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

Packing: What to Bring

Kuzozampola and Namaste to everyone!

Are you as excited as we are for our Bhutan Semester?! As our start dates draw closer, you must have lots of questions. Please use the Yak Board for asking questions and getting acquainted with the team – read our instructor introductions, post your own and don’t forget to subscribe to make sure you don’t miss any updates!

Most of you must have already started getting your pack together. Since our semester is so nomadic by nature, it is incredibly important that you pack wisely and start now. Your one backpack will hold all your belongings for the spring and the smarter you pack, the easier your travels will be! The key to successful packing is simple: Bring what you need. Not any more and not any less.

Please read the Course Preparation Manual (CPM) which has a detailed packing list tailored specifically for your program. This was sent to you by mail and is also available digitally in your MyDragons account. This Yak is simply to emphasize some important parts of the CPM and to add a few specific requests for this semester. Don’t be intimidated by the length, we are just trying to make sure you are prepared! If you start packing now, you can avoid the last-minute rush.

Your pack:

Though the CPM recommends a 60-80L pack, we find that 65-75 L is good – make sure you have a frame that fits your body size. Almost all outdoors stores can help you with this process. A good test is to pack up your bag and walk a couple of blocks around your neighborhood. Now is there anything you can leave behind?

Resist the urge to fill your day pack with additional belongings! Your day pack should simply hold *some* essentials, which we will use on buses and planes.

Bringing a duffel bag that will fit your backpack will make it easier to fly with, and will provide a place to store some of your extra stuff while we are traveling. It also allows you to bring a second bag back in case you purchase a lot of gifts.


Having many layers of different degrees of warmth will help you better adjust to the weather in Nepal and Bhutan. Temperatures can feel quite varied depending on the insulation of the houses we stay in, on the location of our varied travels and the availability of central heating. Having many layers will ensure that you comfortably adjust to the many changes.

Even if you are a cold-weather person, please make sure you bring all the layers mentioned in your CPM (warm hats, gloves etc) as you will be a much happier traveler if you aren’t struggling to maintain your core body temperature.

Staying Appropriate:

Bhutan and Nepal are diverse countries and you will see that reflected in the varied dressing styles throughout our travels. You will soon realize that these countries are potentially more conservative places than most of you might be used to. Though we see people dressed quite liberally in some parts of Nepal, we prefer 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 elders and ISP mentors).

Although there are traditional dress in Bhutan, kira and gho, we are not required to wear them daily, but for festivals and visits to holy or government buildings, we may get the opportunity! You will have the opportunity to purchase a kira or gho in Bhutan if you are interested; while costs vary accordingly to quality, they generally cost between $25 and $50. If you would prefer to wear non-Bhutanese clothing to these events we recommend bringing one nice shirt to wear.

Any clothes you bring should be loose-fitting and conservative (no tops that are very low cut or show your shoulders) in addition to being neat, clean and presentable (so no holes or stains).

Shorts are okay to bring but they should generally come down to below your knee. There are still times that shorts will be inappropriate so long pants that zip off or fold up into shorter pants are a smarter packing choice. Leggings are only acceptable if worn with long shirts or tunics (kurtas). Traditional Nepali tunics that fall to mid-thigh are not only beautiful but very comfortable to wear, you can have them made by tailors in Kathmandu if you’re interested. Know that we will be sitting cross-legged on the floor or squatting many times, so make sure your clothes allow you to do that.

Carrying Money:

You can bring a larger wallet or purse or something to carry large cash in for when you get money out of the ATM, but you can also buy a small local purse in Nepal for the money that you will carry around for day-to-day purchases.

Trekking Gear:

This is covered in the packing list in the Preparation Manual but there are a few things we want to emphasize:

    1. A 0-degree F sleeping bag. The CPM packing list suggests the range of a 0-20 degree bag, but we think you will be generally more comfortable on the trek (and in sometimes rural homestays) if you have a warmer sleeping bag.  We also recommend bringing a sleeping bag liner for extra warmth and for hotels.
    2. Two Nalgenes or stainless steel water bottles. We will use filtered or boiled water on our trip so you can use these bottles to store water during our homestays and on then on the trek.
    3. Although personal water purifiers are listed as optional on the packing list, we HIGHLY recommend bringing your own. This has been common feedback from students that have gone to Bhutan. For devices, we recommend either a Life Straw, Steripen, Swayer filter or similar device.
    4. Sleeping Pad: This will be very important to have a comfortable one for our trek.
    5. Polarized Sunglasses: These are crucial for the trek, especially since we may be trekking on snow.
    6. Comfortable Hiking Boots: Please break them in before you get to Nepal. Your feet will thank you. Put on your hiking boots and go hike a big hill near your house, wear them every day everywhere! This will help prevent blisters. We cannot recommend this enough! This is one of the biggest advice past students give to future students.
    7. A warm hat for cold and a sun hat.
    8. A good supply of sunscreen.  You can buy sunscreen in Kathmandu but if you have a particular brand you like you should bring it.
    9. Warm gloves. Something waterproof or water-resistant is especially useful for taking down your tent on cold mornings during the trek.
    10. A strong headlamp (bring extra batteries if your headlamp takes an unusual kind). AA and AAA batteries are available. We cannot emphasize enough how useful this is. In addition to using it during our trek, it will come in handy for the nights when the power goes out.

Some General Suggestions:

Please bring some urban clothing. You will want something you would feel comfortable wearing in the city. Keep in mind these should be culturally appropriate clothes. We will be traveling in some urban settings, so former students have recommended that some “not camping” clothes are nice to have.

A watch (with an alarm), This is a small, but necessary piece of gear to have. We will have lots of meeting times as a group, or with your home-stay families, and it is good to have a watch to keep track of time. Because there will not be cell phones on course, this will be the best way to make sure you on time.

Some running shoes, sneakers or comfortable shoes. Most students will bring a total of 3 pairs of footwear (the other two being boots and sandals).

One of the many things you will be exposed to as soon as you land in Kathmandu is the variety of noises and colors! Traveling with earplugs will help you find some relief from a variety of new noises at night (think roosters and car noise) and also with an eye/face mask to block out light.

In regards to personal toiletries, all items like toothpaste, shampoo etc can be found nearly every place we go, but you may not be able to find your desired brand. So you can restock on the way if your supply gets low.

Ok, so we know that was a lot, but to summarize:

-Things we highly recommend you bring: Worn in hiking boots, personal water purification device, 0 degrees F sleeping bag, watch with an alarm, proper layers, and a duffel to keep your backpack in while traveling by bus and plane.

– Please start getting gear ready now! The next few weeks are going to go by quicker than you realize and sooner than you think we will all be meeting in Kathmandu.

-Finally do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions. We hope this answers a lot of your packing related queries! Please do post questions on the Yak Board about packing or other course-related queries as others might be wondering about them too. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Yak board to keep getting new updates!

See you soon,

Your I-team