In Chapter 1 we learned about maps for the Himalayas to plan our hiking trails. Chapter 2 covered various ways of navigation to find our way through the mountains. Chapter 3 explained how to plan a Himalayan alpine style journey taking into account acclimatization, weather, seasons, food, water and night halts. In this chapter we will be identify the must-carry gears required for the alpine style hiker, focusing on minimalist fast hiking:
Chapter 4 – Fast hiking & lightweight gears
Module 1 – Clothing
Module 2 – Shoe wear
Module 3 – Backpack
Module 4 – Night shelter
Module 5 – Electronics / Power
Module 6 – Technical gears
Similar to food ration and water, planning the right gears for your Himalayan journey is critical. Carrying non-essential / too many / heavy gears will adversely impact your journey making you slower, prolonging the duration of your journey, requiring even more food, again adding more weight, resulting in still slower pace, etc. A vicious circle.
Prioritizing your gears (focus on must-have rather than extra comfort) will allow you to go light and enjoy your journey rather than suffering while carrying a bulky / heavy backpack in (very) steep Himalayan terrain.
People always get surprised when they see me hiking the Himalayas in shorts and t-shirt even on glaciers. Why are you not dressed up in several warm layers? The answer is very simple – if you pack light you will be able to hike much faster (rather than struggling uphill with a heavy load). If you hike fast in steep terrain your body will automatically generate sufficient heat to be comfortable in *normal weather conditions* even at higher altitudes.
Even tough we hike in higher altitudes / lower temperatures, during a sunny day with blue skies (even in snow) you feel comfortable. I do have warm / protective clothing (further below) for when I halt, camp at night or during adverse weather conditions. But while moving at a steady pace during a beautiful day light, breathable clothing works best – it allows my body to breath, sweat to dissipate and keep my skin dry / ventilated while fast hiking. I use this outfit for 90% of the time while hiking allowing me to go light and fast.
Put on several layers of warm clothing and I can guarantee you that you’ll be unable to climb up fast in steep terrain without feeling suffocated immediately in a high altitude environment where reduced oxygen is already affecting you.
Rain and wind
The above being said, it’s equally important to protect yourself from adverse weather conditions such as cold, wind, rain and snow. No doubt the most important / protective item in your gear set is your rain jacket. It prevents you from getting wet (read: very cold at higher altitudes) during rain or snowfall. It also shuts out the cold wind when exposed on ridgelines or open spaces at higher altitudes. At the same time it does not add too much of layering allowing you to breath and continue fast hiking through these weather conditions. Note however that a rain jacket cannot keep you dry forever so in case of prolonged or heavy rains it’s better to pitch up and take shelter in your tent.
Shorts are anytime preferred over long pants which restrict free movement of legs (causing resistance / friction near knees / ties). I do NOT carry long pants even in bad / cold weather as it’s important to protect your core / upper body – legs are fine while exposed to weather
Cold and breaks
A second essential gear is your puff jacket or fleece which adds a good layer of insultation (traps body heat) and keeps you warm when 1. you stop moving 2. very cold weather / higher altitudes or 3. early mornings / evenings. I generally use my puff jacket less than 5% of the time while fast hiking – only when taking a break in shade or say crossing a snow covered glacier while cold icy wind is blowing or near the campsite early morning or evening when the sun is not (yet) out. As soon as the sun is out and you start moving the puff usually feels suffocating and is removed promptly.
Adding your rain jacket over your puff jacket adds further insultation (traps body heat) / cuts out the cold and provides even further comfort in extreme cold conditions. General rule however is to keep moving in cold weather conditions at high / exposed altitudes to keep yourself warm. As soon as you stop hiking you will immediately feel cold and it’s better to pitch up and stay warm inside your shelter / tent or cut off the cold wind. A woolen cap can help to keep your head warm at night or during very cold weather.
At higher altitudes the atmosphere is thinner and the sun (UV rays) is more intense. When crossing snow covered landscapes the reflection of the sun gets even more intense. It’s therefore useful to carry something to protect your head – a cap or bandana and eyes – sun glasses. Especially in case of longer snow traverses at higher altitude.
Same holds for the high altitude deserts of Ladakh, Zanskar while hiking above 4000m during summers in a barren landscape you get exposed to intense sun radiation. So keep your head covered / cool with clothing. A pair of arm sleeves can be useful to prevent skin burn. Carry sun screen to protect exposed parts of the body if required.
Acknowledge your understanding of the importance of choosing the right clothing for various weather conditions while alpine style hiking in the Himalayas