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. So here it is, everything you need to know about what gear to bring the help you survive the "Mongol Derby." Now, one of the challenging rules of the Derby is that your only allowed 5 kg of gear. This means you have to pack ONLY WHAT YOU NEED TO SURVIVE. (Spaceballs voice...)
Probably the only time I smiled during the "Mongol Derby!"
Here I am with my friend from France, moments before crossing the Finish line after 10 grueling days on 30 different semi-wild Mongolian Horses.
Mongol Derby Gear Essentials Packing List:
- 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 Blistex Blissful Butters Lip Protectant/Sunscreen SPF 15.
- Sporty Sunglasses! 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. I personally used: Ray Ban 63mm Polarized Sunglasses. They weren't cheap ones but they did their job well! (But got quite scratched during the ride!)
- 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 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
- Sunblock, 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. Try: La Roche-Posay Face Sunscreen SPF 60 Oil-Free Dry Touch Sunscreen, Water Resistant, 1.7 Fl. Oz
- 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!
- Head Torch to go 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 Headlight USB Rechargeable Head Torch Waterproof Design
- 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.)
- 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 to keep in your water pack.
- Bungee cords! 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!
- All purpose riding boots- my favorites were my Dublin Women's Pinnacle Equestrian Boot 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 – 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
- Watch – I had a cheapy all weather watch to keep track of time without disturbing my horse checking the GPS every ten minutes
- 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.
- Athletic 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. It 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.)
- I have a bad wrist from years of riding so I wore a small wrist band 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!
- Irideon Riding Jodhpurs – my favorites! 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’ve worked in over 20 different stables around the world since I was 15 years old. (Honestly probably more stables than that.) 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. 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. I wouldn’t have finished if not for it and it helped me more than I could have realized. 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. (For God’s sake I was only 24 years old at the time!)
- Iodine water tablets but I ended up not really using them. 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 in your water pack or on your person. 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. *Photo taken by my riding companion shortly after we decided to team-up on Day Four of the 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 but I found them to be useless so I stuck to my normal “granny panty” types. Again, 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 that reads 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?"
- And the last and final tip: 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 seatbelt in your car!) but I think they would pretty much do the same trick we ended up fashioning! Sheepskin Seatbelt Pads 100% Natural Car Belt Protector