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Is DIY the future of trekking?
Category Expert Opinion Thursday Trek Talk Guides To Choose Treks
By Latika Payak
We have always had a misconception about trekking in India.
What is the misconception?
We thought that given a choice between organised trekking and DIY trekking, Indian trekkers would always choose organised trekking. We always thought, Why would anyone go through the trouble of cooking, camping, or navigating on their own when someone else would do it for them?
But we’ve been proven very wrong.
In the past three months, over 50 trekkers have chosen to trek DIY style, just picking up DIY kits from us and setting off on their own in the Himalayas.
You might say fifty is not a big number.
Here's what it is: All these fifty trekkers say they will never go with organised groups again. Their future will only be DIY treks.
There are three reasons that they state. All of them are hard to debate.
We spoke to DIY trekkers who have been exploring the mountains on their own. Their thoughts are bound to make you consider a DIY trek as your next trek.
They also bust the misconception that DIY is for experienced trekkers. It makes you believe that anybody can trek DIY-style.
But before we share their reasons, you need some then-and-now context on DIY trekking. You’ll be surprised to learn how DIY trekking has evolved.
Setting context on DIY trekking: Then and now
With our country's trekking growth, DIY trekking has also evolved. But not many trekkers have noticed it.
For most trekkers, the mention of a DIY trek conjures up images of people living alone in the wilderness, carrying heavy loads, and walking on unknown paths.
“In the early 2000s, when I was trekking DIY style, we would carry a backpack that weighed more than 15 kg. It would have a bulky sleeping bag, a heavy tent, rations, and warm clothes. We even carried a chunky kerosene stove. Interestingly, at that time, one of the biggest challenges — one as crucial as finding the trek itself — was to source fuel to cook on a trek. Carrying the kerosene was messy and heavy,” says Arjun Majumdar, founder-CEO of Indiahikes, sharing a glimpse of the earlier days of DIY trekking.
Traversing through tricky terrain with heavy load is challenging. Photo by Sandhya UC.
DIY treks, especially in the Himalayas, were also tremendously labour-intensive. A team of two trekkers would need the help of 3–4 guides and porters.
But things have changed. Modern-day DIY trekking is not like it used to be.
Modern DIY trekking is easier, lighter, safer
To understand modern DIY style, scrap the image of being out alone, carrying 15–20 kg of load without support.
On a modern DIY trek, even if you trek on your own, you are not without professional support. You have a co-guide accompanying you who can handle emergencies. You have the option of Indiahikes DIY kits to support you. These kits make DIY more doable.
We’ve done considerable research to make these kits at Indiahikes.
“We wanted to make the kits as light as a regular organized group trekker’s backpack (9–10 kg). This meant reducing the weight and bulk of the sleeping bag, tent, and stove. It even meant rethinking food because food added the majority of weight on a multi-day trek,” says Suhas Saya, Head of Documentation and DIY at Indiahikes.
The Indiahikes DIY Kit comes along with a navigation kit, a camping kit, and a food kit.
In the navigation kit, the latest GPS map of the trail with all the important information and highlights is marked out. The navigation kit is integrated with high-resolution maps of the region. There is no getting lost or wondering how much further the camp is.
The camping kits have extra-lightweight tents that can withstand any rough weather. The sleeping bags can withstand temperatures below -10 °C but weigh only about 1.5 kg.
The food kits have ready-to-make food that has variety, taste, and nutrition. They are marked out as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The cooking burner weighs less than 250 g, and the gas canister weighs the same. One canister is enough to last the entire four-day trek.
Reducing the load is the biggest comfort in enjoying a DIY-style trek. Add to it the flexibility of taking a mule if you have many team members. Or taking a guide along in case you’re not confident. In modern DIY trekking, even beginners can trek on their own.
With that picture in mind, of how DIY trekking has evolved, let’s dive into the 3 reasons why trekkers are choosing to go the DIY way. Interestingly, they state completely different reasons from the ones we’ve mentioned above.
3 reasons why trekkers prefer DIY treks over organised groups
1. You trek at your own pace on a DIY trek (Making your itinerary too)
Here’s one of the biggest changes trekkers felt while trekking on their own: In an organised group, your pace is restricted. You stick with the team at an average pace. If you’re a fast trekker, you’re impatient. If you’re a slow trekker, you’re hurried.
But trekking DIY style removes this barrier. You set your own pace.
Setting your own pace on the trail allows you to interact deeply with the trek.
Vidhu Mahana, who trekked DIY-style for the first time to Har Ki Dun in July 2022, shares an interesting anecdote. He describes what it felt like to experience the ancient Himalayan village of Osla at leisure.
“I comfortably reached the Osla village and wanted to stay in one of the local homestays there. Luckily, I found Anand's home towards the end of the village. Anand works as a cook with the trek teams and is a regular trekker himself. He offered me a room and rotis with mattha (buttermilk). We chatted for quite some time before dozing off for the afternoon. I took an evening stroll in the small village, clicking photos of those unique 600-year-old homes and observing the locals. That evening was fantastic. It was dinner prep time, and Anand's family invited me to their kitchen. A local saag was being prepared. It felt like I had all the time in the world to observe the preparations of boiling the vegetables, kneading the flour for the rotis, and adjusting the wood for the fire. That night I ate heartily and slept like a baby.”
Setting your own pace also means you start the day’s trek when you want to. For example, some trekkers prefer trekking early in the morning and wrapping up the day’s trek by noon. Others like to start leisurely and end the trek by evening. Trekking DIY-style allows you to set your own pace without feeling rushed.
Another benefit of setting your own pace is that you can make your own itinerary. You can stay an extra day at a particular camp or skip it altogether.
2. You have the flexibility of choosing your own dates (and you can do it impromptu)
Going on an Indiahikes trek during peak season requires a lot of planning. Slots fill up months in advance. Making an impromptu decision to trek in such a scenario is almost out of the question.
But not if you plan a DIY trek.
Take the case of Suprabha Dikshatha and her friend Aparnita Karmalkar. In October last year, the peak season for trekking in the autumn, they made an impromptu plan to go for the Phulara Ridge trek.
“We decided on this solo trek on a Friday morning on the way to Dehradun (almost impulsively, and we have done group treks in the past). We called Suhas from the airport after quickly reviewing the DIY treks on the Indiahikes website. From that moment, he guided us towards the Phulara Ridge Trek, the DIY concept, and got his back-end team in motion for the kits like clockwork,” Suprabha shared.
3. DIY trekking brings down the cost of your trek by 30%
While cost is not the biggest reason anyone does a DIY-style trek, doing a DIY-style trek helps bring down the cost of your trek by almost 30%. The organisation cost is missing. You only spend on DIY kits and the support system.
DIY is the future
In our country, we have just started building systems to make trekking accessible. And modern-day DIY is one such system. It offers immense freedom for planning and executing your trek.
“The real joy of trekking is when you trek DIY-style. The freedom of camping wherever I want and staying for however long and wherever I want is extremely exhilarating. Also, the sense of accomplishment of doing a trek by myself using my resources and skills is very satisfying,” shares Arjun.
Trekkers who come back from DIY treks display similar emotions. They love the freedom and ownership that come with DIY trekking.
With the rise in DIY treks, the way trekkers approach treks is changing. This change is here to stay.
Drop your thoughts about DIY treks in the comments below.
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