How Does One Pack for A Trek in Nepal?

hiking, trekking, packing, Nepal, trip, travel

In about 6 days, I leave on a trip to Nepal.  Once again, I will be trekking with Trekking for Kids to improve the lives of children around the world.  This is a special trip for several reasons, one of which is the devastation from the April 2015 earthquake calls for the world’s support for this developing nation.  It has been long enough where our presence will not be a hindrance to the important efforts that happen immediately post-earthquake.  Our aim is to fundraise the monies needed to re-build the school in the remote village of Kumari, pretty much destroyed during the earthquake and still not recovered.  The school serves about 400 children and we got news this week that the building permit and plans were approved by the local authorities.  If you would like to contribute, please visit my fundraising page and donate, nothing too small (or too big!).  After we visit Kumari and spend a few days with the kids and doing some projects, we will depart to do a 5-day hike that, weather permitting, will allow me to see Mt. Everest in person.  I will not be going to Everest Base Camp as it takes an extra week that I cannot afford with work but that’s OK.  I will get to spend time with some folks I have trekked before and I am looking forward to that!

So the point of the post was to share with you how it looks to pack for this type of trek with multiple elements to it.  This is my spare bedroom, all loaded with my stuff.  Now, to figure out how to fit it in the orange bag on the left and the hiking backpack that will serve as my carry-on piece.  Wish us luck!

hiking, trekking, packing, Nepal, trip, travel

 

Camino de Santiago: Packing and Training Tips

Camino, Santiago, Compostela, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, Spain, yellow arrow, kilometer marker, travel, photo, Olympus

The Camino de Santiago has become a very popular destination/experience for many around the world, especially after the movie “The Way” hit the movies screens (maybe home flat screens is more appropriate).  People of all ages and nationalities gravitate to this, as did I and a group I traveled with last summer to hike the Camino.  I wrote about each of our 7 days in a series of posts but I’d thought I’d devote some time to sharing about the preparation.  By now means is this an exhaustive treatise on each of the topics but it should give you a good high-level understanding on training and gear.  Hope you find it helpful and feel free to ask questions or suggest your own tips via the comments!

Camino de Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, path, Palas del Rei, Samsung

Dirt path going between farms

Camino, Santiago, Spain, church, small town, village, Olympus, photo, travel, The Way, facade

Another church we passed this day

Training – or how to get ready

The Camino is not Everest Base Camp or Mt. Kilimanjaro but that does not mean it is easy.  The challenges posed by the Camino are different than an epic climb.  While in some hikes, altitude is a factor, that is not the case in the Camino.  The mountains or hills faced will not compare to hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or getting to Uhuru Peak in Mt. Kilimanjaro.  But if you walk more than the minimum distance required to get the Compostela (the famous certificate granted to provide pilgrims with proof that they did indeed make it to Santiago de Compostela), you will need to prepare for some good climbs – and the corresponding downhills (always fun on the delicate knees of a hiker…).

Another factor to consider is that how strenuous the day is depends on how much ground you plan to cover each day.  If you are young (read: in your 20s or early 30s), you likely think you can attack the Camino and do over 20 miles a day, perhaps 30.  That’s crazy talk.  Yes, you physically may be able to but a couple of things:

1.  After a couple of days of pushing this way, your body will let you know how crazy that was.  I have heard the horror stories.  Don’t be over-ambitious.

2.  More importantly, you are missing the point of the Camino.  Yes, getting to the destination is the “aim,” but the point is to be on a journey, a pilgrimage (whether spiritual or emotional).  Moving at the speed of sound renders this experience as just checking an item off the bucket list (which if it is all it is for you, then fast speed might as well be your friend because you will get bored not seeing it as an experience for such a long way).

The final factor to keep in mind is that while there may not be tons of steep hills nor altitude, this hike puts a lot of stress on your feet.  When I climbed Kilimanjaro, the distances walked on a given day were well in the single-digits in terms of miles (maybe it got to double digits in kilometer-land).  Yes, it was difficult due to low oxygen and steepness but it was not brutal on my feet.  Don’t get me wrong, when I would arrive at camp, I was desperate to take off my boots!  But the Camino is much more unforgiving when it comes to your feet.  They tale a beating, so make sure they keep on ticking.

Gear – or what to bring

Before I get into gear, clearly whether you are carrying all your stuff on your back or not makes a big difference.  Yes, there is an option to NOT carry it all yourself from place to place!  Now, that may not be your style and all that, and that’s OK.  But, for some, it is the way to go and so it was for me 🙂

Regardless of how you do it, I will still issue the same warning:  don’t over-pack.  You will be amazed at how little you can get by with – a lot less than you think.  And worst comes to worst, you can go to a local store along the way and buy what you need…  But I also say that because going on this journey, in my view, is about changing some parameters about our lives to develop new insights, clear our heads, have new experiences, and hopefully be renewed in whatever way you may need to.  So, with all that said, here are some things that I deemed important to take along my Camino…

Feet

    • Good walking shoes or boots.  Without good shoes that you have broken in BEFORE the Camino, you will be in trouble.  Don’t be cheap about this item.  Cheap out on the camera or other items but not on this, my friends!  These could be boots or walking shoes.  The former gives you better ankle protection.  The latter may feel more comfortable.  You may want both to alternate.  After many days of wearing the same show, you may long for a different pair…  Up to you (as are all the tips I share here!).  But I would definitely say, get waterproof in case it rains.

    • Along with the shoes, go non-cotton socks.  What good is a pair of proper and broken in walking shoes if you are going to just slap on cotton socks?  Cotton socks are an invitation for blisters and the painful fun that means for the few days after you develop them.  Wool socks and, ideally, liners complete the most important focus of your gear list:  your feet.

  • Now, if the socks and shoes don’t do it and a blister seems imminent (sometimes blisters just develop…), that is an important moment to take action one final time to prevent the blister from materializing. At that point, you want to protect the spot where you are beginning to feel the burning (which is exactly what you feel BEFORE the blister arrives). The simplest and cheapest solution is to place a small piece of duct tape on that spot on your foot. Yes, stop, take footwear off and apply the small patch of duct tape – don’t wait.  So duct tape is a must-carry on any hike with the added side benefit that you can repair other things with it as needed. But don’t carry the roll, for goodness’ sake! Wrap duct tape on a pencil or on your hiking pole and you will save space and weight.
  • In case things go too far and you develop a blister, a blister repair kit is a good idea to bring along.  I was the beneficiary of a fellow’s trekker blister “repair” kit coming down Kilimanjaro and became a believer.  I don’t recall the brand I used on the Camino but the item below is the one I bought for my next hike in Patagonia.

Clothing

Now we can get past all things feet.  From a clothing standpoint, the usual advice applies here.

    • Layers.  The weather can vary and some high spots can get very cold.  And depending on the time of year, it could get quite warm during the day.  So plan to have layers which help manage the changes you may experience throughout the day.
    • Waterproof.  At some point, you may encounter rain so you want proper rain gear which might as well also serve as wind-breaking gear.  In terms of things to wear, make sure it is really waterproof (Gore-Tex). Waterproof also refers to protecting the contents of your backpack, whether by placing a bag over your backpack or putting the contents of your backpack in plastic bags.  Your choice!
    • Wicking.  Since you may not be carrying one-for-every-day in the underwear category and to help your skin remain “un-irritated”, wicking underwear is a good idea.  It removes humidity before sweat covers your skin which prevents bad odors.  And, hence, should you decide to wear them more than once between washings, then at least you know you will not smell!  Because my hike was only 7 days, I had underwear for every day but I still used wicking underwear for the comfort of not developing chaffing, etc.

  • Temperatures.  Plan for a range of temperatures.  This ties to the layers bit but also realize that, at night when you are not hiking, you may want to sit outdoors and it may get chilly at night, even in the summer depending on the weather system on a given day in your area.  So some light jacket in the summer may be appropriate for the evenings; perhaps more substantial at other times of the year.
  • Comfort.  Be sure the materials you wear are comfortable to you.  During 6-8 hours of hiking, you want to be comfortable not itching or something else.  When you get to the next town, you WILL want those walking shoes off and will love slipping into some flip flops, sandals or running shoes or whatever other comfortable footwear you like.  Bring only one of those, no need to overdo it, but allow yourself this luxury!  (Flip flops could be handy to shower in communal showers if that’s your accommodation style!)

Miscellaneous

    • Hunger avoidance devices (read: snacks).  You will not hungry on this trek!  Plenty of places to stop and get a snack or a meal at very reasonable prices.  Carrying two boxes of protein or granola bars is wasted weight and space and, more importantly, keeping you from sampling local foods and snacks.  So, just carry what you buy locally or just stop along the way!
    • A camera!  You can certainly opt for a different kind of travel if you are not drawn to capturing memories in this manner.  Journaling, for example, may be a better way for some.  For yours truly, though, the imagery of a place not only captures my attention but is also a way I use to be able to share what I experience.  Along with this go the requisite battery charger or extra batteries and an appropriate number of SD cards 🙂  I do like the wifi SD card which allows me to transfer photos out of my SD card onto another device (good for backup or to clear memory on the SD card).
    • Toiletries and accessories.  Yep, you know what this list is about (toothbrush, deodorant, etc.) so no need to detail it nor give you too much advice.  But I will call out some things…  First, bring travel-sized items.  Second, see how much stuff you can live without.  Do you really need a hair dryer?  (No judgment implied!)  Finally, some items I will recommend…  Some hand lotion/moisturizer is a good idea.  Chapstick is a must.  And some antibacterial liquid (e.g., Purell) is also a must along with some wipies (no need to bring more than a handful per day, if that many).
    • First aid.  There are kits out there but I just go with common sense and practical.  There are drug stores and stuff in the towns you will pass so no need to overdo it.  Some band-aids, some anti-diarrhea meds in case you can’t make it to them town (no one had troubles of this sort in our group), some anti-inflammatory in case something hurts (knees, for example), and the like should make a good kit.  As a packing tip, I used the ziploc bags that are half of the regular sandwich bag to pack meds so I didn’t have to carry bottles which can occupy more space.  Whether you want to get Cipro (digestive system antibiotic), Ambien (to sleep) or anything else, it is up to you.  I took none of those meds (though I take Cipro when I go to some destinations).  Of course, if you are taking prescription drugs, bring those and write down somewhere the main ingredient (vs. the medication name) should something happen and you need to get some locally – the main ingredient is what you need.
    • Night light.  If you will be sleeping in shared accommodations, this comes in handy to minimize disrupting others’ sleep and/or preventing you from tripping in the middle of the night as you make a night run to the restroom 🙂  I prefer headlamps like this one so I can be “hands-free”; please don’t make me explain why 🙂

    • Backpack.  Please, whatever you do, do not bring a Swiss Army backpack (well-designed as they are for the frequent traveler) or, even worse, your college backpack.  You will be likely carrying more weight than you are used to and your back and shoulders will appreciate you bringing a backpack with a waist strap and a chest strap to help distribute the impact of the load  on your upper body.  Plus be sure the main straps and perhaps the backpack have some padding where they will touch your body.  It is many days of carrying it so be good to yourself.  And size does matters, when it comes to backpacks – will the size you get be able to fit all that you will carry on your back every day?  Remember, if you want the convenience, there are services that every day pick up your luggage and deliver it to the next place you will stay (if you know in advance).  With this option, you only carry what you need during your walk.  Bottom line:  figure out how much you need the backpack to carry (don’t forget to account for the water!) and then choose a size.

  • Backpack cover.  Along with this, have something ready to cover your backpack if it rains.  Trust me, no matter what they say, water will get in if it rains enough (e.g., think of the zippers).  You can buy a backpack cover (some backpacks come with it) or, save money and bring a nice size, good quality trash bag or maybe even just a cheap poncho.  You can also help prevent your stuff getting wet by packing the in large ziplocs and the place within your backpack. You are on the go and it may not always be easy or practical to get stuff dry.

Alright, there is likely more to be said and advice to be given.  I will likely made some edits in the future but feel free to share your thoughts, ask questions, etc.

Buen Camino!

Want to see what every day was like?  Click on the day and read on!  Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 and Day 7

Gear for Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro – Clothing

ilivetotravel in Shira Camp in Kilimanjaro OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Special request:  After reading the article, would you share with me via the comments what you found most helpful about it?  Just trying to learn what helps the most for future writeups.  Thanks!

Planning my hike of Kilimanjaro and the subsequent safari was not an easy task.  Good research was key.  That research took many forms:  talking to people who have hiked Kili, reading blogs or websites about hiking, talking to the great folks at REI, and the list and advice given to me by the trek organizer (Trekking for Kids).  In the end, I still had many decisions to make on what felt could be important things.

So, this post is geared (sic) to those contemplating climbing Kilimanjaro to reach its peak:  Uhuru Peak, an adventure that requires both cold and hot weather gear.  I will attempt, as an amateur, to share over a couple of posts what made it to my packing list and how it helped.  This post will focus on clothing.  If you are reading this and planning a similar trek, please feel free to leave any questions as comments and I will reply and try to help.  In addition, should you have other suggested items or even better suggestions than mine, please share!

Before I get on to that, a few key items:

  • I did a safari after the hike so I include in the list things for that very different experience.
  • Kili has multiple climate zones ranging from hot to extreme cold.
  • I am not laying out all the options possible, especially in clothing, but will share what all the advice led me to.
  • I did write about my 7 top items to take on this hike.  It was a high-level view of the question but hopefully this will get more details!

Clothing – Lower Body

From the bottom up:

  • Hiking boots – Get good ones and do your practice hikes with them so you break them in well.  Otherwise you may suffer more during the hike, including dreadful blisters.  Some folks went for shoes that were more like hiking shoes but I like the safety of the ankle support since I am bound to get sloppy and then twist my ankle when tired!  The following are some boots that read well from the product descriptions (mine were REI waterproof hiking boots from a long-time ago so no image at Amazon for them!) – study these and keep in mind that waterproof and comfort reign supreme in terms of choosing one!


  • Gaiters – These help keep mud and scree from doing a number on you.  You will need them at summit for sure and probably on the first day if it has rained recently (it had not for us so I did not use them that day).
  • Socks – Socks for the hike and the safari were very different types.  For the latter, you may not need to be told what to get.  But for the former, remember to use a liner to wick moisture from the feet and then woolen socks over them.  For summiting or the colder days, you need very thick woolen socks.  I was still a little cold in my feet even with these.
  • Pants – A rainproof outer shell was a must to avoid getting soaked.  However, it does not need to keep you warm (I used under layers to handle the cold).  The outer shell is about rain and, also, wind.  I got a hard shell (you can get a soft shell instead if you want).  When I was not using the outer shell (which was most of the time), I used hiking pants as my exterior layer.  Zip-off (convertible) hiking pants are great for quick adaptability if it gets too hot during the day but also because I could save carrying pairs of shorts for the safari later 🙂  The following are sample hard shell pants – showing you a range but a key feature that I like are the long side zippers to facilitate quick putting-them-on (the Eddie Bauer ones have it).  The STORMTECH ones have gaiters.  Read through all the details of each – bottom line:  wind-proof and water-proof! On the convertible hiking pants shown, they both look basic but basic is fine with me. Mine were the basic REI ones and they worked well enough for me! (NOTE:  When it says “My Picks” below and in other sections, that is text I cannot change.  I show these as illustrative items not as my picks per se.)


  • Base layer for the legs – Base layers (long leggings) made from merino wool (the best) will be important to keep me warm.  This layer, given the material, will also keep odors from building up which makes them re-usable for more than one day (saving the load of what needs to be carried by the porters and taken in my luggage on the trip to/from Africa).  You can use polypropylene for this layer but I hear merino wool just performs better.  On summit day, you may need two layers of base layer.  I wore two under the hiking pants and then the hard shell on the outside.  I was consistently told before the trip that silk is about the best material to help retain warmth next to the skin.  I was surprised when I heard that.  I just happened to have this pair of silk leggings but, once on Tanzania, our lead guide told me to use the two merino layers I had instead of the silk pair and one merino pair.  It worked well enough for me on summit night!
  • Shorts for safari – I wore shorts during the safari (the zip-off hiking pants and an extra pair) but I also did wear my full hiking pants to better protect me from the sun (and bugs, I suppose).  Of course, shorts will also be things you wear in the evening or when exploring towns.

Clothing – Upper Body

  • Base layer– The upper body layering approach is much like the lower body’s.  I used base layers for the colder days – again merino wool.  Usually one but two on summit night!
  • Mid layer – I got a merino wool mid-layer to have for the evenings at camps lower than base camp. On summit night, this jacket would serve as the mid layer between the skin-hugging base layers and the outer layers I will mention next. Of the ones I show below, the Tasc one is interesting as it mixes their signature bamboo fabric with merino wool; I am a fan of their regular bamboo fabric shirts so I am curious how this one would work. The Icebreaker one has the power of one of the best-known and valued brands in terms of quality of the merino wool. Normally that means a higher price point but this one seems quite reasonable. The SmartWool brand, in my short years of serious hiking, has proven to be a good and reliable one; so theirs is worth reading more about when selecting a mid layer top. Finally, the Duofold is mainly polyester and only 11% wool. I include it as a caution that when you search and include the term “wool,” you need to make sure you read the product details as it may not be truly all or mostly wool!


  • Outer layers – For lower altitudes, a regular long sleeve CoolMax shirt.  If needed, a base layer under it.  I had a hard shell for rain and wind.  I also had a synthetic down jacket which was great because it was very compact when packed.  I could use it in the evenings while at camp on cold nights and, of course, on summit night.  To summarize for summit night:  two merino wool base layers, the merino wool light jacket, the hard shell (for wind, not rain), and the synthetic down jacket – which I was not wearing at the beginning of the ascent but which I wore during breaks and once it got too cold even while moving.
  • Shirts for safari – I had quick-dry short sleeve shirts that also had side vents – very comfortable in warm weather and preventing odors from building up…
  • Head- and neck- gear –  I used different items to cover my head from the cold and from the sun – both very important.  A typical sun hat to protect against the sun (with a rim) was a very good idea.  A skull cap was one of the items I used in cold weather.  In very windy or in rainy conditions, the hood from the hard shell helped a good deal.  I also had a buff which I used when the skull cap seemed like a little much.  In fact, the buff served many purposes, like loosely hanging around my neck to avoid burning up when in the sun.  I also used it to cover my mouth and nose when it got dusty on the trail or in the safari.  Finally, I brought a balaclava for summit night.  It would offer lots of protection with only a small space open to look out.  I could also just use it around my neck (would keep it warmer than the buff would).  So quite a few options!
  • Outer gloves –  You are going to want some extreme gloves! The gloves should be waterproof because you don’t want gloves getting wet where it is cold! And some good heavy duty insulation (e.g., PrimaLoft). You will still need liners underneath (you would think an extreme glove would be enough…).  My fingertips were still a little cold on summit night even with the liners! But that eventually passed as I entered “the zone” (read how summit night unfolded!)  You also need to decide on the type: mitt or separate-fingers. For that outer layer of gloves, I chose mitt. Plus: less “surface” exposed to the outside, so keeps more warmth around your fingers. Minus: Lower usability of your fingers since they cannot move independently. However, my rationale for mitts was that most of the time, I would be holding hiking poles in my hands during the ascent and for that, the mitt grip worked. Once I wanted to reach for tissues or take a photo, yes, I would have to take the mitts off but that was not a big deal. Even fingered style gloves may have been too thick for some of these motions.
  • Liners – I only used the extreme gloves summit night but the liners I used a lot on the days and evenings prior to summit night.  Maybe bring two pairs of liners of different thicknesses, or one pair of liners and one pair of lighter gloves.  The Grabber hand warmer thingies that generate some heat can be helpful though they do not always seem to generate the same level of heat at high altitude.  Nevertheless, any heat helps so you may want to bring some.

Clothing – sleep time

OK, do I really think you need help with this?  No and yes.  No, because sleep wear is such a personal comfort thing.  But yes because part of it is slightly counter-intuitive.  When you are sleeping in the super-cold weather sleeping bag at night at the higher altitudes and on colder nights, the less you wear, THE BETTER.  No, no, nothing kinky about that statement.  Simply the interior of the super-cold weather sleeping bag will make you feel your own body heat warming you as it leaves your body.  So the more clothing you wear, the less your body heat will work with the sleeping bag to keep you warm.  Other than that, keep the jackets, pants, etc. close to the sleeping bag because when you wake up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself (and, trust me, you WILL if you are taking Diamox), you will need to put those on because you will not be able to go outside in your “sleepwear”!

ilivetotravel Shira Camp with Mt. Kilimanjaro Olympus camera

A happy if tired hiker by his tent and the roof of Africa!  Wearing the merino wool mid layer and the synthetic down jacket.

Can I help you any more?

So, this is the run-down of the clothing for a hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  These are the things I got and used on the hike (and on the subsequent safari) and they served me very well.  Others may have different opinions or additional suggestions and I hope they will share those here.  Finally, I hope if you were not considering hiking Kili or were uncertain, check out my other posts on the topic (which I list below) and know that it is fairly attainable with good training and preparation!

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Day 1 of the hike

Day 2 of the hike

Day 3 of the hike

Day 4 of the hike

Day 5 of the hike

Day 6 of the hike (summit night!)

Day 7 of the hike (going down!)

The Machame Route

7 Items you won’t see me without on Kili

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