As Himalaya travel experts with years of experience in the region, we at Beyond The Clouds have had plenty of time to trial and error our packing styles. While the different regions of the Himalaya have different climates and conditions, there are many important similarities. When planning a trek in Nepal, Bhutan or Ladakh, it’s important that you pack properly. You don’t need to pack the kitchen sink, but under-packing or over-packing can both ruin a trip.
This advice assumes that you will be trekking with a porter to carry your bags. Our travellers always trek with porters as they make the trek much more comfortable, and hiring locals helps support local livelihoods.
It’s important to have a backpack rather than a suitcase for trekking. Even if you bring a suitcase as your main luggage to Nepal, Bhutan or Ladakh, you’ll also need a backpack for the trek because porters carry the bags themselves (and leave your suitcase at your Kathmandu/Pokhara accommodation).
A day pack
As well as your main bag that your porter will carry, you’ll still want to carry a day pack to carry all the things you’ll need while walking: a water bottle, your camera, a sweater/rain coat, etc. Make sure the straps are padded and comfortable. A good, comfortable day pack is worth the investment.
We recommend boots rather than shoes. The ground can be uneven when trekking in the Himalaya, and you can save yourself from rolling an ankle by having boots that firmly encase the ankles. Also bring spare laces, just in case, and break your boots in before your trek so you don’t get blisters, which can be debilitating.
You shouldn’t be trekking in these, but you will want a different pair of shoes to change into once you’ve arrived at your lodge.
Casual cargo pants in a quick-dry fabric x 2
The best choice are lightweight trousers with a few pockets to carry things you’ll need to keep handy, like tissue or a phone/small camera. Synthetic fibres are best, as they can be light enough to keep you comfortable during hot weather, and quick-dry. Don’t bring jeans.
Lightweight down jacket
Down is the best for trekking because it’s extremely light and won’t bulk up your bag. Wool is warm, but it takes up a lot of space.
Cotton seems like a great idea until you sweat and a wind picks up—then you freeze. This can even be dangerous if you’re caught in extreme weather. It’s also annoying to sweat through a t-shirt or to be rained on and for it not to be fully dry the next day because you’re at a high elevation with cold temperatures. The best shirts for trekking are made from a synthetic fabric and have long sleeves than can be rolled up, and a high collar to protect against sunburn.
A waterproof jacket
A simple raincoat will generally be fine, as peak trekking seasons in the Himalaya don’t generally coincide with the rainy season. But don’t take this as gospel, as it can rain out of season, especially in the mountains. Waterproof pants would be a good idea if you know there will be a lot of rain, but otherwise are not an essential item.
A merino wool base layer
These are necessary if you’re getting up above 3000 metres (and much lower if you’re trekking in the winter). Wool stays warm when it gets wet, either by sweat or rain, and merino is soft and light so doesn’t itch or feel bulky, as other wool might.
Re-wearing dusty, sweaty socks is not pleasant, so take a few pairs. On longer treks you can handwash them in a sink, especially if you arrive early and the sun’s still shining. Thick material is essential, because trekking boots can start to rub a bit with anything thin. (And an extra tip: when you go shopping for trekking boots, wear a pair of thick socks so you can check that the boots fit properly.)
It’s essential to preserve a change of clothes just for post-trek times in the afternoon and evenings. You will get dusty, sweaty and maybe even wet while walking. A long-sleeved cotton top, a light woollen jumper, and a pair of track pants are ideal. These can double as pyjamas.
A trekking pole
Trekking poles can save you from all kinds of mishaps. They help keep your balance when walking over uneven terrain and take strain off your knees when going down hill. Having two poles is ideal, but one will do. When purchasing, make sure the strap is comfortable around your wrist and doesn’t rub.
A waterproof poncho
If you’re met with a sudden downpour and your proper rain gear is packed away with the porter, a poncho can be thrown on over the top of everything and will keep you dry. Plus, if the weather is hot and humid, they can be more comfortable than a tight-fitting raincoat.
Even if it’s cold at high altitude, the sun will shine a lot of the time and you’ll need a hat. Handy fold-down caps are available in Kathmandu and Pokhara.
A woollen hat, scarf and gloves
At higher altitudes, you’ll definitely need these. There are lots of hand-knitted versions with ear flaps available in Nepal. You probably won’t get much use out of a scarf and gloves while you’re walking because you’ll generate body heat, but you’ll be glad of them once you stop for the night.
A bandana or light scarf
Many places are dusty, especially if you’ll be walking along or near a road. A bandana or scarf can be tied around your nose and mouth to keep dust out, as well as for protection against the sun.
Toilet paper is rarely provided in trekking lodges. If you’re not comfortable using the hand-and-water method, take your own paper and dispose of it in the bin next to the toilet.
Bottled water is available to buy in most areas, but constantly buying new bottles is environmentally problematic. Instead, take sturdy water bottle and a water purifier. Filtered water is available in most lodges, but sometimes you’ll need to refill water bottles from taps coming off the mountain, and while this is quite clean, it’s a good idea to purify it.
A comfortable head-torch will save you from stumbling around during night-time toilet trips, and will also enable you to relax with a book in your lodge at night, where the power might be intermittent. Find one with a comfortable elastic strap.
You may not be showering very much while trekking, but it’s still a good idea to have one with you. Quick-dry towls are better than the ordinary variety as they pack up smaller and, well, they dry quickly.
A few basics in sample sizes are a good idea while trekking. Shampoo bars are also ideal as they cut down on plastic waste. A lip balm and all-purpose moisturiser are essential while trekking. As is a good sunscreen. If you’re fair skinned it’s better to get these from home as varieties are limited in South Asia. Tampons and pads are available in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Leh (Ladakh) but it’s better to bring these from home as you will have more variety. Alternatively, a menstrual cup is an environmentally friendly option.
The sun can be very strong at high altitude, so glasses with strong UV protection are ideal.
Where to buy gear?
All essential items should be brought from home. Items like trekking boots should never be bought just before a trek, as they need to be properly worn in first. Failing to do so can lead to horrible blisters!
Other less essential items can be picked up in Kathmandu or Pokhara in Nepal, or Leh in Ladakh. We don’t recommend relying on picking things up in the shops in Bhutan, as these are not extensively stocked.