Trekking amongst the Himalayas in Nepal is one of the world’s great adventures. However, the experience comes with a multitude of things to know before setting off on the trail, whether alone or in a group, independently or with a team of guides and porters.
To make your preparation and planning easier for you, I have put together 10 tips for trekking in Nepal that covers most of the main things you need to know before tackling one of the Himalayan trails. In particular, I’ve also included a bunch of tips that will ensure your trek is responsible and respectful to both the environment and local cultures.
1. Know your own ability and experience
It’s important to be aware of your own ability and experience and plan your trek in Nepal accordingly. Don’t be overly ambitious. How much trekking experience you have and your fitness level will determine what trails you choose, your itinerary and whether you take a guide or porter, or both, or neither.
If you book a trek with a company in advance, then this should give you ample time to train and prepare yourself. However, for those who arrange a trek once they arrive in Nepal or simply take off on a trek on their own, this training and preparation time might be limited.
There are treks in Nepal for virtually every type of ability. In the interest of your safety and enjoyment, it’s best to choose one that suits your experience and fitness level. For example, the Tamang Heritage Trail is a lower altitude, easier alternative trek in the Langtang region. Or Poon Hill is a popular, short trek in the Annapurna region that still packs a whole lot of punch in terms of mountain views within a few days.
You can also shorten traditionally longer treks. For example, instead of doing the entire Annapurna Circuit, you could fly into Jomsom and trek to Muktinath and back. It’s all about knowing what will suit your ability and experience.
2. Prepare for all weather and trail conditions
An age-old saying is that you can never predict the weather in the mountains. The Himalayas are notoriously difficult to predict, not only year to year, but day to day as well. Your everyday weather app will not cut it either in terms of what to expect weather-wise. The best website that guides often referred me to was Mountain Forecast where you can select the mountain range, the sub-range and then the specific mountain or peak. This was the most accurate I found, especially for passes or higher villages like Gokyo.
If you book your trek in advance, it’s still difficult to predict what the weather may be for a given month. For example, the best months to trek in Nepal are considered to be October-November and March-April, however, even this is not necessarily accurate year to year. When I was trekking in Nepal in 2019, they’d had such a terrible winter that some of the high passes were still not passable even in March and in April. Other years, people can cross the high passes all throughout winter. You have to take whatever comes, unfortunately.
Either way, you should be prepared for all weather conditions on the trek for your own comfort and safety. Some of the essential trekking gear you should take with you, includes:
- Down jacket
- Thermals for nights and early mornings
- Merino wool t-shirt for when the sun is out
- Rain jacket for rain and snow
- Gaiters can help prevent snow getting into your boots
- Water-proof hiking boots
- Trekking poles can help you navigate through deep snow
- Rain cover for your backpack
3. Don’t underestimate altitude… and drink a lot of water
Altitude is not fun and it will put a dint in even the most bulletproof of egos. It can affect anyone at any time and even if you have been to a similar height before, it doesn’t mean that you will be fine the next time. Even those who are physically fit will feel the effects of altitude, it is just to what degree that remains the question.
All people (unless having spent considerable time at altitude prior) will have shortness of breath and a slower walking pace than usual, and some may also get a headache or feel nauseous. These are normal symptoms that should subside with time, although if the headache and nausea become worse or don’t ease, then you need to stop ascending.
It’s important to read up about Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) before you set out and listen to your body as you go. Taking an extra day to acclimatise or even a rest day will do you good further up, so don’t take it as a lack of ability or weakness.
Diamox, a medication used to ease the symptoms of altitude and prevent altitude sickness, is also an option. Although for most of the multi-day treks in Nepal, most people should be able to acclimatise properly without it by taking it easy and slow. It’s important, however, not to try to do too much or ascend too quickly or complete a trek in less days than recommended.
One of the best tips for trekking in Nepal is not sleeping any higher than 500m per day after reaching 3000m in altitude. It’s also advised to take a rest day every 1000m ascended. But it really depends on how you feel. If some altitude effects start to present themselves such as a headache or nausea, then rest for a day and if it does not get better it’s best to descend. AMS can be fatal so it’s best not to push it more than you feel you should.
4. Don’t overpack
Even if you think 15kg feels fine in Kathmandu, it certainly won’t feel fine at 4000m up a steep incline. It’s best to only take half of what you think you’ll need and try to be a true minimalist, even if it’s not in your nature. The extra luxuries might seem like a good idea but your legs and back won’t thank you for it later.
With teahouse treks, you really only need to take a sleeping bag and some clothing. I was able to pack everything I needed into a 30L daypack for teahouse treks up to two weeks long. I wore the same clothes most days, had very minimal toiletries and a few snacks.
Investing in clothing that is made from merino wool is one of the best things you can do for hiking. It is naturally odour resistant and moisture-wicking, making it more comfortable to wear day after day meaning that you don’t have to pack too many t-shirts. Clothing is the main aspect where people overpack so just rethink every item that you put into your backpack.
If you’re paying for a porter, you should still think about packing only the essentials. Just because you don’t have to carry it, doesn’t mean that porters should be carrying unnecessary luxury items. While they’re amazing humans, they can succumb to exhaustion and altitude sickness just like everyone else.
5. Leave no trace other than footprints
With so much foot traffic on some of the trails, you only have to peer over the edge or behind a teahouse and it will often reveal a rubbish dump left behind. Unfortunately, the popular Everest Base Camp is left with literally tonnes of rubbish at the end of each climbing and trekking season. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trek there, but it means you should be aware of your consumption and do your bit to leave no trace.
Do NOT drop rubbish or leave toilet paper on the trails. This should be common sense.
However, there are other ways that you can help teahouses reduce their waste as well. Just because you leave your rubbish at a teahouse on the way doesn’t mean that it magically disappears.
Try to consume meals that have natural ingredients like vegetables rather than pre-packaged food. For example, instead of opting for instant noodles like Maggi and buying packets of biscuits for lunch, try a cooked meal at one of the teahouses or lodges with potatoes or rice. It might mean you have to sit and wait a little longer for lunch, but it will mean that most, if not all, of the ingredients will be plastic free.
You should also buy your snacks in larger packets or in bulk in one of the cities like Kathmandu or Pokhara before setting out, rather than buying smaller packets for each day along the way.
It’s also really important to bring your own water bottle and filter so that you can refill along the way from natural sources rather than purchasing plastic water bottles. The number of people I saw buying plastic bottles was ridiculous, when every teahouse offers water to trekkers. They can either boil it for you or it’s a good idea to take a LifeStraw bottle or something similar to ensure you won’t get sick.
6. Respect the local culture
The local culture can differ depending on where you trek in Nepal. For example, in Langtang National Park, you’ll find the Tamang people, descendants of Tibetan refugees. In Sagarmatha National Park, you’ll find the Sherpas, who have typically lived on the lower slopes of the Everest region for generations.
It’s important to respect these local cultures as you tackle your trek. The commercialisation of trekking in Nepal has impacted on a lot of these communities and so it’s a good idea to consider this when you’re out on the trail. Try to ensure that your actions and manner do not negatively impact the preservation of these old cultures.
Be respectful when entering monasteries, don’t take photos of people or children without asking first and refrain from wearing anything overly disrespectful. Understand that for some, if not all, of the local communities, the mountains are sacred and hold a significant place in their culture. So any sign that you are disrespecting the landscape, the mountains or the environment can also be seen as a sign that you are disrespecting them and their culture.
it’s also nice to take the time to talk to people. Ask them questions about their traditions, customs and their ancestral history. The teahouse owners and staff, guides, porters and local yak or mule drivers, are often happy to chat and share some of their stories of living in the Himalayas.
7. Don’t expect luxury
If you’re trekking on one of the more popular trails, you’ll most likely be staying in teahouses along the way. They can all guarantee a bed, blanket and hot food, but don’t expect too much else. They provide the essential services for trekkers, often with the difficulties of living far from any nearby town.
Quality can vary dramatically, and you can often find newer lodges with private ensuites, hot water and Wi-Fi (although this is definitely not the case for most) next to very basic and older teahouses. At the end of the day though, you’re trekking in high altitude and remote mountains, so what they do provide should be appreciated as it is.
The teahouses are social affairs and are a great experience as part of your trek, as long as you don’t have overly high expectations. Take them for what they are and don’t demand too much from the incredible people running them, as they work tirelessly to make sure trekkers are fed and given a bed day after day during the trekking seasons. Still, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with some of what is offered considering where you are.
8. Switch off and enjoy the Himalayas
Most people go trekking into the Himalayas for good reason; which is to enjoy the physical challenge and incredible landscape. And, although it’s commonplace to want to share this with people on social media, part of the trekking experience is also about completely switching off from technology and internet services to just enjoy where you are.
You will always get back to Wi-Fi eventually to share your experiences, but you will not be amongst these mountain views forever, so appreciating exactly what you’re seeing is only going to amplify your experience.
Some lodges and teahouses have Wi-Fi, particularly in the Sagarmatha National Park where you can even purchase Wi-Fi plans that will cover the whole park. If you’re trekking alone or without a guide then you might want to send a message home to say that you are safe and that’s understandable. However, if you can, take the opportunity to have a digital detox, you’ll appreciate it later.
Part of the trekking experience is also about connecting with people. If you switch off your mobile phone, you’ll find that the evenings in the teahouses become much more social places. You not only bond with fellow trekkers but you can also learn a lot more about the people who run the teahouses. They are usually family-run enterprises and with no screen to look at, you’ll find conversations will be your main form of entertainment.
If you finish your day early, it means you might even decide to head out and explore the village or local monastery, instead of sitting on your phone, which will only lead you to discover more about the incredible people and culture of the Himalayas.
9. Take enough cash
Another essential trekking tip for Nepal, is to take enough cash with you. As expected, there are no ATMs along the trails in the Himalayas (except at Namche in Sagarmatha National Park). So that means you need to work out exactly how much money you’ll need and carry it with you the whole way. It can be difficult to work out how much you’ll need and of course, the general rule is to take too much rather than not enough.
If you’re worried about security, it’s usually not an issue. Trekkers carry hundreds of dollars worth of Nepali rupees with them and yet, theft is very rare. Still, that doesn’t mean you should be careless about your belongings and a good tip is to spread out your cash in different sections or pockets of your bag so it’s not all in one place.
If you want to know roughly how much you’ll need to budget for your trek, especially if you’ll be going it alone or independently, check out my posts on the individual treks I did listed below because I included at the end of each one exactly how much I spent.
10. Don’t forget your TIMS card, permits and national park fees
One of the most important tips for trekking in Nepal is not to forget about having the right permits and fees before you leave. Each region and national park in Nepal has different rules and it’s worth spending some time researching the latest updates before you go ahead and hit the trails.
For most treks you’ll need a TIMS card (Trekkers Information Management System) which costs 2000 rupees and can be obtained from the Nepal Tourism Board offices in Kathmandu or Pokhara. This green cards require a form to be filled out and a couple of passport photos and must be carried with you on your trek.
It’s likely that you’ll also need to pay national park fees as well. Most of the popular national parks including Annapurna Conservation Area and Sagarmatha National Park, it costs around 3000 rupees. You can either organise this before you leave for the trek in Kathmandu or Pokhara, or pay for it on the way at the entry gates or checkpoints.
This is not always correct for all trails though. For example, you don’t need a TIMS card for the Everest Region, but you do need to pay 2000 rupees for a Khumbu Municipality Permit instead which can be paid on the trail.
There are also some parts of Nepal and some trails which require a special permit. For example, Manaslu, Upper Mustang, Dolpo, Kanchenjunga plus some others require restricted area permits which have higher costs and also some requirements such as only being granted to trekkers with guides etc. Do your research!
Planning on trekking in Nepal?
You can read some of my trek report and guides for individual trails, including: