Packing a Rucksack is indeed a very important aspect of any trip or trek. On the Himalayas it is mandatory that a backpacker/trekker must have essential and mandatory items, yet light enough to move comfortably.
The treks on the different parts on the Himalayas stretch from short and medium to extended long duration. Shorter duration trek backpacking is easier but medium to long duration are need to be packed carefully. Higher the duration of the trek, higher the importance.
For serious trekkers, there is no way other than to pack his/her Rucksack with attention to ensure own safety. The catch is to pack light with all the necessary and safety items with you.
Every gram on the mountain matters. Quality light weight products are often expensive. These are designed to meet standards on harsh climate. I would personally assert to acquire/buy such clothing/equipment one by one, if not all together.
Following items are absolutely mandatory for any trekking trip.
1) A Rucksack
2) A trekking shoe
3) Warm Jacket
4) A Windproof
5) Sleeping Bag
On how to select the items read:
Here I would focus on how to pack everything in one singleRucksack/Backpack with high safety. There are treks where one gets an option to offload some weight, leaving a luggage at the base camp. While returning you can pick the left luggage. In certain popular and safer routes trekker has the opportunity to offload the Rucksack on a mule or even to a porter. But crossing a pass or most of the longer duration trek will require packing everything in one Rucksack and carry it all through. A medium duration trek can involve 4-7 trekking days and longer duration ranges between 8 to 12 trekking days.
A mid to long duration trekking Rucksack should weigh between 8 to 12 Kg. Trekkers should grow the habit to carry it comfortably. This is to ensure higher safety of the trekkers as well as leaving lesser footprint and thus sustainable.
I have seen various articles on internet about what are the things to carry in a trek. The extended generic list of article amazes me every time. The paraphernalia goes on and on. To follow, one has to carry sometimes more than 20 Kg!
Essentially a trekking Rucksack/Backpack on the Himalayas will contain.
(1) Clothing (2) Windproof/Waterproof/Rain gear (3) Sleeping Bag (4) Accessories (5) First-Aid/Medical Kit (6) Dry food to sustain a day in emergency condition
For own safety in a difficult/hard trek, a trekker should always carry the following items with him/her in the rucksack
1) Warm Jacket 2) Waterproof plus Windproof gear 3) Sleeping bag + carry mattress 4) Emergency dry food items
The first step is to select a proper Rucksack as per your requirements. From my experience of trekking almost 50 mid to long duration treks, we buy unutilised bigger or too small backpacks. Keeping in mind the medium to long duration treks, it is sufficient to use a Rucksack/Backpack between 35 to 50 Litre. A 50 L one has enough space inside to pack everything including your sleeping bag for a trek up to 2 weeks. One such bag should weigh within 1.5Kg.
Clothing: Always use synthetic quick dry t-shirts. Cotton tees are heavy and take time to get dried. 4/5 t-shirts are good enough for a home to home round trip. For lower use again the synthetic light weight/quick dry trousers. 2/3 such trousers are good. Don’t use comfortable jeans unless there is an option to leave luggage at base camp. A Cargo/Six-pocket can be used instead. Together upper and lower wear should not weigh more than 2Kg.
Innerwear, socks, cap, balaclava, gloves are lighter items and should be within 500g.
For a high altitude trek an upper thermal base layer (Woolycot) is essential. The lower one is optional. Normally protection is vital for upper portion of the body. Adds another 500g to your back.
Warm jackets are of different types and varying weight. Normally a Fleece/Synthetic Fill/Down jacket is light and provides adequate warmth. The weight should be within a Kilogram for such a jacket.
A windproof upper with hood is also a must item. Normally these will have water repellent property. A typical Raincoat/Poncho is not recommended as these are heavy and not breathable, unless you are trekking in monsoon.
Sleeping Bag: For a Himalayan trek Sleeping bags are rated with a temperature rating between -10 Deg C to 0 Deg C. For lower temperatures you can use one additional base layer inside while sleeping. Synthetic/Down filled sleeping bags weigh up to 2Kg.
Accessories: You have to be careful to select what to take and what to discard. My approach is being minimalist to choose from a wide range of items. A tooth paste (Small tube of Rs 10), toothbrush, tissue roll, a Boroline/chapstick, a scissor, (or a light weight multi tool), a torch, soap strip and a small container of cold cream are good for the purpose. Maybe a small deo-spray on top of these. No need for a shaving or any beautification kit. Should not weigh more than 500g.
First-Aid/Medical Kit: A crepe bandage, cotton, Dettol/Savlon, antiseptic creme, a course for each including headache, vomiting, anti-inflammatory, pain killer, and stomach upset, Volini spray. Together all these weigh again maximum of 500g.
Keep some dry instant edible food items for emergency. A pack of candy, few chocolate bars/energy bars, dry fruit mix and a small pack of Glucon C/D/Gatorade. Another 500g.
Wait, we are not done yet! A bottle of water is must. Ask the guide clearly whether you will be able to refill the bottle on the trail. For a long trekking day and scarce water, you may need to carry 1.5L of water. Weighs additional 1.5Kg.
Adding up the items, total weight remains around 11Kg (including the sleeping bag and the Rucksack)
I will provide the details of my packed Rucksack for an example and measure the weight.
Rucksack: Camp M4 – 40L – 1Kg
T-Shirts, trek pants, innerwear, socks, caps, gloves etc.: ~ 2Kg
Warm Jacket: Mountain Hardware Windstopper Tech Fleece ~ 650g
Windproof/Waterproof: Marmot Precip Jacket ~ 370g
Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardware Ultralamina 15 Deg F ~ 1.3Kg
Accessories and Medical Kit: ~ 1Kg
Water: Hydration pack of 1L ~ 1Kg
Miscellaneous: Notebook, pen, GPS, Binocular etc ~ 1Kg
Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ200 with additional batteries ~ 1Kg
Now you believe that I am able to pack everything within the limit of 10Kg.
Once you know what to pack, order of packing different items need to be considered. Things you may need while walking should be kept on top. Sleeping bag should go in the bottom, as you don’t need it before campsite. This gives stability to the Rucksack. A well packed Rucksack would stand straight on the ground without a support. Pack similar items together. Its easier to carry a backpack when the load is evenly distributed.
A rain or drizzle is common on the mountain. Use a waterproof Rucksack cover/Rain fly. Your jacket and sleeping bag must not get wet in any condition. For double protection use an inner liner of polythene sheet. Even if your Rucksack is wet from outside, the inner will make sure that items are dry and toasty.
I hope that now you are confident about what and how to pack for a trekking trip to the Himalayas.
To finish,I would say that backpacking is an art and pack rationally
Author Saptarshi Roy is founder of HIMALAYA TREKKERS.