Hiking the Annapurna Circuit is one of the best adventure trips out there! This multi-day trekking trip takes you high into the Annapurna mountains, a beautiful and culturally diverse section of the Nepal Himalayas. The trek route sees you climb up steep and ancient footpaths, snake your way along valley floors, tread along skinny contour paths, walk narrow rope bridges, and much more that will challenge and awe you. Eventually you’ll make your way up to the snow-covered Thorung La Pass. At 5,416 m above sea level, the pass offers infinity views of both the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges. But to manage all this, you need to be prepared – physically, practically and mentally. And it also helps to be armed with a few insights and tricks to use while you’re on the trail. With this mind, we have put together our 10 tips for trekking the Annapurna Circuit.
10 tips for trekking the Annapurna Circuit
Here are our hot 10 tips for trekking the Annapurna Circuit successfully:
- Train strategically
- Pack like a pro
- Bring altitude meds
- Pack the right footwear
- Bring trekking poles
- Take things at your own pace
- Drink lots and eat everything
- Protect your skin and eyes
- Tuck electronics in your sleeping bag
- Take a rest day on the up climb
1. Train strategically
To train well before the trek is too obvious a tip to state. Obviously you should ensure you’re fit as possible to tackle an arduous trek in the Himalayas. But what about the idea that you should train strategically? We feel this is a tip for trekking the Annapurna Circuit that’s a little more worthy of your time. What we mean by this is that you should tailor your training programme to cope with the rigours of high-altitude trekking as well as the specific challenges of the Annapurna Circuit route.
So first, let’s answer the question: what is the nature of the Annapurna Circuit trek route? Having an outline of the route will help you to understand the sort of training required to manage it well.
The Annapurna Circuit route
So what does the Annapurna Circuit route look like in terms of its physical demands?
Well, on the first day of trekking we cover 19 km, much of which is uphill hiking. The next day we only hike 3.5 km, but these are hard and steep kilometres, so the walking is challenging. The third day is an acclimatisation day (we explain this reason for this in tip #10). The fourth day of trekking covers 10 km. The day after that we trek for 7 km, climbing ever higher. The effects of the low oxygen supply will be taking their toll on us. The next day is our final day of trekking, and it’s summit day. We climb up to Thorung La Pass, the trek’s highest point at 5,416 m. On this day we trek for 13 km, and the distance includes a steep descent of nearly two vertical kilometres from Thorung La to the town of Ranipauwa (3,700 m).
Here’s the elevation of the circuit route in graphic form:
So as you can see, part of what makes the Annapurna Circuit trek challenging is the distances hiked. Another part is the steep climbs and descents. And thirdly, there’s the challenge of high altitude.
Think about this: every thousand metres you travel above sea level makes aerobic exercise 10% harder. So at 3,000 m, hiking is 30% harder than at sea level. We spend all of the Annapurna Circuit hiking above 3,000 m! And when we hike to Thorung La (5,416 m), the exercise will be 50% harder!
So how should I train?
We advise having a three-prong approach to your Annapurna Circuit training:
- Do training hikes
- Train at altitude (if possible)
- Build up your legs and lungs
Do training hikes
As you likely already know, walking on different surfaces affects your body differently. A treadmill, for instance, places less strain on your ankles, knees and hips as it offers a degree of shock absorption. Treadmills also don’t strengthen your ankles in the same way that uneven surfaces do. So while training on a treadmill or paved surface is excellent exercise, in preparing for the Annapurna Circuit trek, it’s not as ideal as training in natural terrain. For this reason we encourage you to do actual hikes as part of your training.
Training hikes are also ideal for testing out the socks, boots and backpack you plan to use on the trek. It’s important to wear in your socks and shoes to check there are no niggles. The same goes for your backpack. These training hikes give you the chance to see if the pack ‘works’. You also want to test out the hydration pack, to see there are no issues there. Hiking with a bag prior to the trek is also helpful in building up your shoulder strength. We recommend packing your bag with the belongings you’ll bring on the Annapurna trek and going for increasingly lengthy hikes.
Train at altitude (if possible)
If at all possible, do some training hikes at high altitudes. This will physically and mentally prepare you for the increased strain placed on your body when engaging in high-altitude trekking. Of course not everyone can train at high altitude. But if you can, we highly recommend it.
What everyone can do prior to trekking the Annapurna Circuit is do something focused strength and cardio training …
Build up those legs and lungs
While long hikes are fantastic training for the Annapurna trek, they shouldn’t form the entirety of your physical preparation. You should try to include cardio and strength training during the week. Cardio means getting your heart rate up by doing things like running, cycling, skipping and burpees. Strength training means using resistance, weights or your body weight to grow your muscles.
Note that the fitter you are, the less oxygen your muscles need to move, something that’s invaluable in the low-oxygen environment of the Himalayas. We encourage you to really invest in your training beforehand as the stronger you are, the more enjoyable your trip will be all round.
Remember the saying: By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail!
So there you have it: our first Annapurna Circuit trekking tip is to train strategically! And, of course, also train hard. It’s go big or go home, right? And on the Annapurna Circuit, that saying could become quite literal.
A final note on training for the Annapurna Circuit trek …
Know what to expect
The more you know about high-altitude trekking in general, and the Annapurna Circuit in particular, the better you’ll be able to prepare yourself for the trek. While we’ve touched on the nature of the route, we recommend reading up on the Annapurna Circuit route for further details so you’ll have a really good idea of what you’re in for during the trek.
If you’re new to trekking, we recommend you take a few minutes to read Trekking tips for beginners. In the post we discuss the best ways to build up your trekking ability, as well as trekking etiquette and how to prepare for a trekking holiday.
2. Pack like a pro
When heading to the Annapurna Circuit, you need two bags: a duffel bag and a day backpack. The duffel bag contains most of your stuff and is given to your porter to carry. You carry your backpack, and it should have everything you need for the day’s trek, like your water and camera.
What should I pack?
Here’s a breakdown of the things to bring to the Annapurna Circuit:
- Sleeping bag and inner liner
- Duffel bag and backpack
- Hydration bladder and water bottle
- Trekking poles (see tip #5)
- Footwear (see tip #4)
- Passport and visa
- Cash and bank card
- Altitude meds and first aid kit (see tip #3)
- Tech items
- Comfort items (like a journal and pen)
- Snacks (see tip #7)
We have a blog post called Annapurna Circuit packing list which notes every single item we recommend you pack for the trek. The list includes everything from a waterproof jacket and sock liners to wet wipes and SPF lip balm. It also offers details about each item and why that item is important. We encourage you to use the list as a checklist when packing for the Annapurna Circuit trek.
Also, in Is the Annapurna Circuit hard?, we describe the type of accommodation to expect along the trek route. This will help you understand what to pack for the evenings, from the right bedclothes to the odd comfort like a pack of cards or e-reader.
Don’t pack new things
Ideally no new items should be put into your Annapurna Circuit luggage. Only pack things that you know to be comfortable, durable and reliable. Is your waterproof jacket actually waterproof? Is that thermal vest comfy or does it chafe under the arm? Does your backpack sit in the right spot on your back? Do your socks wick away sweat or act like sponges? These aren’t things you want to discover on the trail when there’s nothing else to do but be miffed about it all! So again, please read our Annapurna Circuit packing list to learn all about how to choose the right trekking gear for this high-altitude trek.
Bring enough warm stuff
Our packing list is also important in ensuring you have enough warm stuff. Without the right clothing you could easily get hypothermia in the high sections of the Annapurna Circuit. The graph below shows average monthly temperatures for the town of Manang, a town 3,519 m above sea level and a prominent stopping point along the trail. As you can see, it gets very cold in autumn and winter (and autumn is great for trekking the circuit). Note too that wind chill can drop the real feel by a further 10 degrees.
Manang isn’t even the coldest sleepover along the trail. The villages of Yak Kharka and Thorung Phedi are even higher and colder, and Thorung La Pass can be brutally cold and windy. So please ensure you pack appropriately warm clothing for the trek.
Keep it light!
Given how we’ve stressed the importance of packing the right clothing, it’s understandable that you might wish to put the kitchen sink in there just to be safe. Avoid the temptation. You want to pack smartly, which also means packing lightly. A heavy backpack is going to make a tough trek even tougher. And while your duffel bag – which will contain the bulk of your things – will be carried by a porter, it shouldn’t be so heavy as to make him want to quit his job.
So speaking of your bags, a few notes about your duffel bag, and then about your backpack …
Your duffel bag
Your duffel bag needs to hold most of your trekking gear. It doesn’t have to be a duffel bag per say, but try for a fabric bag with straps that’s easy for your porter to handle. Stiff suitcases aren’t great in this situation. Also don’t bring a bag that you’re precious about – expect it to get dusty and scuffed.
Keep the duffel bag to 10 kg. Not only is 10 kg manageable for an experienced porter, but that’s the weight limit on domestic airplane flights. Near the end of the Annapurna circuit trek we catch a plane from Jomsom to the city of Pokhara. We fly through the Kali Gandaki Gorge, which offers gorgeous (pun intended) views of the surrounding Annapurna mountains. There are strict weight restrictions on this flight, as you fly in a light aircraft. Your hold luggage cannot exceed 10 kg. You can pay for extra weight, but only to a point – a small plane has a small hold! We recommend wearing your trekking boots and heavy jacket whenever you fly to help reduce your luggage weight and size.
Keep your backpack light. You really don’t want anything unnecessary weighing you down on the trek.
Further, think about what you put into it in terms of flights. Any items like trekking boots and your winter jacket that would be hard to replace should your check-in bag go missing should be carried in your backpack (your cabin luggage) or worn on your person. Also note that your hand luggage cannot exceed 5 kg on domestic flights.
Pack some cash
Note that you should draw enough cash in Pokhara (the final city you visit before starting the circuit) to last for the entire trek. You are going into super remote areas, where asking for an ATM – if understood – will doubtless elicit some well-deserved laughter. And most shops and vendors won’t accept credit or debit cards. So it’s definitely a good idea to have some cash floating in your pocket.
Along the trail you may wish to buy the odd snack, craft, postcard or other item. Even just €5 or $5 in cash per trek day should be more than enough to cover any bits and bobs along the trail or at the teahouse.
The currency in Nepal is the Nepalese rupee, which is abbreviated to NPR or Rs. Note, however, that the Indian rupee is also abbreviated to Rs, so don’t get caught out by this if you google currencies. The Nepalese rupee currently has an exchange rate of about Rs 123 to €1, and Rs 113 to $1.
Cash for tipping
Another important reason to carry cash with you on the Annapurna Circuit is for tipping your guide and porter at the end of the trek. Tipping, while not compulsory, is cutomsary on Nepal treks. Trekkers’ tips are an important source of supplementary income for trekking staff. And believe us, you’ll want to tip at the end of the trek, as the service they provide is invaluable.
So how much cash should you set aside for tipping? As tipping isn’t regulated, it’s very much up to you. But if you’d like a guiding amount, we can help you there. Tips are usually paid on a per day basis. When it comes to the guide for a group trek, we advise a tip of around $10 to $15 (€9 to €14) per day. For your porter, we suggest around $5 to $10 (€4 to €9) per day.
Note that while we advise a per day tip, we’re not suggesting you hand over some rupees at the end of each day! We’re just breaking it down for you to help you work out a lump sum. You can then hand over your tips during your goodbyes, and we think you’ll find it’s a great way of showing appreciation for those who have worked hard to make your trek enjoyable and successful.
It’s customary in Nepal to trek your guide and porter.
Plan your packing list in advance
Finally, we advise you to consider your packing list carefully well before jetting off to your trek. This is because you may need to buy a few items if you don’t have all the right trekking gear. Not only does this mean giving yourself enough time to research and find the items, but also to try them out and ensure they work or fit properly. A few of the items – like a winter down jacket – are also a little more expensive. By planning well ahead of time, you’ll be able to get a better idea of your overall Annapurna Circuit cost.
3. Bring altitude meds
It’s highly probable that you’ll experience some altitude sickness symptoms on the Annapurna Circuit. This is because the Annapurna Circuit involves high-altitude trekking.
What is altitude sickness?
What is altitude sickness, you ask? Simply put, it’s your body’s negative reactions to the diminished oxygen supply. Symptoms of altitude sickness usually include dizziness, nausea, headaches and trouble sleeping. Anything above 3,000 m can be classified as high-altitude. We spend pretty much all of the Annapurna Circuit trek above that elevation! So it could be a good idea to have altitude meds like diamox to take during the trek to hopefully alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness.
That said, we’re not doctors …
Visit your GP
The very best thing you can do for yourself before heading to the Annapurna Circuit is to visit your GP and discuss your high-altitude trekking plans. Your GP, knowing your medical history, will be in the best position to offer advice and possibly meds to help you cope with the change in altitude.
We also recommend putting together and bringing a small first aid kit for yourself. If you travel with a reputable tour operator like Follow Alice, your trek guide will have a team first aid kit, but for certain things it’s best to come prepared yourself. We’re thinking blister plasters, anti-chafing cream and anti-diarrhoea tablets, among other things. Read our Annapurna Circuit packing list for a full list of the first aid items we recommend you pack.
4. Pack the right footwear
We cannot overstate the importance of having the right shoes and socks for a long-distance trek like the Annapurna Circuit. Specifically, you should bring along:
- Trekking boots
We elaborate …
A good pair of properly worn-in trekking boots is essential to an enjoyable trek. Your boots should be comfortable, light or mid weight, and waterproof. They should also have good grip, as you’ll be walking on pebbles, scree, rocks, snow, slatted bridges, and more.
For the Annapurna Circuit trek you should ideally wear backpacking boots, which are the hardiest and most supportive walking shoes out there. That said, hiking boots are also perfectly fine, especially for the hiking newbie, as they take less time to wear in and still offer a decent degree of ankle support.
Learn more about how to choose the right size boot and the appropriate boot in terms of material in our Annapurna Circuit packing list.
Wear them in
It probably goes without saying, but just in case, we’ll say it: be sure to break in your boots properly before going on the trek. Wear them on at least a couple of hikes so you can suss out any potential issues. Ideally, however, you and your boots should have bonded for over 100 km before coming on the Annapurna Circuit trek together.
When you arrive at a teahouse for the night, you’ll want to kick off your muddy boot and have a comfy pair of sneakers to pull on. Just be sure they allow plenty of space for warm socks. Night-time on the Annapurna Circuit is all about bundling up to ward off the cold.
Socks, socks, socks – they’re nearly as important as your boots on a trek. The wrong socks can equal cold, wet feet, blisters, or (horror of horrors!) both. You want to bring along the following types of socks:
- thermal socks
- hiking socks
- sock liners
We don’t advise you wear any brand new hiking socks on the trek; like your trekking boots, you should test them out beforehand. The main things here are to check the fabric is comfortable, that the seams don’t sit in the wrong place and hurt, and that the socks stay relatively dry. Avoid cotton socks, as they retain moisture. Merino wool is a good option as it’s very breathable.
So to summarise, the main things you want in a hiking sock are:
- flat seams
- moisture wicking
While sock liners aren’t essential, they can be very useful. Sock liners are thin, moisture-wicking socks that go between your feet and your hiking socks. They help to prevent blisters caused by friction.
It’s a good idea to bring along a pair of gaiters that you can put over your lower legs and boots on days when you’re trekking through snow or mud. They’ll keep your legs and feet dry. Gaiters also help prevent small stones and dirt working their way into your socks and boots. The last thing you want when pushing through the fatigue is to stop, sit, and take off your shoes. Especially as that’ll also mean exposing your little digits to the biting cold!
So tip #4 for trekking the Annapurna Circuit is to bring the right footwear! Let’s now discuss trekking poles.
5. Bring trekking poles
The trails along the Annapurna Circuit are rough and treacherous in places, as you’d expect from trekking in the Himalayas. Trekking poles are highly useful, as they help with balance and confidence. This is especially true when tackling something tricky like a river crossing or narrow mountainside contour path. They also take some of the weight off your knees on steep descents.
The anatomy of a good trekking pole
A good trekking pole has wristbands so you can use your hands without putting them down or dropping them. A good pair is also made from a lightweight but sturdy material like aluminium or carbon fibre. If you have the choice, choose adjustable trekking poles as they are easier to transport and store, and you can tailor them to your height. Also, if you’re walking along a trail that is cut into a hill (and the Annapurna Circuit has plenty of these), you can extend and shorten the different poles to allow you to keep using them.
6. Take things at your own pace
Trekking isn’t a race. It’s a life experience, best tackled at a pace that’s comfortable for you. If you’re one of those souls who tends to slip into a competitive mentality – ever raced the person on the next treadmill, unbeknownst to him or her? – maybe consider trekking with some mellower people who will encourage you to walk the trek with a different frame of mind. The Annapurna Circuit is a physical challenge, yes, but remember that it’s also a nature walk, cultural immersion, a chance to reflect, and much more. Leave the striving at home and head to Nepal with a different mindset.
When we take travellers to climb Kilimanjaro – another high-altitude hike – our trek guides quickly introduce them to the phrase pole, pole, which is Swahili for ‘slowly, slowly’. The value of taking things slowly is that you’re more likely to reach your goal destination in this manner. Push yourself to go too quickly, and you’re more likely to end up with an injury or psych yourself out. Further, go too quickly and you lose the physical and mental ability to truly enjoy your surroundings, the camaraderie and the overall experience.
The Annapurna Circuit, while a relatively moderate Nepal trek, is a tough cookie. It’s going to take determination and perseverance. Remember, you’re climbing to above 5,000 m! So it’s important that you focus on your attitude, both before and during the trek. Maybe you want to start each day with a prayer or meditation, talk to yourself in the mirror, or journal about the experience? Whatever you choose, you’re going to have to work to remain positive. This is especially true if extreme fatigue or symptoms of altitude sickness set in (we’re talking mild altitude sickness here – your trek guide will send you back down the trail if he deems your symptoms to be dangerous.)
7. Drink lots and eat everything
You’re going to be working hard on the trek, and need to be consuming enough water and fuel.
Eat everything on your plate
We advise you to not stint on breakfast and dinner, your two main meals. For breakfast you’ll likely be offered muesli and yoghurt, oats, pancakes, chapati (roti) or Tibetan bread. The most common supper dish served along the circuit is dal bhat. This usually consists of rice, dal and veg curry. It’s tasty and filling. Other dishes you can expect are burgers (veg or yak), fried noodles, dumplings and pasta. It might be a good idea to steer clear of meat while on the trek, just to eliminate that added bit of danger. You can’t afford to be man down during your epic adventure holiday.
It’s highly important that you stay properly hydrated while on a high-altitude trek. Not only are you very active and so need to drink plenty, but water also helps to ease the symptoms of altitude sickness. Every trekker should carry two to three litres of water per day.
Most hiking bags have camel bags with water hoses built into them, which is really great as you can sip water frequently with minimal effort. Remember that if you’re thirsty, then you’re already dehydrated!
On very cold days like summit day, you want to insulate your camel bag so that your water doesn’t freeze. We recommend that you also carry a full water bottle close to your body or in a thermal sock so that you have backup water should your water hose freeze. Note that water freezes from top to bottom, so if you carry your water bottle upside down you’ll still be able to drink from it even if the top part has started to freeze.
Pack your favourite snacks
Consider bringing along some snacks from home. A favourite treat can be a great boost when your energy levels or spirits are lagging. Obviously the more nutritious, the better. And avoid anything that will crumble or otherwise freak out should it fall to the bottom of the bag. Some trekkers also find that these snacks are heaven-sends when they arrive at the teahouse and find they have to wait a while for dinner. There are places along the trail where you can buy snacks (as discussed under tip #2, but again, you might prefer to have something your stomach is used to when the munchies strike.
8. Protect your skin and eyes
It’s important that you protect your eyes and skin on the Annapurna Circuit. That’s not something everyone thinks of when heading on a cold trek into the Himalayas. But you must remember that the sun’s rays have less atmosphere to pass through at high altitude and so are that much more damaging. In fact, every kilometre upwards that you travel exposes you to up to 10% more UV rays. And we climb to well above 5,000 m above sea level on the Annapurna Circuit!
With this in mind, we advise you head to the Annapurna Circuit armed with:
- a broad-brim sunhat
- polarised sunglasses
- quality sunscreen
- SPF lip balm
Ensure your sunhat protects the back of your neck as well as your face. This is why we don’t recommend a sports cap as headgear for the trek. But note that the winds can be fierce high up on the trail, so ensure the hat fits snugly or has a string to keep it from flying away. And don’t forget to put sunscreen on your hands if you remove your gloves.
Ever heard of snow blindness?
We advise you to bring polarised sunglasses to the annapurna Circuit. Thorung La Pass is perennially covered in snow, and when the sun reflects off the snow it can sometimes cause snow blindness. Snow blindness is a temporary but painful blindness that occurs when the human eye is overexposed to the sun’s UV rays. No fun at all! Sports sunglasses are a good option as they’re less likely to slip off your face when you’re sweaty or lean forward.
9. Tuck electronics in your sleeping bag
Teahouse bedrooms aren’t heated, and things can get very cold at night at the higher elevations. You can expect to wake up to frosted windows and frozen water bottles. The batteries in electronics like your phone drain very quickly when the devices are left out in the cold. By putting them inside your sleeping bag with you, you’ll keep the batteries full. It’s worth nothing here that some lodges – not all – ask you to pay a small sum to charge your electronics.
Sleep with your water bottle too
If you like to drink water first thing when you wake up, it’s a good idea to put your (tightly closed!) water bottle at the bottom of your sleeping bag. As mentioned, water freezes overnight in many of the higher elevations along the Annapurna Circuit.
And why not go head and sleep with two water bottles? The second one being a hot water bottle. Yes, we know you might be thinking your sleeping bag is starting to get rather crowded, but a hot water bottle can be a great thing to snuggle down with at night in the icy Himalayas.
10. Take a rest day on the up climb
It’s advisable to schedule at least one acclimatisation day for the upward climb of the Annapurna Circuit. This is a rest day that gives your body time to adjust to the new elevation before pushing it to go any higher. Proper acclimatisation helps to prevent altitude sickness, which we discussed in tip #3.
Manang is the perfect resting place
When you trek the Annapurna Circuit with Follow Alice, we include a rest day in the small town of Manang as part of our acclimatisation strategy. Manang is home to one of the clinics of the Himalayan Rescue Association, and you can visit the centre on your rest day should you like and learn all about past rescue efforts, altitude sickness, and more
But just because it’s an acclimatisation day doesn’t mean it has to be a ‘legs up’ sort of one. That part is up to you. If you’d like to take a day hike to see more of the area, then Manang is the perfect starting point for a hike to the nearby Kicho Tal (Ice Lakes). The climb to get there is a steep one, but the rewards are certainly worth it. These icy blue and pristine high-altitude lakes beautifully reflect the surrounding mountain peaks. They also offer fantastic views over the entire Annapurna range as well as the magnificent Dhaulagiri mountains to the west.
Hike high, sleep low
There’s a saying in high-altitude trekking: hike high, sleep low. This is an acclimatisation strategy that is effective in helping the body to adjust to a jump in elevation. As the saying suggests, the strategy involves climbing to a new altitude during the day and then dropping back down for the night. The day hike to Kicho Tal (or the Ice Lakes) offers an ideal hike-high-sleep-low opportunity. You climb up to the lakes, which sit at 4,620 m above sea level, then drop back down to Manang’s comparatively sensible 3,519 m for the night.
So there you have it, our top 12 tips for trekking the Annapurna Circuit. Follow these trekking tips and you’re well set for an epic and successful journey into the Himalayas!
A final note …
Don’t be nervous to join the Annapurna Circuit trek as a solo traveller!
At Follow Alice, we love to bring together like-minded, youthful souls by arranging awesome adventure trips! So if you’re keen to trek the Annapurna Circuit but have nobody you know to go with, our eleventh Annapurna Circuit trekking tip would be to come along anyway! You’ll soon make friends with your fellow trekkers, as adventures like this have a way of breaking down barriers and leading to some fast and firm bonding!
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- Best time to hike the Annapurna Circuit
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- Nepal trekking guide: Where to trek on your Nepal trip