Every adventure has lessons to teach. Like that one backpacking trip that taught you to always check out the scenic overlook, even if it means a mile detour. Maybe that one rafting trip that taught you to always pack a rain shell, even if the forecast looks bluebird.
In this edition of Therm-a-Rest Beta, contributor Ola Krol shares not just one lesson, but nine gear lessons she learned while trekking in Nepal.
There are two moments that, without fail, happen during any extended camping trip. The first is the moment when you believe you’ve packed everything you need. The second can happen at any point in your trip. It’s the moment you realize you forgot something.
This time, I realized I forgot multiple things. Nine things to be exact.
Traveling to any foreign country has the uncertainty that the right deodorant will be available, or that when you ask for tampons at the grocery store the employees won’t point you towards the nearest temple. Yet, you’re introduced to a whole new level of packing woes when you opt out of staying in a bustling city and choose to venture into the wild and camp. Language barriers and first-world comfort becomes the least of your worries when you’re trying to decide on the value of having extra socks versus the extra weight they’ll create for you to carry.
Growing up on the west coast of Canada I’ve always thought of myself as very lucky with accessible backcountry camping and a tribe of adventure souls always willing to accompany me. A short six months ago, I found myself packing for a trek to Everest Base Camp with my original adventure partner, dear old dad. I knew there would be significant mileage between small villages, and a lot of height to cover in two weeks of climbing- a lot slipped between the cracks when I was packing from the comfort of my bedroom.
Since my trip to Nepal, I’ve created a list of adventure essentials I’m never leaving behind:
Hikes through the Sagarmāthā region of Nepal on our way to Base Camp always seemed never-ending while we were on them- especially when everyone you meet along the trek seems to be not only faster than you, but more chipper. On the third day in we hit what can only be described as a stair-master from hell and proceeded to climb steps for six hours. After spending the day being passed by everyone on the trek, my muscles were screaming at me to move as little as possible- and I ended up skipping out on the hot soup and card games from the trekkers meet-up. If you’re like me and staring at a moldy ceiling from your even moldier cot doesn’t sound like your ideal Wednesday afternoon- pack a few books- maybe paperback. They’re worth the extra weight you’ll have to carry and instead of feeling like forcing conversation with the two or three people you spent the whole day sweating next to you can get lost in another world for a bit.
The week before our trek my dad spent every waking moment trying to convince me we didn’t need to bring all of our camera gear to conserve weight. More than anything, I am so glad that I made the space for my lens’ and camera as opposed to the alternative- sharing one camera and a few lens’ between us. Every corner we turned the mountains were making my heart fly out of my chest and I didn’t put the camera away once- and neither did he. Other than the camera charger we shared and often argued over at the end of every day our separate set up allowed for us to document our days through our own perspectives.
You have the option of stealing away into a small tea hut for a few hours after your hike and paying $12 American for an hours worth of charge on a device of your choice or you can embrace the sunny weather of the Nepalese mountains and simultaneously charge your cellphone as you hike. Paying the additional $12 for 15 mins worth of wifi is your own call.
I have a best friend who often times knows what I need before I even need it. She gifted me these space-age, down-filled moon boots for my birthday one year and I swear if I didn’t get such weird looks wearing them in line for coffee in the morning, I probably wouldn’t ever take them off. When your blood-soaked hiking boots are frozen over at the end of every day, the last thing you want to do is put them on for the quick jaunt to the toilet at night- and that’s where these slippers would have perfectly fit into my trek-life schedule. Midnight bathroom jaunts.
Speaking of midnight bathroom jaunts: the higher one got in reaching base camp the less bare bones toiletries became available. The outhouses that became fewer and far between on the way up became less and less equipped with toilet paper and as the altitude rose so did the chance you’d be washing up with a nearly frozen bucket of water. Always make sure you’re packing enough toilet paper- and then double that. It may be the difference between comfortably going back to sleep after a midnight pee break and not freezing your buns off. The look of grief one man from San Diego had when he dropped his last, fresh roll down the hole of the outhouse will haunt me forever.
I packed, what I thought would be, enough pairs of pristine matching socks for the hike- all of the same brand- all fairly new. Not only did they become the blood and sweat soaked remains of what once resembled socks, I only had just enough to wear if I wore them for two days at a time. If I had packed the extra pairs my dad insisted upon, I would have had my choosing of length and thickness each day and probably wouldn’t have spent every night rubbing my numb feet before sleep.
Half way through the hike, I gave in and had to buy trekking poles. I’m quite convinced they’re the only reason I made it to the top. I suffered a serious blow to my pride once I realized I needed them- having often led the tirade against trekking poles back in Vancouver. My scoffing came to an abrupt end when after an exceptionally dry season in Nepal, my feet couldn’t find traction in the dry dirt and I fell, much like a turtle would, with my backpack glueing me to the ground. I spent a night in icing my bruised gluteus while my trekking friends all played pool at the highest Irish bar in the Himalayas. Love them or hate them, using trekking poles the rest of the way prevented me from acquiring a hunchback.
Proper Sleeping Bag:
I’m lucky that the bag I brought was a negative twenty heat machine. My original bag had found it’s way into my dad’s pack. I watched as he climbed into it every night with six pairs of socks on, two jackets, a hat and three pairs of long underwear- only to wake up every night freezing anyway. Near the top, he’d have to find hot water in a bottle and keep it in the bag with him to prevent his toes from falling off. I however, felt like I was in Mexico. I could have been drinking cold margaritas and wearing tropical sunglasses it was so warm in mine.
Speaking of sunglasses the pair I had originally planned on wearing were great- polarized, well used on my hikes back home, and tinted the world into pretty shades of soft yellow. My dad had purchased what can only be defined as the fastest sunglasses the world had yet seen. A bright neon green framing that wrapped thinly around his head. As we got higher and higher it became apparent just how impractical mine were in comparison to his 80’s reflective blue lenses. When the sun hits the glacier the view is only dazzling if whatever lens you’re looking through is tinted enough so you can see it. Out came the remainder of my savings for a pair of Julbo Glacier 4 glasses- but they stayed on my face for the remaining ten days of the trip. With views like that, Aerosmith would agree, you “don’t wanna miss a thang”.
Just last week I went on my first extended camping trip after the Himalayas. While dangling my feet off of a cliff on the Californian coast I reached into my backpack for my camera. Of course- my camera battery was drained. These lists aren’t perfect, and if you’re as scattered as I am it’ll take time to figure out exactly what works best for you. But as the nature of your trips continue to evolve so will the opportunity to finally nail it.
Final parting words? Make sure you’re doing the research for the nature of your trip and the locale beforehand so you’re not stuck in the wilderness without TP.