We’ve noticed that the thought of packing for a trek really harries trekkers — they don’t know what to buy, where to shop, whether to rent, how much to spend. Read this expert guide to learn about the things to take on a Himalayan trek.
Without a proper guide, I notice that trekkers end up overspending and overbuying, which is the opposite of what you should do for a minimal trek.
What if we told you that a typical trekker spends more on his trekking gears than his flight tickets or his trek fee? It’s no surprise that ‘trekking gear’ is one of the most-searched-for topics on our website.
So through this guide, we’ll run you through the process of procuring gear for a trek.
In this guide, you’ll find a list of
– Everything you need on a trek
– Medicines for your personal medical kit
– Documents if you’re trekking with Indiahikes
We’ve made this list assuming you’re going with an organisation such as Indiahikes, that will take care of your stay and accommodation.
Let’s get started.
A list of everything you need on a week-long Himalayan trek
There’s a reason we’ve used the word “need” here.
When you trek the Himalayas, you strip down to the bare essentials that you “need” to stay comfortable and warm.
Protip We’ve seen many trekkers packing for what we call “if situations.” I might need extra snacks “if” there’s no snacks on the trek. I might need extra pants “if” these pants get wet and so on. If it gets very cold, let me take this extra jacket. This is how a backpack becomes bulky and starts to weigh a ton. Here is the golden rule. On a trek do not pack for an “if” situation.
So follow the list here. Don’t bring in extras. You don’t need them.
The Most Essentials: Things You Must Take on a Himalayan Trek
1. Trekking Shoes
Any high altitude trek requires trekking shoes that are sturdy, have good grip, have ankle support and can handle snow.
➤ Buying Tip: The Trek series and MH series are good options by Decathlon. They are tried and tested. There really isn’t any necessity to buy the higher priced models. Here is a list of other budget shoes that trekkers use.
➤ Sports Shoes vs Trekking Shoes: Most sports shoes are inadequate for a Himalayan trek. This is because they don’t come with ankle support, good grips or water resistance. Watch this video for a detailed comparison of the two.
➤ Rental: We have the Trek series and the MH series by Decathlon available on rent from the Indiahikes store. They are not dirty or unhygienic. This is how they are kept clean. Rent them here.
For a week-long high altitude trek, you need a 50-60 litre backpack. Make sure your backpack has good hip support, shoulder support and quick access pockets. Here is a guide on how to choose a backpack.
➤ Buying Tip: Decathlon, Adventure Worx and Wildcraft usually make good backpacks. While Wildcraft has more expensive ones, the other two brands have budget-friendly backpacks to choose from.
➤ Rental: The 48 litre backpack by Adventure Worx is available on rent from the Indiahikes store. They are custom-made for our Himalayan treks. Rent them if you don’t have a backpack. Rent here.
On a high altitude trek, the cold is what troubles you the most. And wearing layers is the best way to tackle the cold. Layers give you maximum protection and flexibility in the mountains. And when the weather changes in the mountains (as it happens every few hours), you take off or put on layers as required.
a. Base Layer: 3 T-shirts
Wear one T-shirt and carry two. Carry full sleeve dry-fit T-shirts (preferably collared). Make sure one of them is slightly thickish. If you do not get full sleeves dry-fit T-shirts, you can opt to buy full sleeves of other material.
What is important is that you buy full sleeves T-shirt. These prevent your arms and neck from getting sunburnt. In the rarified air on a trek, especially at high altitudes, UV rays can burn you in no time.
Dry-fit T-shirts quickly dry your sweat, they are easy to wash and in case of a rainy day, they dry quicker. Round neck T-shirts are ok, but collared ones are better.
➤ Cotton or Synthetic? As Indians, we love cotton. Down in the plains when the heat is a blistering 40°C it makes sense to wear cotton. But it takes a long time to dry when it gets wet. In the mountains, where it is cooler, synthetic is what you wear. They wick sweat rapidly and keep you dry.
➤ Buying Tip: You can get dry-fit T-shirts from Decathlon. Also, stores like Reliance Trends, Max have dry-fit T-shirts. They don’t usually cost much.
Protip If you are extra susceptible to cold, you could get a set of thermal inners. In our experience, wearing two T-shirts over another works as a better thermal. And they save you weight and space, since you’re already carrying them.
Keep the 3-4-5 mantra in mind. 3 insulation layers in summer, 4 in post-monsoon, 5 in winter.
The number of warm layers you carry depends on the season you’re going in. If you’re going any time:
– From March to September (summer), 3 layers
– Between September and November (post-monsoon), you will need 4 layers
– And between December and March (winter), you will need at least 5 warm layers
You will need:
– 1 pair of inner thermals (winter only)
– 1 light fleece layer (all seasons)
– 1 more light fleece layer (winter and post-monsoon)
– 1 light sweater (all seasons)
– 1 padded jacket (all seasons)
You need sweaters and fleece jackets that are light and can fold into compact rolls.
For your outer layer, a padded jacket serves the purpose here. You don’t really need a water resistant material. But you need an outer padded jacket that keeps the wind and cold out. Ensure your padded jacket has a hood as well.
➤ Do you need a down/feather jacket? Not really. A regular padded/shell jacket will do.
Note: Down/feather jackets are really not available these days. Many jackets masquerade as down/feather jackets. They are essentially fine polyester-filled jackets. They mimic the function of a down jacket but are usually expensive.
➤ Rental: Padded jackets made by Fort Collins are available on rent at the Indiahikes store. They are custom made for Indiahikes and trekkers find them terrific, even in winter. Rent here.
b. Two Trek Pants
Two pairs of trek pants should suffice for any Himalayan trek. Wear one pair and carry one just in case it rains. Trek pants with zippered cut offs at the thighs are very suitable for treks. Also, choose quick-dry pants over cotton. They dry up soon in case of small stream crossings / rain.
➤ Buying Tip: Go for pants with zippered pockets. They come in handy to keep your phone, handkerchief or pocket snacks.
➤ Track Pants or Trek Pants? Stretchable track pants make a good backup and can double up as your thermal bottoms. But track pants are not trek pants — so don’t use them as your main outerwear. Keep them only as a backup.
Next, Mandatory Accessories: Without Which You Cannot do a Trek
These accessories are mandatory. Don’t go on any trek without them. Trekkers generally put off purchasing / borrowing the accessories for the last minute. We suggest the opposite. Start gathering these accessories first.
Sunglasses are to prevent snow blindness. On any Himalayan trek, especially if you’re going in a snowy season, a small overexposure to direct sunlight on snow can lead to snow blindness (even about a half hour’s exposure). That’s because fallen snow is like thousands of mirrors that reflect direct UV rays. So you need sunglasses with UV protection.
➤ Wearing Tip: Wear sunglasses if the trekking day is bright and sunny (on open sections, meadows). On a snowy section you must absolutely never take off your sunglasses until the section has been fully crossed.
➤ Buying Tip: Try getting sunglasses that wrap around instead of those that have openings on the side. Even peripheral UV ray exposure is not a good idea.
➤ If you wear spectacles: If you wear spectacles, you can get oversized sunglasses that you wear over your regular glasses (available at Decathlon). If that is cumbersome, photochromic lenses work equally well. Here’s a quick guide on managing sunglasses with spectacles.
➤ Contact lens users: If you use contact lenses, you can use them on a trek too. The lens solution will not freeze. You will also not face any problems in changing your lens in your tent. Just carry enough cleaning solution with you to clean your fingers well. Wear your sunglasses over your contact lens. Read this article for more guidance on managing contact lenses on treks.
2. Sun Cap
A sun cap is mandatory. Trekking without a sun cap can lead to headaches, sun strokes, quick dehydration.
➤ Tip: In the mountains, the general rule is to keep your head covered at all times. During the day a sun cap protects you from the harsh rays of the sun (it is doubly stronger with naked UV rays).
A sun cap keeps your body temperature in balance. In the evening/early morning, the reverse is true. Your head loses your body heat quickly. A woolen cap prevents heat from dissipating from your head. You feel warm and cosy.
Protip Sun caps with flaps are a blessing for trekkers. They cut out almost all UV leaks and sun burns in every possible way. Also, they are a lot more effective than sunscreen lotion. A wide brimmed sun hat also helps to prevent sunburn in a big way.
3. Synthetic Hand Gloves
If you are going any time when there is snow, you’ll need gloves to grip something or to steady yourself in snow. You also want the gloves to keep you warm. Get synthetic hand gloves that have waterproofing on the outside and a padded lining on the inside.
If you find the combination difficult to get (not likely), wear a tight fitting fleece hand glove inside a synthetic hand glove. Hand gloves are mandatory on any Himalayan trek.
4. Woollen Cap or Balaclava
Ensure these cover your ears. In the cold mountains, you lose a lot of heat from your head. Which is why you need to keep your head protected, especially when the sun is down. Early mornings or late evenings. On a cold trekking day you may need to wear your woollen cap even while trekking. Pass days are known for this.
Your ears are sensitive too, so a woollen head cap that covers your ears is absolutely essential. A balaclava is a modern version of the woolen cap. It covers your ears, neck and parts of your face as well. Do not get a woollen cap that only covers your head (and not your ears).
5. Socks (3 pairs)
Apart from two sports socks, take a pair of woollen socks. Sports socks give you cushioning plus warmth. Again the mantra is to wear synthetic socks or at least a synthetic blend. Cotton socks soak in water and sweat. They are very hard to dry.
As for woollen socks, they help you to keep warm and snug in the night, especially in your sleeping bag. If you cannot get woolen socks, wearing two sports socks serves the purpose as well.
You need to get a headlamp because it leaves your hands free to do other activities. On a long trek you’ll need your hands free to wash dishes, pitch tents and hold your trek poles.
➤ Buying Tip: Ensure your headlamp covers a wider area and is not too focused as a single beam. On a trek, your headlamp must help you see around you as much as ahead of you.
7. Trekking pole (a pair)
Trekking poles give you stability and balance. They reduce your energy consumption by almost 40%. On any Himalayan trek there are steep ascents and descents. A pair of trekking poles will make the difference between a comfortable and a strenuous trek. In India we tend to use a single trekking pole. However, two trekking poles give you greater stability and balance. They also increase your walking pace.
➤ Rental: Imported side-locking trekking poles are available on rent on the Indiahikes store. Rent here.
Here’s an article where we tell you why two trekking poles are better than one.
On a trek, the weather can change quickly. A bright sunny day can turn into a downpour in a matter of minutes. Carry a poncho or a rain jacket to tackle this. A poncho is a big rain cover with openings for your arms and your head. It is extremely effective because it covers both you and your backpack. It is extremely light and weighs next to nothing.
Protip Rain jackets are more streamlined and less cumbersome but weigh more. Rain pants are really not required. Dry fit trek pants dry quickly even if soaking wet.
➤ Rental: High grade ponchos are available on rent on the Indiahikes store. Rent here.
9. Rain Cover for Your Backpack
Backpacks are your life. You carry all your dry clothes, your warm gear in your backpack. It is important that your backpack stays dry at all times. Modern backpacks usually come with built in rain-covers.
If your back pack does not have a rain-cover, ensure you get a rain cover by either (a) buying a rain cover (b) or cutting a large plastic sheet to the size of your backpack. You can roll the plastic sheet around your backpack and keep it in place with a string or elastic.
Protip It’s good practice to compartmentalise your clothes, accessories and other things in plastic covers inside your backpack. That way, even if it rains and your backpack gets wet, your things are water-proof inside the backpack.
10. Daypack (20-30 litres, optional)
Some trekkers opt to offload their bags on mules or porters on their treks. While we do not encourage this practice, in case you opt for offloading, then carrying a daypack is mandatory. A daypack is a mini backpack, just smaller in size.
In your daypack you carry essentials like water bottles, rainwear, emergency medicines, headlamp, some snacks and a warm layer. Your main backpack that carries most of your equipment is accessible only at the campsites.
A daypack is a smaller backpack that is usually of 20-30 litre capacity. Laptop bags are not daypacks. Do not get them.
Other Mandatory Requirements
1. A Toilet Kit
Keep your toilet kit light. Carry just the basics — toothbrush, toothpaste, small soap, toilet tissue roll, a small moisturiser and lip balm. You will not be able to have a bath on any trek, so don’t overload on soaps and shampoos.
Protip Carry miniature-sized items. You will not need more than that. If you’re travelling in a group, share one toothpaste for all. Avoid getting large toilet rolls. The smallest size roll is more than enough for a trek.
➤ For women: If you are likely to have your periods on your trek date, don’t worry about it. You can use your pads, tampons or menstrual cups on a trek. There will be toilet tents where you can get changed.
Make sure you carry ziploc bags to bring back your menstrual waste. Leaving behind sanitary waste in the mountains is strictly forbidden. It is considered socially unacceptable too. Watch this video to learn how to dispose your sanitary waste.
Carry a lunch box, a mug and a spoon. Your lunch box must be leak proof. You are expected to wash your own cutlery. Do not allow your cutlery to be washed by a trekking crew.
When you allow anyone else to wash your cutlery, your cutlery becomes part of a mass washing system. They are usually not done well. You immediately invite germs, bacteria to settle on your cutlery. Incidence of stomach disorders rises exponentially.
Protip Carry stainless steel cutlery. Avoid fancy high grade plastic cutlery. Stainless steel cutlery is infinitely easier to wash in cold water. Grease is easier to remove and hygiene is at the highest.
a. Two 1-litre bottles or a 2-litre hydration pack: Almost all Himalayan treks have many hours of trekking everyday (approximately 6 hours). You need to carry two one-litre water bottles to keep yourself hydrated over the distance.
If you are used to a hydration pack, then that is ok too. If one among the two bottles is a lightweight thermos, then that helps you to store warm water on a really cold day or for late evenings and early mornings.
➤ Rental: You could rent lightweight thermos flasks from the Indiahikes store. Rent here.
3. Plastic Covers
Carry 3-4 old plastic covers to keep your used clothes. You could use them even for wet clothes. Re-use old plastic bags for this and do not buy new ones.
Personal Medical Kit
Carry these medicines with you, easily accessible at all times. Do not take any medicine unless you have consulted your trek leader.
1. Diamox (1 Strip): Be on a course of a half tablet Diamox starting from your home, every 12 hours (125 mg). Carry on the medication until you descend down to the base camp from your trek. Being on a preventive course of Diamox greatly reduces the chances of Acute Mountain Sickness on a high altitude trek.
2. Dolo 650 (5 tablets): This is a paracetamol. It helps to tackle fever, mild pain.
3. Avomine (4 tablets): Carry this especially if you are prone to motion sickness. Pop one half hour before the start of your road journey.
4. Combiflam (5 tablets): Take a combiflam if you get a sudden twist of the leg or a muscle strain. It is a pain reliever. It also contains paracetamol.
5. Digene (4 tablets): Take it if you feel the food that you’ve taken is undigested. Alert your trek leader immediately. It could be a sign of AMS.
6. ORS (6 packs): Consume a pack of ORS water at least once a day, usually mid day when you are in the middle of your trek. It replenishes essential salts lost while trekking. Tip: It also makes cold water easier to drink.
7. Knee Brace (optional): Carry this if you are prone to knee injury or have known issues of knee pain.
Our Trek Leaders carry a high altitude medical kit with them which also consist of Life Saving Drugs. If there is an emergency, our Trek Leaders know how to tackle it.
Mandatory Documents to Carry
These are documents required for legal purposes by Indiahikes and the forest department. Without any of these, you will not be allowed to trek.
1. Original and photocopy of government photo identity card: Anything such as a driver’s license, Aadhar card, passport will do. This is required by the forest department for your identification.
2. Disclaimer Certificate: This is a legal requirement. Download the PDF, read carefully and sign it. This must be handed over to your Trek Leader during onboarding at the base camp — Download PDF
3. Medical Certificate: There are two sections in this. The first part must be filled by a practising doctor. The second part must be filled by you. Without the medical certificate the forest department will not issue permissions for your trek. It is also a requirement by Indiahikes — Download PDF
Protip Keep important documents in a clear plastic cover and slide them into the inner pocket at the back of your backpack. This keeps them from getting wet.
Apart from this comprehensive list, there is nothing more to bring on your next Himalayan trek.
If you pack anything else apart from the essentials we have mentioned above, feel free to let us know in the comments section below. Also, share this expert guide with your friends who are preparing for their next Himalayan trek.