Equipment for Fastpacking in Nepal – A Guide

Having just returned from Nepal, I have once again had many questions from runners, hikers and enthusiasts on the equipment I used during the Everest Trail Race.

I would normally say, read ‘this’ post and send a link. However, over 7-years of going to Nepal and the Himalayas, I have constantly tweaked and changed equipment. In 2018 I made some significant changes. So, I have something to write about.

The Everest Trail Race is a 6-day multi-day running race. Runners aim to cover 160km over 6-stages with extremely varied terrain, huge altitude gain and descent and of course, they have altitude to deal with. They must carry all they need for the race. However, a tent is provided which they share, food is provided, and water is rationed and provided at specific checkpoints. The race is the ultimate fast packing exercise as runners obviously try to be as light as possible without compromising warmth and comfort. The race takes place in November, the prime trekking season in Nepal – days are usually sunny and warm and the nights are cold. At certain places on the route, nights can be very cold.

My equipment requirements are not too dissimilar to that of the runners as I to need to move over the trail as fast and light as possible. However, I also need to carry camera equipment. This is significant and adds KG’s instantly.

I have also learnt over the years that I do not like being cold.

In my first Nepal experience I went light (too light) and I was cold. A little extra weight with warmth and comfort is worth it, for me! But here in, this is where the challenge comes and actually, this is part of the fun of fastpacking and in particular, fastpacking in Nepal when the variables can be so great.

This is even more poignant now as I am planning to return to Nepal in a few weeks on a much longer and harder trek than the ETR and when temperatures will be considerably colder, especially at night.

One thing is for sure. You go trekking in Nepal and you will rarely change clothes and a shower/ wash will be a rarity. Accept it! Everyone will be the same so embrace this as part of the challenge. There are ways of dealing with this and I like to think of my clothing as day and night. During the day, I am wearing run clothing, and, in the evening, I am wearing more mountain specific clothing.

I am not the fastest on the trails, but I move considerably faster than nearly all the trekkers. So, I look more like a runner when trekking than a trekker. For example, trekkers will wear boots, trousers, and a shirt. I use run shoes, run tights and a run top.

It is also important to consider individual needs and individual strengths when looking at equipment and weight. For example, a 5ft woman weighing 50kg is going to have a very different set of abilities to a 6ft 85kg man. Keep this in mind!

My equipment list below is specific to me and my needs, but it does provide an excellent start point.

Disclaimer: No equipment or apparel was supplied by RAB, Osprey or Montane. They were all purchased items. The apparel by inov-8 was supplied and the Trail Talon 290 shoes were purchased by myself.

Sherpas and Porters are able to carry huge loads and weight…

PACK

I have used many packs over the years. The runners tend to use the Ultimate Direction Fastpack which is generally a great option. Other variants come from Raidlight, Salomon and so on. Typically, a capacity of 20-30L would be required.

I need to use a larger pack as I carry more, especially with the cameras.

For 2018 I used the OSPREY EXOS 38 which really was excellent. It had great comfort, flexibility and many features that made it a pleasure to use.

My other favourite packs, and to be honest, when I return in December, I will either use the Montane Ultra Tour 40 or 55 depending on my equipment needs? Both these packs are minimalist, light and very comfortable.

WARMTH WHEN SLEEPING

I have already said I like to be warm and layering is absolutely key to regulating temperature. Especially at night.

I do not take the warmest and biggest sleeping bag. The reason being I like to have flexibility. Such I have an unusually mild night, I still want to use my sleeping bag and not be too warm. However, if it’s cold – really cold – how do I get warm? Well, I have three options:

  1. Sleeping bag on its own
  2. Merino base top and bottom and sleeping bag
  3. Merino base top and bottom, down pants, down jacket and sleeping bag

I also have down socks that I would wear over merino wool socks. So, as you can see, I regulate temperature in a very controlled way. In addition, the above I can also wear gloves, a hat and a neck roll. Just wearing a hat really helps retain heat.

Layering is key!

Sleeping bag is a RAB INFINITY 500

Merino top is a RAB 120 long sleeve

Merino Bottoms are a RAB 120 pant

PHD down socks

JACKETS

I take two down jackets. One thinner than the other, again offering flexibility. This year I upgraded to a warmer down jacket, the RAB NEUTRINO PROand it was such a great choice! It was so warm, comfy and with a two-way zip it allowed flexibility of movement. It also had a great hood and high collar.

The lighter jacket was a RAB MICROLIGHTwith no hood. This offers excellent warmth in the morning and evening when on the trails. It also is excellent in my sleeping bag on colder nights. It packs small and is lightweight.

RAB SUPERFLUX HOODY is a great mid-layer that works well in the dry or wet and is excellent when the warmth of down is not required.

PANTS

I have used down pants previously but this year I used the RAB PROTON PANTS which are not down filled, a little heavier but more flexible for other uses and they are Primaloft. So, they can get wet and keep warm. Down cannot get wet!

HAT, GLOVES and ACCESSORIES

Hands and feet are so difficult to keep warm and for me, they are the areas I most struggle with. So, I have options:

RAB Merino liner glove

RAB Xenon Mitt (warm and waterproof)

RAB Windblock convertible gloves which allow me to use my camera

RAB Shadow Beanie (for day use)

RAB Beanie (for night use)

RAB neck tubes (usually have 2 or 3)

RAB hut slippers allow me to remove my run shoes and are also much warmer. I go a size bigger than needed so I can wear my down socks in them too.

DAY CLOTHING

My day hike/ run clothing is pretty conventional, and I have long been a fan of inov-8.

It is possible to wear shorts as day temperatures are usually very good, however, I prefer the flexibility of 3/4 tights as they also keep my knees warm.

I use the AT/C Merino Top, and should temperatures get high, I just roll the sleeves up. One great addition is that the sleeves have thumb holes, so, they also provide a great alternative to using gloves.

The AT/C soft-shell Pro Top is brilliant early morning or late afternoon when the warmth of a down jacket is not required. This jacket has been tweaked over the years and has some great features – high collar, good hood, two pockets and thumb loops to help keep hands warm.

Extreme Thermo Skull Hat keeps my head warm and the Extreme Thermo Mitts are excellent – much better than gloves.

Shoes are always a debatable point and very personal. I prefer to use a shoe with cushioning, a wide but not too wide toe box, adequate all-round grip and 8mm drop – the Trail Talon 290 is perfect for me and on the recent ETR were perfect every day!

TIPS

My inov-8 run apparel is for the day. As soon as I finish the day’s run or trek. I immediately get changed into my RAB Merino base layers and put on my overprints, down jacket and put on a hat. This makes sure I don’t sit in damp clothing.

The priority is then to get the day’s clothing dry. A priority if you are not carrying an alternate set of clothing.

EXTRAS

Extras add weight, but I do consider certain items to be essential.

  • SPOT Tracker for me just makes sense and is a great security blanket.
  • Mobile phone – get a Ncell sim when you land in Kathmandu. You can get a 30-day sim with 16gb of data for not much more than £10. Coverage on the trails now is pretty good!
  • POLES – I use Black Diamond Z Poles, they are light, fold and are essential on the relentless climbs and descents.
  • EARPHONES – handy at night when relaxing.
  • EAR PLUGS
  • BLINDFOLD
  • HEAD TORCH and batteries
  • WET WIPES
  • MICRO FIBRE TOWEL
  • BASIC TOILETRIES
  • PEN
  • PASSPORT
  • WATERPROOF COMPRESSION BAG

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

Based on what type of trek you are doing, where you are going and when you are going, the requirements will vary here. For example, I am returning to Nepal in December and I will need light crampons and an ice axe.

The simple thing with any extra is that it adds weight. So, always ask the question, ‘Do you really need it?’

Read about the Everest Trail Race HERE

Read about the 2017 edition of the race HERE

And now, what is next for me….

Well, Nepal captures my imagination like no other place. Last year after the ETR I returned and did the whole race on foot in the same timescale as the race itself. It was a wonderful experience.

So, this December, the plan is to fly into Lukla and then do the high passes with some serious additions visiting Base Camps and peaks:

  • Gokyo RI
  • Everest Base Camp
  • Ama Dablam Base Camp
  • Tabuche Peak
  • Thamserku Base Camp

SCHEDULE DECEMBER:

18th – Depart for LUKLA go straight to Namche

19th – Namche – Tengboche – Namche (acclimatisation)

20th – Namche – Thame – Lumde

21st – Lumde – Renjo La – Gokyo – Gokyo RI – Gokyo

22nd – Gokyo – Dragnag – Cho La – Dzongla

23rd – Dzongla – Lobuche – Gorakshep

24th – Gorakshep – EBC – Gorakshep – Lobuche

25th – Lobuche – Dingboche – Somare

26th – Somare – Ama Dablam Base Camp – Pangboche

27th – Pangboche – Tabuche Peak – Pangboche

28th – Pangboche – Namche – Monjo

29th – Monjo – Thamserku Base Camp – Monjo

30th – Monjo – Lukla

31st – Lukla – KTM

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Everest Trail Race by The Elements Pure Coconut Water #ETR2017 – STAGE 4 KHARIKOLA to PHAKDING

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Day 4 #ETR2014

Kharikola to Phakding is very much a transition stage. The first 3-days have been quiet with the occasional glimpse of life but now the runners are on the motorway of Nepal. Porters are transporting all manner of goods from food and drink to 8’x4’ sheets of wood and even fridges! In and amongst this frenetic relay of goods are mule and yak trains and a plethora of tourists moving up and down the trails.

The diversity is incredible. Children play, parents work and the runners navigate a way through this section to finish at what many consider to be the gateway to Everest, Phakding.

Leaving the sleepy monastery of Kharikola, 29.5 km’s awaited the runners and after a short and twisting technical descent, a vertical kilometre of elevation to CP1 (Kari La) provided a great way to start the day and brush off the cobwebs. The descent to Surke (Cp2) is a 17km ankle twisting and knee swelling series of switchbacks of technical trail. But there is no rest, more climbing, more technical trails and finally the wire bridge at Monjo offers the ETR finish line.

It may come as no surprise that Suman Kulung and Luis Alberto Hernando dictated the pace from the start and arrived at Cp1 in less than 1-hour, Suman with a slender lead over the Spaniard.  It was a ridiculous time considering the technicality and elevation of the course. Sondre Amdahl was holding his ground but the writing was already on the wall. The Nepali runner was pushing hard and making Luis Alberto chase hard to retain his overall lead. It was a brave effort by both runners. At the line, Suman took the victory in 3:15:23 a 3+ min margin making the final 2-days of the 2017 ETR very exciting with it all to fight for between the Nepali and the Spaniard. Luis Alberto finished in 3:18:52 and still holds the number 1 slot on GC but it is close, really close! Sondre finished 3rd in 3:42:34 and Jordi Gamito 4th in 3:51:14

Chhechee Sherpa is one seriously impressive lady! She has a look of focus and determination that is softened by a smile. After a slow start in the 2017 ETR, this Nepali lady has been a force to reckon with. Once again, she was first to CP1 with a strong lead over Ester Alves who was chasing hard and then Elisabet Barnes who was further back. As the day unfolded though, Chhechee slowed. Firstly, Elisabet caught Ester and then the duo closed on Chhechee. For once, the first 3 ladies were separated by minutes and it remained that way all the way to the line. The Nepali crossed the line first in 4:45:04 and just 34-seconds later Ester crossed with Elisabet just 22-seconds later – that is a close and hard-fought race! The overall GC remains with Chhechee 1st, Ester 2nd and Elisabet 3rd – this is unlikely to change over the following 2-days.

Tomorrow, stage-5 is a short day of just 20km’s and 2124m of vertical gain. It culminates at the monastery at Tengboche with Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam providing arguably the most impressive finish line of any race!

Results top-3

  1. Suman Kulung 3:15:23
  2. Luis Alberto Hernando 3:18:52
  3. Sondre Amdahl 3:42:34

 

  1. Chhechee Sherpa 4:45:04
  2. Ester Alves 4:45:38
  3. Elisabet Barnes 4:46:00

 

Everest Trail Race by The Elements Pure Coconut Water #ETR2017 – Travel to JIRI

Four 16-seater mini buses departed Kathmandu for the 8-hour drive to Jiri and camp one of the 2017 Everest Trail Race. The distance is only 200km but the roads are very slowly and often only wide enough for one vehicle. It can be a rollercoaster ride of twisting left-to-right and up and down, all with a constant soundtrack of car horns.

There is a lack of road rules, which actually makes the journey very safe as drivers are constantly expecting the unexpected.

Taking regular breaks, a prolonged 30-minute break came at two-thirds through the journey and picnic stop next to the river that flows through the impressive valley through which we travel.

Along the road, small refreshment stops appear with locals selling wares from small carts; anything from a vegetarian rice meal to crisps, chocolate and even Red Bull! As is normal in Nepal, the locals are always friendly – they beam with laughter and smiles.

Back on the bus the ride continues for 3 more hours and finally our arrival at Jiri came. The glow of yellow tents was a warm welcome as the day began to lose its light.

Arriving in camp, water and tents were allocated to the runners. These tents are home for the next 6-days as we all make our way towards Everest. Runners settled in and made final preparations as the reality hits home that tomorrow, the 2017 Everest Trail Race starts. The heat of Kathmandu soon disappeared with the arrival of darkness and t-shirts were replaced with down jackets.

Day 1 commences at 0900 Thursday 9th November.

Jiri (1850m) to Bhandar (2050m) – 21.5km 3795m+/-

The stage has two summits, one at 2400m and the high point of the day at Deurali Pass 2700m before descending to the finish at Bhandar.