Conquer Mongolia’s bitter cold with this packing checklist
by: Simon Lam
Some of you might know that I ventured to Mongolia last winter and have now moved to Mongolia for good. Because the weather here is quite different from most places, you need to make sure you are prepared for your trip. People literally freeze up here! You have to be prepared for a huge temperature range, it can be 10°C above one day and -40°C the next night. With the bitter cold approaching again in full swing and my family visiting in January, I’d like to share my packing list in case you are also visiting Mongolia during winter months.
THE ESSENTIAL: CLOTHING
Base layer: You need to wear a base layer, preferably something made of wool, or any thermal and quick dry synthetic. Avoid cotton as much as possible. Cotton will hold moisture, and moisture could freeze. Wool is a great insulator, and even if it gets wet, won’t freeze. The main objective with the base is to keep you dry. A nice example is this Thermal shirt.
Mid Layer (Insulation): The base is to keep you dry, and the medium is to keep you warm. So the best mid layer outfits are comfy and warm items like fleece, but wool or cashmere also works great. An example of a nice fleece mid layer is this Fleece Jacket.
Outer Layer: So, we covered dry and warm. Now to keep the wind and snow away, you will need a waterproof and wind resistant jacket and snow pants. For an example of what to look for, check this parka and this snow pants. Or you could consider purchasing a thick Mongolian winter deel (traditional ¾ length wraparound coat) at the start of your trip for around $200.
You absolutely need all the 3 top layers – not only if you go hiking, skiing or will be near snow. This is especially true for kids, they are smaller and can freeze quicker.
Wool socks: Warm feet are a must around here! And wool socks are the best. As mentioned above, even if they become wet, they won’t freeze and they are great for insulation. Consider taking light synthetic/polypropylene liner socks as wearing these helps to prevent chafing. Then take medium weight wool hiking socks for wearing on top of the liner sock. Wool socks are worth it. See example: wool socks.
Boots: From late September , there can be snow and ice anywhere in Mongolia. If you want to be able to walk without sliding, and also keep those toes warmed up, you need snow boots. I wear them even to go to the store. You may opt for chunky pull on calf-length style boots, or more lightweight hiking boots just with ankle support. However, anything that would be reasonably described as ‘shoes’ should be avoided for outdoor use.
Gloves and warmers: Extremely important! Don’t forget a good pair of gloves or mittens. Fingers are rather small, and freeze up quickly if you don’t keep them warm. Besides, if you come all the way to Mongolia, you might want to have a little play time in the snow. Be prepared. An example of good gloves. If you forget or lose your gloves, quality Mongolian-made leather gloves can be bought in many of Ulaanbaatar’s markets and stores for around $10.
Hats: Not only to keep you warm but also to cover your ears and avoid frostbite. You can also use a headband/ear warmers. Make sure they are wool, fleece or, if you are in Mongolia already, camel and cashmere are also good and can be bought inexpensively.
Scarves: Keep your neck warm and cozy. I can’t stress it enough that being warm is not only for a comfort reason but for a survival reason. Temperatures can drop to below -40C. So, yeah… It gets really cold. Balaclavas are an option too. They will keep your head and neck warm and cozy.
Although non-essential for survival, it’s a good idea to keep it on the packing list.
Sunglasses: they should be good quality with maximum UVA/UVB filter protection and polarized (they are not the same thing), and preferably wraparound style to avoid glare coming in from the sides.
Skin Cream: Sunscreen is recommended to apply on your face due to the sun’s strength, but Nivea cream is great to have to apply on your dry skin and hands.
Lip protection: a high factor lip applicator plus a remedial salve like Blistex in case of chapped lips.
Back-up battery: If you plan to go to the countryside to do dog sledding, hiking, horse riding, or perform any activity that will keep you away from a hotel, you might want to have a power bank for your mobile phone or some extra battery for your camera.
Quality camera: Again, non-essential. But there are too many beautiful scenes to photograph in Mongolia to miss the photo opportunities.
Tripod: If you bring your camera, don’t forget a tripod. That way everyone can be on the picture.
Thermos: Take hot cocoa or hot coffee with you to help you stay warm.
I hope you find this packing list useful and that I was able to help you be prepared for your travel to Mongolia.
Remember to stay warm above all.