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 do’s and don’t’s of trekking in Nepal that covers most of the main things people want and need to know before tackling one of the Himalayan trails. In particular, I’ve included a bunch of tips that will also ensure your trek is responsible and respectful to both the environment and local cultures.
- Pick your teahouse carefully
- Respect local culture
- Switch off
- Know your ability and experience
- Prepare for all weather and trail conditions
- Underestimate altitude
- Leave a trace other than footprints
- Expect luxury
- Forget to take enough cash
Do… pick your teahouse carefully
There are often multiple teahouses at the main overnight stops on the major trails and so picking a teahouse becomes a nightly (or preferably early afternoon) exercise, unless your guide or agency prearrange them for you. Some teahouses are more like commercial hotels with multilevel rooms, hot showers, charging points, beer and maybe, even Wi-Fi if you’re lucky. However, competition is rife amongst the local people on the popular trails and you’ll find the owners coming to greet you to take you back to their place.
It’s not considered rude to check out more than one place, as many of the teahouse owners know that you will likely do this. If you’re trekking independently and cost is a factor, you can sometimes bargain for a free bed if you promise to eat dinner and breakfast there. Otherwise, ask what the teahouse can offer you; does it have free charging, or does it cost? Does it have hot showers?
Responsible trekker tip:
If you want to give back to the communities you’re trekking through, then it’s best sometimes to opt for the smaller guy to make sure the customers are spread around. There are often more popular teahouses that some of the larger trekking groups favour and this sometimes mean that smaller places miss out on some of the business. Picking a smaller teahouse, maybe even without the extra luxuries, could be contributing to the livelihood of a whole family. It’s all about responsible tourism, think about it when you’re picking a teahouse.
Do… Respect 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 and 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 revealing (girls, this means no slinky singlet tops or extremely short shorts, although they wouldn’t be very practical trekking in the Himalayas anyway).
Responsible trekker tip:
Talk to people; ask them questions about their traditions, customs and their ancestral history. Understand that for some, if not all, of these people, 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.
Do… switch off
You go trekking into the Himalayas for good reason; to enjoy the physical challenge and incredible landscapes. 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 that will cover the whole park. If you’re trekking alone or without a guide then it’s obvious that you will 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.
Responsible trekker tip:
As I said above, talk to 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 teahouse. 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 of the Himalayas.
Do… know your 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 the 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 may not have been utilised.
There are treks for virtually every type of ability so 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.
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.
Do… 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.
Either way, this will only help you once you’re about to set out on the trek so it’s still best to pack what you’ll need for all weather conditions. A good down jacket and thermals for the cold nights and early mornings, t-shirts for the warm, sunny days and wet weather and rain gear including a bag cover for those snowy and wet days.
If you book your trek in advance, it’s also 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 they were still considered dangerous. Other years, people can cross the high passes all throughout winter. You have to take whatever comes, unfortunately.
I’ve also written a step by step guide to trekking independently in Nepal for She Went Wild and you can read it here.
Don’t… underestimate altitude
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 is the main 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 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, is also an option if you want, although for most of the multiday treks the ascents are within the range where most people should be able to acclimatise properly without it. It’s important, however, not to try to do too much or ascend too quickly or complete a trek in less days than recommended by most guides.
They say a good rule of thumb is not sleeping any higher than 500m per day, after reaching 3000m in altitude and taking a rest day every 1000m ascended. But it really depends on how you feel. If you do feel some altitude effects coming on such as a headache and 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.
Don’t… leave a 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 carry your rubbish out with you.
Do NOT drop rubbish or leave toilet paper on the trails, this should be common sense. However, also think about other ways you can help the teahouses to reduce their waste as well such as consuming meals that have natural ingredients rather than coming out of a packet.
For example, instead of instant noodles like Maggi and buying packets of biscuits for lunch, try a cooked meal 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 A WATER FILTER so that you can refill along the way from natural sources rather than purchasing plastic water bottles. This is really important, as the number of people I saw buying plastic bottles was too many, considering you should always take a water filter trekking in any country and bottles like LifeStraw make it very easy to do so.
You can refill your bottle at teahouses from a tap or natural sources like streams along the way and with a LifeStraw or similar filter, you will be able to drink straight away without having to worry about getting sick. Some people prefer iodine tablets or something similar, however, a filter will limit your wait time, because tablets often take time to work.
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.
When you’re packing, remember that you’ll be sweating every. single. day. So instead of taking five t-shirts for a ten-day trek, only take two or three because you may as well wear the same clothes each day, it’s only going to get sweaty within 10 minutes. Hot tip: if you invest in clothing that is made from merino wool, this will be even easier, as it is naturally odour resistant and moisture-wicking, making it more comfortable to wear day after day. Clothing is the main aspect where people overpack so just rethink every item that you put into your backpack.
Responsible trekker tip:
Even if you opt to take a porter instead of carrying your own luggage, it’s also responsible to think about them and how much they should realistically carry. If you don’t want to carry 20kg up to Everest Base Camp because it will hurt your back then it’s likely not good for their back either. Although, most of the porters have many treks under their belt and are quite fit and able to carry what they do, be aware that porters do succumb to altitude sickness, dehydration and exhaustion too. They are incredible people, but they are not superhuman. Only take what is necessary with you.
Don’t… expect luxury
If you go on one of the 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. Quality varies dramatically though, and you can often find newer lodges with private ensuites, hot water and Wi-Fi (although this is definitely not the case for most). 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.
Don’t… forget to take enough cash
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 cash 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 because I included at the end of each one exactly how much I spent.