Reindeer Riding in Mongolia
How to get there, what to pack and things to know before you go.
Mongolia was the last place on my radar. Hell, it wasn't even on my radar. Or even on the same planet as it. It simply did not exist in my world of destinations I needed to visit.

Until it did.

And when that happened, it changed my life. And I don't just mean that in one of those, "that trip was so good it changed me deep down inside as a person" kind of ways, I mean that in one of those "I must live in this country and learn as much about this culture and these insane adventures as I can" kind of ways. But I guess that's what riding a reindeer does to you.

So, how did I end up there?

Well, the short answer is... my friend knew a guy.

And it turns out, she knew the best guy. And once she showed me his Instagram, it changed my world. (Which it's about to do to you in 3... 2... 1... meet Mr. Erik Cooper himself.)

Fast forward through a phone call with Erik to talk about my horse riding skills (a crucial element to this adventure and something I wouldn't exactly call myself a pro at, but something I could get by on), followed by about a minute of consideration as to whether or not I pull the trigger and join this trip that was approaching in a month, and before I know it I'm booking a flight.

Turns out it's easy to say yes to once in a lifetime offers.

And I'd quickly learn that Erik's tours are as authentic as it gets. He's like family to the horse herding family he uses for horses for the trip as well as the Tsaatan family that we stayed with up on the taiga. Watching his relationship with them is one of the most touching parts of the trip (and there's no shortage of them).

And it's because he treats every family that he works with with respect. He pays each of the families more than fairly for their time, the food they prepared for us, and the reindeer riding expeditions they set us out on.
This isn't a trip to exploit a rare culture, it's a trip to immerse yourself in one at their invitation. And it isn't an invitation that many are granted.
There are only 44 families left in Mongolia's Tsaatan Tribe, the last tribe that herds and rides reindeer in the entire world.
So, I'm in Mongolia riding reindeer. (Yeah, that sentence never gets old.) How the f*** did I even start to pack for an adventure like this? Well, I learned the hard way so you don't have to.

Because when I say that you're four days away from civilization when you're out on this adventure, I mean it. Which means, packing smart is crucial. And not just because the nights are freezing, you'll be crossing rivers to get there and there's only enough room to bring a 75 liter waterproof duffel.
Packing Essentials

If you follow my social media you know I'm a huge fan of the Grayl Geopress ($89.95). In about eight seconds you have 24 ounces of drinking water that's free of waterborne pathogen (virus, bacteria, protozoan cysts), pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals and even microplastics, which is absolutely crucial since you'll be getting your drinking water from streams and rivers all along the way.

When you're in a land with no electricity, and it's the middle of the night and you need to go to the bathroom, the BioLite HeadLamp 330 ($49.95) is pretty much your best friend.

Never underestimate the power of a Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket ($199) on just about any adventure. It makes a nice pillow in the car and shove it in your sleeping bag to keep your feet warm at night, because nights up here are pretty brutal.

If you've never heard of waterproof socks, prepare to have your life changed. These Showers Pass Crosspoint Waterproof Mountain Socks ($45) are a wool blend, so they're warm and functional!

Remember that part about no electricity? That means no phone chargers as well, not that you'll have reception anyways. But I'm sure you'll find a use for this BioLite SolarPanel 5+ ($89.99) charger, even if it's just as a way to make friends with the herder boys.

Spend the money and invest in a solid waterproof bag like the Yeti Panga 75 Waterproof Duffel ($349.99). Trust me. Because arriving into camp and discovering everything you packed, including your sleeping bag, is sopping wet, is the absolute last thing you want to deal with after a long, exhausting day of riding.
Other things to know before you go.

Traveling through Mongolia is always an adventure. Most nomads don't speak English but that doesn't stop them from being some of the most hospitable people in the world. If you can remember these few things, you'll be treated like part of the family in no time.

When entering a tepee or ger (yurt), never step on the door frame and always walk clockwise around the stove in the center.

Never turn down food or tea when it's offered and always accept the bowl with your right hand.

When you give a gift, put it to your forehead first and then hand to the receiver with your right hand. They'll press the gift to their forehead as well, sealing the transfer of ownership.
The most common Mongolian greeting is "Sain baina!" Which roughly means "Hi, how are you?"

It's always polite to bring gifts to your host family, especially if they have children. Just keep in mind that the family is nomadic, so things like stickers and toys made of small plastic parts aren't ideal. Instead, cooking oil and spices (or jewelry) for mom, solar lights and Leatherman multi-tools for dad and chocolates or warm clothes for the kids are always much appreciated.

There's no need to buy a SIM card. If you have T-Mobile (or another cell phone provider with international coverage) you'll have cell phone reception in Ulaanbaatar. Once you leave the capital, even if you have a local SIM you won't have reception, which you won't need – or want – anyway.
Read more from Breanna's reindeer riding adventure: 22 Photos that Prove Life with Mongolia's Tsaatan Tribe is Magical
Gastro Obscura: The Key Ingredient in This Bread is Reindeer Milk
Follow Breanna on Instagram.
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