What should I pack for the upcoming trek? It is going to be a multi-day trek , so how do I find the right combination between essential , desirable , weight carrying capacity and the correct frame of mind to enjoy the scenic vistas with the backpack on my back.
I had all these queries in me when I undertook my first backpacking trek and have over multiple treks learnt a few key points, hence the reason for writing this article to put my thoughts on what to carry in a backpack in a lucid and comprehensive manner.
I will attempt to write based on my experiences and personal comfort, I am sure that there will be a bit of individual deviation for everyone in terms of what to carry and the quantity of each item .
Multi day treks generally are extensive affairs, in India most multi day treks are undertaken in high altitude Garhwal region or Ladakh Sector. I firmly believe that a good support team and guide are essential for these kind of treks. Now, with support team available it is ideal to have two kinds of carrying options: The day Pack that will be carried by the individual and the camp backpack which will be loaded onto mules or carried by a designated porter. The day pack is generally supposed to have ready to use gear and articles needed during the day while the camp backpack will be filled with heavier items to be used for the night as well as duration of trek.
However, I carry only one backpack and everything is a part of that, the only other pack that I carry is the Photographic gear bag which is a separate article in itself. As I prefer only one backpack, my key words and theme remain minimal weight coupled with Safety and reliability of each item to perform what they are supposed to do under adverse conditions.
So let’s Begin, the main categories are:
Trekking in high altitude, one needs the right kind of clothing to cover every part of the body starting from the head to toe. I follow the system of Layering when it comes to selecting and wearing clothes in high altitude. Foe more on this do click on this link:
I prefer two inner base layer only, one which I am wearing and one acting as spare. These base layers need to be full sleeve, stretchable to an extent; light weight and should be able to regulate the body temperature. This layer is not meant to keep one warm, this needs to be remembered. Generally made of synthetic polyester, merino wool or sometime silk it offers breathability to the skin which is of paramount importance. My choice is the MeCo Long Sleeve Zip Tee and flux pants by RAB.
As we move ahead during the day, we would slowly be gaining in altitude hence even though the sun would be bright, the chill in wind would be noticeable. To counter this, we need the Mid Layer. My personal choice is the Firebrand Jacket from RAB, UK. This is a light weight mid layer fleece lined with usage of Polartec fabrics. Having a double layered collar and zipped A line pockets with slim fit design it is one of my favorites.For pants I don a rugged, light weight, stretchable semi waterproof model designed by RAB,UK called Caliber Pants. These are specialist , technical mountaineering pants with a weather resistant membrane for use in cold harsh environments. They have some pretty awesome zippers and fabric reinforcements in key wear areas. They also feature an integrated aluminum buckle and are made of Polartec Power shield fabrics, fleece lined with under boot cord loops.
In case we reach in altitude in excess of 5000 mts or when the cold is really severe, I put on my Outer Layer. This layer is designed to protect the body from the elements of the weather and terrain. Hence it needs to be windproof, water proof as well as tough. This is an important layer and if this permits the wind, rain or snow to seep in, the inner layers too will not be able to function in the way they are designed. I carry only one of these. The ones which I use without hesitation is the Infinity Endurance Jacket from RAB,UK. This is a fully featured technical down jacket, designed for alpine winter conditions. It is made up of a combination of Pertex fabric and Quantum fabrics to attain a minimal weight while at the same time provides durability and water resistance containing 210 g of 850 FP Hydrophobic goose down thereby providing exceptional warmth to weight ratio. Key features include a helmet compatible hood with an adjustable peak and zipped pockets throughout. For the lower part of my body I rely on Photon Pants by RAB, UK. These are highly warm, Prima Loft insulated with a high degree of movement, designed for extreme polar environments. Extremely durable, these are made to withstand expedition abuse. Having full length side zips, they can be taken off and on when wearing crampons too which I think is a cool feature. They have stood by me in temperatures ranging from – 30 in deep winter to conditions of extreme wind chill accompanied by falling rains resulting in dramatic drop in temperature.
As stated earlier it is imperative to cover each part of the body, hence I would recommend also the following:
Socks. Socks can be insulated or hiking. Generally during the day in warm conditions, one should opt for wearing hiking socks as the feet are generating heat. However, in case one is hiking in deep snow, definitely opt for woolen socks. At night in the camp, please wear twin layers of socks and if temperature is going down, opt for twin layer of woolen socks to provide insulation. My suggestion don’t compromise in these, for nothing is worse than wearing day old socks. Carry as many number as many are the trek days and then add 30 % more.
Shoes. I would always recommend water proof, Gore Tex lined, VIBRAM soled hiking shoes. The other option is to select water proof, leather lined shoes. The advantages are that these shoes keep the heat generated within and the waterproofing protects the snow or water going inside. In case one is trekking in powdery snow, use gaiters to seal the mouth of the shoe. I earlier used the Quechua Forcaz 500 but it had numerous limitations and recently upgraded to the Tibet Gtx from LOWA. These are simply fantastic. For heavy summiting attempts, my favorite and recommendation is the Nepal EVO Gtx from La Sportiva.
Bavaclava/neck shield / stole /wide rimmed hat: Though we would be trekking in the day, the high altitude will ensure that the sun will be extremely harsh hence it is mandatory to cover the neck region, open exposed part of the face and the head if needed. These again need to be fleece lined especially the Bavaclava and stole as they will be used in the night too.
Woolen cap/Balaclava. At nights, or when the weather gets worse it is important to cover the ears and the exposed surface of the face with a fleece lined woolen cap /balaclava.
Protection for eyes. During the recent trip to Pin Valley in Winter, the snow was all around in piles covering the entire landscape and with a shining sun overhead, the setting was perfect to afflict the individual with a heavy bout of snow blindness. Snow blindness is caused by overexposure to the sun’s rays in snow covered terrain. This is a literal sun burn of the eyes. It is extremely painful and dangerous and can lead to blindness and even cause safety related issue as the trekker will not be able to concentrate on the trail ahead. Additionally, the UV rays can seriously damage the delicate eyes. Hence invest in a extremely reliable sunglass. The rating should be UV400 certified, wrap around close fit with solar shield. The one I use is from OREO, and it is a CAT 3 variety but not that great a model, looking for an upgrade myself.
Gloves: Definitely go for twin layers, the inner layer is the working glove to be used when the cold is manageable and there is no water crossing happening. Always better to have touch sensor enabled inner gloves so that one can use the camera or the phone easily without having to take the gloves off. The outer gloves are to be waterproof and insulated, to be used when the weather deteriorates and in the camps when there is less activity. The ones I use are the Phantom Grip Gloves for inner from Rab, UK which incorporate once again the Polartec wind pro fabric and is technically very superior to most inner gloves available in the Indian Markets. For the extreme cold, my choice is IceFall Gauntlet which is a waterproof breathable gauntlet made of Primaloft Gold Insulation for durability and warmth up in the mountains. Designed for cold wet environments high up in the mountain s, they have been extensively successful in extreme alpine conditions.
Rain Protection. Hard shell jackets are the best. The hard shell provides weather protection in respect of being windproof, water proof, breathable. Look for jackets that are made of GORE-TEX fabric. This technology is engineered to meet the performance needs and provide intensive performance. I am presently debating to go in for one from. If the hard shell is not breathable, the interior of the body would be like a steam house and one definitely does not want that. My recent first ever purchase is the Latok Jacket, staple of Rab water proof range. It offers complete protection and durability in the harshest of conditions. Fully technical climbing jacket, incorporating 3L e Vent fabrics, it also features a helmet compatible hood and deep pockets to keep a variety of stuff. The other good ones can be from Brand Arc’teryx .
FIRST AID .
There are those who carry first aid kits that would put the local dispensary to shame and then there are those who carry nothing other than tape and band aid and an attitude that says “dekh lenge “. I would like to be somewhere in between but leaning towards the former category.
I carry the following whenever I move for a trek or a road trip:
Antibacterial ointment / adhesive bandages/band aids/ duct tape
Hand sanitizer/headache tablets/stomach upset /fever relief tablets/throat pain tablets
Glucose/ORS/anti-fungal foot powder / Diamox / sun screen / lip balm
Pain relief spray/pain relief balm
Someone once said “safety does not happen by accident “
Safety is an important part of a trek. One should always cater to this aspect. I carry a legal outdoor hunting knife. Also carry power head torch with battery backup. I am looking at being able to buy a rugged satellite communicator and gps navigator that would use global iridium coverage for 2-way text messaging and tracking anywhere in the world especially in places where phone networks do not work. But these are expensive and need research before investing.
Trekking poles. Generally, are made of two materials, Carbon fiber and aluminum. My preference is aluminum as in extreme cold and rugged terrain the carbon fiber which is lighter can crack or splinter. Also look for features like foldability, shock absorption, locking options before selecting. I use a pair of them commonly available from Quechua known as Forclaz 500 Aluminum.
Sleeping Bag. Right sleeping bag can make all the difference to a peaceful restful sleep while one is on the trek whether it is in wintery conditions. I always prefer a good quality 4 season down filled sleeping bag. Presently I am using the Expedition 1000 series from Rab, designed for use on expeditions to 8000 mts and above. These use high quality 850 FP European Goose down and a combination of Pertex fabrics having hydrophobic quality. The mummy shaped bags are built to withstand -30 deg and each bag is hand filled. In my recent trek on the frozen Zanskar in temperatures of -20 centigrade I was perfectly at ease in the night with my body enjoying a good warm environment to rejuvenate. An important extension of the sleeping bag is a Therm rest mat which acts as an insulation.
Water Bladder/LifeStraw. On treks keeping oneself hydrated is one of the most important functions. Either use a water bladder or a LifeStraw, which can be refilled at any stream considering its properties. Read about LifeStraw in the link below.
Torch with cells. Carry head torch as well as a small flashlight with sufficient spare batteries.
Compass / slim nylon rope (40 mts) / Kindle or paper back/light weight sandals for the night / wet wipes.
( in grams)
( in grams)
|Inner Layer||02 Pair including
One being worn
|Upper : 190 g
Lower : 150 g
|Mid layer||01 upper
|Upper : 385
Lower : 590
|01 lower is worn at any given time|
|Upper Layer||01 upper
|Upper : 575
Lower : 530
|Hard shell Jacket||01||720||720|
|Shoes||01||1800||1800||On the feet always|
|Medical Kit||As described||pack||600||600|
|Safety||As described||01 each||1000||1000|
|Therm a Rest||01||150||150|
|Wet Wipes||01 set||—||—|
|Torch with spare batteries and headlamp||01 each||300||600|
|Toiletries||Set||300||300||Bare minimum is the rule here|
|Hot water bag|
|Rope nylon 8 mm||40 mts||400||400|
hand towel quick dry
As can be seen, this per me is the non-negotiable list of items to carry for a multi-day trek. Each item is important and has its utility defined. I have not added a tent and cooking gear because there will be the support team that would be carrying those. Hope this check list helps you to makes one of your own. The brands or models that i have listed down are based on my own experience , there are others which are definitely superior to these but then that number is not much. Do invest in a good product for that will save you in adverse conditions and last a long time thereby balancing out on the economic front also.
Please find attached some technical details that I had used in the above article.
Polartec: They are the creators of Polartec fabrics which is the most advanced performance textile available today. They offer over 300 types of fabric with requisite qualities that is needed for a particular application. Their innovations include the Polartec power stretch, polartec powder dry, Polartec power shield , Polartec wind shield , Prima Loft etc. Almost all the industry leaders who believe in quality and performance use these fabrics in their products be it Marmot, RAB, Salomon, Arcteryx, REI, Mammut, Patagonia, North Face, Black Diamond, Western Mountaineering and many more.
E-vent fabrics: Launched in 1999, e-Vent fabrics are the benchmark when it comes to waterproofing/breathable quality in the outdoor hiking clothing that is worn. They have successfully created a “dry system “that instantly vents off the moisture that builds up inside.
Down goose. The down refers to a layer of fine feather found under the tougher exterior feather in specific birds like goose, which are used as a fine insulator in jackets and sleeping bags.
Fill power. This is measure of the fluffiness of a down product that is related to the insulating value that is provided by the down. The higher the fill power, more is the insulation capability. Fill power ranges from 300 to around 900, where 900 is for highest quality goose down. So keep this in mind the next time you go shopping for a down filled sleeping bag or jacket.
GORE-TEX: Gore-Tex is a waterproof, breathable fabric membrane able to repel liquid while allowing water vapour to pass through.
VIBRAM: VIBRAM is a special material used in soles of mountaineering boots which has revolutionized the way Hiking/mountaineering boots. It provides excellent traction, abrasion resistance