How to Pack for China, Mongolia and Siberia in Winter

Packing for 10 weeks of travel across China, Mongolia and Siberia was a challenge. Oh how easy it would’ve been to pack for 10 weeks in Southeast Asia: bikini, flip flops, sarong, sun hat… but no. In this case we needed heavy winter gear. Boots, wool socks, long underwear, insulated everything, huge parka jacket, hats, mittens … all items which take up a lot of space in a suitcase.

Then there are some other tricky considerations:

  • We’re traveling for 10 weeks!
  • Alternating cities with more isolated locations. (So we’ll want a solid amount of health supplies and comfort items, in case we can’t get them on the road.)
  • We’re traveling long distances by train, which means endless hours of looking out train windows – so we need entertainment: e-readers, music, blogging gear (like a small laptop), phones, cameras … and then all the chargers that go with them.
  • Luggage limitations: Traveling by train, you’ve got to be able to carry your own bags up and down stairs. And there isn’t much luggage storage space in the cabins.

So we’ve got lots of things we’d like to bring, plus really heavy clothing and outwear, and a small bag… it was a recipe for lots of packing, and repacking, removing items each time.

In the end, we had to make our best guess about what would be most essential and useful on our trip, and leave the rest behind.

Here’s what made it into our bags as we started our journey…

Bags

  • Main bag – rolling – slightly larger than carry-on size. I’m using this Osprey Ozone bag.
  • Day bag – backpack or cross-body bag
  • Fold-up tote bag to use as needed (to hold food we’re bringing onto the train or shopping etc.)
  • Packing Cubes – these are SO amazing to keep your bag organised. One for electronic cables, one for t-shirts, one for miscellaneous bits etc.
  • Luggage cable locks to secure our bags on luggage racks etc. (Zak made our cable locks with bits from a hardware guy in Hong Kong!)

Travel Planning

  • Trans Siberian guidebook – the only book we’ve taken with us because we’ve read it’s super useful on the road. And it gives mile-by-mlie descriptions of what you’ll see out the window and what to look for, plus guides for each of the towns along the way
  • Travel Planning Folder – one each – with printouts of each train and hotel reservation, plus copies of our passports and visas

Clothing

  • Jacket – heavy, padded winter jacket, both from LL Bean (yeah New England!!)
  • Trousers – Uniqlo fleece lined trousers, jeans, lightweight comfy trousers for train
  • Socks – 3 pr heavy winter socks, a couple thin socks
  • Puffy Vest – from Uniqlo, packs down its own small compression sack.
  • Shoes – proper winter hiking books and 1 pair casual shoes
  • Superfeet merino wool insoles for our boots
  • Hats – 2 each, beanie and fur lined tracker hat
  • Gloves – 2 pairs each – light and heavy
  • Underwear – 3 pair quick dry underwear, 1 long underwear / thermal set
  • Shirts – 2 quick dry t-shirts, short and long sleeve
  • 1 “Nice” shirt each, for evenings out
  • Hoody sweater (merino wool, me) / sweatshirt (Zak)

Toiletries

  • All the standard toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant etc.
  • Heavy duty moisturiser
  • Good sunscreen – to be used in Tibet and Mongolia especially.
  • Vaseline for lips and dry skin
  • Small Dr. Bronners multi-purpose soap
  • Makeup? Ha! No. Didn’t have room. I did bring a tinted moisturiser and an all-in-one “Nars The Multiple” stick to give my cheeks some colour. And a black eyeliner for evening if we go out. That’s it. Aaah!

First Aid Kit / Health

  • Diamox – High Altitude Medication for Tibet
  • Cipro Antibiotic – emergency use only
  • Small all-purpose first aid kit with bandaids, gauze, etc.
  • Probiotics. One capsule per day, we each brought a different kind, so we can alternate (and then get a wider range of protective bacteria!)
  • Latex Gloves
  • Immodium
  • Ibuprofen / pain killers
  • Bleed stop powder
  • ACE bandage
  • Saline nasal spray
  • Blister plasters / moleskin
  • Dental Repair Kit
  • Motion Sickness medication
  • Amanda’s Natural Health Kit

Everything Else

  • Train Toilet Kit – Toilet paper (very important! There’s never TP supplied in public restrooms in China), hand sanitiser, Disinfecting wet wipes, Pocket Pack tissues, small hand towel, Dr Bronners Soap.
  • Train Eating Kit – Plastic spork and chopsticks, Portable thermos / to-go coffee mug etc., Yeti wide-mouth insulated ‘lowball’ mug for porridge, coffee, tea, noodles etc.
  • Tea and Coffee – we brought a big selection of 3-in-1 coffee packets and tea bags, as we expected in China mainly to find green tea (which we like, but it’s nice to have variety!)
  • Ear plugs / eye mask for sleeping – I LOVE the Manta sleep masks
  • Flashlight, headlamp, micro-bullet flashlights (to attach to our day bags)
  • Universal plastic doorstop – for extra security in hotels
  • Laundry Kit – Portable clothes line, universal sink plug, Dr. Bronners Soap
  • Hand and Toe Warmers, 10 sets each, to use only when really cold!
  • Small Pocket Knife – to cut food etc while traveling; this was confiscated by train security on our fourth train, so we no longer have it!
  • Luna Bars, only to be eaten if we don’t have other food available. 6 each.
  • Emergency heat blanket (those thin metallic space blankets), which we hope we will never use!
  • Water filter set (like a water bottle bag with a built in filter in the top), which in theory means you can drink any tap water. To use in Mongolia especially, where bottled water is not available.
  • Anti-Pollution face masks to use in Beijing and Ulan-Baatar
  • A GoGirl! Mainly because I’ve always wanted an excuse to try one. Think the only place I might use it is in the outhouses in Mongolia when it’s -40 degrees … let’s see!
  •  Crochet hook and thread for Amanda to keep busy when not blogging or reading on long train rides!
  • Point to What You Want Picture Translator – this tiny card is so cool! Will we use it to communicate, now that we have Google Translate on our phones?
  • Pens, Sharpie, Notebook
  • Gorilla Tape
  • Paracord Firestarter Bracelet (because they’re cool!)
  • Several small carabiners
  • Deck of Playing Cards!
  • Small photo album with pictures of Hong Kong, London, us, our families etc, to show locals we meet on the train etc.
  • Business Cards with our blog URL to give to people we meet etc.

Electronics

  • Kindle e-readers
  • Old MacBook Air – for blogging
  • Mobile Phones (we’ll buy a SIM card in each country so we have data access)
  • Digital Camera, point and shoot
  • 2 pairs earphones each (fortunately everything electronic is ridiculously cheap to buy in Hong Kong so we stocked up!)
  • Chargers for everything (again, from Hong Kong!)
  • Plug adaptors for various outlets
  • Portable battery pack, solar powered (to recharge phones/devices)

It’s a tight squeeze in our bags but it all fits. Funny enough most of the space is taken by everything BUT clothes. It’s all the other stuff that takes up room. Almost 2 weeks into the trip and we’re really enjoying having everything we need with us. Want to make some coffee? You’ve got everything you need – coffee, mug and spoon, and just use the hot water on the train. Feels very self-reliant, and even though the bags are heavy when we’re moving between stations, once we’re in a hotel we can just take the daily essentials out on day trips which is much easier to carry.

I’ll update this post at the end of our trip with what we used, didn’t use, and wish we had brought! That will be the really interesting part – what did we haul around for 10 weeks that we never used?? We will see!

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3 Replies to “How to Pack for China, Mongolia and Siberia in Winter”

  1. I am really hoping the lead item that was hauled around for 10 weeks and never used is, “Bleed stop powder”!

    Thanks for the great posts! Enjoying following the journey and look forward to your Amsterdam stop!

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