Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Packing for a Tea House Trek in the Himalaya

 Recently a reader asked me how I possibly got my pack down to 8.5 KG (just under 20 pounds) including water and I realized that I have never really gone over what I pack when I go trekking in the Himalaya. That said I'll take this opportunity to correct that oversight and go over some basic things I do and bring to keep my pack weight down on the trail. Of course there is some variation on what you will bring depending on the season, if you need cold weather gear, or if you actually need a sleeping bag because of the scarcity of blankets due to peek season. What follows are mostly general rules of thumb. I am not one of these ultra light people who spend more time on forums discussing the advantages of drilling holes in your toothbrush to reduce its weight than actual trekking, I try to strike a decent balance between comfort and getting my pack down to a manageable weight that has minimal effect on slowing me down on the trail.

Rule # 1- pack end of the day clothes in a separate watertight container like a Sea to Summit bag. This is the biggest luxury I afford myself on the trek, I always pack one set of clothes that I never actually wear while trekking and they never mix with the sweaty dirty clothes that fill the rest of my bag. I find I can trek through any conditions as long as I know at the end of the day I have something I can change in to and feel like I'm something resembling a civilized human being. This set of clothes includes one pair of comfortable socks, lightweight synthetic pants like wind pants or imitation zip offs, a tee shirt, light weight fleece, and a pair of boxers.

Rule # 2- Packing lots of clothes is silly. Cotton clothes suck, don't ever pack them as they are heavy and never dry once wet. Never trek in jeans- really just don't do it, they are stupidly heavy, never dry and chafe like cheese grater. Bring lightweight wicking synthetics. They don't weigh anything, and they dry quickly.   If you can, invest in underwear of this sort as well, I get mine from EMS and highly recommend them as it cuts way down on chafing, they dry quickly and keep you from getting crotch rot. Most importantly something to understand is that having lots of different outfits is counter productive on a trip that lasts more than a few days. Once you have lots of dirty clothes you're just carrying around laundry. As a general rule I carry one extra set of clothes in my pack and one set I can wear on the trail so that I can always be wearing one while the other dries on the back of my pack or whatever. Underwear and socks are the slight exception and I do bring one additional pair of wicking boxers as well as two additional pairs of socks. For socks I really love the very thin lightweight cool max ones and usually bring three pairs as well as two pairs of smart wool thicker socks if I think there will be cold conditions. For thermals I bring a set of top and bottom silk underliners which are absurdly light and provide great warmth. additionally I pack one light fleece, a windbreaker/rain shell, and possibly if it's cold a light weight down jacket. I only recommend the jacket if you are trekking in the winter months as most often it makes you sweat far too much to be worth it.

Rule # 3- Use a Camelback. Yes there was a time when I thought they looked stupid too, and I've had people ask me if I'm getting oxygen from it, but these things are by far the best way to carry water. For me I like to settle into a nice rhythm when trekking that is not so fast that I need to stop too fact I hate breaking my rhythm so I love not having to stop to fish out a water bottle. Most importantly by hanging the water bladder right next to your back it is in a place where one of the heaviest components in my pack is in a place that feels the lightest. If all that weight were out on the edge of my pack for instance it would create a certain amount of torque that would feel heavier as it moved around. Best to have it nice and close to your center of gravity. I carry a 2.5 litre bladder in my pack and supplement this with a one litre Nalgene bottle. That's a lot of water weight, but I hate stopping for water on the trail, and your pack gets lighter as the day goes on. I don't always fill the Nalgene bottle when on the trail, as I mostly use it as an end of the day bottle for drinking and brushing my teeth. I do however include it as full when weighing my pack.

Rule #4- Minimize Extras. Lots of people bring a book, and that's cool, I bring my Kindle. What you don't want to do is bring a library with you, or a 900 page tome. If you're just doing one of the main tea house treks in Nepal you don't need fancy ice axes, trekking poles are over rated (IMO), crampons, tents, sleep pads, cook sets, etc. I've never brought a sleeping bag and rely only on a sleep sack (silk), if I even bother bring that. What you need to remember is that every day you end in a village usually. You get a bed, someone else cooks for you, they have blankets, etc. In peak seasons (I've never been during peak times- always go on the cusp) I've heard that beds can be scarce and blankets sometimes run out. In this case by all means bring something else, but really I'd just recommend avoiding peak season. Carry emergency food like some chocolate, nuts, or dried fruit as well as something to make the monotonous servings of starches in the form of potatoes, rice, or noodles edible (I recommend a small bottle of Tobasco), but don't get carried away and bring freeze dried meals, jars of peanut butter and the like.

Below is a typical packing list of what I have in my pack-
(not included are the items I'm wearing)

-End of the day bag (described above)
-2 pairs of coolmax socks
-1 or 2 pairs of smart wool socks
-2 pair of wicking underwear
-1 Lightweight synthetic zip off pants (can become shorts)
-1 long sleeve Polartech shirt
-1 Short Sleeve wicking shirt
-1 Silk Thermal layer (top and bottom if it's going to be cold)
-EMS Techwick fleece
-Pearl Izumi Windbreaker/Rain Shell
-Fake polartech headband thing that covers my ears if it gets windy and cold
-Silk sleep sack
-Sarong (I can use this as a make shift blanket, a lightweight towel, etc.)
-Bag with documents- TIMS card, wallet, passport, park entry, phone, etc.
-Head lamp
-Aquamira Water Sanitation drops
-Case for my glasses/sunglasses and contents
-Pair of Sandals
-2.5 litre Cammelback Blatter
-1litre Nalgene bottle
-Small bar of Dove soap (leaves far less residue in your hair than other brands)
-Toothbrush/small bottle of toothpaste
-Pills (advil, cipro, Imodium AD)
-Bandage/band aids
-Nail clippers
-Chocolate Bars (2)
-Small bottle of Tobasco sauce
-Olympus pocket camera (waterproof/drop proof)
-Garmin GPS device
-Kindle E-Reader

And that's roughly it. At the end of any day I try and wash myself up, if the temperature allows for it, as well as the clothes I was wearing and hang them out to dry. If I was crazy in to going lightweight I could even cut this list roughly in half, but I find that reducing my pack weight further doesn't make life that much easier on the trail. I've used roughly this list for my last four hikes and I haven't hit a snag yet.


  1. Hi Brian, you have some great pics from the monsoon season. Would you be willing to grant permission for reprint of one in an environmental series of books for kids? You can reach me at Thanks, Mike Kennedy

  2. Mike I sent you an e-mail at the address provided.

  3. Hello Mr Smith,
    Do you really run a steak house in Dilli Bazaar?
    Thanks for the link to KTMKTM. I have linked to this page from here:
    You may be interested to know (and probably do already) that the Manaslu trek became a (basic) tea-house trek and I am trying to encourage people to visit their before a road from China ploughs through the middle. Any chance of a mention to your readers at some point?
    Best wishes,

  4. Hey Rich,

    It is true that I'm opening a an American style grill in the north end of Dili Bazaar just over by city center mall. I hope to have it operational by December, and it would be agreat place to chow down after finishing a trek in the Manaslu area!

    I'd be happy to put in a mention about Manaslu in a post, in fact I'm fairly sure that I brought it up in criticizing Nepal Tourism Year in that they didn't make this trail more accessible by reducing the permits and fees that keep away independent trekkers. In fact the only reason I haven't done that trail myself is that I am loathe to hire a guide, but I still think it's worth it for people to know about some of the developing options people have in trekking around here.

  5. Hi Brian,
    I guess you need a guide just to get you through Jagat and at the other end excuses could be made. You could also tag a long with a group to get through - try tsum valley people maybe. They did reduce the fee now to $50 per week which is less than the ACAP and MCAP permits together. But guide fee is still an extra burden.
    Good luck with the grill! I'll be there for a vegetarian steak in December.

  6. Camelbak - I've had people ask me if I'm getting oxygen from it.

    LOL! That's priceless.

    Nice site. My tip? Bring stuff to do in the evenings as sometimes it can get boring. I also wished I'd had some lightweight binoculars, though that would've been more things to pack...

  7. Hi, thanks for your packing list, very useful. Im doing the langtang trek in april. What size backpack did you use. Am I being optimistic trying to manage with a 33 litre pack for the kind of amount your packing list has on. Thanks. Conor, Dublin

  8. Hey Conor, I have done all my trips with a 35 liter Osprey pack and usually have plenty of extra space, so you are not being optimistic at all if you stick to something close to what I have described here. Langtang is beautiful in April, best of luck!

  9. Thanks so much for your reply. We go in One week! Will mosquitoes be a big problem on the Lantang trek at this time of year in your opinion? Is a mosquito net/repellent unnecessary

    Thanks again


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