Annapurna Circuit - Our Gear
It is one thing to decide you are going trekking, and quite another story finding the right gear. I suppose our first problem was the fact that we live in Kimberley, which is a smaller city with less options in these kinds of items. Even so, we eventually purchased the bulk of our equipment there.
It all started as I Googled “trekking boots” and “backpacks.” Finding the best equipment in cyberspace is a walk in the park; finding it in South Africa, much less in Kimberley, is a different story altogether. Some brands are simply not available here and others are difficult to find or too costly. We visited stores in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Kimberley and were amazed at the lack of knowledge among most of the sales assistants. One of our requirements for hiking boots were Vibram soles. One assistant told us that all Merrell boots have Vibram soles, which is why they don't bother indicating it on the shoes. If we contacted Vibram, they’d probably think they we were being pranked. In many shops, this forced us to Google the products available on the shelves.
A few years ago we went trekking to Mafadi with some friends. It turned out to be an absolute disaster. We ended up lost and unable to find our way down the mountain. Needless to say the map that we bought at the park store was inadequate. We did learn some valuable lessons, however, the first being you need to be properly prepared. You should know your gear, you should pack in a certain way and have the proper clothing. We rented backpacks, which meant we didn’t have time to exercise with them, which meant we were not used to walking with that amount of weight on our backs. We didn’t have a proper map and got lost more times than we can remember. We didn’t get sufficient advice beforehand. All of these added to the perfect storm gathering until we were lost on top of a mountain.
This time we resolved to do better research. We would exercise properly, and we would consult with people that actually knew more than us. We started our research on Youtube in an attempt to learn as much as possible. This helped set us on the road which will hopefully lead to success. We consulted with a friend who has actually hiked in the Himalayas and went above 5,000m altitude on several occasions. She listened patiently as we shared our novice notions. She also gave us excellent advice and even researched some matters with us. Thanks, Marésa! This would have been very tough without your help. She was also a much better motivator of my angel than I’d ever been.
We had some though requirements for our shoes. It needed to be comfortable, yet with sufficient support. Both of us had some foot injuries and I also suffered through a long term Achilles tendon injury. I am also a stocky guy and therefore need additional support. We also wanted to stay within a reasonable price range. We really struggled with the variety available. Our shoes had to be waterproof and we learned that the shoes with the best grip has soles marked with a yellow inscription on the side or underneath that read “Vibram.” We were on the verge of flying to Nepal with no solution to the hiking boots. So I found a waterproof ice shoe from Merrell that actually fit nice. My angel had no such luck. A few days before we left we stumbled onto a pair of Merrells that actually fit her properly. Eventually we both decided on the Merrell Phaserbound. I read a review about the shoe which stated that the person didn’t were comfortable with immediately wearing the shoe. Now that sounded like a tall story to me, as it normally takes some blood and blisters to get my shoes worn in. This time none of that was necessary. I could have taken the shoes straight from the box and gone hiking. It really had a tight fit with proper ankle protection, and the grip is really good. The only slipping that happened was on moss after some rain (read more about it in the final article of our “Reaching For The Sky” series).So far, both of us give high fives to this Merrell product. Thanks to a guy at Cape Union Mart in Kimberley going the extra mile finding me a pair at OR Tambo, which we picked up on our way out of the country at their shop in OR Tambo’s duty-free area.
Next up was backpacks, so we set off for a shop specialising in camping and outdoor items. They actually stocked the top of the range Osprey backpacks, but tried to chat my wife into buying an Osprey backpack with wheels and a handle, “so you can pull it if it gets too heavy.” Imagine pulling that one around the Annapurna Circuit. The more we told him we were headed for the Himalayas, the less he listened. We continued to stand amazed at the lack of knowledge many salespeople exhibit, and went to the next shop. At this stage, we’d like to offer a little piece of advice: Be careful of sales people. Some will attempt to make the sale and leave you with the option of spending more on additional items, or even worse: getting you into trouble in the mountains.
In addition to our list of requirements (big enough, light enough, comfortable, affordable, etc.), we’d seen bags that opened up in front, which would make things easier when looking for something in the bag. One Osprey backpack had this feature, but was out of our price range. We eventually decided on the First Accent 65 + 10 liter, content with the price, weight and fit, and compromising on the front zipper. We ordered two of them, as stock were limited at the local store. The bags arrived, we went to store to pick it up, stuffed in our suitcases and set off for Kathmandu. As you’ll remember, our luggage only arrived here several days after us. We unpacked everything and put the backpacks in a corner. Both of us were struggling with illness at this point, and when we were at last back to health a couple of weeks later, we started exercising, which meant walking long distances with our backpacks. After a few of these sessions, my angel was checking out her backpack, and lo and behold! Our backpacks had from zippers, just as we’d been searching for. Apparently the bags that we had had to order was part of a new range with this feature. Man, were we glad! We both agree that the bags meet our requirements for comfort. It also has space between your back and the bag, which helps prevent sweaty backs. We tried it many times and only once had problems with the weight, when we went a bit overboard, but mostly the bag is balanced well with a light feeling on your shoulders. After the hike we’ll share with you how it went, but as yet we give a big thumbs up to First Accent on an excellent product.
Another item we knew we needed was trekking poles. We’d already bought a pair a few years ago, as we’d learnt the hard way on Mafadi that these are basically essential for almost every hiker. We’ve used this pair during some hikes this year, and can testify to the contribution it makes to a more stable hiker. So we bought another K-Way pair for R600.
Lastly we set off to find some thermal underwear. With time running and a budget shrinking by the day, we only found some thermals for my angel. It’s from First Ascent, a lovely white bamboo set with excellent moisture wicking properties (we hope, as it’s been too warm to test it), and it was on sale too! Would you believe that the search for a set of thermal underwear was much less painful than looking for a pair of exercise pants? With the time available to us, we decided to look for mine when we got to Kathmandu. We found a grey set at the Sonam store in Thamel. It has a cozy lining, but we’ve been assured that it’s still an effective wicking material. I suppose two things are rather important: maintaining a good body temperature yet preventing you from sweating, which would defeat any attempt at staying warm. We will give proper feedback on both these products after the hike.
The rest of the clothing and equipment we’ll rent in Kathmandu. I suppose this hike will be a good indicator of whether this will be a once-off adventure or a lifestyle going forward. Currently we are not yet able to answer that question. Maybe Annapurna will help us to decide. If we do get bitten by the hiking bug, we’ll systematically buy the rest until we’re fully geared for any trek. The items we’ll hire includes: sleeping bags and liners, snow pants and snow jackets, fleece jackets, balaclavas, snow gloves and liner gloves, ponchos and gaiters. Please note that trekking companies will likely only be willing to rent equipment to groups who book the services of a guide and/or porter(s), so if you’re one of the independent hikers, you’d be advised to buy everything you need ahead of time.
Cost of items we bought:
HIKING BOOTS – R2,300
BACKPACK – R2,300
TREKKING POLES – R600
THERMAL UNDERWEAR – R400
Our packing list:
Trekking permit & AIMS card
Copy of Passport & Insurance
Money - (Read the post about our budget here)
Extra shoes (for the end of the day)
Flip Flops for the showers
Sleeping bag liner
Hat or Cap
Balaclava or Buff
Hiking pants – short & long
T-shirts – short & long (wicking material)
Socks (including one extra thick pair for summit day)
Headlamp & extra batteries
Camera, extra batteries/charger, additional memory cards, tripod
2 Water bottles
Water purification tablets
Toilet kit, including sunscreen
Medical supplies, including first aid kit, personal medication, Diamox and insect repellent
Other articles in this series include:
Annapurna Circuit - Reaching For The Sky
Annapurna Circuit - The Budget