The most stressful part of trekking to Everest Base Camp wasn’t the actual trek – it was figuring out what to pack.
Oh sure, they give you packing lists – but they’re a bit generic and over the top, and they don’t explain why you need each thing on the list, so that you can decide if your needs may be different. Having completed the hike, here’s what I took/wish I took, and what I left behind/wish I’d left behind.
Keep in mind that this is for trekking with a sherpa and porters (with Intrepid) and staying in teahouses – in March/April. It may be colder/warmer at other parts of the year. Despite having sherpas, I carried as little as possible because I didn’t want mine to suffer, and because it made things easier to find.
- Your Pack(s): I have a great rucksack, but since I was trekking with Intrepid, we were given bags – the porters each carry three bags, which they’ll tie together and strap to themselves, so if you’re going with an organisation, don’t worry about your pack. If you’re not, get one that’s really well fitted to you – I spent a few hours carrying one of our guides’ packs, so I know how important it is that it’s properly adjusted to avoid ending up with aching shoulders and hips.
- Bag liner or strong garbage bag: Even though you may be given a bag, it’s probably not waterproof, and if it snows, your things will get wet. If you don’t have a liner, just use a strong garbage bag.
- Daypack: You’ll wear this all day, so you want something super comfortable, with shoulder and belly straps to help distribute the weight. Go for something water proof, not only in case of rain/snow, but also because when you stop for breaks you’ll want to take off your pack and the ground will probably be moist. I kept my water bottle, medicines and snacks (for the day) in here, then would add in my scarf, gloves, rain jacket and down jacket as I pulled them off, so you want to make sure it can fit all those things in.
- Reusable Shopping Bags: The easiest way to find things in your bag is if you divide them up into different coloured reusable shopping bags – I had one for socks, one for underwear, one for thermals, and one for my hiking gear. You don’t want to spend much time unpacking/repacking because it’s freezing in the bedrooms, and you already have to be up really early, and this makes finding things so much easier.
- 7 sets of underwear: This probably seems like a lot, but underwear is so light and doesn’t take up much space. Some people suggest just turning them inside out and rewearing them, but on the trek you get ridiculously sweaty, and putting on clean underwear is just such a nice feeling (plus you can get thrush otherwise). You don’t have many chances to wash them, especially closer to base camp where there isn’t running water, so you want to use every opportunity you have to wash as much as you can. I had synthetic underwear, which may not be as comfortable as cotton, but was super quick drying – useful in subzero temperatures.
- 4 pairs of trekking socks: My feet were usually the coldest part of me, and although they’d warm up once we started walking, they’d get cold again whenever we stopped for a break. I almost always wore 2 pairs of socks at once – proper, thick trekking socks that wick away moisture, regular socks won’t do – and I’d cycle them around. When you’re not using them, let them dry out, and put some baby powder in them to prevent them from smelling.
- 2 quick dry short sleeved shirts and quick dry pants that zip off into shorts: The nights (and early mornings and evenings) may be freezing, but it gets super warm when you start walking – more than warm, really, you get disgustingly hot – so you want to be able to strip down to the bare minimum. Getting quick dry clothes is important because they wick away moisture so that they don’t get sticky and uncomfortable, and more importantly, your sweat won’t cause them to freeze.The best way to dress is to wear these as your base layer, and then put on the fleece, down jacket and rain jacket on top – you’ll take them all of at the first break, but they’ll get you out of bed and through breakfast. My pants were especially amazing – they weren’t water resistant, but they turned out to be water repellent (I think most of the regular trekking zip-off pants are), so they didn’t get wet any of the days that it was snowing.
- 2 sets of thermals (full length leggings and long sleeved tops): I usually just wore my thermals to bed. The best way to do it is to baby-wipe yourself down and switch into your thermals as soon as you get to your tea house in the evening, because it gives your clothes more time to dry out, and your body more time to produce warmth before it gets really cold. You can also bring something to wear over the thermals but I just wore my fleece and down jacket over the top, and would layer on both the bottoms.Some people suggest wearing thermals while trekking but most of the experienced trekkers I met advised against it – they just make you overheat. I only wore my thermal leggings while trekking once – on the day after base camp, when it was snowing heavily and really windy.
- Double Fleece: A double fleece is not only warmer than a single one, but they’re also usually reversible – which is also great because that means having internal and external pockets.
- Down jacket with hood: Mainly for use in the mornings and evenings, although you’ll want to carry this in your day pack because you cool down very quickly when you stop for breaks.
- Rain jacket: You obviously need this in case of snow or rain, but it’s also a great wind breaker.
- 1 pair of gloves: You want some gloves that are warm, water resistant and dexterous enough that you don’t have to take them off whenever you need to use your hands.Some people suggest buying two pairs – and I’d bought two – but I only used my liner gloves: I’m one of those people whose fingers are usually super sensitive to cold (I wear gloves ice skating), but they get so warm when you’re walking and you can put your hands in your pockets, like the Sherpas do (most don’t wear gloves).
- Scarf: I cannot stress enough the comfort in having a good, warm scarf. Apart from stopping the cold from getting down your shirt and keeping your neck warm, get a nice wide one so you can wrap it around your whole head (useful when it’s windy) and put it over your nose to help moisten the air you’re breathing in (the low humidity at altitude can dry out your mucus membranes and make it hard to breathe).
- Beanie: Your head gets really cold, and it’ll ache if you don’t have a really good beanie. Make sure you get one that’s meant for sub-zero temperatures, you’ll need it.
- Hat: At some points while walking it does get too hot for a beanie, and you need to switch into a hat – the snow reflects the sun, remember, so protection’s really important if you don’t want a sunburnt scalp. I got a great little Columbia one which folds up and has an adjustable strap so it doesn’t get blown off.
- Sunglasses, with case: As with the hat, important because snow blindness is a real possibility while trekking. Make sure they’re polarised, and have a case to keep them from getting crushed when not in use. A lot of people make a fuss saying that you should take extra pairs in case one breaks, but really, you can buy them all along the way in case of an emergency.
- Hiking boots: Waterproof and well worn in. Boots give you more stability than hiking shoes, and if they’re waterproof and tied up nicely, you won’t need gaiters to stop snow getting into your shoes and giving you wet socks and freezing toes.
- Flip flops or winter shoes: In the evenings you want to get out of your hiking boots because they’ll get sweaty and you need to let them air out and dry off to avoid getting bacterial or fungal infections. I wore my down booties most of the time, but you need something easy to slip on for when you go to the bathroom – the floor’s usually wet and dirty and you don’t want to get wet, dirty booties into your sleeping bag.
- Down booties: A friend had suggested I get some before I started the trek and I thought they would be an unnecessary luxury and just take up space. That was a mistake – my feet ached every night until we got to Namche, where they were the first thing I bought. They were great because I’d get to take my socks off and put them on instead, and I’d keep them on all night until it was time to get my hiking boots on again.
- Crampons: These are so dependent on the conditions, but our guide suggested we get them because it was meant to be really icy when we went. You know those awful bits of ice that you walk across really precariously, slipping and sliding the whole way and occasionally falling on your backside? With crampons you can just run and jump across them without having to worry.They make you feel invincible and they’re hella fun to use. They’re super easy to put on too – you just pull them over the bottom of your boots – and you can tie the bag to the outside of your day pack so they’re easy to access.
- Sleeping bag: I had read that most tea houses give you blankets, so thought I didn’t need a great sleeping bag. In reality, some will, but others might not have enough.The night is the coldest time – some nights my water would freeze in my bag – so you really want to have a proper, warm sleeping bag.
- Inner Sleeping bag: I had a silk liner, but for these temperatures you need a thermal liner (which I bought at Namche).
- Baby wipes: There aren’t showers at all the teahouses, and even when there are, they’re expensive, you have to be really quick, the water might not be hot, and it’s generally just not done. Instead, everyone uses baby wipes, which make you feel a lot fresher and stop you smelling quite as bad as you would otherwise.
- Hand sanitizer: sometimes there’s no running water to wash your hands after you’ve been to the bathroom. Hand sanitizer is an absolute necessity.
- Moisturizing cream: it’s so dry and cold, and when you’re constantly using baby wipes and hand sanitizer, your skin can get flaky and itchy. Having a little bottle of emergency moisturising cream – especially for your face – is a really good idea.
- Lip Balm: Preferably Lucas Papaw ointment because that stuff is like a magical cure-all (the tube says it can be used to treat minor burns and scalds, sunburn, gravel rash, cuts and minor open wounds, nappy rash and chafing, insect bites, and splinters and thorns). Your lips will dry and crack and bleed if you don’t use lip balm, and you’ll end up looking like The Joker.
- Sunscreen: again, sun protection is really important because the sun is reflected off the snow and it really burns – plus you’re at high altitude.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss: For obvious reasons.
- Hair ties (only if you’ve got long hair): your hair will whip around in the cold, dry wind, which will dry it out and tangle it up terribly. Tying it up in plaits stops that, and, unlike buns or ponytails, won’t be uncomfortable under a beanie or hat.
- Anti perspirant AND deodorant: You’re going for 13-15 days without showering – very sweaty days, wearing the same clothes again and again. This is super important. Roll on/spray antiperspirant, then use deo on your clothes to mask the accumulated stench.
- Tiny bottle of soap: You won’t get much chance to use this, but it’s good in case you do, and if you want to wash your face daily (which you can do with a water bottle).
- Microfibre towel: If you do get to wash your hands/face, you want to dry them ASAP because it’s too cold to leave them wet. Also, if you tried washing your clothes and they didn’t dry up, you can wrap them in the towel during the day, which will absorb some of the liquid and then you can try drying them again the next night, without them getting smelly from the damp. A microfibre towel is so much more lightweight and faster drying than a regular towel, definitely worth the investment.
- Baby powder: If your hair gets oily, you can use this as dry shampoo, and it’s also great to help dry out socks and stop shoes from smelling. With the socks you can just sprinkle some inside before putting them on, but with the shoes you’ll want to put some in at night to absorb the odour, then dust it out in the morning.
- Toilet paper: Get heaps of this because most places don’t give you toilet paper so you need enough for your whole trek. You can buy it along the way, of course, but it’s expensive, and given that it’s so light to carry it makes more sense to take some from the start.
- Water purifier: You need to purify all the water you drink. Tablets can be bought at any pharmacy in Nepal and don’t change the taste of the water at all, but do take half an hour to work.
- Tiger balm: great to rub on sore muscles, for headaches, and stuffed noses.
- Panadol and ibuprofen: painkillers
- Immodium and laxatives: Getting the runs and/or constipated at various points in the trek is common.
- Band aids, blister strips and antiseptic cream: in case of cuts or blisters.
- The Pill (for women): You don’t want to be menstruating on the trek.
- Book(s): You may think you don’t want a book but most people bring one and it’s lonely being the only person without something to read.
- Playing cards + plus the rules for various card games: this is what you spend most of your evenings doing, so you’ll to know (and be able to explain) the rules to as many games as possible to avoid boredom.
You want to keep your electronics to a minimum because the cold saps battery life incredibly quickly. I kept my ipod, external battery pack and phone in my inside pockets or sleeping bag at all times so that my body warmth would keep them from dying.
- Phone: I have a Samsung Galaxy S5, and I put it on flight mode, battery saving, and used an app called Easy Battery Saver. It lasted 13 days with me only using it as an alarm, torch and to take photos and videos, which was way longer than I expected. You won’t have reception and wifi is super exxy (and slow) in the few places that do have it, so that’s all you’ll use your phone for.
- External Battery pack or solar charger and charging cord: I had a Samsung battery pack and it charged my phone up to 100% after the 13th day. Charging your phone along the way is really expensive and slow so bringing your own power is definitely the way to go.
- mp3 player and headphones: Parts of the trek are really hard, and everyone’s too busy huffing and puffing to talk and your body just struggles along – having some music to play at those times, even in just one ear, really helps get you through.
Eating and Drinking
- Variety of teas: tea becomes more and more expensive as you go up, and they’ll usually only have black tea, chai, milk tea and maybe green tea. If, like me, you’re a tea person, it’s nice to bring some of your own Earl Grey, Russian Caravan, Jasmine and/or whatever varieties you like. It really warms you up and is so soothing; I drank copious amounts of tea each day because when you’re cold and tired and your throat is sore, it just picks you up like nothing else.
- Chocolate: get an assortment of these, because if you do like I did and just get Snickers, you’ll get sick of them very soon. Forget being healthy and abstaining – you’ll be so exhausted and hungry as you trek, that chocolate will seem almost supernatural in its ability to act as a pick-me-up.
- Nuts and Dried fruit: protein and energy.
- Canned food: There isn’t much variety with food on the trek, especially if, like me, you have any dietary limitations. I couldn’t eat gluten or lentils, so I just ate potatoes and rice for every meal. If you don’t eat the dal, you don’t get much fibre either, since they only root vegetables. Canned food is amazing for this – some salmon or fruit or veggies.
Other useful things
- Water bladder: There’s a magnetic piece that lets you keep the tube right next to your mouth, so you just have to bob your head to drink, without needing to stop and take out a water bottle.
- Water Bottle: When you refill your bladder, you have to wait half an hour for the water purifier to take effect, which means that you can’t drink for that time – having a spare water bottle comes in handy then, as well as when you’ve just been to the bathroom and there aren’t any taps from which to wash your hands, or when you want to rinse out your mouth after brushing your teeth.
- Carabiner: you can hang your crampons off your daypack with a carabiner, or use it to hang wet socks, which can dry off while you walk.
- Swiss Army Knife: use it to open cans, as a toothpick, to cut things – you can even use the scissors to cut your nails, and the file to file them.
- Tissues: or you can just use toilet paper
- Passport, TIMs card, money: have all the right permits and ID, and enough money to last the whole trek as there aren’t any ATMs or card machines on the way.
What I Went Without
- Poles: Mainly because I felt like it was really wasteful for the environment to buy these and never use them again when I could just pick up a stick along the way. A lot of people use them incorrectly too, and you have to be careful not to get hit by them (this happened a lot). However, they’re supposed to be good if you’ve got bad knees.
- Diamox: I got told that Diamox was pointless because it only got rid of some of the symptoms of mild altitude sickness but couldn’t treat severe altitude sickness, didn’t work above a certain altitude, and you still had to descend if you got altitude sickness anyway, even if you were taking Diamox. It has side effects too, so essentially you’re taking this pill just in case you get sick, even though you’ll still have to go back down if you do get sick. Besides which, you should be ascending slowly enough that you don’t get altitude sickness.
- Camera: I could not be bothered having to carry one and take it out each time, plus then you have to carry additional batteries and keep them warm. My phone took good enough photos for me, although I imagine those more photographically inclined will want something more.
- Head torch and batteries: I carried these, and didn’t use them because my phone torch was enough.
- Hand warmers: Another guy in our group bought these and never used them, our hands got warm very quickly when walking.
- Waterproof pants: My quick dry ones were water resistant anyway, so I never felt the need for waterproof pants. Besides, if it started to rain or snow midway through the day you could hardly change your pants in the middle of the trek anyway.
- Gaiters: Unnecessary if you wear hiking boots.
- Face mask: I know some people use these to deal with the dust, but pulling your scarf up works just as well, is easier to take off, and doesn’t look quite so strange.
- Shampoo and conditioner: you’re probably not going to wash your hair on trek.
Was there anything I missed?
Let me know if you agree/disagree with anything on my list!
Stay tuned for:
Trekking to Everest Base Camp Part 1: Meeting the group and flying to Lukla
Trekking to Everest Base Camp Part 2.1: Trekking
Trekking to Everest Base Camp Part 2.2: Teahouses, toilets, food and drink
Trekking to Everest Base Camp Part 2.3: The Villages