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For most people who hear about Central Asia, their first question is… “where?” That’s okay – Central Asia isn’t one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and that’s part of why it’s great for those of us who want to wander off the beaten path. If you’re one of those people too, instead your questions might be “what’s it really like?” and “what do I pack for Central Asia?”

This post is here to help with that last question! After my trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in August 2019, I’ve put together some tips and this Central Asia packing list to help you feel like you know what to pack before you board your flight to one of the five Central Asian countries. Read on to learn what to pack for Central Asian and other travel tips mixed in to help you make the most of your trip.

Central Asia Packing Tips

Central Asia Packing - Valerie in Traditional Clothing with Eagle

I’ve already shared some of my top travel tips for Central Asia, so in this post I’m focusing on just what you need to pack. Here are a couple quick tips about packing before we get into the specifics:

  • Because Central Asian countries are generally high altitude, temperatures can swing wildly from day to night. My top packing advice is always pack layers, and that especially applies for Central Asia.
  • Most Central Asian countries are secular with a large Muslim population, but women are not expected to cover their heads. It is good to be respectful and dress conservatively though, especially in rural areas where people are more conservative in general.
  • Cities in Central Asia have a European vibe, so it’s really reasonable to wear the same styles you might pack for say, London or Paris.
  • If you’re planing hiking or other activities, you obviously need to pack any specific gear for those! Pro-tip: yoga pants work great as an alternative to hiking pants!

Okay, now let’s jump into the specifics of what to pack for Central Asia!

What to Pack for Central Asia

When you’re traveling to a completely new region, you might feel totally lost about what to pack. I certainly was – the first thing I did after learning about my trip to Central Asia was message my friend Nicki at Adventures of Lil Nicki (who has spent tons of time in Central Asia) and asked her what to pack.

Based on her tips, my experience, and with the other basics I pack for pretty much every trip, here’s my Central Asia packing list.

1. The Lonely Planet Guide to Central Asia

As you plan your trip, it can be really helpful to have a travel guide. Aside from me and my expert advice 💁🏻 I recommend grabbing a copy of Lonely Planet’s Central Asia guide.

You can get an ebook copy if you don’t want to carry a paper book with you, but inside you’ll find up-to-date tips and tricks to help you see the sights and experience all that Central Asia has to offer.

In case you don’t know how to use a travel guidebook, here are my tips.

2. Toilet Paper

As I mentioned in my post of Central Asia travel tips, bringing your own toilet paper is definitely a good idea in Central Asia.

I snagged this two-pack of biodegradable TP from REI for $3 and while I only needed it a few times – it was worth every penny to have TP when I needed it.

They also squish up super-small, which is ideal for tossing a roll in your daypack for a hike.

Central Asia Packing - Big Almaty Lake

3. A Headlamp

Outside the cities in Central Asia, having a headlamp is a good way to ensure you’ll be able to see your way to the squat toilet once the sun goes down. 😆

Even at the Kara-Kyz Yurt Camp where I stayed in Kyrgyzstan only had a few hours of generator-based power each night, so having a headlamp made everything easier.

This one I recommend is a two-pack, so you’ll have a spare!

4. Power Adapter

All five Central Asian countries use the European plug, so if you’re not from Europe you’ll need an adapter.

This cube-shaped multi-use adapter will work for Central Asia (and everywhere else in the world too).

5. Hiking Boots

Even if you’re not doing any multi-day treks, hiking boots are pretty critical to keep yourself comfortable for a day hike or exploring the sprawling Soviet-era cities of Central Asia.

I have had my Salomon Trail Runners for over a decade and they still did great work for the 14-mile Kolsai Lakes hike.

6. Water Bottle & Bladder

Having a water bottle and bladder is critical in Central Asia, because most countries are both high altitude and dry climates: it’s super easy to get dehydrated or start to feel the altitude if you don’t get enough water.

I brought both a 14oz Nalgene and a 2L water bladder. Several days, I drank all they held, plus loads of chai (tea) too.

Related: 17 Local Central Asia Foods & Drinks to Try on Your First Trip

Central Asia Packing - Kolsai Lake 1

7. Water Cleansing Tabs

If you’re planning to do some backcountry hiking in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, you may be pulling water directly from rivers or streams. While you’ll more than likely have no problems with the water purity – it never hurts to pack water cleansing tabs.

I grabbed a tiny bottle at REI for like $8, and really enjoyed that peace of mind. They also took up basically zero space in my day pack (#9).

8. Camera

Whether you’re traveling halfway around the world to see the natural wonders of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan – or do some city-hopping in Almaty or Bishkek – you’re going to want to get good photos.

I shoot primarily on the Sony NEX-6; the newer version of that camera is the Sony A6000. I also love my iPhone 11 Pro and have started using that a lot while traveling too.

9. Day Pack

If you plan to do any hiking in Central Asia – which, duh, you should because it’s one of the best destinations I’ve ever been hiking – you need a good lightweight day pack to hold all of your gear and a water bladder to stay hydrated.

I snagged a Cotopaxi Luzon 18L on Poshmark to save some money; you can get one on Amazon too. They’re all unique and hand-made so your colors will vary!

10. A Good Attitude

I’ll be honest: Central Asia was a challenging region to travel in. I’m really used to the creature comforts from living in the U.S., and Central Asia pushed me outside my comfort zone. The key to dealing with those squat toilets and long hikes and even food poisoning? A good attitude. Make sure to pack yours.

Pack for Central Asia - Positive Attitude

Bonus: Travel Insurance

After getting food poisoning in Central Asia and having to call emergency medical service, let me just say that having travel insurance would really have helped cover the costs (even though they were way more reasonable than in the U.S.)

Travel insurance is just helpful to know that if something goes wrong during your trip, you’re covered, ya know? I recommend World Nomads for travel insurance. Click below to learn more about what their insurance covers (pretty much everything you need it to!):

Do you have other questions about what to pack for Central Asia? Let me know in the comments!

This post was made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Competitiveness, Trade, and Jobs Activity in Central Asia. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

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