag and internal flights to remote airports come with a weight limit. In Nepal it’s 10kg “hold” luggage (stacked at the back of the plane) plus 5 kg carry on (on your lap), but doesn’t include what you wear…. so we have tended to resemble the Michelin Man, with boots, on our flights back to KTM.
- We camp, usually 3 weeks straight, with sites determined by the itinerary, water sources and any villages en route. They’re not proper camp sites like you find in Europe. Accommodation at the start/end of the trek will be in hotels, simple lodges or guest houses, and depending on the route I may leave a small bag of stuff (clean clothes and things I won’t need on trek) in the main hotel.
- My kit choices are driven by value for money. I’m not known for my fashion flair, and I’m not one for sporting the “right” labels, whether catwalk or outdoors. I will wear clothes / use kit until it falls apart. I still use the Karrimor 70l rucksack my parents bought me for my Duke of Edinburgh / Venture Scout expeditions, which has accompanied me on almost all my travels.
- I’m also happy to wear clothes for days on the trot, so long as they pass the sniff test.
- I run hot in terms of body temperature. I’ll often be comfortable sitting in a T shirt and fleece while others are wrapped up in down jackets.
So, my personal go to gear items:
Luggage & Bags
- Karrirmor Jaguar 70l rucksack
- Neeko Smart 32l daypack
- Tarpaulin kit bag
- Plastic bags and ziploc bags
My rucksack makes it easy to use public transport to get to/from the airport. I’ve travelled with friends with wheely suit cases, and the tube is a nightmare. A rucksack on your back takes up less room than a suitcase, and personally I get really annoyed anticipating the locations of wheely suitcases trailed by oblivious owners. Plus, no one is likely to nick something looking that scruffy.
My daypack came from Val’s friend’s Bim’s shop in Kathmandu. It’s a good size and comfy, outside pockets for easy access to water bottles, top lid pocket for first aid kit, sun cream, rain jacket, inside pocket for valuables.
My kitbag was a freebie from the company we used for the Annapurna Circuit. The tarpaulin makes the bag that bit more waterproof (snow proof), plus it is rugged and red and there aren’t many of them around anymore. And I know that “full” it weighs around 10kg. I use a black bin sack as an extra waterproof liner.
You can never have too many plastic bags. Supermarket shopping ones, the type you used to get for free, are perfect: light, gusseted, easy to wrap compactly (as shown to me by Nicola, many decades ago). I pack my clothes in them to keep them dry and organised – I don’t bother with drysacs. I put my boots in them when I’m travelling in sandals. Dirty clothes are corralled on them, and wet weather gear kept separate from dry before and after use.
Ditto for ziploc bags. I put my passport and important docs (permits, insurance details, flight confirmation and boarding passes etc) into one to keep the paperwork dry in my backpack. I keep my mini first aid kit in one in my daypack and use one to keep ready money (notes) dry and handy in a trouser pocket. Likewise they protect photos of family I take to show to the folks we meet on trek, and our crew. Handy for sweets and snacks too.
- Berghaus Goretex Jacket
- Mammut Waterproof Trousers
- Rab Latok Alpine Gaiters
- Uniqlo Hooded Pocketable Parka
My Goretex jacket was a reduced end of season purchase from Cotswold Outdoor many moons ago. It’s a man’s jacket – who can tell? Does it even matter? It’s red. I like red. I don’t like pinks or pastels.
My waterproof trousers were another purchase from Bim’s a few seasons ago. Previously I wore a 50 yuan pair which were an emergency purchase made in Saga during 2010’s Tibet trip. About a foot too short, but they worked.
Gaiters – yes, A Brand. High End Kit. A present from TJBR. My previous pair were Trekmates, but they had a habit of wrinkling down around my ankles, Nora Batty style. My calves don’t offer much to hang on to.
I wear my Uniqlo jacket more often than any of the other items. It keeps the rain off provided it’s not a downpour, helps keep the wind out, and packs small and light -easy to grab out of my daypack top pocket.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Womens Hiking Boots
- Merrell Siena Walking Sandals
This Salomon model has been my go to boot for years. I’ve long narrow feet, and Salomons fit. A bit of ankle support, a light boot, Goretex waterproofing. A pair usually lasts a couple of years before the grippiness of the sole goes (as I learned on my Urus descent) and/or the Goretex splits by the balls of my feet. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that trekking boots are not boots for life. I refuse to buy them in pink.
I also take a pair of outdoor sandals for walking around camp and before/after the trek. I’ve only ever had one pair – they were a birthday present and are still going strong after 10 years of heavy use. I had to look up the name as Merrell don’t make them any more. As/when I buy a replacement pair, I’ll go for ones without the toe loop. I’ve had to glue it back into the base a few times, but more importantly a toe loop makes it tricky when it comes to socks. My solution is tabi split toe socks, which I get from Muji. Socks and sandals is not A Look. But it’s warm and prevents bites.
- Uniqlo Heattech T shirts
- Gelert Terrain Trousers
- Lightweight Fleece
- Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket
- Clean clothes for the end of the trek
Uniqlo Heattech T shirts serve as my base layer. I have 2 grey ones, which you’ll see in pretty much every photo of me on trek. They’re men’s, and Uniqlo has stopped doing them in grey, sadly. [Update: They’re back!] Cotton gets smelly, the Heattech fabric doesn’t. It also dries quickly, although I rarely wash kit while out on trek. That said, at lower altitudes at the start of the trek I’ll often wear the t-shirt I travelled out in, and similarly at the end I’ll sometimes wear a bog standard cotton t-shirt, loose-fitting; it depends on the route. I work on wearing 1 t-shirt a week.
My beloved Gelert Terrain Women’s trousers were bought many, many years ago based on a good online review that mentioned the reviewer was slim and long legged, same as me. Lightweight with zip pockets on the side thigh, handy for lip screen, small sunscreen, small amount of ready money in a ziploc bag (I use the ones that your inflight cutlery comes in) as well as normal pockets which are home to my manky hanky and, occasionally, my camera. I wish Gelert still made them.
On my first few treks I took several pairs of trousers, no particular brand, so that I could have a new pair each week and to serve as dry spares in the event of rain, and in thicker fabric for higher altitudes. I’ve come to realise that 1 pair will often suffice. Yes they get dusty and dirty. If the opportunity arises I’ll give them a wash (usually more of a rinse) and sport my pyjama trews around camp while they dry. Depending on the trek, I will take a heavier pair for colder weather / higher altitudes – or as a clean pair at the end of the trek if that comes before returning to Kathmandu / Huaraz.
I’ve had a range of lightweight fleeces over the years, most recently I’ve been using another purchase from Bim’s in KTM, a red ‘Mammut’.
My Uniqlo down jacket is purple; reduced in an end of season sale (Spotting a theme yet?). Again, lightweight and packs small. Val lends me a heavier one for higher altitudes which is very welcome early morning, but too much once the sun is up. I’ll wear my Uniqlo one on colder days, and colder evenings particularly if we’re eating “inside” a bare building rather than in the dining tent or in a lodge.
No shorts, note. Cultural sensitivity factor in Nepal, and I’ve never bothered in Peru. I do have a pair of Mountain Warehouse Trek II shorts which have hiked in the Accursed Mountains of Albania and in the Picos de Europa. And around Herefordshire, London and the Sunshine Coast.
At the end of the trek, there is nothing better than a shower, a hair wash and clean clothes from top to toe. Ideally these stay in KTM / Huaraz, but I’ve been known to carry them for the whole trek if that’s not possible.
- M&S knickers
- M&S bras
- Bridgedale lightweight socks
- Icebreaker merino socks
- Icebreaker merino long johns
- Icebreaker merino thermal top, 200 gsm
- Uniqlo Heattech top, long sleeved
- PJ bottoms & T shirt top
Pants can last 3 days; bras a week. M&S knickers, M&S bras. Avoid cotton bras as daily sweat accumulates and makes them clammy and smelly. The poly ones cope better.
I take two types of socks – Bridgedale lightweight hiking socks and Icebreaker merino socks, 2 pairs of each. I use the Icebreakers higher up, but often they make my feet too hot.
Thermals. As I’ve mentioned, my body runs hot, and I tend to feel the cold less than others. I take the Icebreaker merino long johns I bought for Annapurna. Inevitably they’re not quite long enough, and I can’t remember when I last wore them. I really don’t like the flowery design on them, but who’s going to see that? If it’s cold, I tend to wear my waterproof trousers as they keep the wind out and are easier to get off.
Similarly I have a 200 gsm Icebreaker thermal top. Last worn crossing the Renjo La. FAR too hot once the sun was up. And again, not something I could take off without baring all. The layer I use most often when things get cold is another men’s Heattech top from Uniqlo – long sleeved this time.
I could probably get away with wearing pants and a T shirt in bed, but I like a pair of pyjama bottoms, especially when nipping out for an al fresco or venturing further afield to the loo tent.
Poles and Other Paraphernalia
- Star Rover trekking poles
- Mauser penknife
- Muji water bottles
- Julbo sunglasses
- Buff, gloves, hats
- Digital watch with alarm
- Petzl Tikka headtorch
I did my first big trek – the Annapurna Circuit – without poles. Never again!!! They are invaluable on steep downhills and stream crossings. My current pair are Star Rover, and this pair have served me well in Dolpo, Ladakh, off the beaten track in the Khumbu and on the Manaslu Circuit, in Albania and in the Picos. Most importantly they are long enough – I am 175cm tall and usually set them to 135cm. The only thing I’d look for next time is a pair that packs smaller. This pair are 70cm when collapsed – Leki et al are much the same – which is pretty much the height of my Karrimor rucksack, so I have to remember to pack them first. I’m not good at getting out my poles on trek. As my knees start to show their age, I need to get better.
My mum bought me a Mauser penknife for my 17th birthday. Invaluable. Two blades, a hack saw, a bottle/tin opener, corkscrew and hoof pick. I use the blades the most.
I take a pair of Muji 750ml Zigg-style waterbottles on every trip, occasionally packing a further 1l waterbottle from Blacks as back up. The body get hot when full of boiling water, so I’ve tied string through the bottle tops for easy carrying between the kitchen tent and dining tent / room, and dining tent/ room and sleeping bag. A waterbottle full of hot water at night doubles up as an excellent hot water bottle. One at the bottom of the bag for my feet, one in the middle to keep my body warm. Both wrapped in some clothes to start off with if they’re boiling hot. Don’t be misled into thinking I only drink 1.5l a day – I drink gallons at meal times. I find drinking plenty helps me to acclimatise, and to avoid headaches.
I take two pairs of sunglasses – one M&S vanity pair for lower altitude, UV category 3, and a pair of Julbo Explorer mountaineering glasses for higher altitudes and snow. I don’t like the style, but eyesight is priceless. My Julbos were reduced end of season stock from Cotswold a few years ago.
Generic fleece hat and gloves, plus an Aldi merino buff, go into my daypack every day, as does a sun hat. The last has been a surprisingly tricky item to find, but only because I got fussy about finding one that I liked. I’ve sported a full brim cheapie from Peru in the past, but prefer a cap as I thread my ponytail through the back. I’ve used an M&S lightweight peaked men’s sunhat for a few years. It packs small but the colour is a bit insipid. British Heart Foundation has come up trumps this spring, with a khaki green cap that’s coming to Nepal in November. I’ve got a pair of Mountain Equipment Mountain Mitts, purchased after the cold start to our Three High Passes to Everest trek. Rarely worn, but they are definitely coming along next month too when, all being well, I’m going over 6000m for the first time.
The £10 Casio digital watch that travelled the world with me and Hazel 1997-1999 is still going strong. The straps have long gone, and I keep it in a trouser pocket during the day, and in my sleeping bag pocket during the night – or on the bedside table when we’re in hotels / guesthouses. I keep the watch on 24hr clock and set the alarm accordingly. I don’t want to repeat my Ankor Wat sunrise mishap again.
I carry my headtorch in my daypack and keep it within reach in the tent overnight, and wear it to/from the dining room / tent in the evenings. My Petzl Tikka does a great job, although not as bright as newer models. I keep a spare set of batteries in my kitbag, in an old camera film container.
Toiletries, First Aid & Health
Toiletries always take up more room than you’d expect! Even with travel size bottles.
- Solid deodorant – seen too many roll on ones “pop” at altitude
- Toothpaste – a travel / sample size tube, or the tail end of a normal tube
- Toothbrush – in toothbrush case
- Wet wipes – for the daily morning “wash”. Make sure they are biodegradable.
- Washcloth – helps to clean off the suncream, and for an occasional body wash in the tent vestibule. I keep it in a ziploc bag, so that I can pack it when still wet, together with a sliver of soap.
- Microfibre cloth – works as a towel for face and body wash
- Antiseptic hand gel – I carry a small bottle in my daypack and move it into the tent pocket overnight. Val’s food hygiene on trek is second to none, but I’ll use gel after loo trips and house visits.
- Sunscreen and lipscreen – factor 30, minimum
- Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream – a life saver for cracked lips, cuts and grazes, sunburn
- Moisturiser – Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Deep Moisture Body Lotion, decanted into a small bottle.
- Hairbrush. Comb. Elastic hair bands – I’ve long hair which I wear in a ponytail when I’m trekking. This keeps it under control when the wind gets up, and I loop my ponytail through my sun cap, which keeps my neck cool and my hat on.
- Shampoo & conditioner – I’ll take a sachet of each for the end of trek shower. Sample sachets from magazines are perfect, or you can easily buy sachets in Nepal and Peru. I’m not a brand person.
- Nailclippers (sometimes) and nail file (always) – a snagged nail is a pain, literally if you end up catching it and ripping a huge chunk away from the nail bed. Not to mention snagging sleeping bag / down jacket fabric.
- Tampons, and plastic disposal bags – Just in case. A multi-week trek in tough conditions can play havoc with your cycle. If there’s no means of disposing of them en route, I pack them in and I pack them out.
Val and Steffi carry more extensive first aid kits than I do, but I always make sure I have a grab bag at the top of my daypack with the following:
- Plasters – I prefer a few different width fabric strips
- Antiseptic – 2 x wipes
- Paracetamol (headaches, especially at altitude) – 1 strip
- Ibruprofen (general aches) – 1 strip
- Antihistamine pills – 1 strip
- Immodium – 1 tablet
- Rehydration sachet – 2 x, for dehydration due to sweating as much as diarrhoea
- Diamox – prescription tablets in a smaller ziploc bag
- Compeed – 2 x
In my kit bag, I have plenty more of all of these (except the Diamox), plus:
- Aspirin – 3 mini tablets for the journey home. Being at altitude thickens your blood, and going straight to a long haul flight isn’t ideal in terms of DVT risk. A mini Aspririn a day in the run up to the flight home thins the blood
- Vitamin C fizzy tablets – a tangy citrus alternative to black tea
- Mosquito repellant – if necessary
No sleeping bag etc?
I do have a 3 season sleeping bag – a North Face Superlight – but I usually borrow one of Val’s expedition ones, or a sleeping bag provided by the trek operator. The person running the trek knows how cold it’s likely to get overnight. Plus borrowing/hiring one keeps a bulky item out of my rucksack for the journey out and back.
Thermarest – ditto. I borrow or it comes as part of the trek. I do always have one though, and would opt for robust over lightweight. I’ve shared tents with Thermarest NeoAirs, and they rustle and have been prone to leaks.
Sheet sleeping bag – I made my own sheet sleeping bag out of lightweight cotton a few years ago, primarily to have one long enough. It’s got a “pillow” pocket at the top, into which I shove my fleece jacket overnight to serve as a pillow.
So that’s it, at least as far as “kit that gets reviewed” goes, and my current preferences / habits. They may well change. My choices have certainly evolved over time.
Also, obviously, I do take more things with me – camera, camera batteries and memory card, phone and charger (usually left at the hotel), postcards and envelopes to go with the tips, a book to read etc.
And finally, for those who know me it will come as no surprise to learn that I have my full kit list “starter for 10” as an Excel spreadsheet. I print out the list and tick off the items as I pack, and add tweaks after each trip. You never stop refining your kit….