(And What to Leave at Home!)
If I were to be completely honest with you, most of my travels start off of an impulse. Some turn into wonderful, well thought out ideas while others don’t transform into anything more than irresponsible. Let’s be real, my plans aren’t always the smartest financial decisions; (hence me wanting to share my mistakes with you).
Despite this, I have yet to regret in the slightest one of these last-minute choices. One of the best “on a whim” decisions I made was agreeing to take a trip to a continent I never before found appealing. While I was still studying at university, an email went out to my student body looking for a group of scouts to trek on foot through Asia. The summer trip was to gather information about rural villages that quite literally had been dropped off the map. Me, of course with my vast knowledge of all things trekking (being none), decided I perfectly fit the description and booked my ticket.
Before I knew it, I was dropped off in the bustling city of Kathmandu, Nepal.
Now, clearly there is a lot more to this story, however, my purpose today is to help you avoid packing the wrong things, or forgetting the right ones. Trust me, it’s not fun to realize after you’ve landed on the other side of the world. Let’s call it, trekking the Himalayas for beginners. Here are my top 5 things to remember when packing up for your cross-country adventure.
Top 5 Things to Pack in Your Suitcase
1. Hiking Boots
I’m putting this as the number one thing because I cannot stress enough the importance of good footwear. Now is not the time to get bargain tennis shoes because you will ruin them and your feet in the first week. Continuing your trek is not as fun on bloody feet. I recommend trying different kinds of styles and brands because they really are unique to each person.
For me, I’m absolutely obsessed with my Keens. They held up perfectly throughout the trek, and have since carried me through many other travels. They are light and breathable, but also kept my feet warm during the nasty rainy season. If you’re like me and have a little wider feet, look into Keens.
If that description doesn’t quite fit you, check out some other brands. Vasque or Timberlands also are solid choices. I’ve known some people to swear by certain brands while others hate them. It’s all dependent on the wearer.
I would recommend high ankle support. They have to be waterproof unless you enjoy pruned feet and disgusting smells following you around. If you’re balling on a budget, these are the most important things to spend your dime on.
2. Hiking Sandals
Okay, I know this one sounds silly but there will definitely be times that you will need to get out of your awesome new boots. You'll want a pair of "camp shoes"- the second pair of shoes you have on your back to wear around the campsite/hostel when you stop for a break.
I found it best that my camp shoes doubled as hiking sandals for shorter, less strenuous hiking days. Not to mention, there were plenty of times, that despite my boots being waterproof, it was easier to cross a river or flooded area in open sandals.
If you’ve been eyeing a pair of Chaco’s or any other ridiculously priced sandal and needed an excuse to buy them, this is it.
I cannot talk more highly of my Chaco’s. The straps adjust to fit your feet and they come in all kinds of fun colors and designs. When I was trekking they attached easily to the outside of my bag and when I got home they became my go-to shoe for literally almost every situation. I stepped in wet concrete and the suckers held up after having to scrape it off. They are worth every penny.
(I have the third ones below-the double strapped blue ones!)
3. Hiking socks
I know I’ve been on the foot topic for a while but that’s because they are your most important hiking equipment to keep in prime condition. You can summon up the courage to keep hiking when you’re tired. Blistered feet are a little harder to overcome mentally.
Invest in some good hiking socks. There are literally so many kinds but basically, you want a pair that can work in multiple kinds of weather, are sweat resistant and thick enough for your long treks.
I bought Smartwool and frankly, they worked well for me, but I only purchased one pair. I saved it for the more strenuous treks and just used my basketball socks for the rest of the time. They serve almost the same purpose and even though the hiking socks are nice, they’re not a total necessity if you already have durable, sweat resistant and strong socks.
4. Water filter system
A water filter system comes with high recommendation from me. I did not even think about packing one and it was a big mistake. I survived off of bottled water and in general, did a good job at keeping hydrated. However, it came as a big advantage to my fellow trekkers that carried a water filter for hiking, camping and travel.
Instead of watching how much water we consumed, we could drink up knowing that the next clean water could be found in the approaching rivers and streams.
I purchased my trekking pack in Kathmandu. Again it was cheap and did the job, but if you’re seriously considering a long trek, if the backpack is not fit to you, you will have some unnecessary back, shoulder or hip pain. The adjustable straps of course only work to a point. The backpack should fit to your body!
There are a lot of good trekking packs. The key here is to get one adjusted to you.
If by this point you’re thinking “Wow! This is adding up to a lot of money!” I totally get it, but not purchasing the essentials will really bite you in the a$# later on. Remember your priorities and get your shoes first. Plus, keep reading because I created a list of things not to waste your money on as well!
Top 5 Best Things to Leave at Home
I did not pack one, nor did I regret not buying one at home. Since I went to a place literally known for trekking, I was able to buy a lot of things in country-dirt cheap. I purchased a two-person tent I could fit in my pack for less than 15 dollars U.S. It maybe was not the prettiest thing in the world but did more than the job. Not to mention, we stayed in hostels or hotels much more often than I ever would have imagined.
If you're hiking during off seasons, many hostels will let you sleep for free if you purchase dinner. (And dinner is cheap.) Remember, if you’re headed to Nepal as I did, the currency exchange rate will work in your favor drastically.
I would have personally been disappointed if I had spent a lot of money for a tent that I barely slept in. Plus, I got to avoid the hassle of packing it in a suitcase.
2. Sleeping bag
Another item I purchased in country that did me just as well. Sure it was knock off name brand, but it kept me warm, was light, easy to pack and again dirt-cheap.
3. Cooking set/Food
I was so worried about food I bought all kinds of nonsense to cook with. Then I learned that it was literally cheaper to eat at local restaurants, tasted waaaaaayyy better and left you much more full. In most parts of Asia, it is considered offensive to not finish the food on your plate.
We spent many nights holding our stomachs after devouring much more than we should have. A meal typically costed less than 30 cents U.S. Trust me. If you’re one of the main trekking routes you will not go hungry. I didn’t use my cooking set once in three months and it took up unnecessary space.
4. Clothes for Every Type of Weather
Too many clothes means too heavy, too difficult to carry and too frustrating to wash and dry. Pack some staples or try some dual-purpose clothing like zip-off trekking pants. I kept mine as pants most of the trip to keep my legs from getting scratched up but it was nice once in a while to cool down and take off the bottom half. I even swam in the shorts.
5. Extra weight
I know this may sound silly but this article is for the ones of us that aren’t so experienced so just as a rule of thumb, keep your pack light. If you’re a reader or writer, for sure bring a book. Don’t pack a ridiculous amount of hard copies to weigh you down throughout your trip just cause you might spend your evenings reading.
You may think that your pack is light in the beginning, but after being on the trail for a while you’ll be looking to throw off extra weight.
I promise, no matter what you forget, or even overpack, you will still have the most amazing time discovering a new area by trekking. Hopefully, I can help you avoid some of the bigger mistakes that first-time trekkers, including myself, made!
Do you have any cool stories about your favorite hikes? What did you forget to pack that you hit yourself over the head for later? Let me know in the comments and we can share our knowledge as a group!
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As always, God Bless and I hope to see you somewhere around the world.