TREKKING FOR DUMMIES: AN EVEREST BASE CAMP TREK KIT GUIDE

JH16 Up and Under part-timer James Herald trekked to Everest Base Camp and reviewed his top kit choices and how they performed en route. Here are James's choice tips for anyone contemplating this or similar treks...

One of the most popular treks to try before you die is from Lukla airport up to Everest basecamp, following in the footsteps of all those famous Everest summiters. From legends such as Hillary and Norgay, Chris Bonnington and Ranulph Fiennes, through to modern day heroes like Kenton Cool. Having never been much of a trekker, the furthest I’ve ever walked is the Pen-Y-Fan horseshoe or the put in to paddle the Mellte. I wasn’t massively looking forward to 12 days of heavy trekking, let alone well bellow freezing temperatures in the upper highland desert and the perils of mountain sickness. With the trip bookended by a university teaching placement in an east Cardiff primary school, I headed straight out of the school carpark and off to Heathrow, mentally preparing myself for the jet-lagged Monday morning I would have to face in two weeks' time.

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Now, despite hours scouring the internet for kit lists and, ‘trekking for dummies,’ I was really struggling to put together a list of what I actually needed for the trip, and what would be overkill/underkill/ohmybagistooheavy-kill. Luckily, with a quick walk downstairs from the watersports department in Up & Under, I had hundreds of years of mountain and trekking experience and knowledge to draw on. I would massively recommend coming in and talking through your trip with Chris, Dave and the rest of team Up & Under, dedicate at least an hour or two and drink in as much advice as you possibly can. Everyone in the shop has some incredible little nuggets of wisdom that you can only really get from them in person, but hopefully this kit guide can give you a base to work off.

I was really lucky to already have a lot of the gear needed for the trip, and was able to beg, borrow and steal the majority of the rest (unfortunately I am going to have to replace a very smelly silk sleeping bag liner, sorry Katie!). But help from Up & Under made getting the remaining kit together a lot less painful than it could've been. This list is made up of everything I took on recommendation from everyone in the shop, the internet kit lists I did manage to find, and everything I wish I'd taken!

 

Boots

The perfect pair of boots is very much a case of personal preference, and there’s no point buying a pair of boots and taking them straight out of the box ready for the first day’s trek. Your most important piece of kit on the whole trek, is a well broken in pair of boots; they're essential and can make or break your trip. My pair of Garmont Rambler GTX boots (also available in Ladies fit) had mainly sat in the boot rack from the first time I had them, but were broken in and comfortable. They stood up really, really well, were well ventilated during the boiling hot first stages, then rugged, supportive and warm as things got more intense later on. I was delighted to find when I stepped off the plane in Luckla airport that our head guide was wearing the same boots, obviously a man of fine taste! Top tip from Up & Under: make sure you wear your boots to travel, or at least keep them in your hand luggage, as lost coats, thermals and walking poles can be replaced, but the boots that have been pre-broken in to your feet cannot.

Socks

Trawling through my sock draw I realised that I only owned 3 pairs of walking socks. I decided that even me, a smelly, grungy kayaker, couldn’t manage to spend 12 days plus travel time in 3 pairs of socks, so I bought myself a range of Bridgedale socks, thinner ones for low level and then mid-weight and heavy-weight for up high. I also bought one pair of SealSkins Trekker mids, fully waterproof in case the proverbial did hit the fan.

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Baselayers

I’ve never been one for wearing lots and lots close to my skin, I’ve always much preferred wearing an extra top layer or two to getting hot and sweaty in a few baselayers. In the early stages of the trip, I found that using a high wicking base layer like the Helly Hansen Lifa Active as my top layer suited me perfectly. The high wicking fabric kept me cool throughout and the long sleeves gave protection from the baking sun, something not achievable with short sleeve tops.

As we got higher and colder, I just moved up through the weights of baselayer, firstly a slightly thicker Helly Hansen, then the different warmths of Odlo Baselayers, starting with the warm, then moving up to the X-Warm. I do wish I’d taken the half zip rather than the no zip, useful for a little extra ventilation on the last few steep ascents for the sake of a couple of pounds.

A couple of Patagonia P4 Logo T-Shirts and Organic Cotton Tees saw me through my travel time before being left in Kathmandu, but keeping one to have as an evening shirt on the trek was a great decision. Being able to pull something on that felt soft and comfortable, and didn’t stink after days trekking, was a dream. Similarly, I kept a set of underwear and some socks just for the evenings, and put them in a separate bag in my main kit. Having a small bag full of clean-ish clothes to pull on when you get into the teahouses really cheered you up after a long days walk, even if the hot water in the shower had run out!

Bottoms

I took a pair of light trousers, a pair of heavier windproof trousers, a pair of walking shorts and a pair of stretchy Dewerstone climbers jeans to travel in. As with the base layers, I started with the light shorts, much like these Arc'teryx Rampart Long , moving on to the well weighted and stretchy Marmot Highland Pant which were great for the steep ascent up from Namche Bazar on the first acclimatisation day and when the snow drops they are absolutely perfect, warm, comfortable and windproof.

I left my jeans in storage in Katmandu to save as much weight as possible, but wished that I’d taken them up to wear in the teahouses rather than sweaty walking trousers. But when exploring the city and during the 36 hours travel time they were brilliant, comfortable, not too heavy or warm, and that slight stretch from the 2% elastane really lets you stretch out and relax after 12 days trek.

Fleece Mid-Layers

As I said above, I tried to use the baselayers as tops for as long as I could, purely to reduce the amount of kit that I had to carry. By day two or three, even in the thicker thermals, you could really start to feel the cold in the shady gorges, and once we hit the upper highland desert above the treeline the temperature plummeted. My answer was a Patagonia R1 Pull-On and a Arc'teryx Delta LT Zip. Quite similar in cut and construction, I wore the slightly lighter Arc’teryx lower down, and the R1 later on. This meant I could chuck the R1 on in the evening when it got colder, keeping it relatively clean until I needed it in the high mountains. I chose two hoodless designs, in hindsight I should probably have taken an R1 hoody, as I would have liked to have been able to walk further in just a fleece rather than a softshell or synthetic jacket, but found myself needing more insulation over my woolly hats.

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Insulation

After going above the treeline, the whole nature of the trip began to change. It became a lot more dusty, and there was minimal shelter from the wind, which wouldn’t be too bad if you weren’t sweating buckets when making ascents at altitude and getting chilled. My first port of call was the Jottnar Alfar. Designed for technical climbing, the windproof, DWR treated, ripstop nylon body panel and hood of the hybrid design kept the wind off my body and neck, and the stretchy and breathable Polartec® Powerstretch Pro® sleeves and sides ensured I was completely unrestricted in terms of movement and kept me from overheating. The Duoregulation™ synthetic fill on the body and hood kept me warm in the shade too!

As we got higher and higher with temperatures plumeting, I needed another insulating layer to add to my base layer top and I went with an Up & Under staff favourite, the Patagonia Nano-Air Hoody. I wore this under the Jottnar, and as I say to everyone who comes into the shop, its like wearing an uber-breathable duvet, I honestly couldn’t recommend it more! The FullRange™ insulation in the body and hood plus the Nano Puff® quilting in the side panels, allowed it to deliver tonnes of warmth, yet it still breathed like I was just wearing the Jottnar. I found that the pockets were in all the right places for me, the hood fitted my head like a glove, and the 100% nylon shell and plain-weave liner gave me a completely unrestricted range of movement. It also served as the jacket I wore at night when it got really cold, the breathability really coming into its own and stopping me from overheating in my sleeping bag.

Down

I only used my down jacket at one point on the trek, maybe showing I was overstocked in the insulation department! Something like the Crux Pyro will more than keep you warm no matter where you take it, whether you stop at basecamp or you carry on up over the icefall towards the western cwm. Rather you than me though!

Waterproofs

I was extremely lucky to only get rained on at one point in the whole trip, and that was on the last mile or so up the hill back to Luckla airport. I had my trusty Rab Bergen jacket in my sack, along with a new set of Bergen Pants, however at this point I was jogging up the final hill in 25 degree heat on my last legs so there was no chance of me stopping to put a coat on! From previous experience, my Rab Bergen has stood up to everything that cold and miserable Welsh weather can throw at an outdoor instructor, and I have upmost confidence that the pants will do the same when given the chance.

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Hats & Gloves

Similarly to the socks, I took a range of hats and moved through the different weights as we got higher and colder. I started in a cap, much like the Arc’ertyx Calvus, to keep the sun off my head and neck, and offer me something to lower over my face so no-one would notice me huffing and puffing my way up steep climbs. I considered getting a lifetime warranted Tilley hat, but decided I’m not yet wordly-wise enough to pull one off!

As it got colder, I moved through first a Rab Powerstretch Beanie and then a Black Diamond Torre Wool Beanie. The Black Diamond offered that little bit more insulation for higher up, but I really liked how breathable the Powerstretch fabric was, keeping me cool on the steep acclimatisation days.

In terms of gloves, I went for a pair of  Black Diamond Midweight Screentaps as my inners, and a pair of  Black Diamond Mercury Mitts. The screentap gloves were great, offering a good amount of warmth, but I was still easily able to use my big camera and its touchscreen round and about. The Mercury Mitts did exactly what I wanted, something big and warm to put on when it got really cold!

Buffs

One of the most underrated pieces of gear for Himalayan walking, or indeed any high altitude trekking, is a collection of good quality buffs. The buff acts as a filter preventing much of the dust you get at altitude from getting into your throat and lungs. They also protect your face from sunburn, either in the high temperatures down low or from the reflecting snow glare once you get up high. One important tip, one that I learnt the hard way, is to ensure you take good quality breathable buffs, to try and minimise the amount of condensation that builds up inside them. This was an absolute nightmare as it steams up your sunglasses every 30 steps, and makes your face all hot and sweaty. In hindsight, I definitely should have stumped up for a set of good quality buffs, like a High UV Protection Buff.

Sunglasses

Wearing good quality polarised sunglasses is definitely essential on this trek, not only protecting your eyes from UV rays and snow glare, but also keeping some of that ultrafine dust out of your eyes. As someone who wears contacts it was especially important to me, without them there's no way that I could have properly enjoyed the incredible views on offer. I wore a pair of Julbo Montebiancos, and they did me absolutely brilliantly. Features include side panelling to prevent sunlight spilling into your peripheral vision, vents to prevent them steaming up, and a sweat band along the top to stop it trickling into your eyes. Similar features can be found across the entire Julbo range.

Baggage

We were lucky enough to have a team of sherpas who carried most of the gear, allowing us to carry just a 30 litre daysack throughout. Your big kit bag needs to be rugged and waterproof, so I looked no further than the iconic The North Face Base Camp Duffel. How could I take anything else!

In terms of a daysack, I used my Millet Venom 30L sack, mainly for its narrower shoulder straps to avoid aggravating previous shoulder injuries. The thermo-molded Venom Back™ uses Ariaprene® foam covered with 3D mesh to provide soft, breathable contact with your body, preventing my back from getting absolutely soaking. It also has two big side pockets that fit a 1 litre Nalgene perfectly, important to be kept at hand and accessible throughout!

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Poles

I don’t often use trekking poles, and I’m always a bit nervous about putting pressure on my injured shoulders, so I only took one Leki Wanderfruend rather than a pair. It did prove to be invaluable when scaling snowy faces on the later acclimatisation blasts, especially when coming back down. Essential extra to your walking pole is making sure you’ve got the correct basket attatchment for your pole, otherwise they plunge into a pile of powder and offer you no help at all!

Sleeping Bag & Liner

A good sleeping bag is another make-or-break element of the trip. Despite staying in tea houses each night, at the top it was a common sight to wake up and find your litre of water frozen solid in the bottle next to you. A three season bag at the very least is essential, I used a Mountain Hardware Lamina Z Blaze and it kept me warm and snug every night. When it started to get really cold, I used a borrowed silk bag liner, which got smelly instead of making the bag smelly, and added a couple of degrees warmth as well. I’d definitely recommend a silk one, as they feel so much nicer than a cotton one. Getting a warm, snug night's sleep is so important, it’s hard enough to sleep at altitude with a headache and the wind whistling through the building, so a good sleeping bag is an absolute must!

Bits & Bobs

Our flight from Kathmandu to Luckla was delayed by eight hours due to high winds up the valley. Not only did this give us plenty of time to enjoy the luxuries of the domestic transfer lounge (its not quite Heathrow), and make for a very dramatic and ‘exciting’ skyvan flight, it also ensured that my first experience of Himilayan walking would be in the dark. Luckily, I was prepared with my trusty Petzl Tikka. Not really designed for this purpose, more for around camp/in the top kitchen drawer in case of power cut, it did a sterling job of being one of only two headtorches lighting our small groups' path, and continued to shine (geddit?) throughout the trip.

Next up I took a small travel roll of duct tape, which proved to be an absolute essential, great for repairing anything from boots to poles, I even used it to overcover someones blisters on their toes due to non-broken in boots! On the repair front, a tube of Stormsure weighs next to nothing and can seal up holes on almost any of your kit!

I kept everything in my duffel separated using Exped drybags. I would recommend this massively, as I could separate clean and dirty, cold weather and warm weather, waterproofs and down, and even another bag full of the clothes I wanted to change into when I got in from trekking. This made life so much easier, as I could go straight to the gear that I needed without rummaging through the whole bag.

Lastly, the thing I wish I'd taken the most, a pair of trainers, even a pair of Primark daps, to wear around the tea houses in the evenings. Having something comfortable to wear around that aren’t your boots would’ve been a massive relief. I took a pair of Teva Flip Flops, which were great when travelling and at the start of the trek on warmer nights, but once we got high just did not cut the mustard and ended up being paired with the Sealskinz Socks – gross!

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So my top tips….

1.) Don’t skimp on buffs

Having buffs to cover your face and mouth was super duper important. Due to the amount of fine dust both in the first few days out of Luckla and when you get higher and dryer, being able to keep this off your chest is hugely important. I only had a few cotton buffs that I’d got on the cheap and regretted it massively. Having good quality buffs that breathe well not only stops the dust getting onto your lungs, but also stop your sunglasses from steaming up every 30 seconds, which when your pushing up a big ascent is really important!

2.) Hydration is key!

Staying hydrated is uber important, not only does it keep you at peak physical performance, it also helps stave off altitude sickness. As you get further up to base camp, bottled water gets more and more expensive, so we had a filter pump that we filled up from every morning and lunchtime. Aim to put away at least 3 litres a day. Above Louboche there's no longer access to fresh water, it's all bottled, but it's worth using a pump until then. In terms of altitude sickness, take the pills (for peace of mind get them from your GP like I did, but the same pills are available in Kathmandu), don’t be afraid of a small headache, take lots of paracetamol with you and be prepared to slog it out!

3.) Check out the HRA (http://www.himalayanrescue.org)

The HRA is an organisation of voluntary doctors who set up a clinic at base camp for the entire season. They also have aid posts all over the region, including in Pheriche. Here they give a daily talk on the effects of altitude on the body, and how you can combat the dangers of altitude sickness. They also give clinic tours, and you have a chance to meet the doctors who spend six months of their lives living in mud huts and eating Dal-Baht! They’re a voluntary organisation who charge trekkers for medical care in order to provide it to sherpas and locals at a price affordable to them. For example, the day we were there, a local who had a burst appendix was provided with scans, IV antibiotics, a bed for the night, ventilation and emergency support when he deteriorated, and helicopter evacuation, thousands of pounds worth of treatment, for around $30. By charging trekkers $50 a consultation, they are providing medical car to people who would otherwise be forced to go without or walk hundreds of miles.

4.) Be prepared with your kit

I kept my kit separated in dry bags in my sack. Every evening I prepped not only for the morning after, but for when we arrived at the next teahouse. I always had the next warmest set of kit ready to wear in the evening (if I wore my light base layer in the day, I had my midweight base layer ready to put on). Everything I was going to wear that evening was already in a separate dry bag that I could just pull out and put on, a lifesaver when you're knackered after a long day, or struggling with a thumping headache. I which I'd taken some light daps with me, which would be amazing to slip on in the tea houses, just giving your feet a chance to be in something different to the boots or shoes you’d worn all day.

5.) If you find a warm shower, use it!

Hot water is something of an enigma during the basecamp trek, so if you find a hot shower, trample everyone and fight to the death to get in there first. Being a smelly kayaker it wasn’t so much being unclean that made me want a shower, more a chance to relax, take five minutes to myself and give my legs a chance to relax in the warm water. The best ones we found were in the ‘Rivendell’ tea house down the hill from Tengboche monastery, so if you have a chance to get in there, do it!

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