The Annapurna Circuit is, hands down, one of the great walks of the world. It’s a high elevation romp that takes trekkers from a tropical woodland paradise full of towering waterfalls and lush foliage up to a barren, glacially carved pass at an elevation of 17,769 feet above sea level before plunging back down into the arid rain shadow of the Annapurna Massif. The scale of the scenery would make even the most monolithic of humans feel small, enormous glaciers and jagged peaks jutting out as far as the eye can see.
The trail itself is strenuous and provides a tricky packing dilemma, given the tremendous range of climates that it traverses. Plus, hikers need to be mindful of the extreme altitude going over the pass and only bring the essentials to keep pack weight way down. For these reasons, my partner and I found it wisest to go ultralight for the journey and challenge ourselves to fit everything we needed into 30L daypacks.
That’s right. We hiked the Annapurna Circuit with under 20 lbs on our backs.
(I would also like to note that I hiked the hardest part of the trail while sick and on my period, so I feel like that qualifies me for some sort of medal in the world annals of backpacking.)
We got a ton of comments from other hikers whose jaws dropped when they saw how tiny our packs were compared to theirs, asking us how we could possibly fit all of our layers into such a small space and if we had gone batty. At the end of the day, our secret really came down to two simple rules: 1. Minimal clothing and 2. Stuff sacks.
The temperature swings during the 10-14 days most people spend on the circuit are huge, ranging from the high 70s to -5 degrees with wind chill on the pass (Fahrenheit), and there is no indoor heating anywhere in Nepal, so bringing warm layers is the key to surviving and staying safe while trekking. With that in mind, I prioritized weight and packability of my layers, and I shoved my 20-degree down sleeping bag into a third party stuff sack that I purchased separately. This made it easy to cinch the sleeping bag into the middle of my pack, underneath the large top pocket.
I was also almost uncomfortably spartan with my clothing choices and paid to have a small load of laundry done in Manang on my rest day so that I wouldn’t have to keep re-wearing the same 3 pairs of dirty underwear and socks. If you’re going to splurge on anything, your boots, sleeping bag, and down jacket are the most important items on this list to ensure a successful trek. The other items are safer for buying knockoffs.
Everything on this list got used at least once, and everything you see below is an absolute essential for hiking the Annapurna Circuit without a guide.
3 Pairs of hiking underwear (synthetic/sweat wicking/anti-odor is best)
3 Pairs of wool or synthetic hiking socks
1 Pair of expedition-weight hiking socks
2 Sports bras
2 T-shirts or tank tops
2 Thermal base layer tops
2 Thermal base layer bottoms (great for layering or as pajamas!)
1 Pair of quick-dry hiking pants (I’m obsessed with the Prana Halle pant)
1 Insulated midlayer (usually a thin jacket or fleece)
1 Thick down jacket (I bought the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody just for this trip and LOVED it)
1 Rain/wind shell
1 Scarf, buff, or balaclava (it’s unspeakably windy going over the pass)
1 Sun hat
1 Fleece-lined beanie
1 Pair of glove liners
1 Pair of waterproof outer gloves
-Lightweight flip-flops (for showers and guesthouses)
-Waterproof hiking boots with ankle support (hike to break them in beforehand)
-Lightweight first aid kit (Adventure Medical Kits makes the best ones)
-Mini-tube of toothpaste
-Water purifying tablets
-Hairbrush (a mini travel size, if possible!)
-Small packet of face wipes
-Travel-size hand sanitizer
-Small tube or bar of soap
-Large tube of SPF 50 sunscreen (you’ll thank me at the higher elevations)
-2 Tubes of lip balm with SPF
-1 Package of blister pads (I simply adore Second Skin)
-Tampons without applicators, if needed (to save space and weight)
-Earplugs (A vital resource in Nepal due to dogs, roosters, and bellowing yaks!)
-All necessary medications (I recommend bringing 20 Ibuprofin, a few Immodium, multi-vitamins, a few Pepto-Bismol tablets, a course of traveler’s antibiotics, and a course of Diamox – just in case!)
-Backpack (30-35L is crucial to keep your kit tight!)
-Down sleeping bag (rated for at least 20-degrees Fahrenheit, but colder is better – down is essential for weight and packability!)
-Trekking poles (adjustable length for the ups and downs of the trail!)
-Headlamp (and an extra set of batteries)
-Water bladder (3 liters is a great size for longer days on the trail)
-Lightweight microfiber backpacking towel
-Wrap-around, polarized sunglasses (the sun gets HARSH at higher elevations)
-Lightweight spade and extra toilet paper (the Deuce of Spades rocks)
-Map & compass
-15L Compression stuff sack (mine is REI brand, but Sea to Summit also makes great sacks!)
-2-3 Ziploc bags (assorted sizes for storage)
-2 Large garbage bags (1 for your sleeping bag, the other for the contents of your pack, in case of rain)
-Annapurna Conservation Area Permit
-$20 per day for food and lodging ($30/day if you want to splurge on private bathrooms and dessert!)
-1 Clif bar or protein bar for each day you spend on the trail (it sounds crazy now, but having one comfort food item from home as a snack every day helped ground me.)
-Ginger candies (great for nausea!)
-Chocolate bars (bring 1-2 of your favorites from home)
-Energy gels (a lifesaver if you get nauseous at higher altitudes)
-Kindle (I read 4 books while on the Annapurna Circuit; my Kindle saved my life.)
-DSLR or mirrorless Camera (with extra, pre-charged batteries and your favorite lenses) (optional)
-Smart phone (the best and most lightweight way to take pictures and enjoy the wifi while it lasts)
-Portable phone charger (a tiny one is fine)
-Headphones (the smaller the better)
-Universal adapter for plugs
Whew! That may sound like a ridiculous amount of gear, but I promise that it all fit into my pack once I shimmied the trekking poles and flip-flops into my water bottle pockets and strapped my sleeping bag to the outside of my backpack. This is the bare minimum that anyone attempting the Annapurna Circuit should take with them, and by the end of the trek, my boyfriend and I were thrilled that we opted for the smaller, more lightweight packs.
Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or think I’ve left something out! It is my sincerest pleasure to share my experiences so that other people can get out and explore the wildest corners of the globe!