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The Tiger's Nest in Bhutan. Photo by Chelsea Ferrel.

A Packing Yak

Kuzoozangpo La and Hello!

Our travel dates are getting closer. Are you getting excited? (We are!)

In this post, we have included a packing list as well as some general packing tips. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the length of this post! You don’t have to read it all at once, but you can use it as a guide while you’re gathering your gear and packing. The Course Preparation Manual (CPM) has even more detail, as well as recommended brands if you need to buy anything. If you have a questions about packing from this Yak or the CPM, please post it here! Nine times out of ten, if you have a question someone else does too.

Also, please do not feel pressure to go out an buy a bunch of new gear. Even if you don’t have everything on the required packing list, you can often borrow things from friends and family members. There are a few things like hiking boots of which you will want to have your own pair, not borrowed, but there’s plenty of stuff you can borrow, buy used or even rent. Please be in touch if you have any questions or concerns about obtaining the right gear.

You will be carrying your whole pack at different points in the course, so be judicious in your packing. Students are often surprised how comfortably they can live with so few things. Do not bring a bag or pack cover with wheels, they will not serve you navigating the narrow, unpaved streets of the places we move through. We want to be lean mean travelling machines, not overloaded beasts of burden. Look at your stuff with a critical eye. Do I need a giant bottle of shampoo? (no) Can I make do with 3 t-shirts instead of 4? (maybe yes). Before you leave, load up everything in your backpack and walk a few blocks. Now is there anything you want to leave behind?

The key to successful packing is simple: Bring what you need. Not any more and not any less.

Culturally Appropriate Clothing: Bhutan is a much more conservative country than many of you have probably lived in before. Both men and women in Bhutan generally wear traditional clothing which, (as you can see: here and here) tends to be both loose fitting and covers the legs, shoulders and arms. Although you may see young people in Thimpu wearing form-fitting Western-style clothing, Dragons student should expect to dress more conservatively. This will help you to immerse yourself in the local communities and ingratiate yourself with older people (like homestay parents).

So what does that mean in practice? Any clothes you bring should be loose-fitting and conservative in addition to being neat, clean and presentable (so no holes or stains). This means no tight-fitting shirts or pants (including yoga pants) and no tops that are low cut or show your shoulders. Please bring only long pants. Do not bring shorts, shorts will never be appropriate to wear on course. Any dresses or skirts should hit at least mid-calf and be loose enough you can squat in it.

If you have to wonder if a piece of clothing is appropriate it’s probably not, but feel free to ask us!

REQUIRED ITEMS:

GEAR:

  • BACKPACK: We recommend something between 60-80 litres (3500-5000 cu in) in size, although some students have been fine with a smaller bag too. Please bring an internal frame pack, as an external frame pack may break. Most important is that the backpack frame fits your body size, and that you’re comfortable carrying the pack with all your stuff inside. Make sure to pack “empty space”, ie your bag should not be stuffed to bursting when you arrive. You’ll want room for gifts and souvenirs and, besides, you DO NOT need 60-80L of stuff. If your bag is fully packed you are bringing too much, consult the packing list in the CPM to see what you can leave behind (or ask us!).
  • BACKPACK COVER: Waterproof slip that cinches to fit over your backpack, still allowing you to wear the pack. They come in different sizes, so please make sure that yours fits your pack!
  • LARGE GARBAGE BAG: Bring one to line your pack and give you extra insurance against the rain in addition to your pack cover. You will be glad you have one of these.
  • DAYPACK: Small, light, nylon bag with shoulder straps and/or a hip strap. Should be compact and fit inside (or be part of) your bigger pack. You’ll take it with you on day excursions. It should be compressible and yet big enough to hold a water bottle, headlamp/flashlight, snacks, raincoat, and a book or journal. Please note that many backpacks now come with detachable lids, called “brains,” which can be used as daypacks.
  • STUFF SACKS: When you’re living out of your backpack, a strong organization plan is key and stuff sacks will help you achieve this. You don’t need to go out and buy specialty stuff sacks (though outdoor stores will happily to sell you some), as any old cotton or nylon bags, pillow cases or even large Ziploc bags can bring order to your pack and make your life simpler. We like to bring a few larger stuff sacks to separate clean and dirty clothes and some smaller bags to hold toiletries, batteries, etc.
  • HIKING BOOTS/RUGGED HIKING SHOES: Please bring a pair of boots/shoes that are WATERPROOF (it will be monsoon season in Bhutan and will likely rain a lot) and offer good ankle support, for hiking and trudging through the streets of rural villages. We strongly recommend that you BREAK THEM IN AHEAD OF TIME. Once broken in, they will give you better support and protection, and will be much less likely to cause blisters. When fitting your boots, be sure to try them on with a suitable sock combination. If you’re getting new boots, ask sock combo they recommend, and come with three to four sets of that sock combo.
  • SANDALS/CROCS: These options can be worn around the city and villages and used when needed for showering. Chacos or Tevas are two high quality (and high price!) options, but any sort of sturdy waterproof sandal is fine. Crocs are also a cheaper acceptable alternative. Even if you are accustomed to hiking in sandals, we will request that you use boots for hiking/trekking. Don’t bring leather sandals, as they are difficult to clean and do not dry as fast. Some students choose to bring flip-flops but nearly all regret that decision and end up buying sturdier sandals in country. Save yourself the aggravation and and bring something sturdier to begin with.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Synthetic or down, 30 to 40 degree rating. Down bags last longer, are lighter, but require more maintenance and cannot get wet (so you’ll need to be careful of this in Bhutan during monsoon). It is also essential that if you do get a down bag, you line your stuff sack with a plastic bag. Compared to down bags, synthetic bags are bulkier, but they are a lot more economical and you can stay warm in a synthetic bag even if the bag is wet. We recommend a compression stuff sack for packing your sleeping bag, especially for synthetic bags. Some bags are designed for women—bigger in the hips and smaller in the shoulders.

CLOTHES:

  • RAINCOAT: Best if lightweight and breathable. Gore-Tex is great, but there are other materials that are more economical. We will be travelling during monsoon season when torrential rains pound Bhutan so a good raincoat is a necessity. A plastic poncho could work, but it is much more effective to hike with an actual raincoat. For Bhutan, we strongly recommend that you invest in a good quality raincoat. Your raincoat should be big enough that you can fit your sweater or fleece jacket underneath.
  • RAIN PANTS: See above. Waterproof and big enough to fit over your hiking pants.
  • FLEECE JACKET or WOOL SWEATER: Fleece, sometimes called Polartech or pile, is great because it is light, doesn’t hold odors, dries fast and keeps you warm even if it’s wet. This jacket is an essential element of the layering system, and a wool sweater can serve the same purpose. Please DO NOT BRING cotton sweaters or sweatshirts as they are heavy, take a long time to dry and will only make you colder if they get wet.
  • LEGGINGS/FLEECE PANTS: Fleece pants or fleece-lined leggings provide a great warm layer during treks or cold nights in the village. Be advised that leggings can never be worn on their own in Bhutan, but only as a layer under other pants/skirts.
  • SHIRTS: Bring no more than SIX shirts, and you can certainly bring fewer. All shirts should be loose-fitting, cover your shoulders and NOT be low cut. One should be a long-sleeved, synthetic shirt which can also serve as an extra layer. One should be a nice shirt (see below). You can bring three to four t-shirts, at least one should be fully synthetic for hiking, others can be a mix of synthetic and cotton.
  • PANTS: Bring no more than FOUR pants, although you can get by with fewer if you choose (particularly women who are bringing a skirt or dress). You must bring TWO pairs of quick-drying pants to use for hiking. In addition students sometimes choose to bring light, loose cotton pants. We don’t recommend jeans as they are heavy and take a long time to dry. Please do not bring shorts.
  • LONG SKIRT/DRESS (WOMEN): 1-2 comfortable, shin length skirts with accompanying leggings to wear underneath if cold. Female students often find long skirts comfortable for travel, village and urban life. They are also important for visits to monasteries and temples. Any dress MUST cover your shoulders and all dresses/skirts MUST come down to at least mid-calf or longer. Make sure your dress or skirt is loose enough to squat (to use the toilet without showing skin) and to sit cross-legged in.
  • ONE SET OF NICE CLOTHES: We may have the opportunity to visit religious leaders, NGO offices or somewhere that requires us to wear something nicer than a t shirt. You can bring a button down shirt (short sleeve is fine), a blouse (with sleeves), or a skirt or dress. If you choose to bring a dress or skirt it should be loose-fitting and MUST cover the shoulders and come down mid-calf or lower. Our group will have the opportunity to buy Bhutanese clothes after our arrival in Thimphu. Women may wish to purchase a kira (traditional Bhutanese dress) once to wear at formal occasions. A nice, button down shirt is especially important for men who don’t want to wear a gho (traditional Bhutanese suit).
  • SOCKS: Bring at least 3 pairs of wool or synthetic-wool blend socks, these will be important for your comfort while trekking and can keep you feet warm even when they’re wet. You can also bring a few pairs of cotton socks if you’d like to wear them on the plane or in the city. Keep in mind that darker color socks will appear clean…even when they’re not!
  • UNDERWEAR: 6+ pairs. Synthetic, quick-drying underwear will be much easier to wash and keep clean but we recommend women bring a couple of pairs of cotton underwear to use in rotation as well.

PERSONAL ITEMS:

  • WATER BOTTLES: Two 1 litre, plastic or aluminium water bottles. Can be picked up at any backpacking store. We will be drinking a lot of warm, boiled water, so you need bottles that you can safely pour hot water into (cheap plastic bottles or bladders are not a good option for this course).
  • SUNGLASSES: Bring one pair that offers good protection. If you have extra-sensitive eyes, polarised lenses are recommended. You may be able to find a cheap replacement pair in Bhutan if you lose them, but quality glasses cannot be guaranteed.
  • TOILETRIES: It is best to bring a 3-4 week’s supply of everything you need. If you forget something, these can be purchased in Western Bhutan or in some towns but selection may be limited. If you have a favourite facewash or soap, it’s better to bring it with you. Women, please know that tampons are VERY difficult to get in Bhutan. If you prefer tampons over pads, please make sure you bring enough with you for the entire course. If you use menstrual cups (like the Diva Cup or Moon Cup), please bring it! Past students have found it much easier and cleaner to use menstrual cups.
  • SECURITY WALLET/BELT: You’ll want to keep your money, IDs and other valuables in a secure wallet or belt that’s well attached to your body. If you choose to bring a belt, we recommend the cloth ones over nylon because they are cooler against the skin in humid weather.
  • JOURNAL/NOTEBOOK: You must bring something that you can write in. Should be compact, but have room enough to record your daily thoughts.
  • HEADLAMP: We strongly recommend that you bring a headlamp, as they’re hands-free and can provide some safety should we find ourselves hiking at night or if the electricity goes out. Be sure to bring extra batteries from your country as the ones available to us in Bhutan tend not to last long.
  • SUN SCREEN: Important! We recommend SPF 30+, water/sweatproof. You should bring enough for 4 weeks of daily use. Most of the sunscreen in Bhutan is not of very good quality.
  • LIP BALM: Make sure that your lip balm has SPF 15 or higher. Lip balm w/o SPF actually intensifies the effect of the sun’s rays!
  • INSECT REPELLENT: A small bottle will be more than sufficient. Can fit in with your toiletries.
  • GLASSES / CONTACTS AND CONTACT SOLUTION: Please bring an extra pair of glasses in case you lose them. Contact lens wearers should bring extra pairs and enough saline solution to last the length of the course. We recommend that contact lens wearers also bring a pair of glasses in the event that their contacts are aggravating.
  • TOWEL: Preferably quick-dry. These can be found at any outdoor equipment store. Do not bring a big, bulky cotton towel.
  • ALARM CLOCK or WATCH WITH BUILT-IN ALARM: If not a watch, your alarm clock should be travel-size and run on a battery. The alarm needs to be loud enough to wake you up and get you moving!

OPTIONAL ITEMS: We include these items to give you an idea of some extras that might come in handy; however, they truly are optional – all items that we believe are necessary for this course have been included above. If you have any questions regarding the necessity of a particular item, please contact us.

  • DUFFEL BAG: Past students have suggested having a light weight duffle bag that your backpack will fit in. This can help protect your pack while in-transit on the flight to Nepal and Bhutan and is a convenient way to store stuff you want to leave behind while we are on trek.
  • PYJAMAS: You can bring some comfortable pants/shirt combo to sleep in. Even inside, summer in Bhutan can be mildly cold because of how little insulation houses and hotels can have. Some students choose to just sleep in their clothes, but if you want to bring separate pyjamas please make sure they follow the same guidelines as the rest of your clothes. We may be sharing our common space/bathrooms with other people so shorts/tank tops/tight clothes are still inappropriate.
  • SNEAKERS/RUNNING SHOES: A pair of running shoes that are comfortable and can be worn to get around more rugged terrain if you want to take a break from your hiking boots. These are not necessary, however, and you can comfortably get by this summer with hiking boots and a sturdy pair of sandals.
  • CAMERA: Please bring extra batteries and memory cards. If you have a rechargeable battery, you need the appropriate adapter (voltage converter) so you don’t fry your device. Keep in mind that we will NOT have access to electricity during some parts of the course; you should bring an extra battery or two. Bring a few memory cards as downloading your photos in internet cafes may take a long time or not be an option!
  • SUN HAT OR VISOR: As it will be raining a lot, not necessary but some students like to have.
  • ZIPLOC BAGS: Of small and large size. These can be good for “waterproofing” or separating items in your pack. Stuff sacks may also work for this purpose, although very few are waterproof.
  • STUDENT ID CARD: If you have one that’s valid, bring it in your safety wallet!
  • SMALL BACKPACK PADLOCK: It is a good idea to have some way to lock your bags.
  • HOMESTAY GIFTS: Some students like to bring little gifts for their homestay families. This is fine if you want but not expected by the families. The best gifts are those that represent some aspect of your local culture. Things like calendars with pictures of your state, pictures of you or your family, candies or other inexpensive products made in your hometown.
  • A GOOD BOOK: Bring one to trade! Perhaps from the CPM Suggested Reading List? Bringing too many books is heavy and will take up a lot of space in your bag
  • PLAYING CARDS / DICE / TRAVEL GAMES: As long as they’re small and light.
  • DUCT TAPE: Wrap some around your water bottle, and pull it off as you need it.
  • HAND SANTIZERS: This is not an acceptable substitute for washing your hands with soap and water. If you’d like to bring a SMALL bottle, you can but know that it will supplement regular hand washing, not replace them.
  • EMERGEN-C/Electrolyte Powder: Water-soluble vitamin and electrolyte packets that dissolve into water. Past students have liked having some on hand
  • OVER-THE-COUNTER MEDICATIONS: You should bring any personal prescription medications that you regularly take (and printed information on side effects and contraindications). Consult with a travel doctor for recommendations and a prescriptions. We travel with a fully stocked medical kit that includes a variety of over the counter medicines (IB profuen, cold medicine, Pepto Bismo, cough drops, etc) as well as some broad-based antibiotics like Ciprofloxacin. But if you are especially prone to motion sickness, headaches, or menstrual cramps, it’s a good idea to bring some of your own. Instructors will collect and review all medications at the start of the course and may hold on to certain prescription medications for the duration of the course.
  • HERBAL REMEDIES AND SUPPLEMENTS: If you take vitamins, please bring enough for the whole course, you will not be able to get the same in Bhutan. Acidophilus (a probiotic found in yogurt) is highly recommended by travellers. Activated charcoal is a good remedy for diarrhoea. Grapefruit seed extract is wonderful for stomach issues. If you have remedies that you like to use, please bring a small supply.

THINGS TO LEAVE AT HOME!

  • THE LONELY PLANET GUIDE BOOK DRAGONS IS SENDING YOU: It’s too big to lug around with you. If there are particular pages you’d like to have, make a photo copy to bring along!
  • CELL PHONES/INTERNET-ENABLED DEVICES, MP3 PLAYERS/IPODS, ELECTRONIC ENTERTAINMENT: See the yak posted last week for an explanation of our technology policy.
  • ANY LOW-CUT, TIGHT, TOO SHORT OR INAPPROPRIATE CLOTHES: Part of integrating into a new culture is being respectful of their customs and norms. Leave these at home!
  • LARGE COTTON TOWELS: They tend to be too bulky, difficult to dry and become mouldy in wet conditions such as Bhutan during monsoon season.
  • MULTIPLE PAIRS OF SHOES OR SANDALS: Please remember that your shoes must fit inside your backpack; they may not be strapped to the outside, which is inappropriate in Buddhist countries.
  • TORN, DIRTY SHOES OR SANDALS: The state of your footwear in Bhutan will be interpreted by locals as a measure of your politeness and respect for their customs.
  • TOO MANY BOOKS: They are heavy, take up a lot of room and paper doesn’t last in the rainy season.
  • MAKEUP AND OTHER FANCY TOILETRIES: This is a great chance to cut down to the basics. What do you really need? Lots of little bottles add up to extra weight you’ll need to lug around!

 

Happy Packing!

Your Instructor Team (Nick, Topaz and Rebecca)