How to Pack to Hike to Everest Base Camp

My hike in Nepal a couple of years ago along the route to Everest Base Camp (EBC) was a great experience.  Hiking in Nepal is unlike my experience climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or trekking in Patagonia‘s Torres del Paine.  In Kilimanjaro and on the ‘W’ circuit in Patagonia, one is walking along areas where humans do not live:  they are parks.  But to get to Everest Base Camp, one walks along hamlets and a rare town that either pre-date the route’s popularity due to hikers or that arose due to the demand.  Either way, the result is the same:  one gets to experience Nepalese hospitality and customs in a way that enhances the experience; it is not simply a hiking experience, a physical challenge.

teahouse, packing list, Nepal, Everest, base camp, Himalayas, trekking, hiking, teahouse, nature, adventure, outdoors, travel, Asia

Taking a tea break during a sunny day at a teahouse

Trekking to Base Camp or just a view of Everest

In my hike, I did not have the time off work (yes, I have a regular job with the usual constraints on vacation time!) to be able to get to Everest Base Camp and return.  That was OK with me.  In the trek I joined with Trekking for Kids, there was an option to only go past the Tengboche Monastery to Deboche and then turn back around.  (Note: if you are interested, Trekking for Kids is planning to return there in late 2018 with both the full trek to EBC or the shorter one like I did called “Everest View”, see here more more details on that trek.)

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Deboche – not a big place at all!

While it would have been cool to see EBC, I was not crushed; I was just glad to be able to see Mt. Everest in person (and discover the more proximate and impressive Ama Dablam!) and experience the trekking route.

Considerations driving the packing list

Preparing for hiking along the route to Everest Base Camp was not vastly different than some of my other hikes…

The route to EBC continually goes up in altitude as one goes along (no surprise there!).  The trek itself, if you start in Lukla (the one with the crazy airport), starts at around 2,800 m (9,300 ft).  EBC itself sits at near 5,400 m (17,600 ft).  So that right there will make it cold, like with Kilimanjaro (particularly at night).  Add to that the fact that heating at the teahouses where one stays at is ‘limited’ to be generous (one exception: we stayed at a proper hotel in Namche Bazaar):  the rooms are not heated and the common space where one eats meals and hangs out before heading to bed only usually have a tiny stove in the center.  So, cold weather gear and clothing was key (again, no surprise there).

teahouse, packing list, Nepal, Everest, base camp, Himalayas, trekking, hiking, teahouse, nature, adventure, outdoors, travel, Asia, stove

The stove in the teahouse’s main room is a popular spot…

As with Kilimanjaro, you have to mind the amount of stuff you bring along as there will be limitations on what can be carried by the support staff.  So being smart about light items, re-usable items, and the concept of “just enough” vs. “just in case.”

packing list, Nepal, Everest, base camp, Himalayas, trekking, hiking, teahouse, nature, adventure, outdoors, travel, Asia

My “packing list” in a visual format 🙂

It is worth noting that some teahouses have a tiny counter that may sell some basics but I would not make my plans with that as the approach to packing – it could be hit or miss. Namche Bazaar, along the way, will have plenty of the basics available (including some medications) as a backup to anything forgotten.

Clothing and Footwear

  • Upper Body and Legs:  The main point to the clothing to be taken is to stay warm and be comfortable first and foremost.  Layers are key to both.  Base layers for the torso and legs, with an added layer for extra warmth, and an outer layer for the coldest of times are the basic framework for the clothing plan.  Wind/Rain top and bottom layers are also important though rain itself was not the biggest of factors when I went; I’d recommend the top having a hood.  Using wool as the material of choice is highly recommended:  it provides excellent warmth while wicking moisture away (keeping you from smelling and helping with the re-use of clothing items…).
  • Feet:  The boots you will need should be, as expected, able to trudge through mud, ice, snow and the like – and be very comfortable.  Liners and woolen socks complete the “outfit” for you feet.  Nothing here is different than for most hiking scenarios in cold weather / high places.  You could also bring a pair of solid walking shows (vs. boots) so you can take a break from the boots.  The initial part of the trail does not necessarily require boots so you could do this if you have space.  Also, you will need some shoes to wear at the teahouse every night so these walking shoes could serve that purpose perhaps.
  • Hands:  Again, nothing terribly surprising here but because of the great and sustained cold temperatures, a hardy pair of gloves is a must.  You may also want to bring lighter gloves as it is not always freezing cold (lower altitudes or inside the teahouse at night).
  • Head:  A skull cap, balaclave or ski hat are a must – keeping the head warm is very important, as we all know.  You may also want to wear something at the teahouses (or even when sleeping as it is cold in those rooms!).


Gear and other practical items

  • Sleeping bag:  While you will sleep on beds in the teahouses, they are not necessarily clean and the cold may be too much for the provided linen.  So a sleeping bag rated for very cold weather is important to bring.  I just brought the one I used in Kili which was 0 degrees Fahrenheit rated.  Very much needed!
  • Night light:  When headed to the bathroom in the middle of the night, this may facilitate a lot of things… like seeing in your room, seeing in the toilet, etc.  Don’t forget batteries!
  • Pillow:  A small pillow would be helpful though teahouses tended to offer pillow.  I had my neck pillow for the air travel but I still used the teahouse-provided ones – covering them, of course…
teahouse, packing list, Nepal, Everest, base camp, Himalayas, trekking, hiking, teahouse, nature, adventure, outdoors, travel, Asia

Typical sleeping quarters in a teahouse

  • Trekking poles:  Parts of the trek are steep so trekking poles are most helpful providing lift, stepdown, and balance support.  Mine have shock absorbers to help when going down – most helpful for me to protect my imperfect knees!

    Namche Bazaar, Nepal, Everest, Base Camp, Himalayas, trail, route, nature, outdoors, adventure, hiking, trekking

    Very steep heading to Namche Bazaar

  • Water:  Treating water is very important and the Steripen is the most practical way (in my opinion) as within a couple of minutes you have water that is safe to drink and tastes normal.  Batteries are the big thing here – bring plenty as you will use this device a lot and others may ask to borrow it; add to that that batteries deplete faster with the cold and high zones you will be traveling through.  Of course, you will need a bottle with a wide neck to be able to properly use the Steripen.  I also will add that I used a Camelbak bag inside my backpack as it was easier and better to sip water through the attached hose than to drink gulps out of a bottle that had to be taken out…


  • Wipies/Tissues:  These are multi-purpose… Clean up after a day’s hike if the shower facilities are not available/too busy/too-dirty.  Also, you could use these if there is not toilet paper available (or dry…) around.  Or other general cleaning purposes!  [I will say as a parenthetical observation that I’d rather use the portable toilet tents used in Kilimanjaro than some of the indoor toilets these teahouses had… the portable toilets were cleaned daily and did not smell as bad and the area under them was just earth, not a dirty indoor floor…]
  • Towel:  A small quick dry towel is important as teahouses do not offer towels.  Quick dry is very important as they will not dry quickly enough overnight, especially with the air so cold.  Along with that, bring your own soap and shampoo…


  • Medications and first aid:  The items here are more specific to each individual’s circumstances but perhaps something to help sleep, something for altitude (like Diamox), something for an unexpected bout of digestive issues (CIPRO; a couple of folks got very ill in our group), something for pains/aches (like knee pain… Ibuprofen was my choice), something to help with treating blisters, etc.  Talk to your doctor about anything specific to your needs.  Also, the Center for Disease Controls in the United States offers travel advice specific to each country and regions within – your doctor should know about it or be able to look it up upon your request.  The route to EBC is unlikely to have too many of the typical tropical diseases (yellow fever, malaria, etc.) due to the climate but you do enter Nepal at a much lower altitude.
  • Personal items:  The usual suspects toothbrush, toothpaste, sunblock, lip balm, deodorant, floss, hand sanitizer, etc.  Whatever you normally need (and your roommate would appreciate you using!).
  • And, of course, duct tape!  Prevents blisters from developing too much, fixes broken things, and who knows what other needs!  I roll mine either on a pencil or on the trekking pole to save space.

I leave you with my view of Mt. Everest!  Pin it to your board!

Everest,Nepal, base camp, Himalayas, blue sky, stupa, stoupa, mountains, cloud

Picturesque under a great blue sky!


If you are interested in getting a copy of my Microsoft Excel packing list, leave me a comment below and I will email you the list I used “as is” (no bells and whistles!).  Your needs may be different and I am not saying my list is exactly what YOU need but it may give you a starting point!  

 

Preparing to Hike Kilimanjaro: More than Training & Gear

I sit here, two weeks before my departure for Tanzania, asking myself “Oh my, what did I get into??”.  As you may have read, I am headed to Tanzania to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, something that 5 months I would have told you was the furthest thing from my bucket list.  Seriously.  As I contemplate the process so far, I have learned a few things and I wanted to share those with folks who may be thinking of hiking Kilimanjaro.  Conditioning and gear are two important elements,  But there is a less immediately obvious element in being prepared…

Before that:  How did I decide to hike to Kilimanjaro?

I already knew I wanted to do more treks with Trekking for Kids (with whom I trekked the Transylvanian Alps) because of the great work they do with orphanages but I was not expecting Kili would be the trek for me.  I attended a TFK event last September where I heard Len Stanmore speak about his incredible journey of extreme outdoor adventure.  His story is quite inspirational and others started talking about TFK’s upcoming trek to Kilimanjaro in February 2013 at the reception afterwards.  I was hooked.  Somehow.  Not really sure what had just happened but I was in.  ALL IN.

Besides the orphanage work (fundraising for it and actually spending a few days there), there are three key aspects for me about the hike itself:  training, gear/packing preparations, and a third that I have yet to name at this point in this writing…

Kids, uniform, Tanzania

The kids at the Kili Centre orphanage sporting the new uniforms paid by funds raised by this trek

First – Training for the hike

Fortunately, when I decided to go on this trek, I was still relatively fresh from my Romania hike and had continued exercising in general.  It makes for a good starting point!

I started more serious training by getting on the treadmill and increasing the incline over a few weeks to 15%, ending up doing this for a couple of hours.  I also used a backpack whose weight I kept increasing beyond the expected weight we would carry on the hike (about 15 lbs for our day needs; porters would be carrying the rest) .  I was doing great with this and was planning to mix in real hikes by going to small but still helpful Kennesaw Mountain near Marietta, Georgia, where I trained for the hike in Romania.  And that is when a mini disaster struck:  I over-stretched my Achilles tendons (both legs!) likely due to the imperfect simulation of a 15% incline on a treadmill.  It all seems obvious now but I had not contemplated that I could hurt myself that way – you just don’t know what you don’t know!

That set me back about 6 weeks at a point when the intensity of my training was really beginning to pay off.  (I am almost back to normal and training again at this point.)   Not only that but I gained weight due to the double whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas falling squarely in that 6-week period…  So now I will carry even more weight uphill 🙂

Advice:  If you embark on something like this without that type of starting point – don’t fret!  Just be sure to start gradually.  Aggressive training from cold is more than likely counterproductive if not outright a risk!  That’s the easiest way to get injured.  And also, stretch even of days you are not training.  Stretching is your best ally in physical readiness.

Second – Getting in gear.  Into gear, that is.

After being in good conditioning for the hike, the next item on the list is all the stuff that I will need on the hike.  That short word “stuff” covers a wide range of things that I will need to make this a successful trip.  After getting the packing list from TFK (VERY thorough!), I did an inventory of what I had and what I needed to research/acquire.  I started staging all my items in a spare bedroom.  It looks like a mess but it does two things for me:  1.  allow me to start gathering in one place all that I will need to pack making packing later a lot easier and 2.  allow me to start enjoying the upcoming trek by seeing it shape up!

packing gear for hiking trip

The “mess” in the spare bedroom!

Advice

  • Get a good packing list for the type of hike
  • Go talk to your local outfitter before you acquire things to learn about what they recommend, what materials are out there, criteria for choosing items, etc.
  • Then proceed with sourcing the items (borrow or buy).

Let me share some more specifics about gear and packing here (for a more detailed description of the clothing I took, go here)…  But do check out this post on what I considered my 7 key items for this hike (written BEFORE the hike) and then the top 14 things I took (written AFTER the hike)!

I am happy to email you a copy of my packing list!

Clothing

Mt. Kilimanjaro covers multiple climate zones ranging from forest where one may be trudging through mud to extreme cold and windy terrain towards the top.  Guess what?  That means carrying gear to deal with all the climate zones but, most importantly, to deal with the extreme cold and wind which is far more dangerous to a hiker.  The key to all this is layers.  Not rocket science, I know.  I hear the cold towards the top is brutal!

The list I was provided by TFK was very clear on what was needed.  I went (a few times!) to my favorite outfitter and explores the options available for each category of item needed.  I have learned WAY more than I thought I’d ever learn about gear.  And spent way more than I ever thought I’d spend.  But two things help:  one, I have bought thinking of re-use especially at ski time or in future treks and, second, I have tried to borrow some items (though it has not been as much as I would have hoped for).

Advice My advice to you is to borrow, or buy used if possible, and think of re-use as you make choices on what to get.  For example, instead of buying the absolute best gloves for the extreme temperature, think of using liners, etc. so the gloves themselves can work for you in less extreme weather back at home.

Accessories

This covers a whole range of items like the hiking poles (with shock absorbers!  see here for more on them), headlamp (not only to read at night or go potty in the middle of the night but also for the night hiking we will do on summit day!), sleeping bag liner (to make it warm enough for the coldest nights), sleeping bag pad (for comfort and further insulation from the very cold ground), cameras (yes, plural:  the big one is not summiting with me – too heavy), even duct tape!

Advice:  Borrow, or buy used if possible.  Buy new if that suits you better.  However, another possibility is renting some of the items on-site.  This helps you in two ways:  not buying stuff if you are not going to be hiking/camping more than this trip and also reducing the amount of stuff you have to lug half way around the world!  However, some potential downsides of this:  you don’t know the condition of the item you will rent (dirty, torn up, etc.) and you may not find the right type for the item you are looking for.  For example, you need to be sure that sleeping bag will be warm enough.

Health/”Medical”

For this destination, one does have to be ready with anti-malarial and other items as recommended by the CDC.  I have all the hepatitis stuff from prior travels so the anti-malarial (which is taken for every trip) and the typhoid (which I needed) were on the must-have list.  But the medical category is not just the innoculations/vaccines.  Things like ibuprofen, Cipro (for the potential digestive maladies that could affect a traveler…), and maybe even something to help you sleep get on the list.  Other items, such like the iodine tablets, sunblock with DEET, high-SPF chapstick, etc. are more preventive in nature but just as important.  This list is very important and is sometimes less obvious than the gear and clothing lists.

Advice:  Do your research, ask people who have gone before (feel free to ask here!), and don’t try to save money by skimping on these items!

Third – Is it the emotional preparedness?

I will have to get back to you on this after the trip for a full report.  However, I had heard that a lot about hiking Kili is the mental strength to power through tough conditions like mud and rain, tiredness, perhaps pain, and other discomforts.  So I am thinking this would fall under emotional preparedness.  I have heard from people who have hiked it before that, in the end, this is the most important elements in preparing for Kili.  You may be fit, you may not.  Altitude sickness could keep you from summiting and that is independent of your fitness level (amazing!).  But if you don’t have some toughness in this realm, you may fall short of your goals.

We are lucky that our lead guide is one of the foremost mountain expedition leaders in the world, Luis Benitez.  He is also a Board Member of TFK!  In an email he sent the trekkers last week, he told us that the best thing to do in this category is to expect discomfort, understand it will happen, understand it starts and it ends.  All that so that when it hits at any point in the trip, you remember it will pass and you don’t let it bring you down (figuratively speaking!).  I think this is a great piece of advice that will serve ME well in these 2 weeks before I leave for this hike.

Advice:  Listen to Luis’ advice!

Final thoughts…

I am almost done doing all the things that I need to do to be ready but, in the end, it is the emotional preparedness that I am not sure how to measure.  I cannot check it off a list, like I can do with the other items on my packing list.  Yet it is likely one of the most important success factors in this trek.  I don’t know if altitude sickness will beat me to the summit.  I can’t control that.  But I sure hope I am ready enough to control my willpower and discomforts to summit or get very close to it!  Kili, I shall meet you very soon!

Uhuru peak or Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

P.S. – Thanks for all the words of support, advice, and for orphanage donations via Trekking for Kids!

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A month after this post went up, I had completed climbing Kilimanjaro and started writing about every day in the trek (7 total days) and about the route we were to take.  Check it out!

–  The Machame Route

–  Gear for climbing Kili:  clothing

–  Day 1 (and links to the subsequent days)

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