Annapurna Circuit planning

As with many things in life, planning can make or break your chances of success. You know the saying among outdoor lovers:

“There is no such thing as bad weather, there is only unsuitable clothing”

So while this trek is appropriate for all levels of fitness, even the fittest can have a miserable time if they’re not prepared. I’ll try to share here what I think is essential to make this trek an enjoyable one.

Before we go into the trek characteristics, it’s worth noting that permits are required to enter and hike the area. All trekkers will need to obtain the ACAP entry permit and to get issued a TIMS card.
Also, I’m assuming you’ve done some kind of trekking before, so this is not an exhaustive guide and I won’t be covering the essentials (you already know how many pairs of underwear you need, right?).

How this trek is different

While by no means unique, there are three specific aspects that make this trek unlike most others, and that you should keep in mind when packing your bags:

1. big difference in altitude (wide array of temperatures)

The route takes you from altitudes of 800m up to over 5400m. That’s a huge difference that brings the corresponding differences in temperatures. When I did this trek in April, I went from scorching hot days at low altitudes to below freezing temperatures up in the mountains.

terraced fields and lush vegetation at low altitudes on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal
terraced fields and lush vegetation at low altitudes

2. thin air at high altitude

This affects the human body when it comes to breathing, sleeping, sun exposure, moisture retention. Skin and throat can become dry, it is easier to get sunburnt, and it is harder to sleep.

3. altitude sickness

This was my biggest fear because I’m a control freak and there’s only so much you can control about how your body adapts to the lower oxygen levels. Indeed, I met some people that had to return, but the overwhelming majority crossed the pass without issues. In my case, on the day of the crossing, I had some mild symptoms that manifested with the lack of appetite, an indigestion-like sensation in the stomach and a heavy head. Pretty much like a light hangover after a party. But without the party. It continued during all the descent and it disappeared by magic after I had lunch (even though I did not feel hungry) when my body got some energy back.

What you should pack

The items I’m sharing will make sure that the above-mentioned¬†particularities will not impact you negatively.

1. clothes and equipment

good quality shoes

You only realize the importance of good shoes when you have shitty ones. Good quality shoes with a thick sole and that are worn in is what you’re looking for. Ideally, they are the kind with ankle support for added safety. You really want your shoe to take care of your ankles when you’re tired and dragging your feet downhill if you ask me, but this is very much a personal preference and I won’t go into that debate.

warm stuff for inside the tea houses

you’re walking all day; hopefully, the weather is nice and the sun is shining. Your body creates heat so you will need very minimal warm clothing for during the day. But nights are cold, fatigue will make it harder for your body to retain heat, tea-houses are not heated. Warm clothes, extra thick socks, and croc style (or anything that works with woolen socks) indoor footwear will keep you comfortable.

simple tea house with Annapurna range in the background
at high altitudes, tea houses are more scarce and more simple

down sleeping bag

Rest is just as important as walking and a good sleeping bag is for your sleep just as shoes are for trekking. You want to give your body the best rest possible so that it recovers after a hard day and can start all over the next day. I rented one and used it only from Manang up (before that, the blankets in the tea-houses were enough to keep me warm), but boy, was I happy I had it!

trekking poles

Again, this is very much a personal preference and for me, this was the first time I trekked with poles. I usually prefer to have my hands free so I had them mostly strapped to my backpack, but my knees and ankles thanked me for using them on descents.

2. cosmetics and medicines

Apart from what is usually in your first-aid or medical kit, you will definitely benefit from:

altitude sickness pills

They are easily available in Kathmandu and Manang and will help the body adjust to the low oxygen environment, but will not hide the symptoms, should you be affected.

sun protection: sunscreen and hat

Thinner air means there are fewer particles to block the UV rays that burn your skin. At the same time, the higher you go, the less likely you are to feel the sun burning because the temperatures are gradually decreasing. I cannot stress enough the importance of the sun protection. Although I am very thorough applying my SPF80 sunscreen on my face (my red nose peeling is not a pretty sight), on Day 7, before 11 am, I hiked for less than two hours in short sleeve and decided no sunscreen is required on my arms. The burn was the real thing, with blisters and peeling and everything! So trust me on this one: apply and re-apply a high SPF sunscreen on all areas that are exposed to the sun. It will also help keep your skin moisturized in the dry air.

I also got sun stroke on one of the first days and proceeded to use a scarf to cover my head from then on. Learn from my mistakes and keep your head cool. Literally.

landscape at high altitude where the sun burns ruthlessly
I love myself a sunny day, but at high altitudes, the sun burns ruthlessly

anti-inflammatories and muscle rub

Mild inflammation of the feet, legs and/or joints is normal as walking for hours each day will get your body into defense mode. However, it might give you troubles if it accumulates. A massage with muscle rub, a low concentration anti-inflammatory and sleeping with your legs slightly elevated is like taking your legs to the spa. They deserve it and you want them to be fresh the next day to start over.

band-aids

for those blisters, should you happen to get them.

wet wipes

you’ll need them for those days when you don’t shower. Go ahead and judge me, but taking a cold shower when there is no heating in the room and it’s freezing outside is just no fun. And when I say cold shower, I’m talking brain freeze when you brush your teeth kind of cold water. Wet wipes it is!

toilet paper

It’s hard to find it on the trek. ’nuff said.

water purification tablets/ drops

These are not mandatory as you can buy water everywhere, but it would be a lot cheaper and environmentally friendly than buying bottled water. Drinking the tap water is not a good idea, as you probably already imagine and if you are using a filter, make sure it kills all the bacteria found above 4000m.

And one last thing that is indispensable in the toolkit of every traveler is flexibility. Things will not always go as we plan them, but the ability to laugh it off and find a solution on the spot will ensure you’re having a good time.