Independent Trekking in Nepal

Gearing Up for a Trek in Nepal, Packing Lists, Essential Items

Independent Trekking in Nepal
••• Independent trekking in Nepal can be very rewarding!. Greg Rodgers

Independent trekking in Nepal is highly rewarding, but gearing up to hit the Himalayas can be daunting. From permits and mountain flight to deciding what trekking gear and water-treatment solutions for life on the trail: a lot of preparation is necessary for a safe, successful experience.

Although hiring a trekking company eliminates some of the pre-trip stress, quality varies widely. The fate of your trip will depend heavily on the personality of your guide and how well you get along with the group.

Use this guide to get ready for your big trek. Even if you’ll be joining a tour, this trekking gear list for Nepal will still ensure a better experience on the trail. Read all about arriving in Kathmandu and what to expect.

Get Trekking Permits in Kathmandu

You’ll need a TIMS card (Trekkers’ Information Management System) and a permit for your trekking region -- either for Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park, Annapurna, or other national parks/regions. The Tourist Service Centre office issues permits and is located in Kathmandu around a 25-minute walk from the Thamel area.

Permits are processed on site, but the counters keep different hours. TIMS cards: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; for national park permits: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. closed on Saturdays. If you still need to get all of your permits, plan to arrive at the office by around 8:30 a.m. to have paperwork completed and be first in line when the counters open.

If trekking to Everest Base Camp, you'll need a TIMS card and permit for Sagarmatha National Park.

Costs for trekking permits in Nepal:

  • TIMS card: US $20
  • National park permits (one for each park you visit): US $30 each
  • Annapurna conservation area fee (only if going to this area): US $20

Permits for restricted areas such as Mustang are significantly more expensive and can be sorted case by case at the office.

What you’ll need:

  • Copy of passport (although, they may be willing to do it there)
  • Two passport photos
  • Currency to pay fees (U.S. dollars or Nepalese rupees)
  • A rough itinerary of where you’ll be trekking and for how long. This isn’t really scrutinized.
  • Lots of patience if the office is busy

Note: Sometimes solo trekkers are pressured not to go alone. Although safety is cited as the chief concern, money is often the motivation. The agents at the counters may even try to sell you a guide or tour from their family business.

Although technically you could wait and deal with getting your permits from the checkpoints while on the trail, make no mistake: you will be checked for one -- possibly more than once! Getting access to money while trekking can be a serious pain, you’ll need passport photos, and checkpoints may or may not have change. In the Annapurna region, you’ll be charged double for getting your permit on the trail.

Avoid potential hassle by obtaining necessary permits from the office in Kathmandu rather than once on the trail where you should be more concerned with getting to your next plate of dal baht!

Finding Trekking Gear in Kathmandu

Thamel is so full of dark, cramped trekking shops that choosing among them can be overwhelming.

Dusty gear, both used and new, hangs in crowded spaces. There are deals to be found, but you’ll have to dig for them. Some shop employees may not have very much patience to deal with your indecision. Prices are rarely listed, so you’ll need to haggle hard for gear touted as authentic when clearly it’s a cheap fake.

You’ll find a scattering of real outfitting shops selling authentic, brand-name gear side by side along Tridevi Marg in Kathmandu. Prices are pretty much the same -- or more expensive -- than those in Western stores such as REI.

Tip: Get as much of your gear as possible from the same shop. Making one bulk purchase rather than several small purchases on return trips will give you far more negotiating power.

Some larger, expensive gear can be rented far cheaper than it can be purchased.

Your deposit will be refunded minus a reasonable daily rental fee once you bring the items back in good condition. Fortunately, they don’t need to be laundered to be returned. Consider renting down jackets, sleeping bags, and tents if you need them.

Although the safest bet for variety is to purchase your gear in Kathmandu before heading to the mountains, Namche Bazaar and Pokhara have a lot of trekking gear -- both used and new -- for sale in a few proper shops and hodgepodge markets. Prices are even comparable to those in Kathmandu.

Gear Considerations for Trekking in Nepal

  • Hiking Boots: The single most important piece of gear on your Nepal trek are your hiking boots. For this reason, bring a good pair already broken in from home. Don’t risk the trek of a lifetime to fake boots that come apart or cause painful blisters that put a damper on the experience. New gel inserts (grab some at any pharmacy) will make a huge difference for your feet while walking on the hard, stony trails. Normally, cheap flip-flops work well in much of Asia, but not in this instance.
  • Drinking Bottles: Plastic Nalgene-brand bottles cost roughly the same or more as you would find in Western outfitting stores, but nearly all are fake. Only a laboratory could conclude if they really are BPA free as claimed. You’ll need the wide-lipped version if you intend to use a SteriPen to treat water.
  • Trekking Poles: Even if you don’t normally use trekking poles, consider carrying at least one. Poles take away an appreciable portion of knee strain and can also help you keep your balance when scrambling over loose scree. Poles can also come in handy for correcting an errant yak’s path or for discouraging a “frisky” dog. Cheap poles can be purchased for around US $5 each in Thamel; you can give them to a Sherpa when finished with them.
  • Microspikes: Those stretch-to-fit, miniature crampons come in handy when crossing snowy mountain passes and glaciers such as those on the infamous Three Passes Trek. Otherwise, you won’t really need microspikes on most days. Used microspikes are can be found for sale in Namche Bazaar.

Must-Have Items for Your Trek

Ensure that these items make it onto your trekking packing list for Nepal and into your pack.

  • Map: A trekking map for your region will come in handy, particularly for planning out elevation gains and visualizing the distance between villages. You’ll find maps for sale in shops and bookstores throughout Thamel. Don’t worry too much about the brand of map; they are all very similar and will do well enough.
  • Sun Protection: The thinner air at higher elevations encourages quick sunburn. Choose a higher SPF than usual and take a wide hat to better protect your face. Choose lip balm that doesn’t require a dirty finger to apply. You’ll definitely want polarizing sunglasses with UV protection to avoid eye damage; the fakes for sale in Kathmandu may not live up to the claim. The best way to protect your skin from the sun is to cover it; carry a lightweight windbreaker to block wind and sun on days when it’s too warm for a jacket.
  • Padlock: Most of the lodge doors have a mechanism that allows for your own lock. Using your own lock gives additional peace of mind and eliminates the need to deal with the ancient, hard-to-work locks that are often provided. See some other useful packing hacks.
  • Headtorch: Although any light source will work, you’ll often be without electricity and needing to pack, run to the toilet, or get an early start on a trail before dawn. A headtorch frees up hands for other things. The best ones are rugged and work on batteries that aren’t proprietary (any battery other than ‘AA’ will be difficult to find).
  • Sleeping Bag Liner: Some trekkers choose to carry a down sleeping bag, but even after compressed, they are bulky and weighty. Instead, consider carrying a sleeping bag liner (i.e., silk sleep sheet). The amount of body heat that builds inside the thin liners is impressive. You’ll certainly want something between yourself and the heavy, dirty blankets that are provided in lodges.
  • Blister Treatment: You should have a full travel first-aid kit that includes ibuprofen for sore joints after a day of walking. But perhaps the most important item you can add will be blister treatment (e.g., Moleskin, gel pads, etc). Even worn-in boots from home will create some blisters as you go up and down steep inclines. Choose a blister option that has plenty of padding. Take medical tape to better secure pads and Moleskin in place.
  • Toilet Paper: You won’t find any in lodges and will be forced to pay high prices for it.
  • Hand Sanitizer: No matter your views on the use of antibacterial products under ordinary circumstances, trekking in Nepal is one place you can really use hand sanitizer. Finding soap -- and often sinks or water -- is frustrating at elevation. Cleanliness is a serious challenge, and trekkers often suffer stomach problems because of dirty conditions.
  • Alternative Shoes: Take some lightweight sandals to wear when not on the trail -- you’ll be anxious to get those heavy, sweaty boots off of tired feet once you get to a lodge.
  • Pajamas: Lodge rooms aren’t heated; depending on the season, you may actually find ice in your bedside water bottle each morning. Consider bringing thermal underwear or a thin base layer dedicated only for sleeping so that you can get out of your dirty trail clothes at the end of the day.
  • Wet Wipes: Showers of all types, especially warm ones, cost money in lodges and aren’t convenient in the cold -- you’ll go long stretches without. Take a generous supply of wet wipes.

Small Items Not to Forget

  • Diamox tablets: Hopefully you won’t need to take medication for problems with high elevation, but having it is better than risking a bout of Acute Mountain Sickness. Lots of high-elevation trekkers do end up taking Diamox for a while to feel better. You can purchase Diamox in pharmacies, however, ensure that the pills are sold in a labeled strip rather than loose from a bottle. Sadly, some scammers sell aspirin or vitamins without packaging, claiming them to be Diamox.
  • Snacks: The power of trail snacks to boost energy levels and morale at high elevations can’t be touted enough. Even if you aren’t a “sweets” person at sea level, you’ll undoubtedly be craving sugar and simple calories while trekking. Snickers candy bars are the top pick for trekkers, and they can go for as much as US $6 each as you get higher in elevation! Take a combination of snacks: carry nuts for protein (most food in lodges tends to be starchy) and candy or dried fruits for the sugar boost. You’ll find lots of choices -- including locally made, all-natural granola bars -- in the supermarkets in Thamel.
  • Skin Protection: The dry air at high elevation really dries out skin, even to the point of damage. Without protection, cuticles and lips painfully crack. Consider bringing a small bottle of baby oil, Vaseline, or some other persistent moisturizer to protect exposed skin. Unfortunately, products made from coconut oil will solidify in cold temperatures.
  • Small Notebook: Using your phone for entertainment won’t be a viable option, and you’ll want to write down thoughts, observations, and suggestions learned from the people you meet in lodges. Pens brought from sea level often stop working at higher elevations; you may need to buy a new one.
  • Bandanna: Wearing it on your head is optional, but you’ll find many other uses for a simple bandanna. Some trails in the Himalayas are prone to windy dust storms; a bandanna works great for protecting your face.
  • Whistle: An emergency whistle should be easily accessible, not packed away in your bag. Pop-up whiteouts caused by clouds or snow happen frequently; travelers become lost every year. Read more about staying safe while hiking.
  • Foot Powder: A small bottle of talcum powder or baby powder is a huge help for keeping boots drier and odor free. Dust the inside of your boots, and optionally your socks, with powder before going to bed.
  • Small Change: Don't take a wallet full of large-denomination banknotes straight from the ATM in Kathmandu. Begin breaking those rupees into smaller and smaller denominations. While lodges may be able to break large denominations, small shops or cafes along the trail will have trouble finding change.
  • Drink Mixes: You'll be drinking more water than ever before. Consider adding electrolyte mixes to aid in staying hydrated. Plus, you'll welcome the different taste, particularly when drinking water that has been boiled.

See some tips for packing a backpack for your trip.

Choices for Water Purification

Although some trekkers do so, relying on purchased water for the duration of a trek is a bad idea. Prices certainly get higher as you do in elevation. You’ll be drinking way more than usual and will end up contributing significantly to the problem of plastic rubbish that has to be burned or packed out. Lodges will provide free tap water for you, but you’ll need a means to purify it. Boiled water can be purchased, however, it may or may not taste very good depending on the vessel used.

Iodine tablets are a popular choice for water purification, but the taste isn’t good and long-term use can have negative effects on health. Chlorine dioxide (either tablets or drops) are a good idea, don’t change the taste of water much, and yield safe water after the 30-minute wait time. Fakes do turn up, so consider bringing these from home.

Note: Cold water -- the water provided by lodges typically is very cold -- takes longer to treat than room-temperature water. Allow some extra time after adding solutions.

Even if you decide to carry a SteriPen (a device that uses ultraviolet light to purify water), consider bringing along a backup means of purification in case the device breaks or batteries go down in the cold.

Although some trekkers do drink directly from the cold, Himalayan streams, doing so is inherently risky -- particularly if there is a village upstream as there often is.

Carrying Electronic Devices on a Trek in Nepal

Be prepared for very erratic electricity while trekking and the cold drains batteries faster than usual. You won’t find power outlets in the rooms at the lodges; expect to pay as much as US $4 per hour to charge electronic devices. What’s worse, the charging is often a “trickle charge” done via solar, so even several hours at that rate won’t get the average smartphone very close to full charge.

Because charging devices is an expensive hassle, consider carrying at least one spare travel battery power pack; some have solar options. Choose gear with power requirements in mind (e.g., take a headtorch and camera that accept spare batteries rather than relying only on USB charging).

The persistent cold will wear out batteries faster than you can keep them charged. Put your spare batteries and phone in a bag or pouch that you can keep in your sleeping bag at night. The body heat will help them to keep more of a charge by morning.

Tip: Rather than agreeing to pay the hourly charging rate, you can often negotiate for a full charge. Doing so eliminates the possibility that a lodge continues to bill you despite your device no longer drawing a charge -- it happens. You can sometimes get away with paying the equivalent of two hours of charge time for a full charge, assuming you negotiate up front first.

Phone Access While Trekking in Nepal

Obtaining a Nepalese SIM card is a bureaucratic hassle (you’ll need passport copy, photos, and fingerprinting!) but 3G/4G can be enjoyed in places you wouldn’t even expect a phone signal. Ncell is the most popular carrier; 30-day packages that include 1 GB of data (less than US $20) are the way to go. Nano-SIM users will have to have a micro-SIM cut down to size. Ensure that your new SIM works before leaving the shop.

Wi-Fi is available in some lodges through the purchase of scratch-off cards, however, the amount of data transfer and time are limited. If you’ll need to keep in touch with home, a SIM card is a much more convenient option.