17 Tips You Need to Know Before Hiking the Everest Base Camp Trek
Do you want to know what it’s really like to hike the Everest Base Camp Trek? Read on to be better prepared for the expected—and unexpected—adventure ahead.
Adventurers come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, with different reasonings and ambitions for their adventures. For me, I love the unknown: experiencing everything and anything I can from countries, to cultures, languages, knowledge, hobbies, treks, physicals feats, and more. I love the adrenaline, fear, and growth that is associated with it all.
That being said, I'm not always so "suave"; as my pictures and stories may represent. I write this story in the fetal position, under two down blankets, fully clothed in multiple layers, hoarding at least three snickers in my pocket, in Lobuche, Nepal on the Everest Base Camp Trek, wishing that someone had written this article for me. Maybe if I read this before my flight, I would have been a little bit more prepared for the greatest adventure of my life.
My Everest Base Camp Trekking experience has been a once in a lifetime adventure and very unique to myself and my personality, and I wouldn't change anything about it... even the fact that I'm turning into an icicle right now. In typical Natasha fashion, I reasoned that I didn't need to buy a sleeping bag because it couldn't be "that cold" on the highest point on Earth.
Lucky for you, I learned the following tips and tricks so that you don't have to. Here are the 17 tips you need to know before hiking the Everest Base Camp Trek.
Bring extra cash with you.
Whether you choose to go with a guide/agency, or follow the trail on your own, you’re going to need extra cash—and lots of it. The trek from Lukla to Everest Base Camp is strictly business; each village or town you pass is expertly constructed for tourists. From lodges, to showers, last minute gear items, and food, anything and everything you may possibly need comes with a price. And that price only increases as the days go by.
A water in Lukla costs 100 rupees while one in Pheruche is 300. WiFi can range from 300-1,000, and that doesn’t even account for how many hours you want to use it for. Need to charge your phone? That’ll be 400. What about toilet paper? Tissues? 250, please.
The majority of the lodges do not accept card, so you’ll need to make sure you have extra cash on hand. There are only a few ATMs on the trek in Namche Bazaar.
Bring enough to stay in a lodge each night, have three meals a day, WiFi/charging of electronics every few days, shower every few days, and some pocket money for snacks, souvenirs, and any extra gear items you’re interested in purchasing.
You’ll need physical and mental endurance.
If you’re looking to “wing” this trek, I have no doubt in my mind that you’ll be able to do so with no experience, but it’s going to be tough. You’re going to struggle, and you may get hurt. You don’t need to lift weights every day to hike to Everest Base Camp—but you do need endurance, and lots of it.
Physically, I’m fit. I participate in multiple half marathons and triathlons each year. The week before coming to Nepal, I completed the Rutgers Half Marathon. Six+ hours of hiking a day for 12 days straight was no real issue for me because my body was used to long hours of training, in varying conditions of extreme heat, rain, or cold. Those on the trail with no physical endurance or experience struggled immensely, and it can put a damper on the experience as a whole.
My recommendation: Hit the stair master gradually, working your way up to at least two hours a few times a week before coming to Nepal. The majority of the trek is uphill (you are going up a mountain, after all) and training your muscles that way will help your endurance for the 12 day hike in the long run. Better yet—train for a race, like I did!
However, physical endurance is only half of the struggle. Mentally, it’s even worse. If you’ve never trekked before, or only have done day or weekend hikes, trekking to Everest Base Camp and the grand amount of time it requires can be unnerving. There will be days you want to stop, want to go back home, and don’t want to hike anymore—and you’ll need to learn how to manage those negative thoughts. Meditation or yoga can help with this. And remember, always remind yourself that this is a once and a lifetime adventure!
Actually get trekking insurance.
A quick apology to the agency I booked with... because I am about to confess that I didn’t get trekking insurance. The entire trek I regretted it. You’ll see at least 5-15 helicopters pass you per day—some for rescue, some for supplies. It was hard not to think of what would happen if that was me. Altitude sickness is no joke, hurting yourself on the trail is no joke, and the only way to get back if you’re truly sick or hurt is by helicopter. Be prepared for the unexpected, and spend the extra hundred bucks on trekking and helicopter insurance, as most regular insurances do not cover them.
Invest in water purifying tablets.
You have two options for hydration on the trail: buying water bottles from the lodges and villages, or buying water purifying tablets in advance and using that on local water. My advice: Go for the water purifying tablets. In the long run, they’re less expensive and create less waste, in addition to cutting down on how much you carry per day. You’ll need, at the very least, one liter of water per day, and as you climb up in altitude, you really should be drinking between three and five liters of water per day.
It goes without saying that, if you opt for water purifying tablets, you should bring your own reusable water bottles.
Don’t cheap out on the sleeping bag.
Remember, I’m currently in a lodge freezing my butt off because I didn’t follow the advice I’m about to give you. Bring at least a sub zero sleeping bag with you. During the day, you’ll be nice and warm hiking from village to village (granted that there is sun). In the nighttime, however, it’s absolutely freezing when the sun disappears and the clouds roll in. You’re also at higher levels of altitude than your body is used to, and boy can it get cold at night!
If you don’t end up getting a sleeping bag like yours truly, many of the lodges have extra blankets to spare.
Bring layers—lots of them.
Sometimes you’ll be trekking in a tank top while other times you’ll be trekking in a down jacket. The weather in the trekking region of Nepal isn’t consistent, and you’ll need to pack efficiently in addition to being prepared for the many faces of temperature the Himalayans will throw at you. Most days I wore a tank top with a long sleeve shirt on top, with a light jacket in my pack so that I could add or subtract as the weather saw fit. Once you hit above Tengboche, however, you won’t need your warm weather clothing anymore.
It’s okay—the porters walk faster than you.
Yes, you will be passed by porters who are carrying three very heavy trekking backpacks—or bottles of soda, water, and supplies—and it will make you feel inadequate. Throughout the entire trek, you’ll constantly be passed by these amazing super humans who walk up and down the mountain day in and day out. Try not to despair too much that they’re carrying three times your load and still moving faster up the hill than you are.
It’s important to take your time throughout the Everest Base Camp Trek. Walking too fast can make your acclimatization more difficult. My advice: Walk as slowly as you need to. Stop when you need to. Take breaks and relax—it’s not a race! Everyone takes breaks. You’ll even see the porters have special break spots too!
Altitude sickness is definitely a thing.
Everything they say about altitude sickness is true, and don’t think that you’re the one exception to this malady. If you’re incredibly active, you can get it. If you’re incredibly inactive, you can get it. My point is, take extra precaution as you climb higher and higher in altitude. If an acclimatization day is recommended, take it. If you start feeling like you have a bad headache, or your neck hurts, you’re faint and nauseous, take a rest. Don’t push yourself. Listen to what your body is saying. Even the healthiest of athletes have died from altitude sickness.
Drink lots of water—at least one liter to start and five liters when you’re up higher in altitude. Walk slowly, don’t run up or down the mountains.
Go here for a list of altitude sickness symptoms.
The trails are busy. Really busy.
I went into the Everest Base Camp trek thinking that not many people were active on the trail. I was wrong. Each and every day you will experience trail congestion: tourists from all over the world, with varying backpacks, all trying to climb up the same hill with inconsistent pacing.
It’s like driving: If you’re going faster than the person in front of you, make a move to pass. Need a rest stop? Go sit on that welcoming boulder over there. Oh wait, there’s already three people sitting on it. Time to find another!
You may see the same people, you may see different people. Day to day, hundreds (if not thousands) of people are on the Everest Base Camp trail. The first day we entered the trail at Lukla, at about 10 AM, 150 people had already started from there. Woah.
Be prepared when you arrive at the permit stations along the trail, as those are the most congested areas and can set you back at most an hour on a busy day.
The mountains you see are NOT Everest.
I wish someone had told me in advance that I wouldn’t see Mount Everest until day four or five of the trek. It would have saved me a lot of “Is that Everest?” questions I asked multiple times a day.
The first four or five days, you’ll see an array of beautiful mountains and landscapes that continue on into the rest of the 12 day trek, as well, but Everest is a lot farther away than you might think, and it’s hard to catch a real glimpse of it before you’re above 4000m.
When you do finally see the first sighting of it, you’ll only see the smallest part of its peak. Don’t worry, you’ll be heading to base camp soon enough to get the most gorgeous views of the mountain.
Down time is your new best friend.
You’ll hike between three and eight hours a day depending on your itinerary, speed, and interest. The rest of the day... well, that’s up to you! If you’re energized enough after a half day of hiking to explore the towns, go right ahead. If not, you’re going to have a lot of down time. More than you think.
Be sure to download enough books and films on your tablet before you leave, as you won’t have decent WiFi (if you pay for it) along the trail to download more. I found that an audiobook was a great way to pass the time both on the trail and in the town (if you’re looking for a recommendation, I listened to The Name of the Wind and would highly recommend it). Or you could just talk to people! You’ll meet an array of foreigners from all over the world on your hike; grab a beer or coffee with them after the day’s trekking festivities.
Fun fact: Electronics do weird things in cold temperatures. My FitBit wouldn’t sync, my Kindle completely died on me, and my phone spazzed out quite often. Be sure to have some backup plans for down time just in case what happened to me happens to you.
About the WiFi...
Just forget about it. You’ll have to pay nearly every time, and just like the water, the WiFi prices increase as you go up the mountain. In general, it’s pretty terrible WiFi. But if you’re looking to update your friends and family, it can get the job done.
Don’t Forget These Key Items:
There are hundreds of packing lists you can use for the Everest Base Camp Trek out there. Here is a very quick list of must have items I’m telling you you can’t forget!
- Portable charger
- Comfy shoes
- Sleeping Bag
- Rain covers
- Water purifying tablets
- Worn-in hiking shoes
If you’re debating hiring a guide or winging it solo, hire a guide.
One of the main reasons I went with an agency and hired a guide and porter was to contribute to Nepal’s thriving tourism and trekking economy. They know the country best, and it was a wonderful experience learning Nepali along the way with my guide while experiencing the hidden treasures of the trek from a native.
With an agency and guide, your lodging will be guaranteed, food taken care of, backpacks carried (if needed), and more. Especially with the lodges—when you get to the busier parts of the trek, on acclimatization days, the lodges can fill up fast. Your guide can call ahead and reserve the space for you.
Minimize risk, go the native route, and hire a guide! I recommend the agency I used: Evasion Trekking.
You’ll learn to hate the weather.
One moment it’ll be sunny and hot, the next windy and cold. For me, on the “crazy weather days,” I could be seen changing outfits every 30 minutes.
The part of the unpredictable weather you’ll hate the most as you climb further up the mountains is the clouds. In the morning, the clouds are usually at bay. But as the hours go on, they creep and creep until they completely surround every single mountain you can see in the sky—where you won’t be able to see anything at all! On my descent, the clouds were so horribly placed one morning that I couldn’t even see the town of Namche even though I was standing in it.
Give a few days extra time for your flights.
If you’re not hiking from Kathmandu to Lukla to begin your Everest Base Camp Trek, you’ll have to fly, and most tourists opt to fly.
However, Lukla is often closed due to weather. The runway is conveniently located on a cliff 2860 meters high. Remember those clouds? Oh yeah,cthey make appearances often in Lukla and you do not want your small 18 passenger plane to attempt to land on a cliff in that kind of weather.
Allow a day or two before and after your Everest Base Camp Trek to stay in Lukla, just in case your flight is delayed.
There’s no experience like it.
Twelve days later, with sweat, fatigue, and fun behind me, I can say that I trekked to Everest Base Camp—and soon you’ll be able to say that too. From the mountains to the people and the experiences, there’s no trek like it. Savor every second. Learn from every mistake. Have fun with every hill. You’re on your way to accomplishing a feat that most people only dream of. Own it and make it your own amazing memory.
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