An important concept to understand when trekking the Annapurna Circuit is layering.
Effective layering relies on the process of wicking moisture from one layer to the next. Certain fabrics, like wool, have great wicking properties, whereas other fabrics like cotton or denim actually absorb moisture.
All your layers should work in tandem to 1. provide sufficient comfort and warmth as temperatures fluctuate, and 2. they should support the wicking process.
The reason why layering is important is because weather at high altitudes can change quickly and dramatically, as illustrated by 2014 tragic Annapurna Circuit trekking season. The ability to layer up or down as weather conditions fluctuate, from the low altitudes of 1,000 meters in Besisahar to the high altitudes of 5,416 meters at Thorong La Pass, is important.
Moreover, seasonal differences are also an important consideration. You will definitely want warmer clothes if you plan to trek during the cold winter months of October-February. See what to expect weather-wise on the Annapurna Circuit here.
So now that you understand layering, lets look at the specific layered clothing you will need.
The first and most obvious layer is your underwear. To aid the wicking process we recommend bringing 6-8 x pairs of breathable sports underwear. We are big fans of Icebreaker underwear, Adidas sports underwear or Under Armour underwear, as these brands specifically focus on manufacturing products that can cope with sweat from high-intensity sport.
For the ladies we recommend bringing 2 x sports bras.
The base layer, or what is often referred to the next-to-skin or first layer is very important on the higher reaches of the Annapurna Circuit.
The best first layers fit snugly to the skin (reducing air pockets and flow) and consist of high wicking materials to facilitate moisture transfer.
The type of base layer clothing that we recommend is manufactured by Smartwool or Icebreaker. Both brands have some of the best and most affordable lightweight merino wool products.
We recommend getting 2x top and 1x bottom base layers.
General Hiking Clothes
In terms of your general hiking clothes we recommend the following
You will need to bring 4-7 trekking shirts (depending on whether you are doing the shorter or longer Annapurna Circuit). We recommend these breathable and lightweight shirts from Hanes. Alternatively, shirts from Icebreaker or Columbia are good. Do not bring cotton shirts as these absorb moisture. A mixture of short and long sleeve shirts are recommended.
Trekking Shorts and Trousers
You will also need to pack hiking shorts and trousers. There are many brands to choose from but we recommend Craghoppers, Columbia or O’Neills. You may even want to go with convertible trousers like these trekking trousers designed by Craghoppers. Not only will they save you money as you won’t need to buy shorts, but they are also very comfortable.
Bring two pairs of trousers and 1x pair of shorts.
The second layer, or what we call the insulation layer, should be made from fleece material.
You can get an insulation layer for both top and bottom, but as you will need to have outer layer shell trousers (see below), we believe the insulation layer for your legs are unnecessary.
For your torso second layer though we recommend a Polartec 200 Fleece Jacket. These insulation jackets are very good for hiking in as they provide a great warmth to weight ratio whilst allowing effective moisture transfer. The Polartec 100s are lighter but not warm enough for the Annapurna Circuit, whereas the Polartec 300s are too heavy, in our opinion.
Recommended fleece brands included Helly Hansen, The North Face and Patagonia.
You may also like to take a sleeveless puff jacket or gilet. The North Face Nuptse is great!
Outer Core Layer
The outer core layer, or third layer, consists of a windproof, waterproof and most importantly warm jacket and trousers. These will be used on the upper reaches of the Annapurna Circuit.
We highly recommend getting a good quality jacket as it is one of the few key items that will ensure your warmth and comfort. We recommend the North Face Nuptse Jacket which is a market-leading winter jacket, but there are many synthetic alternatives which are also effective. In terms of the Nuptse, the warmth and weight characteristics are exceptional. The Nuptse is a lifetime investment as the jacket will last years of active trekking and double well as a winter jacket in the city. Other good jacket brands include Patagonia Down Jacket, Arc’Teryx Atom and Mountain Hardwear Down Jackets.
For your outer layer trousers you should look for fleece-insulated ski trousers. Recommended brands include Helly Hansen, Trepass and O’Neills.
Wet weather gear
Encountering rain is always a possibility when trekking, particularly during the rainy season (June-September). You should bring a hard-shell jacket, like the North Face Resolve Jacket.
It is also worth taking a compact poncho rain-suit that can quickly be put on should you encounter rain.
Hat for Sun Protection
You need to bring a hiking hat that provides face and neck sun protection. Your hat should be light and easy to bend / fold so that it can fit into your daypack or rucksack. Trekking hats with a neck cover are very good. Here are some trekking hats that we recommend.
Head Band or Beanie
Temperatures can get very cold in the evenings and early mornings, particularly as you reach the higher altitudes on the Annapurna Circuit.
A warm fleeced beanie or fleeced headband are absolute must-haves. Berghaus and The North Face provide good beanies.
Neckband or Balaclava
A neckband or balaclava that can keep your neck and face warm when temperatures drop below freezing is also a must-have.
We highly recommend taking 1x fleeced Buff and 1x thin buff.
Buffs are super versatile and can be used as headbands, beanies, neck gaiters and wrist bands, as demostrated adjacent.
An inner glove acts as your next-to-skin layer, like the base layer clothing we described above. You should bring a light-weight, quick drying inner glove, ideally made from fleece material.
We recommend Pearl Izumi Thermal Lite Gloves which can also be used as standalone gloves when the weather is moderately cold. Karrimor is another good brand.
Outer gloves are like your outer layer jacket – they act as a shield from the cold and therefore need to be very warm, waterproof and durable. Gore-Tex gloves from Dakine or similar options from The North Face, Outdoor Research or Black Diamond are recommended.