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A practiced hand paints a thanka. Photo by Cara Starnbach, North India Program.

Packing! A Complete List and Tips!

Namaste, Jullay 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.. We recommend using this list as you primary guide, since some have found the CPM to be slightly outdated. If you have a questions about packing from this Yak or the CPM, please post it here! All questions are good questions, and most people have the same questions!

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, or find them second-hand or used. There are a few things such as hiking boots that you should consider buying new, but a lot of gear can be acquired otherwise. 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? (Nah). Can I make do with 3 t-shirts instead of 4? (Most likely). Before you leave, load up everything in your backpack and walk a few blocks. Now is there anything you want to leave behind? Remember – most things you will be able to purchase in India as well if you forget something crucial!

The key to successful packing is simple: Bring what you need. Not any more and not any less. (Although aiming for less can be helpful!)

OK HERE GOES:

Culturally Appropriate Clothing: India is a more conservative country than many of you have probably lived in before. Although you will see young people wearing all manner of clothing, we prefer our students to err on the side of dressing a little more conservatively. This will help you to immerse yourself in the local communities and ingratiate yourself with older people (like homestay parents).

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 or leggings worn as pants) and no tops that are very low cut or show your shoulders. Male students can bring knee-length shorts, female students should bring pants that are mid-calf length or longer. Please note that there will be times when shorter pants will be inappropriate for all students, so long pants that zip off or fold up into shorter pants can be a smart packing choice.

Leggings are only acceptable for female students and only if you wear them with kurtas, traditional Indian tunics that fall to mid-thigh which you can buy in country. Any dresses or skirts should hit at least mid-calf and be loose enough you can squat in it. The CPM does says all female students should bring a skirt but this is not required.

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

REQUIRED ITEMS:

BACKPACK: We recommend something between 65-80 liters in size. 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 when it’s full. Keep in mind that the more empty space you have, the more you’ll be inclined to fill it up; therefore, go ahead and carry a pack smaller than 65 liters as long as you can manage to fit everything into it! All other bags, such as your daypack and lightweight duffle, must be compressible and fit inside you big pack. Please note that many backpacks now come with detachable “lids,” which can be used as daypacks.

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 of these 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 bag with shoulder straps and/or a hip strap – nylon is often a good choice. Should be compact and fit inside (or be part of) your bigger pack. You’ll take 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.

STUFF SACKS: Lightweight and compact, stuff sacks can be very useful for separating clothes, food, toiletries, and everything else so that you may bring order to your pack and make your life simpler. We like to bring a few larger stuff sacks (even old, beat up pillow cases or large ziploc bags may work) to separate clean and dirty clothes. It’s also nice to have some smaller bags to hold toiletries, batteries, etc.

HIKING BOOTS: North India students are advised to have a fairly rigid pair of boots that offers good ankle support. You may find that your boots become your everyday footwear! We recommend trekking/hiking-specific boots with Vibram soles as they tend to be solid and offer long-term comfort and protection. IMPORTANT: YOU MUST BREAK IN YOUR BOOTS 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. Consider sizing up a half size or whole size, since trekking and elevation can cause for some feet to swell.

WATERPROOF SANDALS LIKE TEVAS, OR CHACOS: You will need a pair of shoes to wear during water crossings and at camp (after a long day, nothing feels better than pulling your boots off and throwing on some lightweight duds). Two of the most popular brands are Tevas and Chacos but you will simply need shoes that are light and quick-drying. It is important NOT to bring flip-flops (they won’t stay on your feet) and also NOT to bring leather, as it is difficult to clean and does not dry as fast.

SLEEPING BAG: Synthetic or down, 10 to 20 (F) degree rating. If you are a cold sleeper, consider a 10 degree bag or bringing a liner to put inside your bag. Some bags are designed for women—bigger in the hips and smaller in the shoulders. Bags come in short (aprx. 5’9”) and long (aprx. 6’ 2”) sizes. If you are in between sizes, opt for the longer size, as you can always use the extra room to store your clothing at night. Down bags last longer, are lighter, but require more maintenance. Down bags with a vapor-barrier exterior help prevent condensation from jeopardizing the insulation, but it is essential that you line your stuff sack with a plastic bag. We recommend a compression stuff sack for packing your sleeping bag, especially for synthetic bags.

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 North India 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 North India, we strongly recommend that you invest in a good quality raincoat. Your raincoat should be big enough that you can fit your sweaters and jacket underneath.

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 coat 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 are they are heavy, take a long time to dry and will only make you colder if they get wet.

DOWN OR SYNTHETIC “PUFFY”: The cure-all for layering. Does not need to be an expedition- fill jacket, but this warm insulating layer adds an incredible amount of warmth and comfort in the evening and packs down very small in your bag. For synthetics, Polarguard is the best insulator. Look at Patagonia, Mountain Hardware, Cloudveil or Montbell for highest quality (and cost!). North Face and Columbia make cheaper down jackets that would be sufficient.

LONG UNDERWEAR: Top & bottom, mid-weight capilene or polypropylene: basically some type of synthetic or wool. NO COTTON.

WOOL or PILE HAT: Bring your favorite winter hat, or buy a good, cheap wool hat along your travels.

WOOL or SYNTHETIC SOCKS: At least 3 pairs. Some wool socks are blended with nylon to make them more comfy and to help them last longer. Old, military-style wool socks would work, but aren’t recommended. Darn Tough, Patagonia, Smart-wool, and Thor-Lo sell great socks. Wool or synthetic socks are essential as they insulate even when wet. We recommend that you consider one expedition-weight pair (for sleeping) and 2-3 lighter-weight pairs (for hiking).

COTTON SOCKS: 1-2 pairs. These are for the plane ride, home-stays, walking around town and for wear when not trekking. Keep in mind that darker color socks will appear clean…even when they’re not!

GLOVES / MITTENS: 1 pair, medium or lightweight. For chilly evenings and mornings.

UNDERWEAR: 5-6 pairs. If you can avoid cotton, do. Synthetic, quick-drying underwear will be much easier to wash and keep clean.

T-SHIRTS: 2 – 3. Should be clean, with no stains and no holes. May be cotton, or better yet, synthetic. Please DO NOT bring tank tops or other shirts which reveal your shoulders or chest as these are culturally inappropriate.

LIGHTWEIGHT, SYNTHETIC SHIRT: Something short or long-sleeved that will dry quickly. Many companies now make synthetic quick-dry shirts designed for outdoor activities or sports.

LONG PANTS: Minimum 2 pairs, at least one synthetic. We don’t recommend jeans, as they take a long time to dry. Your pants should be durable and lightweight. We recommend lightweight trekking pants or synthetic track pants.

SUN HAT OR VISOR: Along with sunglasses, this is essential protection from the intense Himalayan sun.

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 simple and lightweight and MUST cover the shoulders and come down below the knee. Don’t go out and buy anything fancy!

PERSONAL ITEMS

WATER BOTTLES: Two 1-liter, plastic or aluminum water bottles. Can be picked up at any backpacking store. Nalgenes are a popular choice since they don’t break or dent easily. Camelbacks are great for trekking but must be cared for as the hoses can break.

SUNGLASSES: Bring one pair that offers good protection. Make sure that your shades are 100% UVA/UVB protection. If you have extra-sensitive eyes, polarized lenses are recommended. You may be able to find a cheap replacement pair in North India if you lose them, but quality glasses cannot be guaranteed.

TOILETRIES: There’s no need for most students to travel with a 6 week supply of shampoo/conditioner, soap, toothpaste, etc. We are able to purchase toiletries in India unless you require a particular brand or have specific allergies/sensitivities. If you menstruate, please bring enough tampons/pads for the entire course. Past students have recommended reusable pads (like these http://lunapads.com/) or a menstrual cup (like the Diva Cup or Moon Cup). It it can be very difficult for students to to find appropriate places to dispose of used pads and tampons, especially when we are on a trek or staying in villages (and even in some homestays). Students have found it much easier and cleaner to use reusable pads or cups.

SECURITY WALLET/BELT: You’ll want to keep your passport, ATM card, traveler’s checks and other valuables in a secure wallet or belt that’s well attached to your body. We prefer the cloth ones over nylon because they are cooler against the skin in humid weather. Eagle Creek makes good products.

PASSPORT PHOTOS: Please bring at least 2. We will need them for trekking permits.

JOURNAL/NOTEBOOK: You must bring something that you can write in. Should be compact, but have room enough to record your daily thoughts.

BANDANAS or BUFFS: Bandanas are versatile, cover your head from the sun (or at some religious sites) or cover your mouth on dusty streets. Buffs, which are usually softer in fabric and have are seamless in an infinity style can be great for travel, too.

HEADLAMP: We strongly recommend that you avoid bringing a hand-held flashlight. Headlamps are best, 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 India tend not to last long.

SUN SCREEN: Important! We recommend SPF 30+, water/sweatproof. You should bring enough for 6 weeks of daily use. Most of the sunscreen in India 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 your first! Contact lens wearers should consider bringing extra pairs and enough saline solution to last the length of the course. You should not expect to be able to buy any replacement contacts or solution in the places we’ll be travelling.

TOWEL: Preferably quick-dry and small. MSR makes a great PackTowel, but there are several brands that make microfibre travel towels.

ALARM CLOCK or WATCH WITH BUILT-IN ALARM: If not a watch, your alarm clock should be travel-size. The alarm needs to be loud enough to wake you up and get you moving!

OPTIONAL: 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 / TRAVEL BAG: You may need an extra bag to keep items that are left behind during hikes and short trips and a bag in which you may bring souvenirs home. Just about anything nylon and lightweight will be fine. Please do not bring anything with wheels. Osprey and other backpack manufacturers make small “travel covers” that can double as all-purpose duffles. You can also find a great simple bag in-country.

RAIN PANTS: Waterproof pants, coated nylon or Gore-Tex. These should be pretty lightweight, and as with the raincoat, breathable materials are best. Your pants will take a beating, though, so they should either be fairly cheap, or if you are going to invest in a good pair, make sure they have a reinforced bottom and reinforced knees.

PILE PANTS: Any warm, light to medium weight synthetic pants (like fleece pants) will be fine. Since it’s inappropriate to walk around villages or campsites in tight long underwear, some students have enjoyed having pants like these to change into during cool nights on trek. Alternatively, you could be quite happy with heavy or expedition weight long underwear!

SHORTS: If you choose to bring shorts, know that there will be times as we move through more conservative areas that we will ask you not to wear them. Male students should bring shorts that are at least knee length and female students should bring shorts that hit mid-calf (think capris).

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!

SOCK LINERS: 1 pair. Not essential, but nice as an additional layer…and they can help prevent blisters. Injinji makes a popular toe sock liner for hikers, great for if you’re prone to blisters between your toes.

ZIPLOCK 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: 1-2. 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, refrigerator magnets or any local themed product. Please do not bring any food or candy as some of the host families may have food restrictions.
GOOD BOOK: Bring one to trade! Perhaps off the CPM Suggested Reading List?
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 handwashings, not replace them.

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 (IbuProfen, cold medicine, Pepto Bismol, 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.

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!
SLEEPING PAD: The trek we are doing will not require one.

REVEALING CLOTHING OF ANY KIND (TANK TOPS, SLEEVELESS SHIRTS, TIGHT PANTS, TOO SHORT SHORTS AND SKIRTS): If you have to wonder if something is appropriate or not, it probably isn’t. But please check with your instructors. Part of integrating into a new culture is being respectful of their customs and norms. One of the ways we do this is by dressing more conservatively than many of us are used to.

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!

Packing can be stressful, but don’t worry! We are all in this together. Please reach out if you need clarification or post a yak! We are here to help.

Happy Packing!

—Your instructor team (Laura, Hemant, and Saurabh!)