HERE’S A LOOK inside my Annapurna Sanctuary trekking pack. The idea is to cover everything you need for a trekking adventure, as well as mentioning some things you’re probably better off leaving at home.
Total pack weight: 22 lbs.
5 non-cotton shirts
As the saying goes, cotton is rotten, and anything that is quick drying and wicks away moisture is going to be your best bet. As for how many to pack, I would recommend taking your total number of days trekking and divide by 2.5. You don’t need a shirt for every day. There are plenty of places to give a shirt a good rinse along the way, and if you’re walking off into the woods not expecting to get a little smelly, you probably shouldn’t be walking off into the woods in the first place.
2 long sleeve shirts
Common wisdom says long sleeve shirts keep you warm when it’s cold out. If you’re from somewhere like England and only see the sun an average of 9 days per year, however, you know that long sleeve shirts have a second use as a great way to keep the sun from burning you to a crisp. Again, skip the cotton long sleeve that’s just going to absorb your sweat and stink up your room and replace it with a lightweight, breathable polyester one. If you’re without, you can pick up a knockoff North Face one in Kathmandu for about $3.
You’re going to be crossing streams, climbing stairs, and navigating soggy open meadows on an active adventure like this one. Do your feet a favor and go a step beyond basic running shoes. Be sure they are broken in well beforehand and are capable of getting wet and still keeping your feet dry.
Trekking pants are ideal, although I’ve personally always been partial to jeans. Regardless of what you bring, I wouldn’t bring more than one pair. I recommend hiking in shorts most of the time since you’re body heats up while trekking and ultimately pants will make you hot and sweaty. Also, pants take up space in your pack, and you can wear them even when they’re dirty.
Patagonia capilene-3 long underwear
These are one of the most important items in my pack. They make great pajamas in warm climates, and they’re invaluable to wear under layers once you get up at altitude. The Patagonia capilene style is quick drying and easy breathing, and I tend to lean towards a thickness of 3 out of 4 for enhanced versatility. They keep the sun off you in warm weather, and they keep the chill away from you in the cold.
1 pair of boardshorts
Shockingly, out of 12 trekkers on the Adventure Center trip, I was the only one who thought to bring a bathing suit. Although you’re heading into the Himalayas, resist the urge to pack like Sir Edmund Hillary. A lot of the Annapurna Sanctuary trail passes through dense, warm rainforest, making the shorts a preferable hiking option. Also, the boardies can really come in handy for cooling off in a river or enjoying the various natural hot springs along the trail.
After a long day of trekking, your feet don’t want to be in shoes. They want to breathe. I carry my sandals with me on the trail so I can slide into them on a lunch break or if I decide to swim in the river. Also, a lot of people tend to “miss their target” when it comes to squat toilets, which makes foraying into the bathroom with shower type footwear a preferable option.
Ideally separate from your winter jacket, I am partial to thin, waterproof rain jackets with a hood that serve the basic task of keeping you dry. If you need added warmth, wearing a fleece or thermal long-sleeve shirt under the rain jacket will do the trick, whereas packing along a two-in-one fleece and rain jacket is simply impractical for trekking in the heat of the jungle.
Honestly, I never used these on the October Adventure Center trek. They take up a lot of space, and they’re impractical at lower altitudes where it’s simply too hot for long pants. If trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary, rarely is it cold enough to warrant long pants where boardshorts wouldn’t do just as well in the event of rain. If climbing over Thorung La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit, however, I would definitely still pack the pants.
3-4 pairs REI socks
You want good trekking socks that are going to wick the moisture away from your feet. Blisters are no fun, and although no one likes smelly socks, bringing a new pair for each day is overkill. There are plenty of places along the way to wash socks and hang them in the sun to dry.
BackpackOsprey Fairpoint 70 liter backpack
If you’re touring with an arranged group this really isn’t that necessary as all tour companies provide duffel style kit bags that make the transport easier on the porters. If you’re packing your own weight, however, I highly recommend the Osprey for its zip open ease of access and practical simplicity. There aren’t 1001 mystery straps on the outside, and the weight is evenly distributed for a long uphill trek. After many packs and many miles walked, this Osprey is the best I have found.
I’ve had this bag for 5 years running and it’s still getting the job done. If you’re hiking solo you shouldn’t require a large daypack because you’ll have everything on you, but if you’re having porters carry your belongings there are still a few items it’s nice to always have on you.
While many larger backpacks such as the Osprey are now coming with detachable daypacks, while trekking you want to make sure that your daypack is practical enough to cover the essentials you’ll need for the day. These should include a rain jacket, two bottles of water, your camera, a pair of sandals, towel if you’re swimming, basic first aid kit, wallet/passport, book, or any other personal effects.
Packing alert: Be sure to pack your multitool in your checked luggage, lest the airport personnel be gifted a new toy.
If you spend more than 2 nights/year camping or in the outdoors, do yourself a favor and invest in a nice sleeping bag. In Annapurna you’re going to be spending every night in it, and you want one that you’re going to look forward to crawling into at night. I highly recommend going with a mummy style where you can complete cocoon yourself in warmth, as well as going with an extra wide bag that keeps your cocoon from feeling like a coffin.
A bag rated for 20 degrees should be sufficient for most trekkers, with a 0 degree bag the protection of choice for those who like to get a little more extreme. At lower altitudes a 20 degree bag will in fact be too hot, which is why you want to be sure to pack along a basic…
Sleeping bag liner
Invaluable in warmer climates, having a liner is basically like having a Diet Sleeping Bag. Hardly takes up any room in your bag, is essential when needing to provide your own linens, and unless you want to sweat it out at all night when it’s 90 degrees in the lowlands, a far more comfortable option than going with a full-sized bag.
Tip on adaptors: If you have, say, a 12 hour layover in Hong Kong and want to use your laptop, that’s a different adaptor than in Nepal. Be sure to pack adaptors for ALL countries you’ll be visiting on the trip. Or just hook yourself up with an international, universal adaptor and you’re set.
Special note on electronics: Electronics don’t particularly enjoy being subjected to the change in pressure and temperature from sea level to nearly 14,000 ft. Our group had a number of Kindle’s and E-readers crap out due to the altitude. One of those things you just might not think of.
Again, do yourself a favor and get a good one that has a long battery life and packs a serious amount of lumens. If you think you’re winning by saving $10 on the $9.99 cheap-o special, when you’re squinting to see the trail because your 6 hour bus ride turned into 11 and now you need to hike 2 hours in the dark on a slippery, knife-thin ridgeline, I can assure you that you are not, in fact, winning.
The saving grace of anyone who has ever set foot in a hostel, an airplane, a bus, or any place where you’re just trying to get some damn sleep. If with a tour group you most likely are going to be a sharing a teahouse room with another person, who to be realistic, will probably snore. Also useful for blocking out roosters, crying babies, or bad karaoke music on a bus.
REI microfiber towel (or a handkerchief)
Taking 15 minutes to bathe beneath the cool waters of a Nepalese waterfall on a hot day is one of the little pleasures found within the mountains. Skip the cotton towel, however, as we all know cotton takes forever to dry. Instead, pop for either a quick drying microfiber towel, or, in a pinch, an easily rung out bandana has a surprising sopping capability.
First aid kit
If you’re trekking with an organized tour like Adventure Center, they are going to provide a first aid kit (with oxygen for the higher elevations), but it’s always a good idea to be self-sufficient.
While I could explore in depth the recesses of my first-aid kit, I would place as the essentials an ace bandage for any twists or sprains, immodium or some other sort of antidiarrheal, iodine wipes for any cuts/scratches, band aids, ibuprofen, moleskin for any blisters, and perhaps a high-altitude medication such as Diamox if you are concerned about altitude sickness.
Large ziplock bags
Organizational and practical, you’ll be happy your toiletries are in a Ziploc when your deodorant, toothpaste, or shampoo invariably explodes. Also makes great storage for smelly socks, paperwork, and medicinal pills, though preferably not all together.
Extra camera battery and extra memory cards
If you’re shooting with an SLR camera, the jaw-dropping scenery is going to rob you of battery life and space on your card. When the highest mountains in the world are sprawled outside your doorstep and thousand foot waterfalls appear from out of nowhere, you have a way of snapping a lot of photos.
Since Annapurna is a teahouse trek there are options for resupplying on snacks every couple of hour or so. Types of snacks available on the trail include Pringles, Snickers Bars, sodas, and Ramen noodles. Those which are not available are protein bars, electrolyte powders, multivitamins, or anything that has remotely anything to do with health. Know your own needs and pack accordingly.
REI pack covers
Compression sack for sleeping bag and winter jacket
Unrestrained, a sleeping bag and a puffy winter parka could potentially fill up your entire bag. Reign in these expansive monsters with a basic compression/stuff sack to maximize the packing potential while on the trail.
Nepalese phrase book
More symbolic of making an attempt to learn the culture than an absolute necessity, it’s still nice to be able to drop a “Hello”, a “Thank you” or an “I’m sorry but meat that’s been left in the sun has a tendency to make me vomit. Could I possibly just have the rice?” Nearly all villagers along the trek will understand a decent amount of English, though making an effort to converse in the local language is always the responsible method of travel.
These are pretty straightforward. No one likes a sunburn. Remember to bring protection for your lips, as well as lip moisturizer for the higher, drier altitudes.
Life Straw water filter/Iodine pills
So the water issue on the trail is a big one. As you move up the mountain, the glacially fed stream and tap water does in fact get cleaner. The locals drink from the community tap, and it’s 50/50 that you’ll be completely fine. Most teahouses will boil water for you to kill any bacteria, and it’s not a bad idea to carry iodine tablets or your own personal water filter, such as my personal preference, the $19.95 LifeStraw.
Realistically, however, plastic water bottles are sold at every village along the trail, with the main downside being that it simply creates a lot of unnecessary plastic waste and is bad for the environment. Better yet to carry…
2 Nalgene style or metal water bottles
Yes. Two water bottles. Not one. Two. You’re going to get thirsty trekking, and 1 simply isn’t enough. Plus, if your water has just been boiled and is a refreshing 180 degrees Fahrenheit, having a backup that’s already cooled down or that’s left over from the day before is a nice option to have. Best bet if boiling water is to rotate the two so as to always have one that’s drinkable.
Cell phone with Nepalese SIM card for calling guesthouses
Again, if you’re part of a group tour like Adventure Center, the leaders are going to have made the reservation ahead of time for a room in one of the teahouses. If you are independently trekking during high season, however—and I saw this happen to a lot of people—it’s very likely you will arrive in a village with nowhere to sleep.
Along the Annapurna Sanctuary trail there is solid cell coverage the entire way, and having the capability to phone ahead and make a reservation (numbers are prominently displayed in the surrounding villages) could save you from having an unwanted night under the stars at 13,000 ft.
Once you get to a village for the night there really isn’t that much to do, so being able to kick back with a cup of tea and dive into a good book is a relaxing way to enjoy the remarkable scenery.
Great for cold weather and for those who walk with trekking poles or a stick. Be sure to get ones that are breathable (such as biking gloves), lest they accumulate moisture and give you the blisters you were trying to avoid.
Stash of Nepalese rupees
Once you begin trekking there are no more ATM’s or credit card vendors, so cash becomes the de facto way of paying for anything. If you’re going to be back on the trail for 2 weeks or so, this means you’re going to need a fair amount of cash up front. A good estimate is 1500-2000 rupees/day ($15-20) if you’re with a group and accommodation has been paid for, and 2500-3000 rupees/day ($25-$35) if you’re paying out of pocket for rooms as well.
Unarguably cheaper and decidedly more rustic, there’s nothing wrong with packing your own tent along the way if you’re on a budget. Many teahouses offer tent camping from about $2-$3/night, although there’s a decent chance you’ll be in the stable of next to a pile of smoldering trash.
Thermarest sleeping pad
Even if you have a room in a guesthouse, some of the beds can definitely be a little hard. If you have a bad back or simply need a little more padding than a two inch piece of foam spread out over plywood, consider packing a compressed sleeping pad.
Ah, the much loved and loathed trekking poles. It seems that more and more people are beginning to swear by these massively overpriced carbon fiber and titanium curiosities. Some people swear by them, particularly those who aren’t as nimble on their feet anymore, but personally, I think they’re biggest gimmick since pet rocks. Many will cry foul at this, but tell me the last time you’ve seen a local guide using trekking poles.
I’m more partial to simply using a (dead) stick pulled from the forest, although you should shy away from purchasing wooden walking sticks that have been cut off of trees as it greatly contributes to deforestation.
Unless you want to go real traditional and utilize the left hand at the squat toilet, you’re going to need some toilet paper. If you forget to pack it however, don’t fret, as you can buy it for less than $1/roll at every village you come across.
Want to go on your own adventure? Adventure Center’s Annapurna trek is just one of more than 2,000 itineraries around the world. Learn more on their website.
[Note: The author is a Matador Traveler-in-Residence participating in a partnership between MatadorU and Adventure Center. During 2011/12, Adventure Center is sponsoring eight epic trips for MatadorU students and alumni.]