When you're planning to run/skate or bike 100 miles you normally don't have to worry about whether your water is frozen or how you're going to eat that gel that has turned into a block of ice. When you're taking on a sub-zero adventure like the Mongol 100 the self-admin steps up a notch, but don't be daunted we're here to give you all the advice. From top tips like how to brush your teeth when your toothpaste is frozen to how not make it snow INSIDE your clothes...
First up, lets just say that Mongolia in Feb/ March is COLD! This is a land-locked country with a continental climate zone. It is subjected to long winters with low temperatures, but relatively little precipitation. Which means that, whilst it can be very cold, it is typically also very dry. Which translates to – not a lot of snow! For those who are used to these types of very dry, cold continental climate zones, you may already know the benefits of down products with lots of insulation, of travelling slow and preventing moisture build-up inside your garments and of the ‘switch’ from thinking ‘rain and snow protection’ to ‘pure insulation'. For those of you who come from more temperate and maritime climate zones (like the UK), read on…..as you won’t need that rain poncho on this trip. But you will need some good lofty insulation pieces. One further note: Where we have made suggestions below, there is of course a whole world of options at varying price points out there in the marketplace. We have not necessarily advised the lowest-cost garments. In some instances, it is absolutely the case that you get what you pay for. But there are way to economise on some items and you do not always have to buy the best brands on everything discussed below. Buy the right kit and you will absolutely thank yourself when out there on the ice.
Baselayers and pants
Lets start next to the skin and talk unmentionables. First fact, cotton is the devil’s cloth! As with many sporting endeavours, layering is your friend on this trip. Layering with fast-drying wicking next-to-skin garments is key. Don’t pack your cotton tighty-whities as they will get wet with sweat, will start to smell after 3 days in camp and will make you cold as they won’t dry out. Technical man-made polypropylene wicking base-layer fabrics are great as they wick sweat away quickly and are quick-drying. However, Merino wool is a wonder-material. Some swear by silk. On balance, our advice would be to go for Merino wool if you can. Try and plump for a natural fabric if you can, vs the polyprop ‘technical’ baselayers. Merino tends to keep warm when damp, they wick away sweat well and they do not smell. The latter point (as well as general hygiene concerns) is important when you can’t shower for a few days. There is a huge range of thermals from cheap to very expensive; all will work as long as they are thick. Look for 'heavy weight' fabric for cold conditions. It is worth noting you will probably wear these items for multiple days
You will also want bottoms on this event. Again, Merino delivers the goods every time and will last forever if cared for well.
For this environment, insulation is all about trapping warm air and putting this to work around your body parts – be that core and/ or extremities. Layering does this. So do massive chunky insulated garments, which are designed to trap loads of air inside their built-in insulation pockets and between feathers – i.e. things like Down jackets – colloquially known more readily as ‘puffer jackets.’ Down or synthetic? Modern synthetic insulation materials such as primaloft are very good. But they are not Down. In this environment, wool is great for ‘inner’ and next-to-skin insulation pieces like baselayers, socks and hats. Down is the absolute king when it comes to outerwear – jackets and sleeping bags particularly. Some people avoid Down on ethical grounds. That is a personal choice of course and there is more information on how Down is generally pitched in the link below. For the big brands, these ethical concerns are a big part of their DNA these days, so you will find a lot of garments sporting ‘ethical’ Down with good provenance as to where it is coming from and how it is being handled in the manufacturing process.
Buy or rent? Some folk are rightly concerned about buying something that is very expensive which, lets face it, they may also never use again. If you are planning a series of cold or mountain trips, investing in a good sleeping bag and good down jacket is a good policy. I am still using the same sleeping bag I first used in 2003. It may not smell the freshest (!) but it is just as lofty and spritely as it was 20 years ago. Which is more than can be said for myself. If cared for, these garments will literally last a lifetime. They also maintain their resale value fairly well if ‘used-once’ and can be re-sold to other adventurers after your trip on websites such as Vinted.
If you don’t want to buy though, rent. For people based in the UK - this company is great. Our customers have used them multiple times and we also personally recommend them. They do all types of kit, but we have linked the sleeping bags below.
Outdoor Hire: For example a 14 day hire is £54 for a 4 season sleeping bag.
You need a 4 season rated to around minus 25C. Sleeping bags tend to be rated for ‘comfort’ and ‘lower limit.’ It differs for male and female bags based on (typically) how cold men and women get when they sleep. Here is a very handy guide from renowned US adventure outfitter REI to unpick how the ratings work.
Here is the sort of bag we are talking about for men, which shows a lower limit rating of 25C:
Women sleep at a colder temperature at night than men and they generally feel the cold more. It is therefore essential if you are female, to check the sleeping rating for women. Each sleeping bag will have a rating for males and a rating for females, (typically shown as a comfort rating, vs a lower limit rating, for men). We also recommend having a silk sleeping bag liner for cleanliness, comfort and this also provides an extra later for even more warmth.
Sleeping is all about insulation through trapping warm air, again, so a sleeping bag with a big fill power will give you that lift required to get toasty and stay toasty. It is not all about ratings, which is a guide. Quality build, quality materials and lots of loft will keep you warm! This is one area where you do want to stick with the big brands and buy something that is an investment in your safety and comfort in this very cold environment. Top tip: If you do get cold at night, you can add an extra layer of ‘air’ by wrapping your Down jacket around the lower half of your sleeping bag and toe-box. By all means warm up socks and gloves by bringing them into your bag at night so they are toasty in the morning. But try and keep the inside of your bag 100% dry. If it gets wet, that Down will stop working as it should. The inside of the Gers tend to heat up well with lots of bodies inside and a wood-burning stove on hand too, so drying garments by hanging them in the Ger is also certainly possible.
Jacket – You need a very warm padded jacket. You can use this as an over-garment on the ice and also around camp, where you will cool down greatly. This could be Down jacket or a thick ski-style jacket with synthetic fibres. Both will do the job. Down is better. Ideally you would want the jacket to sit below the bum allowing some insulation down below
If you are getting a Down piece, try and go for a minimum of 700 fill power. 850 is the gold standard. This handy guide to fill power can help understand what we’re talking about with Down and fill power. This is your ‘big jacket’ which will give you a wrap-around hug when you need it most. When you are running, biking, skating or hiking, you’ll probably want something much more lightweight for general use. Otherwise you may overheat and start sweating too much inside, soaking your inner layers and actually then cooling you down and making you cold.
A lightweight insulated piece with some good weather and windproof properties is ideal. Choice is endless. Here is a lovely piece from Patagonia that would look the part in any winter sports fan’s kit locker – useable for all manner of other goings on once you have finished with the ice.
For general use when on the ice, you do not need a heavily insulated trouser. But you do need a warm trouser. Fleece-lined walking trousers or Soft-shell trousers with some wind protection (like Gore Windstopper fabric) are great. Something like this is ideal.
Adding a pair of waterproof trousers over the top of any layers will provide extra warmth and extra wind protection. Those ‘final outer’ garments could be ski trousers or salopettes. Importantly, it is not the waterproofing you need here, it is the windproofing. So something breathable is far better than something that is cast-iron ‘not-a-drop-getting-in’ waterproof.
If you do ‘run cold’ and want an extra padded trouser, or something to put on at night when you are likely to cool down, something like this is a great option.
Skirt (An optional down skirt)
This is useful for women to wear in camp and on the ice as it protects thigh from the cold. Women are known for cold sores on legs due to a higher fat percentage on the upper thigh. Ensure the skirt has room for movement and walking/running.
This option below is currently offered at a reduced price and may work well as a cost-effective solution if you are not intending to whip it out every weekend.
Gloves In our Mongol 100 kit list, we present what we call the 'great glove debate.’ There is bags of personal choice involved here and it will also come down to if you ‘run hot’ or ‘run cold.’ Some folk get very cold hands for example if they suffer from Reynaud’s, Some folk just do not feel the cold as much. Either way, you need to protect those extremities. Frostnip and the more serious frostbite can be a factor here if you get things wrong.
Here is an example of a glove ‘system’ with liner, standard medium glove and a thick mitten for use when it is at its coldest.
As with gloves, there’s lots of personal choice involved when it comes to socks. Do you use a liner? Do you size-up your footwear and double the socks? Do you ‘go with what you know’ and use the same woolly hiking socks you’ve used all your life circa 1998? Well, personal choice will rein supreme. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. But as with baselayers, we’d suggest wool is best and Merino wool is again a hero material here. Wool is just a very good natural insulator. Brands such as Smartwool and Bridgedale make excellent socks. They make liners too, if that’s your thing. We’d suggest taking some very thick socks and some lighter-gauge medium socks – then you have the option to size up or down on thickness as you adjust the reality of life on the ice in your selected footwear. Whether you use a liner paired with your sock, is up to you. What you do not want to do, however, is cramp your toes in your shoes. If your footwear is too tight (and this sometimes comes down to sock choice) this will make you colder and not warmer as you are removing all of those air layers that provide the insulation. Mongolian yak-wool socks are also a bit of a hero product for this event and are available to buy at low-cost from local suppliers at the event. These really are great and simple woollen socks with excellent thermo-regulatory properties. here is a system suggestion with a liner and a large thick sock.
It will depend if you are running, walking, skating or cycling as to what you wear on your feet.For foot travel, walking boots with enough space for warm socks is the general go-to. Go one size up to keep circulation flowing with those thicker socks on. Try and get a boot with some flex - a lightweight hiking boot vs a really stiff mountaineering boot. You will be glad of some movement in the shoe on the relentlessly hard surface of the ice.
Trainers - If you intend to run, these can be normal running trainers. You will be adding spikes, to the bottom so do not worry too much about the tread. Comfort is key. Again, you need enough space for good circulation with those big thick socks on. Gore-Tex/waterproof trainers are great as they keep the wind out. But of course, they are not as breathable as non-waterproof shoes, so you may find your feet get a bit wet with perspiration. This is OK if you are able to dry them out at day’s end and/ or replace wet sweaty socks.
NB: You do not need to wear off-road trail-running trainers. When you add the spikes, these tend to just make the soles a bit sore to walk on over the solid ice.
Skates - The skates you will use on Mongol 100 are quite specialist. It is a backcountry ice skate with a free heel and you really don’t find folk using this gear outside of North America, Siberia and Scandinavia. Our recommendation is the Lundhags T-skate with a Rottefeller NNN BC binding paired with a back-country ski boot equipped with a NNN BC binding. If that all sounds quite techy, here are 2 recommended links. The Lunghags T-skate can be rented from Rat Race for the event. You’ll also need poles to stead yourself – a telescopic hiking pole with a carbide (metal) tip is perfect, to be honest as you can set your height accordingly and they can be used for all sort of other mountain and winter pursuits. You will also need a multisport or winter sports helmet. Something equipped with the MIPS system is ideal as it means you can take falls and the helmet is still functional for further impacts. Taking a whipper onto the ice is no laughing matter and we are in a very remote location in the event that someone suffers a serious injury. The very best head protection is advised.
Biking - You need a fatbike with spiked ice tyres. A ‘standard’ mountain bike with skinnier tyres will do the job, but if there is any snow at all, it will be difficult to punch through it. With any wind, you will skit across the ice and traction in general is compromised on those skinnier tyres. It has to be a fatbike. We recommend minimum 4 inch tyre width and fatter 4.6/ 4.8 are also fine. You will need specialist ice-studded tyres also. This bike is an absolutely fantastic go-anywhere machine which you can use year-round on snow, sand and everything in between. Pair it with 45NRTH Dillinger tyres for the ultimate joy machine.