Hiking the Himalayas: how to hike on a budget

Hiking should always be free, but sometimes there are things you have to pay for. Permits and park fees, food, accommodation, and good gear are essential. Hiking in Nepal is spectacular but costs can add up really quickly when you pay for three meals a day, snacks, drinks, and guesthouses, plus more if you have a guide and porters. After hiking 400km over 43 days I’ve worked out a few ways to keep the costs down!

A typical tour for Everest Base Camp over 16 days will cost around $1500, the Annapurna Base Camp trek over 9 days will cost around $800 and the full 18 day Annapurna Circuit will cost around $1300. Keep in mind that these prices don’t always include food, which is the biggest cost (after the Lukla flights). They do provide you a guide and porter which, in my opinion, are unnecessary if you’re capable of walking on your own two feet.

Below are the amounts I spent on each of these hikes without booking a tour or hiring a guide or porter. Just me, my bag, a few awesome people to hike with, and Maps.Me to show us the way. It’s all you need!

Annapurna Base Camp (9 days)

NPR GBP USD
Permits 5000 35.4 44.9
Transport 400 2.8 3.6
Food & Drink 9400 66.5 84.4
Accommodation 400 2.8 3.6
Extras 100 0.7 0.9
TOTAL 15300 108.2 137.4

Annapurna Circuit (17 days)

NPR GBP USD
Permits 5000 35.4 44.9
Transport 2400 17 21.5
Food & Drink 21,188 150 190.3
Accommodation 200 1.4 1.8
Extras 200 1.4 1.8
TOTAL 28988 205.2 260.3

Everest Base Camp (17 days)

NPR GBP USD
Permits 5000 35.4 44.9
Transport 40,000 283.1 360
Food & Drink 25,800 182.6 231.7
Accommodation 3775 26.7 33.9
TOTAL 74575 527.8 670.5

So looking at the average prices for the tours on each trek, minus the amount I actually spent, it means I saved around $2,500! Here’s how you can too:

Use Maps.Me as a guide! Most bloggers tell you to hire a guide because you’re giving that person a job and giving back to the community, it’s a nice idea but I don’t know many budget travellers who can afford an extra $30 – $40 a day. The trails are so well marked you can just download this free app which works offline and disappear (not literally) into the mountains.

Carry your own bag! Again, hiring a porter is a nice way to give back to the community and it makes hiking a lot easier without a 12kg backpack… But if you’re physically able to carry your own bag then do it, you’ll save $15 – $25 a day and feel like a badass.

Bargain for a free bed! All guesthouses will charge per room if they can, but you can usually make a deal with them to get a free bed in exchange for you having dinner and breakfast in their restaurant (which you’ll do anyway, otherwise they ‘room fee’ is extortionate). You’ll find this almost everywhere in the Annapurna region but the Everest region has set prices for each village and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a free option, but there are some exceptions.

Learn to love wet wipe showers! Hiking is a dirty business, but if you can live with daily wet wipe showers instead of paying for a real one then you’ll save around 200R per day. Plus it gets super cold up in the mountains so getting out of a shower with wet hair is a bad idea. You’ll want at least two wet wipes per person per day, make sure you buy enough, you can get them cheaply in Pokhara.

Take a break from social media! Try and go a whole week without posting a Facebook update and you’ll save anywhere from 50R to 300R per day! If you pick up a SIM card in Kathmandu or Pokhara you’ll get a little bit of signal every now and then while you hike. The signal around the Annapurna region is terrible, it’s much better around the Everest region.

Pack a power bank! Every place we stayed in the Annapurna region offered free charging with the room, so if a place tries to charge for this then go to another one. Everest region is a little trickier, you can usually get at least one hour of charging for free, but most places won’t let you charge a power bank (they run on solar and it takes too much energy) so save it for emergencies!

Bring your own snacks! If you’re coming from your home country to Nepal then stock up on your favourite hiking snacks. If not you can buy basic things in Pokhara like protein bars and nuts, plus a few treats like candy and chocolate. If you like peanut butter it’s a great way to keep your energy up!

Skip lunch! The cost of food rises as you climb the mountain and it will add up very quickly. We always had a big breakfast at the guesthouse we slept at, ate snacks that we bought in Pokhara for lunch, and had dinner at the next guesthouse. It will save anywhere from 250R to 700R per day depending on what you’re eating. However, I would only recommend this when you have a short, easy day of hiking.

Go vegetarian! Meat on the mountain is very expensive, and above a certain altitude it’s brought in with porters so the freshness is questionable. Save an animals life and save some money by cutting it out of your diet!

Eat all the Dal Baht! It’s healthy, very filling and you get a free refill. Yes, you read that correctly, a free second portion, which means you’re eating a ton of good food for a decent price. Eat it for breakfast and you’ll have enough energy to get you through lunch with just a few snacks.

Don’t forget toilet paper! There is none in any bathroom in the mountains, and to buy a roll can cost up to $5 (they know how desperately you’ll need it). Pack one roll per person for every 10 days that you’re hiking, just to be on the safe side.

Bring iodine tablets! There is free water all over the mountains but you’ll want to purify it just in case. It’s the best way to save money and the planet because you’re not overpaying for boiled water or buying plastic bottles. Buy a 1l Nalgene bottle for 500R and 50 iodine pills from any pharmacy in Pokhara for 250R and you’re good to go.

Bring your own tea bags, hot chocolate or coffee! You can buy a hot drink for 100R to 200R, or you can fill up your own bottle for 30R to 100R (but most places ‘forget’ to charge). It’s only a small saving but it will add up when you’re having hot drinks all the time to warm up! I brought a 300ml glass bottle for tea that doubled up as a hot water bottle on the coldest nights. If you’re hiking in the Everest region, most places have a stove where you can heat up your own water if you have a metal canteen!

Rent the expensive stuff! If you don’t have your own sleeping bag or down jacket they cost between 4000R and 8000R to buy (probably cheaper than home but be warned it’ll be cheap, fake and poor quality North Face), or you can rent them for 100R ($1) each a day, plus a deposit.

Buy locally-made gear! Instead of taking a risk buying more overpriced fake North Face, you should buy cheaper, locally made products instead. I bought a knitted wool jumper for 1500R and knitted wool and fleece slippers, gloves and headband for 200R each and they were plenty warm enough for each hike, even at -20 degrees. There are also some great Nepali brands like Sonam, Black Yak and Kaemp 8848 which all make excellent quality gear for a decent price.

Plan appropriately, and make the most of your permits! When I first came to Nepal I knew nothing about the hiking here and it was a last-minute decision to hike the Annapurna Base Camp route. What I didn’t know was that $50 visa could have also been used for the Annapurna Circuit! Check out the permit information while your planning your routes to make sure you don’t have to buy the same one twice.

If you have any questions about these options, or if you have any money-saving tips to add, then feel free to leave a comment below!

You can also follow the adventure on Facebook and Instagram!

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