If you’re trekking in the Indian Himalaya, you got to learn to pack light. Airlines in India now allow only 15 kgs as check-in luggage, so you got to be a smart packer, unless you want to shell out extra cash for all that stuff you’re carrying that you will never use. And if you’re lugging your own backpack, then all the more reason to keep it light.
If you have porters in your Himalayan trekking party, there’s a standard rule of thumb - he will not carry more than 20 kgs. And no hard tops please. Make it a duffel bag – hard tops hurt the porters and injure their backs.
This isn't an exhaustive list of everything you need to carry. It’s a list of my Top 15 items I simply cannot do without on a Himalayan trek, some of which are, what I call, the forgotten essentials
Ankle- high trekking shoes - don’t scrimp on these, invest in a good pair (my personal favorite are Salomons) and floaters (sandals), useful once you've finished trekking for the day. You’ll be dying to remove those boots after eight hours!
2. QUICK DRY CLOTHES
Dri-fit T-shirts, long sleeves dri-fit sweat shirts, quick drying underwear – just ditch the heavy cotton clothes. They’re cumbersome to carry and don’t dry quickly enough. Walking in wet undies isn’t a pleasant experience I assure you!
3. SUNGLASSES AND CROAKIES
If you’re trekking in the snow or if glistening snow peaks are on the itinerary (in the Himalaya? Really? ;-), then lean towards the polarized ones. Polarized glasses reduce the glare from shiny surfaces like water and snow. Either ways, make sure they’re wrap-arounds so minimum light filters through and always have a securing strap (croakies). The latter is particularly useful if you’ve got head gear on. Slipping them on your head when you don’t need them is not an option. And if you take them off and leave them lying somewhere, the chances that you will forget them are pretty high. You won’t win the “most popular person in the Himalayan trekking party” vote if you make people wait while you head back to pick up your precious sunglasses.
4. HYDRATION PACK
A 2-litre hydration pack – you get some super ones now which also double up as a day pack. It comes with a plastic bladder and a pipe, leaving you hands free when sipping water. Make sure the water bladder inside has the ability to withstand hot boiling water.
5. ORS FOR YOUR WATER BAG
One of the forgotten essentials. High altitude trekking requires you to drink LOTS of water. In an 8-hour trekking day I consume almost 4 litres and yes, it makes me pee a lot. Because of this, body salts need to be replaced. Hence the ORS. It takes some time getting used to that sickly sweet flavoured ORS powder, but it’s a life-saver. So carry loads of sachets with you. Remember, a clear pee is a good pee!
6. A RAIN JACKET WITH A HOODIE
Mountain weather is unpredictable. Let no one tell you it’s not going to rain. More importantly, don’t try to save money on this - buy a good quality one. It’s a life-saver. You may use it for just one day on a 10-day trek, but you’ll thank your lucky stars you brought it along.
7. SLEEPING BAG
A down sleeping bag – the quality of down will depend on the altitude you’re going to be at. Even if you’re not in tents for the night and don’t use it to sleep in, it’s the perfect blanket. I prefer to use my sleeping bag than an unwashed blanket provided by the accommodation we’re living in.
A fleece one that covers your head and ears and a sun hat – the wide brimmed one with a securing strap so it doesn't blow away in the wind. Ditch the baseball (peak) caps - the photos you've seen of models posing in baseball caps against a mountain range – they’re rubbish. They don’t help.
Another forgotten essential (and it rhymes with poof!). This multi-purpose out-door headgear doubles up as a hairband, ear muffs, balaclava, muffler…just use your imagination! I find it particularly useful to protect my nose at high altitudes – it keep the winds from freezing up my proboscis and I can still breathe through it’s thin layer.
You will be surprised how useful this 5½ feet piece of garment actually is! Fling this traditional lungi (as we call it in India), around your head and shoulders to keep the sun out; wrap it around yourself while at dinner to keep warm; get your friends to hold it for you while you take a pee on the side of the walking track; wear it when you come out of the common bath and head to your tent – this is one piece of clothing I never ever forget. And yes, it's yet another forgotten essential!
Carry your prescription drugs. You’re not going to find them in the little Himalayan hamlets you pass on the way. Also, take your regular painkillers, Band-Aids for corns and blisters, an antiseptic ointment and tablets for tummy upsets and diarrhea – the change in food and water can wreak havoc with the steeliest of stomachs. And if that's not bad enough, the price you have to pay for this stuff as you go higher will definitely make you sick!
Sunscreen - minimum 30 SPF, lip balm, and moisturizing lotion are a must. So are wet wipes - for that leaky but delicate sun-burnt nose, and also to wipe yourself down every morning. Bathing at high altitudes is only for the super brave! A forgotten essential? You got that right.
Protein bars, dry-fruits like almonds, walnuts, figs, dates and raisins. Channa and Gur is a brilliant combo as well – you’ll see the horses that carry your bags eating that all the time – and for a good reason!
14. WIND-PROOF GLOVES
Leave the woolen ones mommy knitted for you at home. Even the fleece ones may leave your fingers numb at high altitudes. After 4,000 M, the cold winds can be cruel. Wear the wind-proof gloves over your fleece ones for a warm snug fit. You’ll probably wear them only for two days on the whole trek, but you’ll be glad you brought them along.
A forgotten essential you'll land up shelling out money for. City-wear for when you return, is mandatory. Most of us forget that we have flights to catch, probably a farewell dinner, a celebratory night at the local pub. Whatever it is, you don’t really want to wear the same clothes you've been wearing for the past 10 days do you?
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