It’s difficult to exactly measure what amount of preparation is enough to help you reach the Everest Base Camp (EBC), especially when it’s your first multi-day trek.
Coursing over 62 kilometres from your first step at Lukla, the starting point, the trek to EBC climbs steadily into the clouds for the first week. You navigate rocky terrains, herds of heavily burdened yaks and altitude-related fatigue to reach your destination at 17,598 feet; only to be rewarded with stunning views. I did the trek in November 2017, with a group of 10 people and two guides. A basic level of fitness is essential, but I found that the most underrated skill on the trek was the art of travelling light and packing right.
There’s nothing better than hauling a 10-kg backpack up and down the undulating trail to help you appreciate that every gram counts.You learn to prioritise; and that wet wipes are your best friend. Also, when porters or yaks help carry your load, you find that the lighter your bag, the easier it weighs on your conscience.
And even if no one else does, the trek to EBC takes you seriously as an adult. Hence, once past the tiny hamlet of Namche Bazaar on Day 4, you are expected to survive on the gear you have packed for the rest of the trip.The mantra here is quality over quantity. Not enough clean underwear? You’ll get by. Out of Diamox? You can borrow. Thermals not warm enough? Uh oh, that’s trouble. Shoes biting into your feet? Well, that could mean the end of your base camp adventure.
Lucky for me, I had Columbia Sportswear as my gear-genie. I have used gear by Columbia Sportswear earlier—I bought a lightweight jacket in 2014, and it has lasted me through Icelandic summers and strong Atlantic winds. On this trek, I must confess though, the thermals were my favourite: they are light, fashionable, and pack in a lot of warmth. Here’s my review of some of the gear that got me through the 10-day trek to EBC and back.
PEAKFREAK™ XCRSN II XCEL MID OUTDRY® SHOES
Your world is at your feet, literally, for the entire duration of the trek. Be kind, or you are going to limp back to Lukla, or worse, do permanent damage to your joints.
Columbia Sportswear’s Peakfreak series is known for its light weight and cushioning, something my knees particularly appreciated, especially downhill. The shoes are equipped with Columbia Sportswear’s waterproof OutDry technology, but I didn’t need to put it to test: In November, when I went for the trek, you don’t get your feet wet on the EBC trek at all. The one time we crossed a tiny rivulet, the shoes did just fine.
Given that I am exceptionally talented at twisting my ankle even on the flattest of surfaces, I was slightly concerned about the fact that the Peakfreaks were mid-rise. A higher ankle protection is always desirable, but when laced up tight (a life-saving hiking skill), my ankles were secure and the trek, twist-free.
At some particularly rocky patches, and most of my time downhill, I spent a substantial amount of time watching where I was placing my feet, and for that I’m thankful that the shoes were good-looking too—looking at the bright fuchsia and grey shoes was a welcome change from the dusty brown trail.
OUTDOOR ADVENTURE 38L BACKPACK
It takes some time getting used to a new backpack, and the Outdoor Adventure surprised me every day with its thoughtful design. The bag is a born-hiker, complete with trekking pole attachments. It can house a three-litre hydration pack, though if like me, you prefer bottles instead, there are two carriers on the side for the same. The many mini pockets on the bag played to my OCD, and I could separate the essentials from the little knick-knacks I needed often (chocolates, energy bars, lip balm), without having to open multiple zippers and risk things falling out of the bag. My passport and money went into the detachable pouch built inside the backpack. The dry bag (a detachable roll-able waterproof bag) doubles as a perfect companion for a light stroll or on an acclimatisation day. With the amount I stuffed into it, I may have just found my version of Hermione Granger’s charmed bottomless bag. I am particularly fond of the safety features designed into the bag—the reflective accents and the whistle, which luckily I never had to blow other than when accompanying someone singing around a campfire.
EXTREME FLEECE II BASELAYERS
The baselayers had me most worried. Efficient base layers eliminate a few layers of clothing, which means more mobility on the trail. I’m convinced that the Yeti is none other than an unfortunate trekker weighed down by the layers he had to put on to compensate for poor thermals. I didn’t intend to follow his example, and for this reason, Columbia Sportswear’s Extreme Fleece II Baselayers turned out to be my favourite gear in the bundle.
The all-black full sleeves shirt and tights combo has a silver lining, literally. It is equipped with Columbia Sportswear’s patented Omni-Heat technology which traps your body heat, and I could feel the warmth rise immediately through my body as I wore the layers in the freezing night. The teahouse rooms we stayed at overnight during the trek didn’t have any heating. I could see the frost on the windows, but felt cosy in just the baselayers. I chose to not wear these during the day; the body heat generated from walking kept me going even in November, but the one time I did wear them till afternoon, I was surprisingly comfortable even in the heat. The Columbia Sportswear representative, who was with me on the trek, told me that was due to Omni-Wick, a technology that keeps you dry even if you sweat. No need to hide these under too many layers too. The black looks stylish under any jacket, and as a bonus, you can always wear the baselayers inside out to land a spot in the next Bruno Mars music video.
WOMEN’S PLATINUM PLUS 740 TURBODOWN JACKET
The problem with down-jackets is that they are absolutely essential in the Himalayan cold, but they are usually heavy and bulky. Columbia Sportswear’s Turbodown goose jacket, however, was surprisingly light for its 700 fill. Like all of the Omni-Heat products, it retained body heat, and kept me snug on the 4 a.m. trek to the Kala Pathar summit to witness the sunrise over the Everest. The only thing I missed was the attached hoodie (the men had theirs, and in more stylish colours too!).
HOT DOTS III FULL ZIP FLEECE
Again with the Omni-Heat silver-lining, from where it gets its name, the fleece jacket was my staple for early morning starts. The full-zip let me control the warmth, and also worked perfectly with layers or when paired with a buff or scarf. I kept this one handy through the trek: where stepping into shadows meant that temperatures plunged immediately, even under the mid-day sun.
Don’t be shy to sport Columbia Sportswear’s bright fuchsia colours. I particularly loved how vibrant the jackets looked outdoors. The beautiful patches of colour complemented the earthy tones of the trail and stood out as bold statements in the sea of the typical reds and blacks sported by other trekkers.
MAX TRAIL AND SILVER RIDGE PANTS
Of all gear, pants are usually the ones most ignored. After shoes, they take the most beating, with dust, stones, yaks and bushes brushing past when you hike through different terrains. Thankfully, with the Max trail and Silver ridge pants, I was set for all weather. The camouflage-printed silver ridge pants are convertibles—detachable pants that can become shorts—light and comfortable for lower altitudes and when the sun shines strong. The max trails were perfect for the temperature dip we faced once we gained altitude. The pants came with an adjustable waist feature, something I kept a close eye on hoping all the calories I burnt on the trek would reflect on my waist too.
Tunali Mukherjee is a freelance writer-filmmaker whose world revolves around travel and dogs. She often takes many detours on her way to the destination, not just because she can't read maps, but because she's found the best places only when she's lost her way.