What to pack on your Mongolia trip: detailed packing list
I've prepared this list after a number of trips to Mongolia. I also thought I'd share some tips gleaned from ten years of traveling to developing countries. Most of the advice here could be applied to any developing country -with a few variations for local conditions and customs.
If the below's all too much info, go straight to the packing list.
I've put in a number of links to products I recommend under each category, so you can check out what I believe are the best value items if you don't already have something suitably similar. I use REI and Moosejaw to buy most of my outdoor gear because they both provide great value and between them have everything you'll need. Their online stores even work out cheaper for me when shipping to Australia, compared to visiting local stores.
Backpacks and Bags
Passports and Money
Essentials for your small bag
Sleeping and camping gear
Items for Yurt visits
Reader's favorite items
Me, hiking in Central Mongolia. If you're planning on leaving the vehicles (or pack horses) behind and heading off hiking, then every pound of gear counts..
A general word on packing:
Here are a few general principles:
Pack as light as you comfortably can. When lining up your items to pack, try to mentally categorize them as 'essential', 'useful', or 'luxury' items. When it comes time to squeeze everything in your pack, you'll know what must go in, and what you can do without if space or weight is an issue.
Leave 10-15% of capacity in your packed baggage to allow for items you're wearing when setting off, getting lazy with properly folding clothes, and squeezing in the odd gift or souvenir.
Buying travel gear for your next trip can be fun (for me, at least, maybe I should get out more), but in reality a pair of jeans, a wool sweater, and a sturdy pair of shoes really is enough to get you most places. I met a French guy traveling for 2 months in Mongolia only with what he could carry in the pockets of his cargo pants. Now that's going a touch overboard, in my humble opinion, but it does serve to illustrate that you don't actually NEED to take that much stuff or spend that much money.
Anything that can be rented (or purchased then sold/discarded) in Ulan Bator should be considered optional. Camping is a classic example: if you're only envisaging camping out a few nights, then your own tent and sleeping mats aren't really needed.
Budget travelers need to be more self-sufficient. Those booking higher-end accommodation and organized tours don't need to worry in terms of bedding, tents, cooking utensils etc.
The more valuable something is, the closer it should be kept to your body -particularly when in cities or on public transport. More on this later.
Security of your possessions is a risk management excercise, you're never going to eliminate the risk of theft completely, but it's easy to create a few deterrents to make a thief choose an easier target.
Even the poorest people in developing countries dress with dignity. Appear neat and respectable, and people will receive you better.
Don't buy back home what you can cheaply buy once you arrive in Mongolia. I'll tell you what gear you can buy in Ulan Bator.
Don't pack what you can't afford to have broken or stolen. Seriously.
Backpacks and bags
Okay. So you really need one large bag (backpack or suitcase) to be left in the luggage compartment, hotel room or yurt, and one smaller back (daypack, fanny pack/ bum bag, shoulder bag) to accompany your more often. The small bag is what you store your valuable stuff in.
Some travelers choose a suitcase. I used judge other tourists taking suitcases as idiots who were spoiling my budget travel destination. But in my older age I've come to see they make a fair bit of sense, even in Mongolia. They are easier than a backpack to get in and out of, but harder to walk with over uneven ground (i.e. most of Mongolia, UB included). It all comes down to how much you'll be carrying your bags around between accommodation and transport points. Ask yourself how often you usually go walking with your luggage on your back -probably not that often, when you think about it!
More well-heeled travelers will probably be jumping in taxis (which are only a few dollars, after all) around town and going on organized tours, so a suitcase is probably the most convenient option. There are soft 'duffel' suitcases these days which are a big more durable and suitable for being banged around in third world countries.
I always end up taking my backpack because I travel more on a budget; my luggage will get banged around, I usually choose to walk my luggage to the hotel if it's less than 1km away, and it usually ends up getting strapped onto a pack horse again when I go on a horse trek.
Backpacks range from super-expensive top-loading hiking models, which distribute weight properly (i.e. on your hips, and close to your back) but aren't so easy to pack, to traveler's backpacks, which aren't as great for long hikes but have a big front zipper and are much easier to get in and out of. Many people spend a lot of money on a backpack when they really don't need to. If you're regularly going on a 7-day hikes through the mountains then, sure, you need to invest in a good hiking pack. Me, I bought a bottom-of-the-range, Chinese-brand traveler's backpack 8 years ago for about $150. Since then it's held together fine over a number of long hikes and a load of travel.
My backpack is on its last legs and I'm planning on doing some serious hikes in New Zealand and Mongolia in the next 12 months, so will invest in an Osprey pack. My wife and one of my friends have had theirs for years and I've been very impressed with their form, comfort and function. Plus they're great value compared to some of the over-priced 'specialist' hiking brands. I just don't think you can go past Osprey for backpacks: their gear's outstanding value and they're very proactive in honoring their lifetime product warranties. Those spending most of their time on hardcore hikes in Mongolia should get a top-loading pack, such as the Osprey Xenith.
Most people, though, will want the convenience of a front-loading pack, which can be very comfortably be used for the odd multi-day hike (just not as comfortably as their top-loading models).
If your backpack doesn't have an in-built water-proof cover, it's worth buying one to ensure your back is kept dry and protected from stains. A simple alternative is to simply buy some heavy-duty garbage bags, and just keep them stuffed at the bottom of your backpack till you need them.
You need a smaller bag in addition to your backpack/suitcase to take your more valuable and regularly-needed items in. This stays close to you when on the move -in constant contact if possible- and is NOT to be left in the luggage compartment, or zipped onto the back of your backpack so thieves can take your stuff without you noticing. You should be able to carry it on the front of your body when you need to (to avoid thieves when walking through cities, markets, and crowded places; see my safety tips for Ulan Bator), and it should always be right next to you on public transport -not strapped on the roof or down the back of the bus.
Most people take a daypack as their small bag. It can fit plenty of the day's items, can be carried on your chest in crowds (though you'll look like a dork) so you can have your hands free and keep a direct eye on it against thieves, and can be used for a day-hike or overnight stay while leaving your backpack/suitcase behind. On the downside, they can get a little too big. Make sure you get one small enough so you can always keep it next to you or under your feet on buses and airplanes! Don't go over 20 liters.
The Osprey Talon is nice and small, but comes with fold out hip straps so is handy for day hikes.
I took a PacSafe traveler's fanny pack/ belt pouch/ hip bag/ bum bag on my last 1.5 year trip, including Mongolia and West Africa, and it served me well. It was great: very easy to carry in front of me; hands-free carrying, small enough to keep next to me at all times, but big enough to fit all my valuables and essentials, plus a guidebook and a novel; and I could sling it casually over my shoulder when I wasn't in a crowded/thief-prone place. The only complaint with a hip bag is that you don't quite have room to squeeze in a sweater or a rain jacket. Other than that, I love the Packsafe model, it includes some handy security features like anti-slash mesh and the ability to lock the cable in the waist band and the bag's zippers together in a closed loop -enabling you to secure it to just about anything.
Some people take a one-strapped shoulder bag because they are a good size and can be carried in front of you -which gives more security that carrying a day pack behind you. That could be a good option, as long as the strap is slung over your head (not just over one shoulder) so it can't be snatched easily. The downside to a shoulder bag is it will get uncomfortable weighing down on one single shoulder if you're carrying heavy loads, so you have to keep it light and can't take it on long day hikes.
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If you have room to pack or strap on your own tent, it will allow you with a lot more flexibility on your trip. Our Marmot Limelight 3 wasn't the lightest tent on the market, but it was comfortable, performed really well in bad weather, and was great value for money.
Carrying valuables on your person: essential!
The bigger the city or town you're in, the more chance you have of being victim of theft. Outside Ulan Bator you should still follow safe packing practices, no matter where you travel. Even in the country, and when staying in gers, sometimes your valuables are just too much temptation for people who couldn't possibly acquire them through fair means. Sure, you can relax things if you're on an organized tour with trusted people, but stick close to the below as a matter of course -especially when new to a country, in a city, and on public transport:
People can always steal your stuff if they really, really want to. But they're unlikely to target you because you're going to travel smarter than other travelers. The tourists more likely to get robbed are those doing stupid things, like the woman I met who flew to Mali with 1,000 Euros sitting in her checked-in luggage (two year's salary for some lucky baggage handler at Bamako International!) or the guy who had his passport stolen in China because he'd left it zipped in his backpack on the roof of the bus on an overnight trip. That is not you. You are smart and secure, and you carry money and passports always touching your body, and keep electronics and valuables in your small bag, which should rarely leave you.. The more valuable something is, the closer it should be to your body!
A flat passport pouch is your most guarded item. It should be just big enough to pack your passport and a wad of banknotes flat, and have a zipped compartment for a few credit cards. It should loosely touch your skin, and should lie beneath your clothing.
Money belts are stupid because they sit too close to your skin and get sweaty (when I first went travelling I took a money belt through humid Central America, and just about ruined my passport with sweat!). A neck pouch which straps over your neck but stays under your clothes is best.
Your passport, big stash of banknotes, and bank and credit cards go in your passport pouch. Nothing else or it will start to bulge too much under your shirt (size does matter when it comes to thieves working out where you're holding your valuables!). I usually carry about $300 of $US currency on me as a reserve in case I can't access ATMs for long periods -a distinct possibility in Mongolia. $300 will go quite a long way in Mongolia; real budget travelers might take less (but keep it over $100), and the well-heeled might take over $1,000. Take at least some in smaller denominations (i.e. 10's and 20's) as larger bills are too hard to change. Don't take cash amounts you can't afford to lose, as it's unlikely your insurance will cover stolen cash.
I take one debit card, to cash up on Mongolian Togrogs at ATMs without paying exorbitant credit card advance fees. ATMs are are in Ulan Bator and most aimag capitals these days. A credit card is also handy because you can use them to buy expensive items, and can use them at a lot of upmarket shops, hotels, and travel agencies. These places can usually do a cash advance for you if you're desperate for cash -but know the current exchange rate before you go in, and be very careful of the figures they're charging to your card compared to the cash they're giving you! They need to make money for it to be worth their while, but some might take a 30% exchange rate margin if you don't watch carefully.
If you want to take Travelers checks, you'd keep them here in your pouch, too. However, I don't bother with them anymore as i've found anywhere that's going to have a bank to change travelers checks will also have somewhere that gives credit card advances. I take out another couple of hundred $US in Togrogs as well whenever I get the chance -I take more than that if i know i'm heading out to remote areas requiring sizable cash payments.
ATM withdrawal fees can add up quickly: if you're traveling for a long time, it's worth investigating financial products which don't charge you for international transactions. But check the details carefully, there are some new 'cash passport credit cards' on offer which are loaded with hidden fees and don't think save you any money over a conventional credit card. [A tip for any Australians reading this: the '28 Degrees Mastercard' credit card can also be used as a debit card because doesn't charge ATM fees or international transaction fees. It does apply over 20% interest as soon as you withdraw a cash advance from an ATM, but as long as you log in and pay off the account soon after withdrawing, it's a fantastically-cheap travel product. On an 18-month trip I reckon it saved me $400 in withdrawal fees].
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A little notepad and pen comes in handy a lot. Bus times, hotel names, addresses, contact details, of those you meet.... I even draw up a small calendar now and then to plan for the next month. Discretely write your passport details somewhere on it so you don't have to get out your passport when filling out every hotel or immigration form.
You can buy a cheap gas stove (and canisters) for about US $25 at every aimag/province capital in Mongolia. You can even take them hiking if you have to, but obviously they're more bulky and heavy than a hiking stove.
Essentials to go in your small bag:
A small folded roll of toilet paper is important to have near. A lot of Mongolian toilets are very basic, and lack toilet paper. Food poisoning in Mongolia is relatively rare, but you never know when you might get caught needing some toilet paper at very short notice! You might consider taking a whole roll in your big bag if going camping, but always keep a small collection in your small bag and add to it when you get the chance.
ear plugs are great for the airplane and hostels with people coming and going all the time. I'm a light sleeper, and use them a lot. Even heavy sleepers might consider taking some: they take up little space, and most developing countries have no concept of noise pollution, so loud music and honking horns can continue 24/7 in even the most unexpected of places..
An LED headtorch is something i consider priceless. Especially in Mongolia, where electricity is unreliable even in the capital, and non-existent outside aimag cities. The technology's fantastic: they'll last for months on one set of batteries, ensuring you can read, chat, play guitar, and not trip over things when going to the bathroom. Hands-free is great when you're cooking or doing something camping: gone are the days of jamming a Mag-light in your mouth for hours on end. And these babies are light and small, too: no big battery packs strapped to your head these days. Fantastic. Petzl make a high quality one which I have used for years and recommend.
However, if you have the money and think you'll be out camping then the LedLenser H7 is an an amazingly high-powered headtorch which will allow you to light up objects well into the distance. I bought my dad one for xmas and he loves it -when my long-abused Petzl breaks I'll be replacing it with one of these ones. Make sure you buy these from a reputable buyer as fakes abound.
You should also keep any electronics in your small bag, as these are likely to be amongst your more valuable items. Again, don't take anything you can't afford to use! All electronics should be viewed as a luxury: you don't NEED any of them, if you think about it. However, I admit to spoiling myself with a few things. Pricey electronics are out-of-reach for most people in developing countries, so i try to be really discreet when I do use them, and avoid flashing them around (and never when I'm in a public or crowded area in a third world city: it's asking for the attention of bag slashers and pickpockets!). An iPod is pretty darn handy. I don't need to explain how good these bad boys are on an extended trip; it sure beats trying to cart around a bunch of cassette tapes or CD's like the days of yore. Some people worry about solar-powered chargers, which i reckon is going a bit overboard, but a charger/ radio player which plugs in a car cigarette lighter can come in handy: when you've been bouncing around in a Russian van for 8 days it can be nice to hear some different music beyond the driver's 3 cassette tapes. Keep in mind, though, that a Mongolian driver considers himself the captain of his ship, and you should show due respect and not presume that the car stereo is yours to adjust without his say-so. Perhaps wait until you've heard that Spice Girls tape 8 times over before politely broaching the possibility of new musical scores accompanying the journey.
An e-book reader is my latest acquisition. I have an Amazon Kindle and it's great. The power lasts for months: handy in a country with little electricity. I do prefer the feel of a paper-back novel, but e-books are so cheap and easy to acquire that i've pretty much converted to my e-book reader 90% of the time. The major bonus for travelers, of course, is that you can cart around a thousand books in a package thinner than half a single book, which saves a fair bit of packing space for an avid reader like myself, not to mention a kilo or so in weight. There aren't any english bookshops outside Ulan Bator so if you take paperback books you'll be relying on swapping finished books with other travelers you meet on the road. Friends have told me they're prone to breaking, but i've just bought a cover for it and will take the risk: i always keep my small bag near me so it doesn't get banged around too much. If my Kindle does break then I'll definitely buy another one once i get home.
A mobile phone will only be of use in the bigger cities. They're not really necessary, unless you'll be staying a while, as it's easy enough to find a pay phone or call centre. On my last 1.5 year trip I took a cell phone with me. I took my old one so it didn't matter if i lost it. I avoided using it linked to my phone account back in Australia (most Western phone companies will charge you exorbitant rates just to receive calls from a foreign country, let alone make them), instead buying a local prepaid SIM card whenever I'd be in a country for a month or more. I'd then email my new number to friends and family back home, for them to call me. I'll probably do the same on my trip to Mongolia this summer, but only because I'll need to contact lots of people in Ulan Bator to do research for this website.
A lot of people seem to be taking iPads and tablet computers traveling. Personally I see them as too much of an expensive luxury waiting to get stolen, and I'm attracted to Mongolia partly to get away from all these online distractions, but you might be wanting to update the church folk back home about all the wonderful converts you've made as a missionary or blog about your journey of amazing enlightenment and personal discovery, so everyone has their own definitions of what's essential and what isn't. If I was spending a year in Mongolia i'd probably take one. One thing to note, though: Mongolia isn't exactly crawling with Wi-Fi networks or electricity supplies, so the only places you'll be connected are in the cities. And those same cities will have plenty of internet cafes for you to use: they're everywhere because most Mongolians can't afford the convenience of their own computer like Westerners can.
Some people swear by Noise cancelling headphones, especially during plane travel. Others love taking a small pair of battery-powered travel speakers for their iPod. Both these items are luxuries in my book. I have a pair of travel speakers which were great on trips to Thailand, but they'll only come on this next trip to Mongolia in the unlikely event i have spare room in my bags.
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Also consider what else is important or precious to you, or anything you need to access while your big bag is out-of-reach in a van or on a plane. All this should go in your small bag. I take the following:
copies of flight itinerary and travel insurance details.
some people take a spare pair of socks & underwear, and a small emergency toothbrush set (like one given out by an airline) in their small bag, because you never know when an airline is going to fail to deliver your big bag, which will be checked in.
a few essential medicines i may need at short notice also go in my small bag: a few aspirin or paracetemol at hand, for headaches and hangovers; paracetemol is also handy for lowering your temperature if you're experiencing a low fever.
A couple of Anti-diarretics such as Immodium (active ingredient: Loperamide hydrochloride), in case of a bout of food poisoning (actually relatively rare in Mongolia compared to many third world countries). These aren't anti-biotics, they just 'block you up'. Some doctors argue you should just let diarrhea run it's course if it's less than 3 days, others say it's important to retain body fluids. If I'm on the move anywhere and have stomach problems, i'll always take these rather than require ten toilet stops. Urgent toilet stops can be uncomfortable and embarrassing at the best of times, and the Mongolian steppe has a distinct shortage of trees to hide behind!
A couple of water purification tablets, just in case I'm caught thirsty and there's no time to boil any water (don't drink Mongolian river water without treating/boiling it). Some insect repellent in a small bottle (must contain 'DEET' to be effective) just for when i need it at short notice, with a bigger bottle in my large bag.
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Mongolia is such a scenic destination that most travelers will understandably want to take a camera. You don't have to: some travelers justifiably argue that you should be enjoying and experiencing the special and beautiful moments, not tyring to fit them in to your view finder. However, i always take a camera. For the following word on cameras, i'm going to just split them into 2 categories: big, SLR-style ones, and small, pocket cameras (there are a few models that try to give the benefits of both, but they're still too bulky for your pocket).
An SLR camera will certainly take the best photos. The wide lense takes better landscape photos than pocket cameras, and they are far, far superior when taking close-ups or pictures of distant subjects (e.g. wildlife, and goings-on at the Naadam festival). However, an SLR is quite a burden to take when traveling: they're heavy, cumbersome, expensive, and a glaring target to thieves when strapped in a carry-bag over your shoulder. They're much more difficult to just slip out and operate, so you're less likely to take spontaneous snaps and quickly have it in your pocket to 'capture the moment'. They're too bulky to be much use while on a horse trek, rafting trip, or any kind of rough adventure activity. And they're complicated: too many travelers spend the money on one without knowing how to get the best out of them; consider a short course in photography if you have no idea. So, my advice is: if you're really 'into' your photography and it's important to you, and/or you're particularly dedicated to capturing amazing shots of scenery, wildlife or the Nadaam festival, then an SLR will be really rewarding. Otherwise, try something smaller. Generally, Canon rate very highly as a good value choice for an SLR, if you're a real pro you might want to get some expensive german model, but Canon seems to be great for the majority of people.
Pocket cameras are remarkably cheap these days. They also take great photos. All the photos on this site were taken with my Lumix camera, or my fiancee's Canon pocket camera. The picture quality has been drastically reduced to cut down file sizes, but i hope you can see the colors and the landscapes are captured pretty well. I'd highly recommend both those brands.
Sure, your pics won't be as great from a small camera as with an SLR, but they're good enough for most and the units are so darn easy to carry around. They discreetly fit in your pocket, so you're likely to have a camera at hand more often and will probably take more photos. At the end of the day, smaller cameras are great because they allow you to capture your holiday, not define or limit it by creating a burden. When buying a small camera, get a good brand (such as the two mentioned above) and, very importantly, try to get one with the wider lense (usually printed in millimeters, on the lense itself) to ensure your camera captures wide angles and allows more light into your pictures. Whatever your camera, it should be kept in your small bag if not in your pocket/ in a separate carry bag.
With my camera I take a few spare memory cards. For me, my memory cards (i.e. store of photos taken) quickly become as (or more) important than my camera. I can get another camera on insurance, but if I lose my memory cards then my photos of my Mongolia trip are gone forever. You can spend a lot of money on high-density cards with faster loading speeds, but they're not really necessary unless you're a professional. I don't buy memory cards above 1GB, as I don't want to keep all my eggs in one basket. Rather than taking my camera and a USB cord, you can buy a small USB stick memory card reader to save you taking your camera to internet cafes. They're only $10 or so, at any camera shop. If traveling for over a month, I would usually make a back-up of my photos on a CD/DVD or USB stick and send it back home in case all my stuff happened to get stolen.
Okay, that should be everything to take in your small bag. But if you have anything else that you'll need regularly or is very valuable to you, then take it in your small bag.
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Stuff to pack in your big bag
A few words on Clothing: People in developing countries dress with dignity. They cannot understand it when foreigners (all of whom are justifiably considered wealthy) arrive in tattered dirty clothes, or wearing dreadlocks. You won't see many Mongolian men with dreadlocks. I don't care so much if i don't look 'cool' to other travelers who've been fire-twirling and wearing beaded necklaces in Goa/Thailand/Mexico, I dress conservatively so local people receive me better.
Mongolians are quite modest in their dress -especially outside Ulan Bator: you won't see local women wearing short skirts or revealing tops, and men in Mongolia consider shorts more as beachwear: a bit ridiculous to wear in public. When in Rome...
Even in mid-summer, Mongolia can get below freezing at night if you're up in the mountains, and it rains quite a bit. But during the day, summer can be really hot -particularly in the concrete jungle of Ulan Bator, so you'll need to take a fair mixture of clothing. Plan to dress in layers to save packing room.
Travel clothing doesn't have to look like travel clothing (i.e. shiny material, zippers everywhere, pockets allover the place, unsuitable to wear to bars). Those kind of things are practically screaming 'hi, i'm a tourist new in town. Please rob me.' Try to get things that you could wear in the city back home without looking like a dork, and you'll look more like an expat who knows the city than a new-in-town traveler who's a target for thieves.
You can wear the same clothes traveling as you do back home, you don't need to buy an entire new wardrobe full of zippers and quick-dry polyester.
Darker colors hide creases and stains, and can look good as evening wear. There's this really cool thing called wool. It is slowly being rediscovered by the travel industry as ultra-thin weaves become possible. It insulates well, breathes, stays warm when wet, and doesn't start to stink when sweaty. Choose it over artificial fibrics when you can afford it.
I take the following:
At least 5 pairs of socks and underwear, with some thick socks for warmth and hiking, and some thinner ones for casual strolling. Wool is best.
Shirts: I usually take only one T-shirt to wear around in the city, then i take a couple of long-sleeve worker's shirts (a thinner polyester one and a thicker, warmer cotton one). Collared shirts make you look more respectable to locals and border officials, you can flip the collar up to protect from sun or cold winds, and you can unbutton and roll up sleeves to make it cooler than a T-shirt when you need to. Copyright mongolia-travel-advice.com. Front pockets on shirts also come in handy, they're the most secure place to carry your money (other than your passport pouch!) because they're right in front of you. Shirt pockets are also great when horse riding, as you can't access your pants pockets half as easily when in the saddle.
Thermal underwear are an important item no matter where you travel. I take them even to tropical countries because they take up little room and I've been caught out before when an unexpected cold snap occurs. They are essential for cold nights in Mongolia. You can wear one with just a shirt over the top and stay remarkably warm (as long as it isn't windy). Pure merino wool ones are more expensive than polyester ones, but are more comfortable, have a better warmth-to-weight ratio, and are much less prone to smelling, so get wool if you can afford it. I don't know why, but most thermals come in stupid bright colours; get a dark one so you can wear it under your shirt when heading out, and allow a bit to show without looking like an idiot. If traveling outside late-June, July or August, I recommend taking thermal pants as well as a top.
After your thermals and a shirt, you need another layer. Rather than just taking one bulky jacket, I take a middle layer as well as an outer layer, as it gives me more temperature variation in my clothing. As a middle layer, wool is good because it's light and warm. Some people might want a thinner polar fleece jacket. I used to take a light wool jumper from home, which was fine, but have recently invested in a New Zealand-made woolen Icebreaker sweat top (not too tight, so i can wear it as my outer layer if it's only mildly cold). I wear that around home all winter as well because it's so comfortable. And it's far less prone to making me overheat compared to synthetic tops.
Even though I'm heading to Mongolia in mid-summer this time, i'm also taking a warm outer layer as well, as the first June I went there I was shocked at how cold it got in the mountains at night. Either a mid-weight polar fleece or a good thick wool sweater if you have one. Again, buy modest colors and well-lined sweaters so you can get away with wearing them if you head out in the city of any country, and you will be able to keep using them back home.
If you're heading to Mongolia outside June, July, August then I'd recommend a down jacket for extra warmth.
If you find you haven't packed warm enough once you've reached Mongolia, you can easily buy a wool sweater or one of the long, woolen dels like the locals wear. If you don't have a shell rain jacket you will want to have your outer layer completely water proof. However this really isn't recommended to have a warm item as your only waterproof item, because if you want to stay dry and walk in the rain, you'll probably start sweating a lot outside winter.
Next I take a waterproof shell layer to protect from the wind and the rain. If you don't have a shell layer, a freezing wind will go straight through most wool and fleece materials. If you're on a budget, a shell layer can be as simple as a $5 plastic poncho, you really don't have to spend that much (though plastic obviously doesn't breath, and will attract a lot of condensated moisture if you're wearing it while being active). Me, I use a Gore-tex shell jacket from Mamot. I spent quite a bit on it, but I've used it a lot because i use it all the time for travel, camping, and being home in the city. I got it in black, and in a cut stylish enough way that I can get away with wearing it out and about in the city. The Mamot jacket serves me fine but in retrospect I shouldn't have gone for Gore-Tex because a) the patented Gore-Tex material is exorbitantly expensive, and b) it simply doesn't breathe enough: I barely have to move and the condensation starts building up on the inside of the jacket. I see Marmot now has their own proprietary waterproof material which is much cheaper than Gore-Tex and gets good reviews. They've also added underarm vents to slow down condensation. I'd recommend that over a pure Gore-tex shell, which just doesn't provide value for money.
With those layers and a good water-proof shell, i'll have good clothing for anything from hot sunshine, to blizzards, rain, and below-freezing nights in the mountains. Pants are often a good idea, as going around in your underwear can cause offense in Mongolia. I usually take one pair of jeans; i know they're technically stupid because they're not as light, insulating or quick-drying as modern travel pants, but they are good for horse riding and great for wearing around town without looking so much like a tourist. I then take one pair of modern travel pants in a lighter, quick-drying material. Try to avoid those ones with the zip running around the knees and pockets everywhere: they make you look like a bit of a dork and a target for thieves, and you shouldn't be wearing shorts in Mongolia anyway. I have a pair of 'REI Adventure Pants' in charcoal; they've deliberately designed them to appear like every-day casual pants, but with good quick-dry material and lots of hidden pockets.
I always wear a belt with my pants so i can clip things onto it; make sure you don't get a hard-edged buckle that will painfully dig into you.
A traditional Towel can take up a lot of room, and those synthetic travel towels go completely rancid after being left damp for a day (I think they're useless). A sarong is the best option; they take up barely any room in your bag, they dry your body well (if you wipe off excess water with your hands first) and then dry off very quickly. They are great as a big beach towel (this function being of somewhat limited use in Mongolia) and can double as a light blanket, curtain (over a car window or over a gap in a door), and who knows what else. hats, beanies, and gloves are all easily-
purchased in Ulan Bator or in soum centres. A beanie should be considered essential for cold nights outdoors in the mountains.
Hats are good as the sun beats down constantly in the land of the blue sky. A baseball hat protects your face and packs small, and a cotton floppy hats fold well and provides better protection than a baseball cap. Floppy hats look pretty lame but I guess if you're out in the countryside, who cares? Otherwise you could buy a broad-brimmed hat like the Mongolians wear. Gloves are obviously good for warmth. A thick pair of wool gloves can be purchase in Mongolia, and really come in handy for taking hot pots and pans off the camp fire.
Best way to pack clothing? Folding? Rolling? Scrunching? These days I roll each item of clothing, and stuff some into packing cells. That seems to be the most efficient way to pack, but the jury's still out on that one..
You should think really carefully about what kind of footwear you'll need. Ideally you'd be able to take 10 different pairs of shoes, but you're going to have to rely on one or two. What exactly are you going to DO in Mongolia? That question will define your choice of footwear above everything else. Again, this is one of those things people spend a lot of money on when you really don't need to.
Hiking boots are heavy, take up a lot of room, not overly comfortable day-to-day, and are only good for (you guessed it!) hiking. Too many people lug around hiking boots when they don't need them. If you're going on a serious trekking trip in the Mongolian mountains, you will need a good pair of hiking boots, but if you're just going on a day-hike or two, and spending most of your time in cars or on horseback then you can save a lot of weight, space and money by taking something other than hiking boots.
I have had a pair of Zamberlan hiking boots for years, which I bought online from REI after doing a lot of research. They have served me well on countless hikes, including in Mongolia. I really love them and have convinced a number of my friends to get them after they struggled through backcountry hikes while i stayed upright and comfortable! My wife also has a pair and she loves them, too.
There are a lot of travel shoes made by Merrell, Ecco, Timberland, and Colombia which are are like trail shoes with better grip. If you're just taking one pair of shoes, they could be a good choice. There's usually a conflict between form and function, with the rugged, waterproof travel shoes ones looking a bit like hiking shoes, but try to get ones that look okay enough to wear out in the city if you can. These shoes are comfortable to walk in and can manage your average day-hike (but don't have the ankle support for treks over rugged country, especially when carrying heavy loads). I had a pair of Merrell Moabs which were unbelievably comfortable and stood up to a 1.5 year trip of everyday use in Mongolia and Africa. They stood up well on many hikes, too, including some pretty demanding ones where I really should have been wearing proper boots.
But don't get too carried away on expensive travel shoes: if you'd rather save money, ask yourself what shoes you have currently which you'd wear if doing some manual labor, or going on a 2 hour walk back home? Chances are they're good enough for Mongolia!
As well as you're every day pair of shoes, try to take a light, small-packing pair of something comfortable like flip-flops, sandals or cheap canvas slip-ons. These are for wearing around indoors and on planes and trains. This is particularly important in Asia, where most people consider bare feet dirty to wear around the house and within the bathroom.
consider taking some elastic-sided leather boots, such as Australian-made Blundstones or Rossi, as your main pair of travel shoes. If you're horse riding, the stirrups won't damage them as there's no stitching up top, and all riders should ideally have a heeled shoes like these so your feet don't slip too far into the stirrups. The elastic sides mean the shoe will slip off if you do get your shoes stuck in the stirrups, ensuring you won't be dragged across the steppe. These boots can pass for semi-dressy leather shoes if going out at night in cosmopolitan Ulan Bator; they are not adequate for serious hiking, but they have a padded rubber sole so are comforable for all-day wear and the odd day hike. They are also pretty water-proof.
On my most recent trip to Mongolia I took a pair of Rossi's as my everyday shoes, and my Zamberlans for a couple of big hikes. It worked really well for me, considering most of my time was out hiking, walking UB, or on horseback.
Standard toiletries are of course needed, but every bit of space and weight are at a premium. Take only half a bar of soap, you can buy more anywhere. Your shampoo/perfumes/ skin creams should all be transferred into those little screw-top they give you in hotels. Buy a small toothpaste tube, and consider chopping the end of your toothbrush. Avoid bulky aerosol cans: use roll-on deodorant, and get shaving cream in a hard stick or a tube. Take plenty of razor blades as there seem to be a shortage in the countryside. Plenty of suncream as the sun's incessant in Mongolia and suncream, being a western luxury, is usually expensive in the developing world. Good insect repellent is essential in Mongolia -mosquitoes and sandflies can be horrible. Repellents containing DEET are by far the most effective. DEET is what I use, but it does have the habit of corroding plastics so I'm not sure how good it is for me. I also keep a seperate set of smaller bottles of suncream/repellent in my small bag for quick access. wet wipes can be bought in Mongolian cities. They are very good for maintaining hygeine when camping, and are essential when you're unable to wash for days or weeks on end (i.e. they are particularly handy in the Gobi Desert).
Travel medicines vary a bit. I am not a doctor, so don't rely on this advice, and visit a specialized travel doctor before you leave: They'll usually issue you with a 3rd world travel kit (with disinfectant, bandages, and sterile gloves and syringes) and may issue you with a few anti-biotics and accompanying instructions. I usually take the following: Anti-diarreals, as mentioned. A few band-aids. A small dripper bottle of iodine tincture is very handy. You can use it to disinfect cuts before dressing them, and can be used to purify water if you're desperate (warning: see below). I usally try to get one kind of traveler's stomach antibiotic so i can pop it if things get bad. Cyproflaxin is a good one which will turn your bowels to concrete for a couple of days, you should only use that if things are bad. If things are really bad and you have diarrhea for more than 5 days, then you've probably got some fun water or faeces-borne parasite like giardia/ dysentry/ cryptosperidium, and a doctor will usually put you on Tinizadol (4 pills at once) or Metronizadol (7 day course). Both of these are really heavy antibiotics (particularly the latter!), and are not to be used lightly. They can affect your judgement and make you drowsy and emotional. Do NOT drink alcohol if taking these or you will have a horrible, horrible reaction (an Egyptian doctor didn't think to mention this to me once a few years back; I still haven't forgotten the experience...).
Don't drink river or lake water in Mongolia without treating it. Water sterilization pills are good to have if you don't have time to boil water. Serious hikers might take all kinds of filters and pumps and what-not, but pills are pretty easy if you can handle the taste. Avoid the chlorine-based ones, they disolve quickly but they taste horrible. The ones that require you wait 30 minutes or so usually taste better. That same iodine tincture i recommended for cuts can also be used, 10 drops per litre (or nine per quart), but it can prove allergic to people with thyroid problems, and pregnant or elderly women. Gadget junkies might wish to take the award winning , Steri-pen, a small, battery-powered unit that treats water with UV light. I bought one about a year ago, I've used it a fair few times hiking since then and, well, I've never been sick.
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Sleeping and Camping gear is something you should think carefully about. If you're doing a lot of camping out in Mongolia and have room for this stuff, you should take it. But it should be seen as optional: you can rent tents, mattresses, and even sleeping bags from tour operators. And you don't have to pay much more for them to cook for you and provide eating gear. Of these items, you're own sleeping bag would be the first item I'd consider taking. I'd rather use a rent-around mat or tent than a rented sleeping bag, and it's handy to have if you ever happened to get caught in the cold in a jeep breakdown, or if the bedding provided wherever you are is too cold. I was too conservative in my sleeping bag the first time i went to Mongolia, taking a cheap synthetic bag that was 'rated' to -5 Celsius but simply wasn't warm enough in the mountains -even in June. Since then I've invested in a -25F (i.e. -8C) rated 'Radiant down' sleeping bag from REI; it performed great in the mountains during June, July, August, and a sleeping bag liner will add a few degrees to this.
Those going camping outside June/July/August should get a full winter rated bag. But most people going outside those months might not be camping out, so a -25F bag would be fine in a ger.
If you want to take a sleeping mat, try to get a hiking-style one (i.e. lighter, thinner) so it packs smaller. A car-camping style one will take up half your backpack. Thermarest make the best ones, but they sure are expensive! REI make a good one at a resonable price.
. Again, you can rent these in a lot of places..., but there's always a risk it might not be very comfortable.
Tents can also be rented in a lot of tourist places, but the cost does add up if you're camping for weeks on end. Last time I did a few week's camping and I bought my own tent from REI. I don't see the point in paying huge dollars for a serious hiking tent just to save a little bit in weight and packing space, because I usually travel mostly by horseback or vehicle when in Mongolia, and didn't want to spend an extra $200 to save a couple of pound's weight when hiking.
I purchased a Marmot Limelight 3 tent, after doing a lot of online research. I decided to get a 3-man tent for my fiancee and I because 2-man tents are pretty squashed and don't allow all your gear inside. It performed really well, was fine to carry on a week-long hike when halving the load between us. I've used it countless times since returning from Mongolia, too, in all conditions. Great value tent!
Serious hikers will want to take their own specialized gear such as stoves, and cooking and eating gear. Any specialist hiking cooking gear like this should be purchased BEFORE you get to Mongolia. Butane fuel cells can't be taken on the plane, but can be purchased in UB for a hefty price. a small folding knife, Leatherman, or Swiss army knife always comes in handy when camping and preparing food. Just make sure you keep it in your checked-in luggage when leaving so you don't lose it at airport security.
Less serious campers/ hikers can get by well enough by just taking a big tin mug, which you can both eat and drink out of, and a spoon, and lighting their own cooking fires. Many tour operators have their own stoves and plates/cutlery, and if you're on an extended horse trek or camping trip and need to cater for yourself, you can just buy a cheap pot and a pan and cook most things on the fire. You can also buy a cheap camp stove (as per the photo) just about anywhere in Mongolia, but obviously these aren't great to hike with.
You can buy matches, knives, a scrubbing brush and dishwashing liquid (which you might transfer to a sturdier bottle), and a couple of plates and cutlery, anywhere in Mongolia.
I had my Leatherman stolen by a couple of kids last time i was in Mongolia; I turned my back while fishing and they'd disappeared along with my knife. I was quite angry at my own carelessness as much as the kids, but these babies are so good for camping, travel, four wheeling and fishing that I immediately bought another when I got home.
Important: if going on a hike of anything greater than a couple of days, make sure you bring heaps of dehydrated food packets from home! There aren't suitable hiking foods to take available in the aimag centers (carting potatoes and carrots around for days gets really heavy!). A few specialty hiking stores sell food in UB but they charge like a wounded buffalo.
a metal water bottle isn't essential as you can just use any plastic bottle you get on the way, but it does save on wasted plastic and, if you're boiling water to purify it, you can pour it in a metal water bottle straight away and let it cool, whereas pouring hot water into a plastic bottle will melt it and/or release chemicals.
The more electronics you take, the more battery chargers and power cords you'll have filling up your bag -so try to keep them to a minimum. I keep my cords inside a plastic bag within my big bag, tied up with garbage ties, while the expensive electronics themselves are in the small bag. Try to carry the one, universal power converter. Mongolia is on 220V power and uses European-style 2-pin plugs.
Good batteries are hard to find in developing countries; always take plenty of spares for your goods. AA batteries also make great gifts for nomad families who provide hospitality.
I always take a 7m lenght of thin, white cord. It takes up barely any room, and apart from using it as a clothes line (get white cord, because colored cord can run and stain wet clothes) it seems to come in handy for securing, hanging, and tying things at on time or another. Same re: taking a couple of plastic cable ties to sit in the bottom of my bag. They can act as a makeshift repairs for broken straps and zipper tags, and I often use them to secure something to my bag. Some people take a sewing kit to repair tears in their packs and clothes, but i'm a terrible sewer and i've found it's easy enough to find somebody with a sewing machine in just about any town in developing countries. I always, always take a photocopy of my passport, birth certificate, visas, and insurance details, and 'lost credit card' call numbers and keep them sealed in plastic lying at the bottom of my big bag (i.e. a separate place from where I keep my passport and credit cards). This means it will be much easier to get a new passport if my passport pouch ever happened to get stolen.In a similar vain, I keep a US$50 or $100 note hidden in a secret recess in somewhere in my big bag, (i.e. the smallest little hidey-hole you manage to find, or sewn into the seam) as an emergency fund to get me to the city in case my passport pouch/small bag gets stolen.
Items for Yurt visits
Even if you don't intend staying in family's yurts (this can get awkward and uncomfortable for some Westerners), you will probably end up dropping into a few yurts for tea, or asking to camp nearby, or possibly to stock up on meat and/or dairy products. You should always have a gift to exchange for any hospitality received. Exchanging money for hospitality is seen as vulgar. Here are some ideas of things to bring:
AA Batteries, quality tea, photos of the Dalai Lama (don't take them through China), razor blades, or little souvenir pins or knick knacks from your own country. Nomads really love handy things like mini swiss army knives or LED keychain lights, they simply don't have them back home. Take 5 or 10!! You could also have a more significant gift in case somebody shows you great human kindness. A spare headlamp, or a swiss-army knive could be a good idea for a big gift. If you don't have room for anything, you can always offer to have the family line up (all looking stern!) for a family photo. Get them to write their address on your notepad, and make sure you live up to your word and make the effort to print and send the photo once you get home! -it will mean a lot to them.
Try to also bring a few photos from home so you can show them where you live (pictures make a thousand words, which is handy when you can't speak the language). If you come from anywhere near a farm or stock animals, make sure you bring photos of that, as nomads will show great interest. Try to memorize how many heads of stock there are, how many acres of land, etc..
Well, that should be just about all you need to know. Good luck, and happy travels!!
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Pack a Glue stick Not rated yet
Use for all kinds of things - repairing a torn hem; attaching passport pictures to visa; pasting stuff into my journal (business or restaurant cards, flyers, …
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A very comprehensive list you have there! My buddy and I went through Central Mongolia in 2011, taking some extra LED head torches to leave as gifts to …
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