In this post, you’ll find a complete list of things you need to pack before you go trekking in Kyrgyzstan.
I also included some very important tips and advice that you need to take into consideration before you go on an adventurous trek in the Kyrgyz mountains.
Table of Content:
- When is the best time to go hiking in Kyrgyzstan
- Things you need to know and do before you go on a trek in Kyrgyzstan
Niko and I have been living and traveling in Kyrgyzstan for about 7 months now. During that time we’ve done a few treks in the Kyrgyz mountains and it’s been an absolutely incredible experience! We often felt like we were the only people in the world while hiking through those remote and majestic landscapes.
During these treks, we realized how important it is to have the right equipment with us when we’re so far away from civilization. If we forgot something, well, it wasn’t like there was a house, let alone a little convenience shop where we could buy food, water or some extra gear. Trust me, it’s not much fun to hike and camp in the mountains when you’re soaking wet or freezing cold because you forgot to pack some waterproof and/or warm clothes!
When you go hiking for a few days in the remote Kyrgyz mountains, it’s crucial that you have the right trekking gear with you and that you pack wisely. To make sure you’re prepared and you don’t forget anything, I created a list of everything you need to pack and do when you’re planning a multiple-day trek in Kyrgyzstan.
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What you need to pack for a trek in Kyrgyzstan – a complete packing list
When it comes to packing for a trek, keep it as light as possible. Remember that you have to carry everything yourself and if you have ever done a 20 km hike that included climbing and ascending steep hills, you’ll know that there’s a big difference between carrying 10kg and hiking with 15kg on your back!
Here is a list of everything you need to bring with you when you want to go hiking for a few days in the mountains!
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1) Topographic Trekking Maps
The national tourism brand Discover Kyrgyzstan and the USAID Business Growth Initiative recently designed a set of topographic trekking maps covering a range of the country’s most popular trekking areas.
Each double-sided map covers a specific area and includes detailed descriptions, distances and difficulty information about every possible route you can hike. You can also find additional information such as the locations of guesthouses, yurt camps, interesting sights in the area and contact details of locals who can arrange transportation, guides, and horses for you.
These maps are very detailed, super useful and a must to take with you so you know where you’re going and what you can expect during the trek. You can buy them at the DMO office in the specific area or order them online. Here’s an overview of the different regions:
- Trekking in the Osh/ Alay Region. Have a look at the map here. Also available at the office of Destination Osh.
- Trekking in the Karakol/ Jyrgalan Region. Have a look at the routes and map here. Also available at the office of Destination Karakol or Destination Jyrgalan Valley.
- Trekking in the Issyk Kul South Shore Region. Check out the different routes and map here. Also available at the office of Destination South Shore.
- Trekking in the Tash-Rabat/ Eki-Naryn Region. For more details, click here. Also available at the office of CBT Naryn.
- Horse Trekking in Eastern Naryn. For more information, click here. Also available at the office of CBT Naryn.
- Trekking in Song Kul. Map coming out soon.
- Trekking in the Jumgal Region. Map coming out soon.
Trekking Maps – Photo from asia-hikes.com
2) Hiking GPS
3) First-aid kit
Here’s what you definitely should pack in your first-aid kit:
- Antiseptic wipes to clean wounds
- Compresses and band-aids
- Compeed for blisters
- Painkillers – it’s not much fun hiking with a huge headache
- Anti-diarrheal medicine – it’s definitely not much fun hiking when you got diarrhea!
- Altitude sickness pills – you’ll often find yourself at altitudes higher than 3000m. If you’re sensitive to high altitudes, these pills could help you. Please seek medical advice first.
4) Biodegradable toilet paper
You won’t find any toilets in the mountains and even if you’re staying at a yurt camp in one of the valleys, there won’t be any toilet paper (except for when you’re in a touristic yurt camp). Why is taking (biodegradable) toilet paper essential? Well, you’ll soon find out when you’re taking a big poop or having an acute attack of diarrhea in the mountains and you only have one pair of clean panties/boxer shorts left. You can thank me later…
You’ll find normal toilet paper in nearly every corner shop in Kyrgyzstan. However, if you want to be eco-friendly, I suggest you bring biodegradable toilet paper on your trek. It’ll be harder to find this type of toilet paper in a Kyrgyz shop so I suggest you buy it in advance in your local supermarket or order it here.
The sun can be vicious in the mountains, even when you don’t feel the heat. The last thing you want is to wake up with a sunstroke so always protect your skin against the sun!
6) Emergency survival whistle
Now this might seem like an unusual tool to take with you on a trek. Why on earth would you need a whistle in the wilderness? To make some music if the batteries of your iPod are dead? To annoy your trekking companion? To scare wild animals away? I had no idea about the functionality of an emergency whistle until Niko told me about it (his parents have a wilderness survival school in Canada).
How small it might be, this whistle could save your life when you end up in an emergency situation – you’re lost or you fell and if for some reason you’re not able to use your emergency phone. You want to shout for help but your voice is lost in the wind. Blowing in a whistle is less tiring and the noise can be heard from miles away across the mountains. Any shepherds or other hikers who might be in the area will be able to hear you and locate your position by following the noise.
An emergency survival whistle doesn’t have to cost much and definitely doesn’t take much space! We recommend this survival whistle.
Hiking in the Jumgal Region
Camping & Hiking Equipment
7) Backpack for trekking
Having a good backpack to store all your stuff is, of course, a necessity. You need a light but strong bag that is capable of carrying a lot of weight but still sits comfortably on your back. Ideally, the backpack is made out of waterproof material and/or comes with a waterproof cover. The zippers need to be big and strong and the material very durable.
When it comes to a good backpack, don’t try to save your budget and buy a cheap one. Remember that you’ll pay for the quality and the last thing you want is your backpack to break during the trek – what are you going to do with all of your stuff then?
Niko has the Forclaz 90, which is a very good backpack! 90L might be a little too big for what you need (our backpacks are our home so we need big ones) but there are smaller ones, like the Forclaz 50.
I’m not too happy about my backpack. It’s an old one and even though it survived many years of backpacking and trekking, I often feel like a turtle with it (the shape is a bit odd). I’d like to purchase a new one. I got my eyes on the Forclaz 70.
8) Lightweight Tent
Having a good tent is very important! It has to shelter both you and your backpack from all the elements. Ideally, you have a lightweight one as some tents can be pretty heavy. We have the Quechua Quick Hiker Tent, which weighs around 3 kg. It has been our house for the last three years and it’s still standing strong!
If you’re looking for a smaller and/or lighter tent, we would also recommend the Nemo Dagger Ultralight Backpacking Tent. This tent weighs around 1.5kg and is ideal for 1 or 2 persons.
Camping in the snow in Kyrgyzstan
9) Sleeping bag
You’ll need a sleeping bag that can be compressed into a small ball and that keeps you warm at night. Keep in mind that when you’re camping at a higher altitude, the temperatures can go down to 0°C (32°f) or lower, even during summer! Our sleeping bags are comfortable until -2°C (28°f) and are pretty compact to travel with. They’re the perfect sleeping bags for trekking in summer.
If you’re going on a trek outside the summer season, get a sleeping bag that will keep you warm in temperatures to -20°C (-4°f). However, those can be a bit pricey if you also want them to be compact (remember that you pay for quality and warmth!). Check the prices here.
Tip: Niko and I both have a sleeping bag liner made out of cotton. Those liners don’t take much space, they’re pretty light and they add an extra 10°C of warmth at night. They’re also very affordable and can be a good addition if you want to be extra warm and comfortable at night. Check out our sleeping bag liners here.
I also have a little fleece blanket that I always take with me when we go camping. It serves as a picnic blanket but I also wrap myself in it during cold nights and it has made a big difference! Just like with the sleeping bag liners, they’re affordable and will keep you warm at night (and a fleece blanket is sooo soft!). Check them out here.
10) Sleeping Pad
For a very long time, Niko and I used to travel with cheap sleeping mats which you can roll up and easily attach to your backpack. However, they don’t insulate very well if you have to sleep on a cold surface and they don’t last very long. My back started suffering from the hard and cold surfaces we often slept on so last year we invested in a Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Pad.
Those sleeping pads are self-inflatable, comfortable to lay on and insulate your body well from the cold ground. They weight just a tiny bit more than our previous mats but it’s worth the comfort at night!
11) Reusable Emergency Safety Blanket
Not only is it a good blanket to keep us warm in case of extreme weather, we’ve also been using it to insulate the tent from the cold ground. Before we put our sleeping pads in the tent, we always cover the bottom of the tent with this reusable foil blanket. It has made a big difference during cold nights and it doesn’t take much space!
12) Trekking Poles
Trekking Poles can be very useful when you go hiking in the Kyrgyz mountains. They don’t only make hiking more comfortable, they also help you maintain balance on slippery surfaces and rough terrain, they give you more grip when you’re descending a steep hill and they can act as a probe to give more information about the depth of the snow, puddles and muddy paths.
We recommend you get telescopic trekking poles so you can easily attach them to your backpack when you don’t need them.
Spending the night in the mountains is such a beautiful experience! If it’s a clear night, you’ll see thousands of stars! But unless it’s full moon, you’ll need a small but powerful flashlight to find your way around in the darkness. We recommend you use a headlamp so you have your hands free to cook, read, or walk around.
Tip: Don’t go wandering too far from your tent at night. The terrain is treacherous and you don’t know what is waiting for you in the darkness (muahahahaaaa – *evil laugh*).
14) Swiss Army Knife
A Swiss Army Knife has all the tools you need when you go hiking and camping. From a knife, scissors, a bottle opener and a can opener (very frustrating when you bought canned food but you don’t have anything to open these cans with…) to tweezers if you end up with a splinter and a toothpick to remove that annoying seed that is stuck between your teeth. You can even keep your nails in check with the nail file and cleaner.
15) Camping Stove
It’s nice to be able to have a hot meal and drink after a long day of hiking. A small and lightweight camping stove will allow you to cook a nice meal at night and boil some water for tea or coffee. We recommend this ultralight camping stove, ideal for hiking and backpacking.
Tip: Bring matches instead of a lighter. Due to the changes in the atmosphere, some lighters won’t work at higher altitudes. Be careful when using a camping stove! Those things can explode if you don’t use them properly. Always keep the canister cool!
If you find firewood, you can also make a nice campfire.
16) Camping cookware, cutlery, and mug
You’ll need some good cookware to use on your camping stove. The best cooking pots and pans are made out of titanium or stainless steel. We recommend this lightweight cookware set.
For a drinking mug, we recommend this outdoor camping mug. It’s made out of stainless steel so you can place it directly on your camping stove to heat up water.
17) Dry Bags & Ziploc Bags
During my last trek, I made the mistake of not putting my clothes and gear in waterproof bags. I got surprised by the weather and ended up in a cloudburst. EVERYTHING, including my sleeping bag, got wet!! Luckily I spent that night at a guesthouse where I was able to dry all of my clothes but if I had to camp that night, it wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience!
Tip: If your sleeping bag is too big to put into a Dry Bag, you could use a couple of plastic bags instead. I know, it’s not the best for the environment but if you have nothing else at hand, this good be a good solution. Nothing sucks more than having to sleep in a wet sleeping bag!
The weather can change very quickly in the mountains!
Clothes & Footwear
When Niko and I go trekking for a few days, we always take the minimum amount of clothes we need. We choose comfort and practicality over fashion and looking good for our Instagram photos.
The main rule is to dress in layers! While hiking in the mountains, you can have sun, rain, and snow all in one day so you need to be prepared for all types of weather.
We usually pack one or two sets of spare clothes, depending on the amount of days we’re trekking for. Our basic set of clothes consist of a t-shirt, a long-sleeve shirt, a pair of pants, socks, and underwear. We each have one thick sweater to keep us warm at night. Pack clothes that dry quickly!
Here’s what you should pack and/or wear on a trek in the mountains:
18) Hiking Boots
Be kind to your feet because you’ll need them to bring you across the mountains! Choose comfortable hiking shoes that protect your feet from rocks and debris on the trail. The shoes should have a good grip, keep your feet dry and be light enough to move easily.
I’m very happy with my leather hiking boots. I’d recommend hiking boots from the brand Columbia.
19) Sandals or light sport shoes
It’s good to carry an extra pair of shoes with you in case your boots get wet. It will also do your feet well to take your shoes off at night and put on some comfortable footwear. Carrying an extra pair of hiking boots takes too much space in your bag but I suggest you pack a pair of sandals or light sneakers. There won’t be any fashion police around to judge you if you walk around with socks in your sandals (and it’s soooo comfy!).
If you don’t know which sandals you should pack, I recommend Teva Sandals.
20) Hiking socks
Pack a few pairs of good hiking socks. I really recommend you get quality merino wool hiking socks! They keep your feet dry, they’re not too warm on hot days and they’re just super comfortable! They might be a bit pricey when you compare them to ordinary sports socks but it’s worth the investment! I have 2 pairs of these hiking socks and I’m really happy with them!
21) Rain gear
Having a decent rain jacket is essential when you go hiking! It also keeps you warm and protected from the wind. The rain jackets from the North Face are great ones to have!
If you have a little more space left, I’d also suggest you take a waterproof poncho that covers both you and your bag. It was raining so hard during one of my previous treks that the water was seeping through my rain jacket. My guide had this huge flashy poncho that he put over his rain jacket and backpack and unlike me, he stayed dry. A poncho doesn’t weigh much, barely takes up space and is cheap so trust me when I say you’ll be happy you took one with you!
22) Fleece jacket/ sweater
It’s necessary that you pack at least one warm sweater for the cold evenings. Unless you’re hiking outside the summer season, you won’t need a big winter jacket but it’s still essential that you’ve got something that will keep you warm in the mountains. A fleece jacket or sweater don’t take up as much space as a winter jacket but they’re thick enough to protect you from the cold and wind.
23) Thermal underwear
The last time I went on a trek, I forgot to pack my thermal underwear. I didn’t think I would still need it since it was the beginning of June. Ooh, how I regretted that!! This type of underwear is lightweight, doesn’t take much space and it really keeps you warm during the day or at night! It’s a must to pack when you’re in the mountains!
24) Hat and gloves
It’s not a bad idea to bring a hat and some gloves with you. The hat can also be worn during the night. The human head loses a lot of heat. You can retain it by wearing a hat in your sleeping bag. The gloves can be useful to keep your hands warm when you’re at high altitudes.
Food & Drinks
What type of food and drinks should you bring on a trek? This is what Niko and I usually have in our backpacks when we go hiking:
25) Water filter or water filter bottle
We always leave with a few bottles of water. We foresee about 2L per person per day. We also take a water filter with us. In Kyrgyzstan, you’ll often come across rivers and streams. If you know for sure that there’s a water source, you don’t have to carry a huge amount of water with you (this is very heavy to carry). Just use a water filter to refill your bottles and you’ve got a new reserve of fresh drinking water!
The water filter that we have, filters out 99% of the bacteria so we are able to drink the water without having to worry that we’ll get sick. There are also water filter bottles so you don’t even need to buy bottled water.
We always have dried fruits, nuts and energy bars with us whenever we go on a day hike. If we’re about to leave for a few days to the mountains, we also buy some fresh fruits, vegetables, and canned food. Noodles are easy to cook and you can add some vegetables (fresh or canned) to make a proper meal.
Oats or muesli is great for breakfast. You can bring some powdered milk if you don’t like eating muesli with water. We also have some instant coffee and a few tea bags with us.
You can buy this type of food in any (big) supermarket in Kyrgyzstan.
Tip: Take a small bottle of cognac or brandy with you. It’s not only nice and rewarding to have a drink after a long day of hiking but these alcoholic drinks will also give you a boost when it’s freezing cold. During my last hike, I got so cold that I couldn’t stop shivering. My guide ordered me to take a good sip of his bottle of cognac. It warmed me up a little and helped me relax my muscles. They jokingly call this ‘The Russian Way’ but the shot(s) of cognac definitely made me feel a bit warmer!
Just as with toilets, you won’t find any showers in the mountains or at the yurt camps. You could always freshen yourself up whenever you come across a river or a lake. This is what we always take with us:
27) Microfibre towel
A microfibre towel is the perfect travel towel. It’s a small and light towel that is still big enough to dry yourself.
28) Biodegradable wet wipes
The secret to freshen yourself up when there’s no water around – biodegradable wet wipes! Always good to have a pack of these in your backpack! Choose a pack that smells good, your travel companion(s) will appreciate it.
29) Small bottle with liquid soap
I’ve always got a tiny bottle of liquid soap – preferably biodegradable – with me whenever we go trekking. It’s very small so it doesn’t take much space but it’s handy to have around in case we find a river where we can wash. I don’t bother taking any shampoo with me. The liquid soap keeps the body and hair clean until we find a proper shower.
30) Toothbrush and toothpaste
We use our regular toothbrushes and toothpaste when we go trekking and camping but there are also foldable toothbrushes on the market. We’ve never tried them but they look pretty compact!
31) For the women: what to do when you have your period?
It’s not much fun having your period when you’re hiking but you got to deal with it. I read that a lot of women recommend the menstrual cup and even though I’ve used one in the past and I was happy with it, I hate using this cup on a trek. You need water to clean it out and honestly, it gets messy if you have no water source nearby (and you don’t want to waste your drinking water). I prefer to take tampons with me and I collect them in a small bag, which I dispose of once I’m back in civilization.
32) Hand sanitizer
I always carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with me in case there’s no water source nearby when I want to clean my hands after going to the toilet or touching something suspicious.
Electronics & Camera Gear
I don’t see electronics as essential equipment to bring on treks. However, Niko and I like to film our adventures so we always have a camera with us.
33) Travel camera & drone
We have a GoPro Hero 5 Session which is waterproof so I don’t worry about filming in the pouring rain.
Niko has a Canon G7X mark ii which is a great little point-and-shoot camera for photography and filming. We both really love this camera but it’s not weather-sealed so whenever there’s rain, dust or snow, we can’t use it.
I have a Lumix G9 which is the perfect outdoor camera! The quality of the images is amazing and the camera is weather-sealed so I can use it even when there’s a big snow storm. It’s not as compact and light as a point-and-shoot camera but it’s lighter than a DSLR. Photography is my job and passion so I’m happy to carry the extra weight.
We also take our drone with us whenever we go trekking. The drone is definitely not a necessity but it’s just so cool to fly it over the mountains and have an aerial view of where we’re walking! We have a DJI Mavic which is a small and compact drone. There are even smaller and lighter models on the market now: the DJI Mavic Air and the DJI Spark.
It’s worth taking a camera with you on your trek!! (taken with the Lumix G9)
34) External Power Bank
In case you’re using your phone to take photos, an external power bank could come in handy to charge the battery of your phone at night.
I’m such a bookworm that I always have my e-reader with me, even on a hike. The most popular and compact e-reader is this Kindle E-reader. I have a Tolino Epos which I absolutely love! It’s small and light to carry but big enough to read comfortably. You can add epub and pdf files, it has a background light so I can read at night without having to use a torch and the battery lasts for weeks.
When you read this packing list, it seems to be a huge and heavy load that you need to pack. In reality, when we pack everything for a trek, our backpacks weigh between 10kg and 15kg, including food for several days. This is really not much considering that we carry everything we need. It’s all about packing wisely and taking the lightest equipment possible with you!
Or… you could always rent/buy a horse to help you carry your stuff
When is the best time to go hiking in Kyrgyzstan?
The best time to go hiking in Kyrgyzstan is during the summer, between the months of June and September. Even then it can get very cold at night, depending on how high up you are in the mountains. The weather in the mountains can change in the blink of an eye. It might be hot and sunny in the morning but you could end up in a cloudburst or small snowstorm in the afternoon. It’s not unusual to experience the 4 seasons in one day in the Kyrgyz mountains!
The average temperature during the day can be somewhere between 10°C (50°f) and 25°C (77°f) in the mountains, at night the temperature easily goes down to 5°C or 0°C (41°f or 32°f). In extreme situations and at high altitudes it could still snow and freeze at night.
Those are the temperatures during the summer so you can imagine how cold it is during the winter! If the cold doesn’t scare you and you feel comfortable to hike in temperatures between 0°C and -25°C, I won’t stop you. The landscapes become a magical winter wonderland! But… I would advise against going on a trek during that time of the year.
Most mountain passes won’t even be accessible, it’s damn cold and you’ve got to be properly dressed so you don’t suffer from hypothermia! An alternative option would be to go on a horseback trek with a guide, but the same rules apply here: dress warm and take gear that is appropriate for winter camping (have a look at our packing list for hitchhiking and camping in winter).
On a horseback trek to Song Kul Lake in December – watch the video here
Spring is the season in which most of the snow is melting so whether you go on a day hike or a trek in the mountains between the months of March and June, you’ve got to be careful of avalanches. Again, I wouldn’t recommend doing any treks during this season as most mountain passes are still closed and it’s still freezing cold at high altitudes but if you do, prepare yourself well and don’t go out there by yourself!
Things you need to know and do before you go trekking in Kyrgyzstan
Here’s some very important advice when you’re going on a trek:
- If you’re going on a trek to a remote place, tell someone about your plans. There’s no wi-fi or cell phone connectivity in the mountains so in the unlikely event that something happens and you’re in need of help, it’s always good that at least one person knows where you are going and how long you’re supposed to be gone for. You can agree on a time with that person to let him/ her know when to expect a phone call. If that person doesn’t hear from you, they could take action to come and find you.
- Make sure you have the physical condition required for the trek. It won’t only be a lot more enjoyable for you to hike but it’s also important that you’re able to complete the hike. Most treks are inaccessible to cars and you can’t exactly count on a helicopter in Kyrgyzstan to get you out of the mountains.
- As I’ve already mentioned in the previous section, the weather in the mountains is very moody. It can change so quickly so be prepared for all types of weather conditions.
Snow in June – it’s possible!
- Don’t continue the trek when there’s poor visibility due to fog, snow or heavy rainfall. It can be dangerous to hike when you can barely see the trail or when there’s a lot of snow on the path. Use a (hiking) stick to check the depth of the snow. I once thought that the snow on the path was only ankle-deep but I sank up to my knees in it and fell flat on my face. In case of very bad weather, pitch your tent and wait it out or turn back and seek lower altitudes where it’s warmer and safer to camp.
- Don’t take any unnecessary risks and ALWAYS stick to the path. The mountains are treacherous terrain! Last year a girl left her group when hiking in Sary-Chelek to explore the area. She was found dead 6 days later at the bottom of a cliff. I don’t mean to scare you with this story, I only want you to be aware of the dangers! Be adventurous but don’t be stupid!
The majority of the trails are marked so follow the signs!
- Niko and I are very independent travelers and hikers and we love to explore the mountains by ourselves. However, we’ve done the majority of our treks in Kyrgyzstan in the company of a local guide. It’s a lot safer to have someone with you who knows the area well. NEVER GO ALONE if you’re not an experienced hiker! You can request a local guide at the CBT (Community Based Tourism of Kyrgyzstan) or at the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan.
- Pack enough food and water for the duration of your trek and foresee some for a few extra days in case the trek takes longer than expected.
- Don’t keep food with you in the tent if you’re in a remote area. The smell might attract some wild animals and I don’t think you would appreciate unwanted visits at night. In case you wonder, there are bears, wolves and snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan but the chances that you’ll see any of them are very very rare. However, keep in mind that you’re sharing the territory with them.
- During the summertime, you’ll most likely pass a few yurt camps on your trek. The nomadic families will welcome you with the typical Kyrgyz hospitality and if you ask, you can even spend the night in one of their yurts. However, don’t take this hospitality for granted and give some money (around 450 som for the night)or gifts (like sweets, they really love this here) in exchange for a bed and food.
Don’t go on an adventure without a travel insurance!
I wish you amazing trekking adventures and feel free to share some photos of your treks in the comments below! If you know any other packing tips or you’ve got a question, please contact me or leave a reaction below.
Read about the top 28 things to do in Kyrgyzstan!