The good news is you don’t need to be Sir Edmund Hillary or Ranulph Fiennes to experience the Himalaya Mountains. In fact whatever your age, abilities or experience almost everyone can hike the Himalaya. So we have put together 11 tips for trekking in the Himalayas to help you get the most from a visit.
As the highest mountain range on the planet, the Himalaya have long been a draw for explorers heading to Nepal, India, Bhutan, China (including Tibet), and Pakistan. These days adventure travellers bring tourism to the mountains, there are many adventures on offer with trekking the most popular.
A quick note. The plural of Himalaya is not Himalayas but Himalaya – like the plural of sheep is not sheeps. Calling them the Himalayas is a result of the European fondness for pluralising mountains. We have decided to use both – eg ‘hike the Himalaya’ and ’11 tips for trekking in the Himalayas’ – because both terms are commonly used.
Tips for trekking in the Himalayas
Whilst accessible to pretty much all, trekking in the mountains is not like a walk in the park. There are many things you can do to prepare yourself before you go, to improve your experience whether you go for full on trekking, easier hiking or just a walk in one of the many national parks.
Furthermore, the countries the Himalayas span are exotic, with very different beliefs, languages, food, flora and fauna to Western countries. To help you make the most of what may be the trip of a lifetime, we have put together our top tips for trekking in the Himalayas.
Before you hike the Himalaya
Rocking up in the Himalayas without any prior preparation would be a recipe for disaster. So check out these pre-trip tips from trekking in the Himalayas.
Head for the hills
Fitness goes hand in hand with enhancing your overall trekking experience. The fitter you are the more pleasurable your experience will be. Trekking in the Himalayas involves many days walking at a time, up to 8 hours, with distances upwards of 10km/day. The key is to build your endurance levels over time.
3-6 months before you set off on your Himalayan adventure head to the hills in your own backyard! Practise walking with a daypack, starting with half-day outings. As you build your fitness increase the amount of time and distance covered in your walks including some multi-day trips.
Be aware that not all fitness transfers directly into trekking fitness. Sports such as running, football, squash are great for cardio fitness, but they use different muscles to walking so you need to hit the trail at a slower pace. In the gym the step machine will help build muscles and endurance for hard climbs.
Break in your boots
As you set out to hike the Himalaya is not the time to break in your boots!
Nothing is more debilitating during a trek, than a blister on your foot. Before you go, choose a decent pair of walking boots, ensuring that they fit properly and comfortably – you’ll be spending a lot of time in them.
When trying on boots it’s a good idea to bring a pair of hiking socks with you, so you get an idea of how they will fit whilst trekking. Wear them around your house, around town and while on the trails before you go. Your feet will thank you later!
Pack everything you think you need: Now half it!
So, you’re almost ready to go! You’ve crossed off your to do list and now the only thing left to do is pack. Stop! Before you go and pack your 10th t-shirt and your hair dryer that you just can’t live without, think twice. An essential element to trekking in the Himalayas is to pack lightly and keep your items to a minimum.
Regardless of whether or not you will be using the services of a mountain porter or carrying your gear yourself, the reality is you probably won’t need it. Trust me, from experience you’ll be grateful of this tip for hiking the Himalayas on the way up a high mountain pass!
Be culturally prepared
One of the great aspects of trekking in the Himalayas is being able to experience the fascinating mountain culture. Before you leave, read up on the places you will explore and the cultural norms of the regions you will visit. Many Himalayan communities are quite conservative and you wouldn’t want to unintentionally offend.
For example when walking past a prayer wheel, always pass clockwise. Learning key phrases is also a great idea. It’s amazing how locals will appreciate a simple greeting of ‘Namaste’ in Nepal or ‘Tashi Delek’ in Tibet.
Tips when actually trekking in the Himalayas
So you have reached the mountains and are on the trail. These tips for trekking in the Himalayas will help keep you safe and healthy as you hike the Himalaya.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
While trekking it’s essential to drink lots and stay hydrated. A rule of thumb is if you are feeling thirsty, than you are already dehydrated. Trekking at higher altitudes dehydrates you faster than if you were closer to sea level.
In the Himalayas I recommend drinking a minimum of 3-4 litres a day. Not only will this help your energy levels, it is crucial for minimizing the effects of Altitude Sickness. Taking a high quality water filter such as those by Lifestraw or Sawyer is a great way to make undrinkable water safe and means you can carry less.
Try making drinking part of your stopping routine – I like to drink as soon as I stop and just before setting off again. And don’t forget to keep hydrating when you have finished walking for the day.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Given the fresh, crisp mountain air, it is all too easy to forget about proper sun care. In fact, due to the high altitude, the sun’s rays can be even more powerful as you hike the Himalaya than a day spent on a beach.
Remember even on cloudy days to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen of at least SPF 30 and slap on a hat! Not just one of the top tips for trekking in the Himalayas, but for all travel.
Dress in Layers
The weather in the mountains can change at the drop of a hat. Many people think to bring windproof outer-shells but forget the all too important layering system!
Not only is the weather fickle but also you’ll be working hard, so hard in fact that you’ll be sweating in no time. The key is to dress in light, moisture wicking layers so that you can easily put on and take off your clothing according to how hot and cold you are.
One of the best base layer materials is Merino wool. Not only does it wick moisture away, but it is warm to touch (unlike synthetic fibres) and it stays odour free for a very long time. A worthy investment that means you can carry less.
Take Nothing But Pictures, Leave Nothing but Footprints
Trekking in the Himalayas is a great privilege. One where we get to immerse ourselves in stunning mountain scenery and experience nature in all its glory.
The Himalayas is host to a diverse array of flora and fauna – most of which is very ecologically fragile. It goes without saying – but we’ll say it anyway – take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. We all want this untouched beauty to survive for future generations.
Stay Aware – Altitude Sickness
The Himalayas is home to the biggest mountains in the world, with Mt. Everest a breathtaking 8,848m above sea level! While trekking in the Himalayas you will probably be exposed to higher elevations than you are used to, for longer periods of time.
Altitude Sickness can affect anyone, no matter their age, fitness level, or ability – and in fact many times it is the fittest people that suffer from it. With proper precautions, and knowledge of the symptoms the risk though, is usually minimal.
So always stay aware of yourself and others around you. The symptoms of altitude sickness vary, but commonly include: a shortness of breath, headache, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea and dizziness.
The most important rule when trekking to high altitudes is to gain height slowly. Pay attention to how you are feeling and keep an eye out for your trekking partners as well. If symptoms persist, remember the best and safest way to relieve symptoms is to Descend, Descend, Descend!
Embrace the culture, diet and beliefs
So you have done cultural research before you hike the Himalaya, but you still need to embrace it when there. If you are standoffish, don’t try the local food, or respect the beliefs, you’ll find you meet less people and get less from the overall experience.
In some ways this is the most important tip for hiking the Himalayas. The local people are on the whole warm and friendly, but you need to be warm and friendly in return. Don’t be like the tourist you see in your home town that annoys you by not integrating.
Stop and smell the Rhododendrons
The most important of the tips for trekking in the Himalayas? Take your time, and don’t rush it! It is one of the most enchanting parts of the world, so the Himalayas is the place to stop, smell the rhododendrons and enjoy the moment.
We hope you found these tips for trekking in the Himalayas useful. If it has you planning a trip to hike the Himalaya for yourself, then check out our articles and Himalaya discounts.