If you’ve signed up for the Mongol Derby, the “world’s longest and toughest horse race” spanning 1,000 kilometers on semi-wild Mongolian horses, then you might be experiencing a bit of panic over what to pack for the Mongol Derby. After all, you’re only allowed 5 kg worth of gear and you’ll be on your own (mostly) for 7-10 days in the middle of the Mongolian steppes. Don’t worry, with our handy Mongol Derby Packing List, you’ve got one less thing you need worry about!
Author: Krystal Kelly
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I rode in the “Longest and Toughest Horse Race” back in 2014. I finished on day 10 without any assistance from the support crew or getting carried forward in the jeep. Before I arrived in Mongolia, the actual build-up to the derby was almost a year of preparation. I had to train and get fit by riding long distances on as many horses as I could find and I also had to think carefully about what type of gear to pack for the mongol derby.
Not much can prepare you for the derby, but having the right equipment can either make or break you. In fact, I made a few crucial errors that nearly cost me my finish. So here it is, everything you need to know about what gear to bring to help you survive the “Mongol Derby.”
Now, one of the challenging rules of the Derby is that you are only allowed 5 kg of gear. This means you have to pack ONLY WHAT YOU NEED TO SURVIVE. (Spaceballs voice…)
What Gear to Pack for the Mongol Derby
Extra Socks and Underpants
I packed a pair for each day because having clean socks and undies was one thing I wasn’t going to compromise on! The Adventurists had mailed a pair of “special undies” as a tester for the derby the year I competed, but I found them to be useless so I stuck to my normal “granny panty” cotton types. I don’t know why I didn’t chaff and everyone else seemed too… but hey, whatever works, right?
A letter in English translated to Mongolian
It should read roughly: “Hello, My name is ______. I’m participating in a horse race. Could you help me with my horse and allow me a place to sleep tonight?” Just copy and paste this text into “Google Translate” and you should be good to go… just have a local double check it when you arrive. I usually ask the taxi driver or hotel receptionist.
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🇲🇳 In 2014 I rode over 30 semi wild Mongolian horses 1,128 kilometers (I had a few detours 😂) I stayed with local families in their Gers, I had some fast horses (and some not so fast) and nothing but miles and miles of the horizon at my disposal. My body was shattered from the long days riding but I was also on top of the world and in my natural element. I never feel more at peace and free then when I’m atop a horse and Mongolia definitely delivered! ____________________________________________ I’m on a mission to see EVERY country in the world 🌍 so please FOLLOW me to keep up to date on my adventures! Read my blog: www.kryskolumbus.com #eatsleepriderepeat #mongolderby #mongolianhorse #horseridingmongolia #viewfromthesaddle #lifethroughtheears
DIY Sheepskin shoulder pad straps for your water pack
Again, I wish I had thought of this myself but luckily I didn’t have to! One of the girls went to the black market in Ulaanbaatar prior to the start and bought some sheepskin. We spent the evening before the race tying together a makeshift shoulder pad cushion for our water packs. It worked! I was very grateful indeed. I later found some sheepskin shoulder straps on Amazon (for your seat-belt in your car!) but I think they would pretty much do the same trick we ended up fashioning!
I have a bad wrist from years of riding so I wore a small wrist brace on my bad arm during the entire ride. It wasn’t a hard shell and didn’t get in the way of my daily tasks but it provided just enough support and comfort to keep me from injuring it. Of all the things that was in pain during the derby, my wrist was happily not among them! I suggest if you have any old injuries, even from long ago, assume the worst and bring some extra support. *Remember it doesn’t count as part of your 5kg as long as you wear it!
Quick Dry Endurance Riding Tights
My favorites are the Irideon Bootcut Jodhpurs! I had two pairs to get me through. One which I wore at the start, and one extra pair. I rotated between the two every other day to allow them to air out. They dry out super-fast due to the material, are extremely lightweight to pack and very comfortable (and stylish.) Everyone in the derby complained about chaffing their bums and I don’t know if it was a combination of the fact that I did the derby mostly in Jumping Seat or if my breeches just didn’t rub as much, but I wouldn’t want to find out! Irideon Ladies Boot Cut Tights
A BACK BRACE!
I’ve been riding horses since I was 9. I have worked in over 15 different countries with horses around the world for the past 15 years. I’ve fallen off and been hospitalized and injured countless times, as I’m sure many professional riders have. I have old injuries which, on a daily basis I can manage. But there’s just something about the Mongol Derby that makes all these old injuries creep up and AMPLIFY over the course of the ride.
Around day three is when it really kicked in. My lower back was in EXCRUCIATING PAIN. I struggled to ride to the next horse station and was in so much pain I stopped my horse at a random family’s Ger for a rest. I thought I was finished. I’ve never been a quitter but the pain was more than I could manage and I seriously contemplated the end of my derby journey.
An easy and effective solution
That’s when the clouds parted and one of the camera men happened to drive by. He and I got to talking and he told me about his back brace. He offered it to me and told me he would leave it for me if I made it to the next horse station. I galloped on with new motivation and sure enough found it waiting for me. I strapped on the back brace very tightly (I was in severe pain) and kept it on every day until I crossed the finish line on day 10.
If not for his generosity, I wouldn’t have finished. It helped me more than I could have realized prior to the derby. I had no clue how broken my body was from my previous injuries until the Derby and I ended up doing a lot of yoga afterwards to help sort by back issues. (I was only 24 years old at the time!)
Iodine Water Tablets
I ended up not really using them. They tasted awful for one thing. I had been living in India for two years prior to the derby and felt like my body could pretty much digest steel. Plus, I rode with a French man who was charming-beyond-all-reason and at every horse station it was his mission in life to charm the locals and crew into giving us bottled water which we poured into our water packs.
A Little Bit of Mongolian Cash
Keep it in your water pack or on your person in case you get separated from your horse. I didn’t think I would need any and left mine in my finish line bag only to realize that actually it was handy to have cash. There were several “Soums” or villages along the way (sometimes 10-mile detours but we REALLY needed that bottle of coke!) and it was part of the fun to ride our horses into these villages, tie them up to a random post and purchase as many biscuits and Mongolian donuts and sweets as we could before riding off into the sunset.
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🇲🇳 One minute it’s sunny and the riding is good, the next the clouds rumble and you find yourself in a storm fighting the rain and wind. Here I am in Mongolia during my 1,128 kilometer journey on horseback. I am smiling in the photo because it was taken just after our 10 kilometer detour to a random “soum” (town) to buy a much needed bottle of coke. The problem with Mongolian horses is when you dismount you don’t always know if they will let you mount again! But somehow we managed and here I am moments before the storm hit and we got driven into a marsh 🙄 (again!) marshes make for slow going but that bottle of coke kept our spirits high and we made it to the next horse station in one piece. #mongolderby #cocacolastore #sodaadventure #detours #mongoliansteppe #marshfield #beforethestorm
All Purpose Weather-Proof Riding Boots
My favorites were my Dublin Ladies Pinnacle Boots which had been gifted to me by my good friend, Cheri from the Horse Feathers Equine Rescue after our week-long clinic in Oklahoma had been a success! I was so thankful for these all-purpose boots. They are comfortable to walk in (like when I had to dismount my horse and walk through three miles of swamp while my horse was belly deep in the muck!) and kept my feet dry in the various temperatures! Having wet socks is the worst thing that could happen to your feet and luckily mine never did get wet!
Leather Riding Gloves with Crochet
These are great for all types of weather. Gloves are necessary to hold onto these wild horses! These are my favorites and I never ride without them: Heritage Crochet Riding Glove
I had a cheapy all weather watch to keep track of time without disturbing my horse checking the GPS every ten minutes. The cheapy digital watch was great as far as monitoring time but other than that it didn’t serve much use. Looking back I think I would have preferred some kind of Apple Smart Watch or something of the sorts to program the GPS right into my watch! That would have helped a lot with those bolting horses I simply couldn’t stop and check my GPS for my bearings.
Endurance Stirrups and Leathers
Something I wish I had known about: Comfy stirrups. Apparently, Endurance riders use stirrups that have a soft squishy padding to help absorb the shock in your joints. I started to get a really bad pain in my knee during the Derby and I had wished I had known about those stirrups, HOWEVER having said that, I am a show jumper and stuck with what I knew best. To be fair, my riding companion on most of the Derby had the fancy squishy endurance stirrups and when I asked him if they made a difference in his level of pain, he seemed just as miserable and uncomfortable as I was. I still secretly wished I had known about padded stirrups though, as even a tiny bit of relief on day nine and ten would have made all the difference!
Athletic Breathable Shirt
Although I felt proud wearing the Mongol Derby provided polo with my name on it… it wasn’t very breathable and sweat / rain proof. After a couple days of use it got pretty grimy so I wore my light weight athletic shirt instead. When it got wet, it was dry again by morning. My Athletic Breathable Shirt was airy and light so I didn’t get too sweaty but if I did it didn’t stink too bad and dried quickly. (Again, my small bucket showers helped.)
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Four years ago today I crossed the finish line in the Mongol Derby. I had successfully ridden 1,128 kilometers on over 30 different semi wild Mongolian ponies over ten days through rivers, marshes, mountains and the steppes. I drank Airag with locals. I slept in Gers. And I finished with my good friend from France with a lot of bruises. I was ten pounds lighter and sporting a farmers tan like no other. I was filled with new stories to tell! My heart may belong to show jumping but my soul is forever galloping along on the Mongolian steppes on these incredible horses. #mongolderby #rider #longestride #nearlykilledme #ididit #genghiskhan #conquerer #finishedwiththat #next #mongolia
Light Weight Rain Jacket
I wore mine at the start so it wouldn’t count as weight for my 5kg bag. Unfortunately, it was sunny on one of the horse stations when I left so I tied it to my horse’s pack only to have it HAIL halfway through my ride. My horse was crazy and I couldn’t stop or dismount to put on my jacket so I galloped full speed in the hail getting pelted by the hard stuff all the way to the next horse station.
I ended up freezing and was shaking and passed out asleep for a couple of hours with piles of Mongolian blankets and jackets on me. I lost a few hours of riding time but when I woke up I managed to put myself on another horse and gallop to the next station before curfew. Luckily, I didn’t get pneumonia or something but the hail definitely had left some bruises on me!
Small Pocket Knife
I would keep a Pocket Knife in your CamelBak Hydration Backpack in case you get separated from your horse. I would especially keep it with you if you’re a woman riding out solo, though I don’t know if it would help much against a group of Mongolian men with bad intentions… but I guess something is better than nothing!
*Disclaimer: Not all Mongolian men have bad intentions but just like there’s good and bad people in the USA, the same can happen in the steppes. If you’re concerned about safety and would like to join our online travel safety course for women, please click the link to receive our special coupon! Feel free to skip ahead to the section of the course about Mongolia and the derby.
I strapped my jacket and saddle pack down to create as little flapping as possible so as not to spook my Mongolian ponies too much!
Beef Jerky / Small Energizing Snacks
I got stuck between horse station Gers more than once and if I hadn’t had a few small snacks I would have been pretty hungry without them!
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Back in 2014 I competed in the “Mongol Derby” the longest and toughest horse race on Earth. I finished in 10 days after riding 35 wild Mongolian horses across 1,128 kilometers of marshes, mountains, deserts and the steppes! #mongolderby #takemeback #longestride #venivedivici #mongolia #steppes #ladyboss #toughgirl #wildhorses #herder #nomad #yurtlife
Head Torch to wear over your Helmet
I personally left it on while I was riding and I fortunately didn’t lose it! It was handy to have wearing because when I would ride and it started to get dark it was great to have it accessible instead of having to dig around in my pack for it! I got a Waterproof one and it lasted the entire Derby without needing a recharge.
Headlamp LED USB Rechargeable – Waterproof Super Bright Torch
Ziplock Bag of Porridge!
This is something I wish I would have thought of myself but around day 6 I was sick of the Mongolian soup. Every single Ger was feeding us the same-same and I was not having it anymore. Luckily one of the girls who retired from the race had a thing of oatmeal which she gifted to me and it SAVED ME! I made it to the finish on small rations of porridge! (Intermixed with Mongolian soup.)
I used UV protective plastic ones that I wasn’t scared were going to break should I fall or the worst should happen. I don’t think I took them off my face the entire time during the Derby, even when it was a bit rainy. Personally I used: Ray-Ban Polarized Wrap Sunglasses They weren’t cheap ones but they did their job well! (But got quite scratched during the ride!)
A Lightweight, SUPER WARM Sleeping Bag
I got mine from REI, unfortunately, apart from my GPS, it was probably the most expensive thing I purchased for the derby. I made sure to get the most lightweight, warmest material which, although it cost me an arm and a leg, I still use to this day (5 years later!) Don’t skimp out on a good sleeping bag, as the weather is unpredictable and can vary throughout the day. I don’t remember being cold at night thanks to my sleeping bag and it gave me a safe place to sneakily change out of my wet breeches under the close watch of the friendly Mongolian families.
Small Bottle of Shampoo
I hadn’t heard of dry shampoo at the time but at the time I had been living in India for two years and the Bucket Shower was a common occurrence in my life. That small bottle of shampoo I brought with me to the Derby was my luxury item and at the end of each race day I would fill up an empty water bottle with the local water and wash my hair. Everyone else may have been sweaty and stinky for 10 days but I crossed the finish line with—somewhat—clean hair!
The guy I crossed the finish line with was from France and laughed at me the first time he saw me washing my hair in the derby but it refreshed me so much that I felt really rejuvenated after a long day’s ride. It was a lifesaver! Now that I know about Dry Shampoo, I NEVER leave for an adventure without my favorite brand: Lush Cosmetics No Drought Dry Shampoo, 1.9 Ounces
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Here I am crossing the finish line 1,128k later with my good friend from France. 35 semi wild ponies, airag and mongolian steppes made this an adventure of a lifetime! #throwback #mongolderby #finisher #2014 #mongolia #horserider #solotraveler #lifegoals #bucketlist #1000k #horsebackriding #horsederby #horses #horserace #adventure #travel #steppes #catchmeifyoucan #mongolianhorses
A small bottle for your face is best. You will get a farmer’s tan on your arms by the end of it so don’t even bother trying to prevent it! As I mentioned, I started teaming up with a French man. We ended up finishing together and he had packed a very LUXURY brand of sunblock with him which I took FULL ADVANTAGE OF! I am still to this day completely hooked on this brand and was soooo thankful it found me in Mongolia. My Favorite: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 60, 1.7 Fl. Oz.
Chapstick, Chapstick, Chapstick!
I brought 3 so that I would have a spare in case I lost my spare! Thank God I did because I lost my first Chapstick early on in the race and I gave away my second spare to a woman in dire need around day 6 leaving me clutching onto my final tube for the rest of the race like my life depended on it! Make sure you bring some with SPF sunblock to help keep your lips from getting burned! My favorite was Five (5) BLISTEX® Medicated Lip Balm Protectant / Sunscreen SPF15
This one is actually a requirement of the Derby. You must have your own handheld GPS (I wouldn’t suggest using only a compass though I’ve heard stories of one person that has–I wonder if they regretted that decision!) I would suggest using the Garmin GPSMAP 64st, TOPO with High-Sensitivity Receiver
My final tip: Practice navigating with your GPS BEFORE you are a million miles away from home atop a semi-wild Mongolian pony in the middle of the steppes! Of course, one of our interviewee’s had to learn this lesson the hard way…
For all Adventuresses who are planning slightly less extreme excursions, we recommend our Ultimate Packing List for Equine Adventures. This comprehensive list has all the gear which will make your next ride a smooth and joyful experience.