In February, Nepal is cold. In the mornings, in the shadows, after the sun goes down and whenever you’re indoors, it’s freezing. And most houses in Nepal don’t have central heating and rely on solar panels instead, so although there’s a certain amount of warmth when in the sunshine, the temperature drops rapidly when you’re out of it.
I spent a month in Kathmandu, where I volunteered at an orphanage and taught in the local school. I also spent a few days at Chitwan National Park and in Pokhara, but the vast majority of my time was spent in Kathmandu. So here are my packing tips for the capital city, suited in particular to travellers, volunteers and backpackers who aren’t going trekking.
Nota bene: The best tip for dressing in Nepal is to wear layers, in order to cope with a climate that changes throughout the day. That way you can strip off and layer up again, depending on the time and location. As a general rule of thumb, I always wore at least a top & long sleeved shirt, plus my fleece – and I always kept another layer in my bag too, just in case!
1 pair of jeans: warm enough to be worn in the chilly mornings/evenings or at work – plus they’re smart enough to teach in!
1 pair of lightweight full length or capri trousers: to wear during the day or when it’s particularly sunny.
1 pair of comfortable yoga pants (optional): great for long bus journeys, casual days or for some extra warmth in bed!
2 pairs of leggings: an extra layer under jeans or worn by themselves when it’s warmer.
>>Check out these great pants for traveling women.
4 – 6 tops: I took a range of strap tops, vests and sleeved t-shirts, but the tops/vests were only worn as base layers. It’s also a good idea to keep your shoulders covered, as Nepal is predominantly a Hindu country and the cultural norm dictates it.
2 long sleeved shirts/cardigans: a necessary layer addition to whatever top you’re wearing.
1 fleece: I lived in my fleece, so make sure it’s one you’re comfortable wearing a lot!
1 lightweight sweater: good for a quick extra layer that can be removed as necessary
1 waterproof jacket: I didn’t bring a waterproof with me and had to buy a fake North Face one in Thamel when the rains started. Check the weather forecast before you go, but definitely take a waterproof just in case.
2 – 3 bras: decide on colours when you’ve chosen what tops you’ll be packing.
Socks: I took about three pairs of socks to Kathmandu, and regretted not having more. I didn’t envisage that I’d be taking off my shoes in people’s unheated houses and wandering around the cold floors; my socks were filthy in no time, and it took me a while to find standard elasticated socks to buy instead of the typical thick hiking socks which didn’t fit inside my trainers!
* I didn’t take skirts or dresses with me to Nepal, but some of my tops were long enough to be worn over leggings. The Hindu culture doesn’t accept shoulders or knees being uncovered, plus I felt like teaching required me to be as smart as I could manage with my clothes collection – so trousers and tops sufficed.
The only opportunity to wear my bikini was during the elephant bathing at Chitwan National Park. I still wore leggings and a t-shirt too, but it was sensible to be in my suit!
Lightweight trainers: I spent the majority of my time in waterproof trainers, but I did wish I had slightly nicer shoes to wear while teaching opposite the stunning female staff at my school, all dressed in saris.
Hiking shoes with ankle support: these are essential if you’re planning on trekking. Otherwise you can get away with just wearing trainers!
Sandals/flipflops: the condition of the Nepali roads and the cold, wet weather didn’t encourage my wearing of flipflops, but they were still useful for the shower and walking around the house. Although I did succumb to the sock/flipflop combo on a few cold occasions.
>> Read more about shoes to pack for an RTW trip.
There are plenty of shops and stalls selling all the basic toiletries you’ll need, but you might want to bring preferred brands with you from home.
Toothbrush & toothpaste: For minty fresh breath!
Solid shampoo & conditioner: A great way to pack up to 90 washes in a handily small size.
>>See our round-up of the best toiletries for carry-on travelers.
Deodorant: To fend off unwanted body odour.
Razor: Although I embraced the hair during my time in Kathmandu, chances are you’ll want to remove yours.
Mooncup: I recently purchased one of these babies and now am a little bit in love with it. I took tampons to Nepal but they aren’t that easy to find on the ground so I’d definitely suggest investing in a Mooncup! (We’re big supporters of menstrual cups here at HPL, and especially the Diva Cup!)
Quick dry towel: Takes up minimal space in your bag and is great for absorbing water post-shower.
In Nepal, almost all power is run via hydroelectricity, so a system of load shedding is in place, which provides energy to different areas of the city for a few hours at a time. Although there’s an official schedule for when the accompanying power cuts occur, it’s not strictly adhered to – and this often means a lack of hot water, no electric light and a difficulty in knowing exactly when to charge your electrical items.
Often you’ll find that your area doesn’t have any electricity during the night – so if you’re out all day, a sensible option is sometimes to leave your electronics plugged in and the outlet switched on. You won’t be overcharging your appliance or rinsing the electricity as chances are it will only be on for a few hours anyway!
Laptop or tablet (plus charger): An optional choice, but they’re great to back up photos, talk to friends and family over Skype, and blog about your adventures. There are plenty of internet cafes in Thamel though.
iPod (plus charger): Listening to music is a great way to relax or keep you company on long bus journeys. It’s also a great icebreaker with the person sitting next to you!
E-Reader (plus charger): Great for reading on the go.
Camera (plus charger): Indispensable if you want to take photos to show your family and friends back home. Plus Nepali children (and adults!) adore looking at photos of themselves!
>>Take a look at our travel photography packing list for gear to get the perfect shot.
Adapters: Because Nepal is a developing country, it has a few different types of socket, including the European and the Indian, so taking a universal travel adaptor is probably your best bet.
Sleeping bag and/or silk liner: Most guest houses and hostels will provide you with sheets and/or bedding, but I like to be prepared and at least have a liner with me. It’s an extra layer of warmth plus you know it’s clean!
A bandanna / scarf to cover your nose and mouth: Kathmandu has some of the most polluted air in the world, and if you don’t cover your face when walking around the city and weaving through the traffic, it’s absolutely certain that you’ll get a cough and/or a cold.
Sunglasses & sunscreen: I didn’t wear sunscreen for my first few days in Nepal because I was so cold I assumed the sun wasn’t strong. Then I endured a red, burnt nose to go with my head cold! The sun in Nepal is pretty high risk, so definitely keep a bottle of sunscreen to hand – and wear sunglasses when it’s bright.
Hat & gloves: Always good to have with you, but they can also be found in abundance in Thamel.
Head torch: I found mine indispensable in a number of situations; when the streetlights went out on a particularly pothole filled road; navigating my way through the house to the bathroom; and one particularly scary toilet experience.
Medicine (in particular, diarrhoea medication): Three days after I started my anti malarials (in preparation for travelling onwards to India) I came down with an acute attack of diarrhoea. I still don’t know if it was a direct side effect of my anti malarials but it lasted for about three weeks and was utterly horrific. You should never be without sachets of dioralytes and Imodium.
Refillable water bottle: The tap water is not safe to drink in Nepal, but you can often find filtrated water in large barrels at hostels, shops and hotel receptions, which charge a small fee to fill up your own bottle.
Copies of important documents (passport, vaccination certificates, travel insurance) & spare passport photos: Because you never know when you might be asked to show them.
Thamel is the main tourist district of Kathmandu, and it’s stuffed to the gills with all the kit you’ll ever want or need for hiking; every slogan slapped across a tshirt for souvenir shopping; and brightly coloured pyjama trousers for attempting to blend in with the local hippies.
Bartering is expected in Nepal, and it’s advisable to be even more confident about the prices you haggle for in Kathmandu – and Thamel in particular. That said, there’s obviously a limit to how low you can go without taking it too far – most of the stall owners make very little money so it should be kept in mind.
In terms of beauty regimes, threading is very common in Nepal. So if you want some perfectly defined eyebrows while travelling then don’t hesitate to pop in to a local salon – and you might even make friends with the women working there!
There are plenty of launderettes in Thamel for clothes washing, but depending on where you stay you could find yourself doing a fair bit of hand washing in the ubiquitous wash tubs that live in every Asian bathroom. With this in mind, make sure you take some detergent or clothes soap – and perhaps consider if the clothes you take are quick dry or a real chore to wash by hand! After days of damp clothes littering my cold bedroom, I started wishing I’d brought slightly thinner material with me…
What would you add or subtract to make this Nepal packing list the best it can be? Add your thoughts in the comments below!
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About the Author: Flora is a travelling storyteller with a self-penned obsession for the weirdnesses of the world. She chronicles her adventures at Flora The Explorer, but you can also find her waxing lyrical about various travelling oddities on Facebook and Twitter.