A Guide to Independent Trekking in Mongolia

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Mongolia is the world’s largest campsite and to come here without doing some sort of trek, would mean missing out on much of the nation’s connection with nature. Mongolians have lived as nomads for thousands of years and they are very proud of their nomadic way of life.

Although they may think you’re crazy if you’re trekking on foot (rather than on horseback), they will admire your spirit and your love for the outdoors. Mongolians are industrious, kind and curious and they will likely invite you in or help you out along the way. Traveling Mongolia is already an adventure, but doing an independent trek is icing on the cake!

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“Mongolia is a great trekking destination for beginners and pros alike!”

trekking in mongolia
Even though many Mongolians can’t read a map, or speak English, they’re always willing to help!

On Horse Or On Foot?

This is entirely up to you. Horses are very affordable in Mongolia, a horse and guide will only cost you around $30-$40/day. Many travellers who have experience with horses come here and purchase a horse themselves.

They saddle-up and head off to do some independent horse trekking! If you’re carrying a lot of weight, consider paying extra for a pack-horse to take a bit of the load off the horse that you are riding. If you’re like us and you love to walk, then trekking on foot is not only cheaper, but it’s better excercise. Either way you’re in for an amazing trip.

horse trekking in mongolia
Whether you trek by foot or by horse, you’ll have a great experience

Good Trekking Areas

Mongolia is full of great trekking opportunities, you just have to pick an area that best suits you.

The Altai: If you have a lot of time (and some extra money) the western region along the Altai mountains is famed for its stunning natural beauty. There are plenty of rivers and lakes here that you can follow as well.

Lake Khövsgöl: Here you can easily follow the shores of the lake or hike along one of the many rivers which enter this massive freshwater hold.

8 Lakes: Choose one of the many rivers leading to any of these lakes. Hike along Khuis and Shireet Lakes or follow the Baruun, Suv, Khug, Tamch, Uliastai or Orkhon Rivers. Alternatively, you can just trek them all! There’s also great fishing around here.

Arkhangai Aimag: There are lots of treks to choose from around this incredibly scenic area. Consider following the Chulut River from Chulut Sum to Tariat, an excellent 120 km adventure that is truly off-the-beaten-path!

trekking to tariat mongolia
Us Trekking From Chulut Sum to Tariot – This is one of the many beautiful areas in Mongolia for trekking

Food For Trekking – What’s In Your Bag?

You’ll have to figure out how you’ll be eating & drinking while you’re on the trek. We HIGHLY recommend Mountain House Foods for their delicious, lightweight, freeze-dried meals which only require you to add boiling water (get beef stew, mmm…). Reliable sustenance is another great reason to follow a river. You can use purification tablets and drink the river water, and you can also fish for your dinner (there’s great fishing in Mongolia).

Here Are Some Other Great Ideas for Trail Food:

Instant Soups (hearty pea with ham soups recommended) – Add some couscous or quinoa to boost the nutritional value

Beef Jerkey / Smoked Fish – Great protein on-the-go, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated and won’t go bad

Macaroni & Cheese – Boxed Kraft Dinner or something similar is another great meal. Full of carbs and some protein from the cheese powder, milk (powdered) and butter (optional)

Snickers Chocolate Bars – Protein Bars are expensive and Snickers have a comparable amount of protein and energy

Trail Mix – Throw some peanut M&Ms, almonds, raisins, cashews and dried fruit in small bags, portioned out for each day

Hot Chocolate or Herbal Tea – Trust us, you’ll want a warm drink in the cool evening or in the morning and coffee is too dehydrating

Biscuits – Good for a quick snack and sugar boost

Vodka – Your stomach may not like Mongolian cheese & yoghurt that will be offered to you by local people along the way (although we had no problems). Vodka can help ease your belly.

You can also dehydrate your own food if you have a food dehydrator at home. This is a lot cheaper than Mountain House Meals which are about $10 each. You can use your own recipes and a good, home-made chilli or beef stew would be great on the trail!

How Will You Cook On The Trail?

We highly recommend bringing a small stove on any trek in Mongolia. There are some forested areas where you will be able to find firewood, and some families may offer it to you, but you don’t want to rely on wood to cook your food.

Much of Mongolia is grassland and you will only have cow dung for fires (which works well if it’s dry enough).

We used the MSR Pocket Rocket Stove ($40) and it was great. It’s small, reliable, and boils water very quickly. The only downside is that there is no igniter, so you need to carry a spark of some sort. Pair the Pocket Rocket with a 16oz can of fuel (approximately 3 hours boiling time and taking 2 mins to boil 1/2L of water) and it’s all you need to cook 3 meals / day for most multi-day treks.

cooking gear trekking in mongolia
Cooking gear you’ll need when trekking

What To Pack?

Independent trekking requires a whole new set of packing lists and rules. Check out our Packing List for a Camping and Trekking Trip for a detailed run down of what you’ll need.

Some key items to bring include:

A Stove – MSR Pocket Rocket with an Iso-Butane Fuel Canister is excellent

**Make sure to get a cannister that will last for the amount of boiling you plan to do. Our 16oz fuel canister lasted our 8 day trek, and we had some fuel left over at the end. We didn’t boil water for drinking and had snacks and lunches that didn’t need to be cooked. Keep a lid on the pot to boil water faster and try to block out the wind.

A Pot – You’ll need something to cook in, we used and recommend the Emergency Zone pot/pan set.

Bug Spray – Bugs can be relentless at times in Mongolia.

Moist Towelettes – There are no showers, the river may be too low (or too cold to bathe in) so these can be a life saver!

A Knife Or Multi-tool – We suggest a good quality Leatherman with pliers.

Duct Tape (Gaffer Tape For UK) – Amazing for fixing shoes, tent leaks or anything else that may come up.

A Good Warm Sleeping BagMongolia is cold year round. Get one that’s at least 0°c comfort level, yet is lightweight.

A Ground Tarp Makes for a useful ground mat, which helps for comfort and warmth. It also adds some extra rain protection.

A Fishing Rod – Mongolia is one of the best places in the world for fly-fishing . Not only is it fun and something to do at the end of the day, but if you’re lucky, you’ll have dinner!

Some Newspaper – If you decide to make a campfire, a bit of newspaper can do wonders for starting your fire.

A Lighter – Seems obvious but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget to bring a lighter.

See Full Packing List Here.

Fishing The Chulut River mongolia
Fishing The Chulut River – What A View!

Things to Think About When Choosing a Trekking Route

  1. Will there be local people or nomadic families along the way that can help you out if need be?
  2. What will be your source of food and water? Is there a river or a lake nearby? Will you be fishing for food?
  3. Will the route be mountainous or flat?
  4. Will you have to zig and zag across various rivers, or is the route straight forward?
  5. Will you be in a forested area with wood that you can burn? If you won’t be bringing a stove, make sure there is some sort of wood where you’re going and bring some newspaper for easy lighting.
  6. How many hours/day can you walk? How many days will it take for you to get from point a to point b?
  7. Always speak to local people when you arrive in Mongolia. They will have loads of advice for you regarding the route you’ve chosen.
locals trekking in mongolia
Always speak to locals about your gear and your plan before heading off

Finding Your Route

If you’re planning an epic trek in Mongolia, you should first plot your route. If you’re a novice trekker, then consider following a river so that you can minimize your chances of getting lost.

You can use Google Maps to draw out a route and get an approximate distance of your planned itinerary. Google has a handy tool which allows you to draw a line on the map. As you zig and zag along your chosen path, Google will calculate the distance and time it will take to walk the trail.

You’ll also want to make sure you can get transport to your starting point, and have a good exit point as well (a lake, town, etc.)

trekking in mongolia map
Always carry a detailed map when trekking

Once you’ve chosen a river or a route to follow, decide whether or not you’ll need a GPS unit, which will tell you your coordinates so that you can ensure you’re on the right path. You can pick up a GPS unit for cheap (under $100), or you can just use your smart phone.

But again, if you follow a river, you probably won’t need to carry one. We highly recommend carrying at least a compass and a map.

Note: Detailed, Russian made topographical maps can easily be picked up in UB.

Have A Planned Escape

When planning an independent trek in Mongolia, you should know how to get in and out of whichever area you are in and it’s a good idea to have an emergency exit route planned if needed. As long as you plan most of your trek within a few kilometers of a rural road or settlement, you should be fine.

Choosing Your Backpack

When you’re testing out your bag, make sure it’s comfortable… really comfortable. You’ll be hauling it around for a long time. You also want to make sure to keep the weight down. If you typically carry electronics when travelling, leave them in a town you’ll be returning to. Don’t leave behind warm clothing though as the weather in Mongolia can be cold even in July & August. We used Osprey backpacks and they stood up to the task and felt extremely comfortable. I carried an Osprey Farpoint Series 55 and Dariece had an Osprey Kestrel 32. Make sure your bag has a waterproof cover, there are summer rains in Mongolia!

Check out our review of the Osprey Kestrel 32, and our review of the Osprey Farpoint 55.

backpack for trekking mongolia
Make sure your backpack’s comfortable! This was an exceptionally heavy day

Choosing Your Tent

There are some excellent, light-weight tents available, unfortunately many of them are quite expensive. MSR makes a great lightweight tent called the Hubba Bubba. Our tent was the Quick Hiker II (2 person) tent by Quechua, and we loved it, although it was a bit chilly some nights.

You could also check out the T2, 2 person tent. These tents are lightweight and completely waterproof. No matter which tent you choose, make sure it’s light (around 3kg), waterproof and comfortable. You don’t want to be crammed in a little damp cave when it rains on the steppe!

tent trekking in mongolia
It’s important to choose a lightweight, comfortable tent

Using A Map & Compass

Even if you’re a veteran hiker, you should carry a map and compass on the trail. Good maps and compasses can be purchased in Ulan Bator, but you’ll pay a bit more than if you bought them in your home country.

Know how to navigate before setting out, the video below can give you the basics. Even if you’re following a river, you’re going to want to have a compass and a map (1:500,000 scale at the very least). If you’re not following a river, have a better, more detailed topographical map, preferably 1:100,000 or 1:200,000 scale. (1:100,000 means 1cm=1km on the map)

Double Check Your Gear

Once you have purchased all of the appropriate gear for trekking in Mongolia, lay it all out and assess it, make sure you have everything you need and no more than you need. Do a test pack and make sure everything fits comfortably in your bag and on your back.

Go through your food bag and make sure you have 3 meals a day for every day you’re on the trail, and then a few extras in case of emergency. If you’re planning on hiking for long hours each day, you’ll need heavier meals to keep your energy levels up.

Ready, Set, Go!

And now you’re ready to go! You’ve picked your route, planned your meals, bought your equipment and checked over your gear. Mongolia is the perfect place for anyone to don a backpack and some hiking shoes and go for a trek!

You’ll be rewarded with amazing views, dazzling stars and friendly families along the way. You really couldn’t pick a better place to go trekking, so get ready… you’re in for an adventure.

If you have any questions about trekking in Mongolia, leave a comment below!

For more information on travelling to Mongolia, check out our NEW Guide to Backpacking Mongolia for information, tips and advice.

For extra information, check out Mongolia Travel Advice.

A Guide to Independent Trekking in Mongolia

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Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

Written by

Nick Wharton

Nick is the co-founder, editor and author of Goats On The Road. He contributes to numerous other media sites regularly and shares his expert knowledge of travel, online entrepreneurship and blogging with the world whenever he can. He has been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and has more than 10 years of experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Nick's advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and he spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging. Learn more about Nick Wharton on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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