Hiking the Annapurna Circuit

My wife and I hiked the Annapurna Circuit in April 2018, and it was one of the best trekking experiences of my life. Each day felt different, there was sheltered accommodation, and the hiking through the largest mountains in the world was truly epic. On the highest day we hit 5,416m (17,760 ft) via the Thorong La Pass. We preferred this trekking experience to Mount Kilimanjaro because it was less of an ‘up and back’ and felt more relaxed.

Here are a few recommendations:

  • Guide/Porter: You don’t really need a guide or a porter but it’s a nice way to support the locals, and is inexpensive. A porter is more useful than a guide. On some of the harder days, carrying a day pack makes the hike a lot easier than carrying all your gear. You can sort this out easily when you arrive into Kathmandu, through your hotel.
  • Gear: Don’t overpack. You can re-use good quality ski gear (here are my tips – make sure to layer) and the packing list is similar for clothing for Kilimanjaro. A good sleeping bag is essential to stay warm on the huts on the way. Pack some blister pads. Use hiking poles.
  • Add on the Ice Lake day hike in Manang: Stay two days in Manang. You can do laundry here and watch movies at the ‘cinema’. The Ice Lanke was a really awesome day, albeit a little challenging (4,600m and about 8 hours long). One of my favourite days of the trip. We were supposed to go to Tilicho lake but the path was closed because of avalanches.
  • Complete the “half circuit” and fly back: Our trek was 15 days, and we started in Besishar and ended in Jomsom, where we flew to Pokhara a little over half through the full circuit. A lot of the research shows the last half of the circuit as a bit of a ‘grind’ with cars on the road adding to a less pleasant, more dusty experience.
  • Hang out in Pokhara after to relax: This is a chill, hippy city in Nepal. We had massages, good food, did some yoga and a few relaxed hikes and boat rides. We also treated ourselves to a nice hotel. It was wonderful to spend 2-3 days here relaxing after the trek.
  • Lodging: Accommodations are all pretty similarly priced in the villages along the way. If you arrive earlier, you’ll get a better pick of the available rooms. We were also able to “shower” (mostly out of a tap or bucket) every few days.
  • Food: Pack some chocolates, or other tasty snacks but know that you’ll have hot meals for lunch and dinner along the way and plenty of places to stop for tea. I’d recommend eating mostly vegetarian, and mostly Dal Bhat.
  • Leisure: Get a local sim card so you can communicate on the trail (no-wifi) and bring your Kindle to read in the evenings. Bring a deck of cards too. The scenery is epic but modern phones can probably suffice, unless you’re an avid photographer.

I also like the Kathmanduo blog which is well written and has a lot of details, but is a little old (2011).

Here are some photos of the trip!

‘Fresh Faced’ early in the trip
K2 In the Background (I think)
Ice Lake Hike

Epic Views Every Day
Vistas
Tea House Life
Little Bridges on the pass
Throng La Base Camp – cold!
Throng La Pass – the highest day
Throng La Day
Last few days of the trek
Unhappy to be on the tiny plane

Trekking and Ski Gear

When I buy equipment, I research it intensely and I am sharing my picks below in case they are useful for you. I’ve put these gear picks to the test by skiing (12 resorts) and trekking (places like Kilimanjaro, Annapurna Circuit) in harsh conditions over the last 5 years, with some pictures below.

If you buy proper, high quality gear, it is re-useable for both trekking and skiing and will last a really long time. I don’t have any perspective on style (as you can see from my pictures), and this post is primarily about function and some of the products that I like.

Summary

Here are the main takeaways in case you don’t care for the details:

  1. Dress in layers – you’ll typically need a base, mid and outer layer for cold weather.
  2. Your first layer should be merino wool, if possible, as it’s functional in hot and cold weather and you can wear it for a long time without it getting smelly.
  3. Your outer layers should be high quality Gore-Tex shells, particularly for your jacket. Make sure your jacket has a hood.
  4. Get a neck buff. It’s the most versatile thing that I have, and a lifesaver.

Layers

When you buy your gear, it’s best to buy in layers vs integrated (insulated) items. It’s definitely more expensive, but quality gear lasts a long time, is more versatile in seasons, and really makes a difference to your comfort level in harsh (freezing, windy) conditions on the mountains.

  1. Base Layer: Get good quality merino wool base layers for your tops (1 short, 1-2 long sleeve) and bottoms (1-2 underwear, 1-2 tights), and socks (2-3 pairs). This will last a long trekking trip of up to a week, and a week long ski trip, minus the underwear. For value, I like Smartwool, but my preferred merino wool baselayers are from Mons Royale, which are good quality and slightly more thoughtfully designed.
  2. Mid Layer: You really just need one mid layer jacket. I LOVE my Patagonia Nano Air with a hood. I’ve bought one of these for everyone in my family. I also recently read the founder of Patagonia’s book “Let my people go surfing” and it’s hard not to be inspired by his authenticity.
  3. Outer Layer: Get a good Gore-Tex shell jacket (not insulated), and this is more important than trousers. I got mine from Arc’teryx but their stuff is pretty pricey. I got my trousers from Arc’teryx too, as they have some nice synergies (jacket clips to pants) but you can easily get more affordable trousers if you’re budget constrained.

Merino Wool

Merino wool is the best! It’s so much better than synthetics for long trekking trips and ski trips. It keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold, still performs well when it’s wet and you can wear it for 2-3 days without it getting super smelly. It’s more expensive, and a little harder to take care of as you need to wash it in cold water and hang it up to dry. The performance and comfort improvements are well worth the trade off. Here is a good summary of the pros and cons if you want more info.

Outer Layer

I’m not a Gore-Tex expert (good article here) but have owned a few jackets now, and think they are all pretty fantastic. The jacket I have from Arc’teryx is made from the Gore-Tex Pro material which has 3-layers of material to make it even more waterproof and durable. I really like the Patagonia shells too, and they come in at a slightly lower price point than Arc’teryx. Make sure your jacket has a hood (so useful for keeping warm and dry) and make sure that the hood is big enough to fit over your ski helmet.

Neck Buffs

A good neck buff is so useful – it protects your face from wind on the chairlift or if there is ice smacking your face and keeps your neck warm. It’s a must have on trekking and ski trips. Here is the neck buff I have, which is merino wool from Mons Royale (around $30) and it’s great.


A lot of this gear is expensive, and if you buy it all it can add up. You can almost always get everything on sale; I bought almost everything at least 30% off retail. If you look after the equipment, it can last a really long time. My shells are seven years old and still in great working condition. On a cost per wear basis a good quality product always ends up being worth it versus. a lower quality product. Also when you are at the top of a mountain, freezing your tushie off a little less, you’ll thank me.