Gearing up in Kathmandu for trekking in Nepal wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as I had fantasized. But having just left Thailand during one of the hottest months (April), I was dreadfully unprepared for mountain weather. Looking down at my shorts and flip-flops, I knew some serious gear shopping in Kathmandu was necessary.
- This is part 3 in a series about solo trekking in Nepal’s Everest National Park.
Shopping for Trekking Gear in Kathmandu
I navigated Thamel’s labyrinth of lanes and alleys for three days in search of supplies. My life became a sequence of unlit, musky shops pushing used and fake trekking gear. I didn’t expect an REI experience, but at the same time, I thought there may be a light bulb or some pricing. Both were rare.
Finding suitable gear and clothing proved to be a challenge for this newbie.
Some “shops” were merely a pile of tangled stuff in a heap behind the merchant who looked just as tired as the gear they peddled. The owners often seemed annoyed when I interrupted the afternoon nap; more so when I couldn’t find something to buy.
Second-hand clothing was presented in cavernous boxes. Much was dirty. I would lean over and dig to the bottom as proprietors scrutinized me. No matter what I held for longer than a second, even if it were a single unmatched wool sock, they would nod their heads and say, “Yes, yes, yes. That is perfect for you.”
Finding all the necessary gear and supplies for solo trekking in Everest National Park took me a solid three days, including all the trekking preparations in Kathmandu already covered (getting permits, flight, etc). Unless you arrive better prepared than I did, give yourself a full three days.
Where to Shop for Gear
Thamel has the highest density of outfitting shops in the world. Every third business seems to display fake, Chinese-made gear.
I did have a little luck finding trekking gear in Shona’s Alpine (an expat-owned gear shop in Thamel). But it is listed in the Lonely Planet, so you pay accordingly. A few shops selling authentic gear can be found along Tridev Marg.
Having learned what it’s like to have pants freeze to my body during a winter storm on the Appalachian Trail, I took finding some waterproof trekking pants seriously. I ended up in an authorized North Face store and paid what I would have paid at home (around $100). The purchase was a dreadful hit for my gear budget, but my manhood was thankful later.
Tip: While shopping around for trekking gear in Kathmandu, buy as much as you can from the same place. Doing so will give you a little more power for haggling.
The Fake Trekking Gear in Kathmandu
I sound embittered, but the first rule of gearing up in Kathmandu for trekking is to assume that every piece of gear you find for sale is fake. Everything. That is the default. Some items are good fakes that will serve their purpose well enough during your solo trekking in Nepal. Others, as in the case of my “Black Diamond” poles, will break within the first few miles of your walk.
The Nalgene water bottles I paid roughly $10 for seemed to be the real deal. I examined them closely before buying. But, later, as the logo and screen printing wore off, the “NO” part of “NO BPA” disappeared first. Both my bottles proudly advertised “BPA”—which was probably accurate.
Kathmandu is plagued by so much fake trekking gear that travelers jokingly rename brands accordingly while comparing notes. Most of my gear was “South Face” or “North Farce.” My hiking pole that survived was a “Brown Diamond” and so on.
The Weight Allowance for Flying to Lukla
No matter how much you think you can carry up the mountain, even if you’re a certified pack mule as I learned to be in the Army, there’s another variable to consider: the weight allowance for your flight to Lukla.
Before you begin your serious gearing up in Kathmandu for trekking, you need to know how much weight your airline allows. Unlike flights you’ve taken elsewhere, this relatively low weight limit is strictly enforced when checking in at the airport. You’ll understand why once you see how much your fully loaded dual-prop plane struggles in thin air.
Paying a fee for overweight baggage isn’t an option on the airlines I checked. The weight limit for my flight to Lukla was 10 KG (22 pounds). Given how much gear and heavy, warm clothing you need, staying under the allowance is a real challenge.
Despite best efforts, when asked to step up on the scale while holding my bag in the airport, I came up 1 KG over. I had no option but to give away some stuff to the airport staff right there on the spot.
Of course, you won’t have to worry about the weight limit or the cost for a flight to Lukla if you take overland transportation to Jiri and walk to Lukla from there. Some travelers do, but it adds 3 – 4 days to the trek.
Another option is to wait and buy heavier items such as microspike crampons in Namche Bazaar, last “commercial” stop on the trail. You’ll have fewer choices and gear costs more (everything has to be carried up by human or beast), but at least you can circumvent the weight limit on your Lukla flight.
What to Buy for Trekking
I’m not an expert, but this is what worked for me. According to my journal, I bought these items after scrounging around in Kathmandu for my 19-day solo trek in the Himalayas:
- 2 Nalgene water bottles
- 2 wool hats, one with ear protection
- 6 pairs of socks (varying thickness)
- 2 Brown Diamond hiking poles
- 1 South Face merino base layer
- 1 pair of heavy mountain gloves
- 1 pair of Mountain Software lightweight gloves
- 1 South Face jacket
- 1 pair of authentic North Face trekking pants
I found a shop (there are a couple) that rented me a heavy down puffer coat. As long as you return the coat without damage (it doesn’t have to be clean), they return your deposit minus a daily fee. Even with the compression strap I bought to wrangle the puffer, it consumed nearly half the real estate inside my pack. Regardless, it most definitely kept my alive when I got lost while crossing a glacier in a snow storm.
Other Gear for Trekking in Nepal
Here are some items that you’ll definitely want to consider carrying:
- Power Bank: I made good use of my ruggedized RAVPower power bank (affiliate link). Keeping batteries charged in the cold is difficult; I slept with phone and GoPro next to my body every night. You’ll have to pay up to $4 per hour for solar charging in tea houses, and it’s an inefficient trickle charge that takes forever.
- Journal: Definitely get a quality travel journal for capturing your many thoughts. Walking alone through the Himalayas for days generates some serious ideas and introspection that need to be recorded. Some pens have issues with elevation; bring a couple.
- Sleeping Bag Liner: Backpackers know these lightweight, silk “sleep sheets” well. Rooms in the tea houses aren’t heated. Your water bottles will freeze on the stand next to your bed. Washing heavy bedding between each one-night stay isn’t an option for high-elevation lodges. You’ll be thankful for your own sheet that puts a warm layer between yourself and a heavy blanket that often smells like garlic on one end and dirty socks at the other. I swear by high-quality JagBags (not an affiliate link but there is a discount code).
- Small Padlock: Many of the tea house lodges are set up for you to use your own lock.
- Sunscreen, Sunglasses, and Lip Protection: Thin, dry air = more UV.
- Bandana: Dust storms (some natural; some caused by helicopters) are common. You’ll want to keep a bandana around your neck that can be pulled up quickly.
- Wipes: I didn’t shower for 19 days, if that tells you anything. Also, in some composting toilets, the “paper” for wiping is a splintery wooden stick (photo).
- Reliable Boots: I took some Merrells from home. Unfortunately, they were already worn out, and my feet paid the price. I really feel for trekkers who have to buy decently reliable hiking boots in Kathmandu then break them in on the trail. Good luck!
- Flip-Flops: You’ll look forward to the time each day when you can remove your heavy, muddy boots and wear flip-flops around the tea house instead.
- Blister Care: Bring. A. Lot. I ran out early and began using duct tape to hold my feet and boots together. While cleaning up at the end of my trek, I could no longer tell where the duct tape finished and the skin began. My feet were a mess.
- Microspikes: You’ll be happy for a set of these lightweight crampons when crossing passes and sticking to steep, slippery trails. Get a tiny carabiner so you can clip them to the outside of your pack. You can find microspikes in shops around Namche Bazaar.
- Pee Bottle: Probably more applicable to the men (or women carrying a device). Consider designating a Nalgene bottle (ideally a different color so you don’t mix them up!) as a pee bottle. Some of the composting toilets are located in outhouses next to tea houses. You’ll have to decide in the middle of the night if you’re going to go out in the snow or suffer in misery. And on that note, high elevation causes you to pee more (3 – 5 times per night) as your body desperately makes room to manufacture more red blood cells.
Buying Diamox in Kathmandu
Diamox (acetazolamide) is what mountaineers take for protection against AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). You’ll want to carry some, if not for yourself, potentially someone else. During my time on the trail, I heard of a Korean man in his 40s and a woman in her 20s, both part of larger groups, who had succumbed to elevation. Read up on AMS and know how to use Diamox properly—take both seriously.
The biggest risk is that, like most of the gear, much of the Diamox for sale in Kathmandu is fake. That could cause you serious problems later.
Get Diamox prescribed at home before your trip, if you can. If not, only buy it from a proper pharmacy in Kathmandu. Many trekking shops advertise Diamox for sale, but I got my 15 tablets from a pharmacy. Good thing—I ended up needing to take Diamox due to headaches around 17,000 feet, even after extra days of acclimatization.
Warning: Diamox isn’t a cure-all. If you start Diamox late or truly are suffering from AMS, the only safe solution is to descend as quickly as you can. Don’t go to sleep with a severe headache thinking you’ll descend in the morning.
Buying Snacks for Trekking in Nepal
Acquiring Diamox is serious business, but getting snacks for trekking in Nepal comes in a close second. Not joking.
I had been told and read many times how important snacks were while trekking to higher elevations. One experienced trekker I met said to pack an additional day bag of snacks. I scoffed and thought he was exaggerating—but he wasn’t.
Your need for snacks on the trail is a very real phenomenon. Even with fair warning, I was caught by surprise. Worries about the weight limit for my flight held me back. But snacks are as essential to survival as crampons. If forced to choose between snacks or crampons at the airport, leave the crampons. They taste terrible, anyway.
At sea level, I’m not really into candy or sweets, so I focused on finding nuts and healthier snacks. I bought only three Snickers bars, top choice for the mountaineers. In hindsight, I should have bought at least 10.
Later, I ended up paying $7 for a Snickers bar in Gorak Shep near EBC. It was dusty and outdated. I admired the sacred object in my shaking hands like a junkie. When I finally opened it, I took tiny nibbles, letting the frozen chocolate melt in my mouth. I even licked the wrapper.
After a hard day on the trail, of which I had many, a bit of chocolate provides a warm, comforting rush—an actual high. In fact, in some twisted way, snacks unexpectedly become a critical morale booster. All survival experts will tell you how important mindset is, and nothing is as important to mindset as trail snacks.
As I stumbled through a winter storm atop the Cho La Pass at 17,780 feet, I kept thinking how I’d get to enjoy my Snickers bar by the stove later that night. Doing so was, of course, contingent upon my surviving.
I don’t know if it’s the elevation causing weird changes to your body (it does!), the expenditure of so many calories while trekking (thousands!), or the monotony of diet (dal bhat again!), but you’ll crave salt and sugar like never before. A Snickers provides both.
Secure 3x the snacks you think you’ll need. If you don’t end up consuming them (you will), you can sit back like Caesar and watch as other trekkers fight with their Brown Diamond poles to the death for your treats. He who controls the Snickers controls the mountain.
Getting a SIM Card in Kathmandu
Believe it or not, you’ll enjoy signals of varying strength all the way to the top of the world. Even Everest Base Camp has a faint 3G signal. The real bottleneck for technology, as mentioned, turns out to be power / battery life.
You have three primary carrier options for getting a SIM card in Kathmandu:
- Nepal Telecom (NTC)
- Smart Telecom
Of the three carriers, state-owned Nepal Telecom (NTC) is the oldest and probably has the best coverage for rural areas such as Everest National Park.
To get a SIM card in Kathmandu, you’ll need the following:
- Passport-size photo
- A copy of your passport and Nepal visa (if the shop doesn’t have a photocopier)
- Thumbs (or at least one)
Yes, your phone activity can easily be traced to your passport and thumbprint. No looking at naughty things.
I got my SIM card in Kathmandu from a small shop that advertised them. The 16-year-old kid was a proper hacker. He used a machine to cut the SIM card to fit my phone then rapidly punched in codes from the scratch-off top-up cards to install my credit. He showed me my remaining data balance to ensure me he hadn’t pocketed one of the 250 MB top-up cards. Apparently that’s something to watch out for.
For $15, I got 1 GB of data. I’m sure there are better deals now. I primarily used my connectivity to check in with loved ones on WhatsApp.
Important: Research how to get your phone ready for low data use. Turn off background data access, automatic updates, etc. You don’t need a weather or email app silently eating through your SIM credit even when you’re not using it.
I went with a two-step chlorine dioxide system (Aquamira) that I had, fortunately, carried from home. There are a lot of different solutions for water purification during your solo trekking in Nepal, but you’ll need something better than just a filter. Cold and elevation are hell on electronics. If you go with a Steripen, carry a backup solution (chlorine dioxide). The 30-minute treatment time wasn’t much of an issue. I often wanted to linger and rest near a mountain stream, anyway.
My water sources ranged from taps on the sides of buildings to mountain streams. You can usually ask for water (free) in tea houses. Boiling water costs a dollar or so.
The Final Gearing Up in Kathmandu for Trekking
- Get a quality topographic map, and if you don’t already have one, simple compass.
- Get plenty of cash and come up with a creative way to hide it. A worst-case scenario would be having to forfeit hard-earned elevation gains and backtracking just to use the fickle ATM in Namche Bazaar. Grab lots of cash in Kathmandu, and break up large denominations! Getting change from small tea houses higher up is a challenge.
- If you don’t already have, get travel insurance that will cover high-elevation trekking.
- Just for entertainment, take a “before” photo of yourself.
Now that the gearing up in Kathmandu for trekking in Nepal is complete, it’s time for the fun part:
Flying to Lukla to begin solo trekking in Everest National Park!