Published on July 20th, 2012


Packing for Mongolia

After 30+ years of travel, if nothing else, I’ve (necessarily) learned to travel LIGHT – no matter the length of the trip. For it’s all the same – a week, a month, 3 months, no matter.  No more, no less to keep body and soul together whilst on the trail.

But the truth is, I have a love/hate relationship with packing.  On one hand, I like nothing better than anticipating the coming adventure, planning each select piece, and winnowing my packing list down, down, down – to the bare essentials.  Leastwise what I DELUDE myself are the barest of essentials in the preliminary first draft of “the list”.

Ah but then comes the actual… stuffing it all into a backpack – and most importantly, ensuring that said pack will qualify for carry-on.  And therein lies the rub.  Always too much.  Ever the struggle to toss this, rearrange that, and rethink how I can possibly make do without… x, y, and z.  Ugh!  Such world-wobbling decisions, decisions!

Though I normally need pack only a few light things for the tropics, I never travel (even here in sultry Asia) without tucking in at least a thin wool turtleneck, a pair of wool socks, and my trusty silk long underwear.  For you just never know when you might happen to climb up, up, up (as in the wondrous hills of Sapa, Vietnam) and find yourself sleeping in a rickety unheated hovel without even a blanket.

And this trip poses a somewhat extra challenging packing problem, for Mongolia isn’t exactly a tropical – or even temperate – paradise.  Indeed, the temps in the Gobi desert can get mighty chilly at night, and though August is theoretically “summer” in Mongolia – there’s always a chance of snow in the Altay mountains where I’ll be sleeping in nomadic gers and traveling by hoof and by foot.

All which is to say… fearing that I might find myself freezing my patootie off, I recently set out on a quest here in tropical Saigon for some sort of Asian “R.E.I” (yeah right, in my dreams!)  But amazingly, my dear chum Hang took me to the perfect place: “Saigon Square” in the heart of the city, with… if not a bonafide camp store, at least a most bountiful array of every imaginable “Northface” ripoff one could hope for.  And all at Vietnamese prices – yay!

Yep, I nabbed a most nifty Northface “3-in-1” GORE-TEX jacket, with a reversible zip-out fleece jacket, for just $40.  I also found a set of fleece cap, scarf and gloves, so I’m now all set for verily the ARCTIC!

Only trouble izzz… how to stuff such bulky duds into a mere carry-on backpack.

Not a problem.  Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to THE most ingenious travelers’ invention ever – the humble compression sack.  I wisely bought two of these amazing honeys at R.E.I. before I left Seattle.  And oh my, are they ever handy for scrunnnnnnching all that Northface bulk down to a single dense bundle, little bigger than a football!


Full Frigid Gear: BEFORE


…and AFTER  (note, the socks cleverly used to show scale)

Then again, that little bundle of compressed joy, is about the same size bundle as I normally have for ALL my clothes when I travel.  So it’s still quite a tight squeeze to fit the lighter duds (for Thailand) plus… for some strange reason, I’ve convinced myself that for Mongolia – with its no doubt SPECTACULAR vistas at every turn – I really, really should (finally) break out the sweet DSLR camera and tripod that I toted all the way here from Seattle (thanks for the trade, Chuck!)  No small addition to the – did I mention CARRY-ON only – pack?  Plus of course my several other arguably essential gadgets:  my netbook, the Kindle, the iPod Touch, oh and the GPSr for those Mongolian geocaches!

Seriously.  It’s embarrassing.  Like it or not, I’ve become a “flash-packer” (gah!)  Gotta have my electronics (never mind that I’m not likely to have any internet connection in the Gobi nor certainly whilst I’m milking yaks.)  And the truth is – such gadgets take up verily 2/3 of the precious space in my backpack.


The whole kit ‘n caboodle for 6 weeks on the Thai-Mongolian lam

Nonetheless, by some miracle, I’ve managed to pack it all in to my single carry-on rolling backpack (with handy zip-off ruck sack).

The only thing I lack now is my oh so beloved Sawyer water filter bottle.  Sad, sad, sadly, I lost/left mine somewhere in the tropical forests of Sumatra.  Don’tgetmestarted on the evils (not to mention utter irresponsibility) of travelers skipping ’round the world buying bottle, after bottle, after PLASTIC BOTTLE in every pristine corner of the globe.  (I mean… and just where, pray-tell do you think all that plastic ends up?)

But alas, unless I can somehow lay hands on another portable water filter bottle, or at least some water purification tablets, then I’ll have to rely on bottled water myself as I skip ’round Thailand and Mongolia.


I didn’t think so.  ;(


About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

4 Responses to Packing for Mongolia

  1. TravelnLass says:

    @Paul – ah yes, a fellow “flash-packer” I see. Indeed, where DOES it all end? I remember back in the pre-digital days (you know, way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) when I traveled with but only a f-i-l-m* camera, and a p-a-p-e-r Lonely Planet guidebook.

    * Definition, for the youngsters out there:

    FILM, n. a narrow strip of rolled celluloid with bitty holes along each side, that must be laboriously submitted to a p-h-o-t-o p-r-o-c-e-s-s-i-n-g joint for overnight development, so you can see that you did/did not get the shot of that orangutan you glimpsed last month in far-off Sumatra.

  2. Paul says:

    Wow! That thing’s cool! It looks like a big Hum Bao. How do you carry it?? Strap it to a belt or throw it on your back?

    I know what you mean about the electronics. Over the years, my trips to Portland went from a camera, to a camera & a cell phone, to a camera & a cell phone & a GPSr, to a camera & a cell phone & a GPSr & a laptop. Where does it all end?!

  3. TravelnLass says:

    Thanks much Mary, but uh… clearly I need it soon, else I’ll be buying those yukky p-l-a-s-t-i-c bottles of H2O as I meander ’round Mongolia.

    But do get one for yourself. A permanent water filter bottle is mighty handy for any traveler.

    And btw, glad to hear you’ve got your exodus nailed down to a month. The time will now FLY by and February will be here before you know it!

  4. Mary Moss says:

    I will, I will! Can you wait til Feb??

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