Eastern Tibet, as a part of the “Roof of the World”, challenges travelers with its harsh and spectacular nature. But this nature, along with the high altitude of this land has high requirements about your luggage. So, what to bring if you travel to Eastern Tibet? It looks a bit complicated, and many people think that they have to prepare professional mountaineering gear. Do they really need it? Read below about how to prepare your luggage that includes your Eastern Tibet special packing list.
A short intro to Eastern Tibet
First- where is Eastern Tibet? Geographically, this is the eastern part of the whole of the Great Tibetan Plateau, which is outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), where its capital Lhasa is located. Unlike TAR, the eastern part of Tibet is not arranged in one single province or autonomous region, but is shared by the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan.
Culturaly, Eastern Tibet is divided into two regions- Amdo and Kham. Amdo lies in the north, mainly in Qinghai Province, while Kham is located mainly in western Sichuan and Yunnan.
For us travelers, particularly foreigners, TAR (Western Tibet) and Eastern Tibet are different places to travel. Naturaly and culturaly, it is all Tibet, but while in TAR foreigners need organized tour and travel permit, in Eastern Tibet we all can travel freely, just like between Beijing and Shanghai. This is the main reason why I separate Eastern Tibet as another place in this article. And preparing your special packing list for this region is one of the important parts of your travel.
What is a “special packing list”
When you go on a trip and prepare your luggage, normally you put inside many things that you use in your daily life at home, like underwear, toiletry, some daily used clothes, and some other things, depending on your own style.
But there are many other things that normally you would not use in your home. You would not need them during a trip too if you just go to cities with similar climates as your home place or other “civilized” destinations.
However, you would need these things if you go to a different environment, in the wild nature, or at least in a place with a different climate. Some of them can protect and save your life, while others- just to make your experience better.
And Eastern Tibet is a demanding place. It requires a lot of these special things, even during the easiest season for travel. So, all of them make your special packing list- your travel equipment for the “Roof of the World”.
But before determining your Eastern Tibet special packing list, let’s focus more on the nature of this amazing land.
The nature of Eastern Tibet
Many people imagine Tibet and the Himalayas as a harsh, cold place. And they are right. However, Tibet, particularly its eastern part is not the same everywhere. The lowest parts of Eastern Tibet reach less than 1000 m altitude (in some deep river valleys), and the highest point is Mt. Minya Konka- 7556 m. There is more than a 6000 m difference between these points!
Such a big altitude difference can tell you that Eastern Tibet has a very diverse climate and natural zones. Its lowest parts are almost subtropical while the highest peaks have a climate like in Antarctica.
But to be more precise, these extreme lowest and highest points are exceptions in the whole natural image of Eastern Tibet. The average altitude is between 3000 and 5000 m. That’s still a 2000 m difference.
Most of this area is covered by grassland, from 3000 to 5000 m. There are also some alpine coniferous forests in lower parts, from 3000 to 4100-4200. So, if you go on a trip to Eastern Tibet, this is what you will see almost all the time.
Eastern Tibet, as well as the whole of Tibet, is a plateau- the largest plateau on Earth, called Great Tibetan Plateau. So, large parts of it are flat or occupied by softly rolling hills. Sometimes these hills are higher, and the valleys between them are deeper and steeper, but in general, that’s what you can mostly see in this land- all of this covered mainly by grasslands and sometimes alpine forests.
There are also a lot of high mountains, rising like islands above the plains and the rolling hills, covered by eternal snow and glaciers. At the edges of the plateau, mainly in the east, there are more mountains with deep gorges between them, and almost no plains and rolling hills.
So, if you travel to Eastern Tibet, this is most of the landscape there. And if you go hiking, you would walk on flat, or not-so-steep trails, and on trails with higher difficulty in the mountains.
Seasons in Eastern Tibet
There are four seasons in Eastern Tibet, and they manifest differently in the different parts and elevations of this land.
The best season to visit Eastern Tibet is summer. This is the greenest and warmest time of the year there. The temperature range is usually between 10 and 22°C during the day and drops to -2 and +10°C during the night.
However, it is also the rainiest season, especially in the southern part of the land (northwest Yunnan and southern Sichuan), as well as the area around Qinghai lake. It doesn’t rain every day, and the rain is usually just cold, long, and not too strong, but sometimes it can still fall as a heavy downpour as a thunderstorm.
The early fall is the best season for the rainiest parts of Eastern Tibet. Yes, it is colder, the temperatures during the day don’t exceed 12-15°C, and during the night can drop to -10°C. Also, the grasslands are not fresh and green, but yellowish. Rainfalls are still possible, but more seldom. At least, this is a great time to explore the southern parts of Eastern Tibet, since the highest mountain peaks can be seen in their best image under the clear deep blue sky.
Winter is cold. Very cold. In some areas, the temperature can drop below -40°C, and in the high mountains can even reach -60°C. During the day it seldom becomes warmer than the point of freezing, and it is usually only in the lower parts. Besides, it can be windy.
At the same time, there is very little snow that melts under the strong sun, even if it is below 0°C. This is because winter is the driest season in Eastern Tibet, and there is almost no precipitation. In general, it is not the best season to travel there.
Spring is quite a bit like fall, but just in reverse succession- from cold to warm. The last remnants of snow melt, and only the eternal snow and ice on the high mountain remain. But the grassland is still yellowish. At least spring is relatively dry, except in the southernmost areas of Eastern Tibet, where the monsoon change can be felt more clearly.
This is something that Eastern Tibet, as well as the whole of Tibet and the Himalayas, is well-known for. And this is what most of the people who haven’t been in such a high place worry about.
They ask: “What is to breathe at 4000 m altitude?” “Can I get altitude sickness?”, or they just worry: “Probably I can’t stand such a high altitude!” And indeed, some people experience difficulties there.
But there are guidelines about how to get used to the high altitude, and if you follow them, generally, you should not have any problem.
“Can I bring something with me against altitude sickness?” There is not much you can bring and do against it. Yes, there are some medicines like Diamox (Acetazolamide) or Nifedipine (Procardia), but they can only help in reducing the symptoms (if they appear). Again, the best medication is to follow the ascending to the high altitude guidelines.
Ok, now, knowing the conditions in Eastern Tibet, let’s focus on the special packing list of equipment that you would need to travel there.
Special packing list for Eastern Tibet
As you can see, Eastern Tibet can be very diverse. So, your special packing list for this land depends on where you go, what time of the year you go, and the type of travel you do- a self-driving trip with fewer adventures in the nature, a mountain trekking, peak climbing, a bike-riding trip, or other forms of travel.
So, let’s start with the easiest and most popular way to travel in Eastern Tibet- a trip by self-driving, or by bus traveling, focusing on cities, monasteries, and some other local natural places, not far from the main paved roads. Let’s do it on an average altitude between 3000 and 5000 m, and let it be in summer.
Special packing list for route travel in summer
This is the easiest packing list for Eastern Tibet. But again, unless you come from another cold place (like New Zealand, Southern Australia, or Patagonia, since it would be winter there at the same time), you have to prepare for a weather change.
Then yes, if you don’t plan long treks, but only short walks, you don’t need too much. However, even short walks would require at least something more proper. So, let’s take a look.
Clothes for summer in Eastern Tibet
I usually spend summers in places where the weather is hot. And I wear only one short-sleeved T-shirt, short pants (of course, with underwear) and sandals. But when I travel to places like Eastern Tibet, I have to prepare for cool, fall-spring-like weather.
Quick-dry long-sleeves T-shirt
This is proper to wear on a cool sunny day. Yes, it can be with short sleeves too, but have in mind that the solar radiation in Eastern Tibet is very strong and your arms can easily experience sunburn.
Also, if rain starts and you get wet, such a T-shirt can dry easier than clothes from other materials. Let’s take a look at some quick-dry T-shirts:
Wool long-sleeves T-shirt
Such a kind of T-shirt is good too. Again, long sleeves are preferable. It is not as quick to dry as the first type of T-shirts above, but it has better protection from the cold. A wool long-sleeved T-shirt is proper not only during the day but as first-layer clothing during the cold nights in Eastern Tibet too. Let’s take a look at these T-shirts:
This is like a long-sleeved T-shirt, but thicker than it. There are polars (sweaters) made of various materials, but again, the best material is wool. It has the best protection on cold nights. You can also stay wearing such a sweater during a cold rainy day when the temperature is usually not higher than 12-15°C. So, let’s see some wool polars (sweaters) below:
A thin jacket can be also a very convenient garment. With this, during a nice sunny day, you can wear a short-sleeve T-shirt, and a thin jacket can protect you from the strong sun, and from the wind if it is windy. And if the weather is cold, the thin jacket can warm you more if you wear it over a polar (sweater). Let’s take a look at some thin jackets:
This jacket is thicker and is proper for winter in the lowlands. And in Eastern Tibet, you would definitely need it for the night, when the temperature drops below 5°C, sometimes even below 0°C. Yes, you can sleep in a guesthouse, or in a hotel, but there is no heating in summer everywhere. Also, you would like to go out for dinner, and a winter warm jacket can protect you well. So, let’s see some warm jackets too:
Yes, Eastern Tibet is not a place for short pants (unless you are well-weathered), except in the lowest places, below 3000 m altitude. On the other hand, in summer you don’t need thick winter pants. Thin hiking pants or just normal long jeans would be enough. They are proper not just to protect you from cold, but for protection if you sit on the grass.
Let’s take a look at the long pants below:
You need it to protect you from the strong sun. It is not against cold- during the summer in Eastern Tibet, it is not that cold. But a good summer hat, especially if it is wide-brimmed, can protect not only your head but also your neck from sunburn.
So, you would need a summer hat when you go for a short walk. Let’s take a look at some proper summer hats:
Now, let’s take a look at what you need to wear.
Short walk footwear for summer in Eastern Tibet
Eastern Tibet is not a place for normal city walks- yes, the weather is cool, but it is not like walking in Paris or London during the spring or fall, except in the centers of the largest cities like Yushu or Kangding.
Yes, most of the roads, even in the small towns are well-paved, but if you want good-quality travel, you would like to visit places of interest, many of which accessible by dirt roads and paths. They can be muddy or at least uneven and bumpy, often requiring more than a 5-10 min walk.
So, normal big city shoes are not so proper for such conditions, but you need something that is used for mountain hiking.
Summer hiking shoes
The summer hiking shoes are low and lightweight. Since the weather is not so cold, they are good enough to protect your feet warm. With them, you can walk on raw and uneven terrain without a problem.
And if they have good waterproof feature would be better- although rains are not so often, dirt roads can remain muddy. Also, during the nice sunny days, the grass is wet by morning dew that can easily wet your feet.
Let’s take a look at some summer hiking shoes:
Three-season hiking shoes
These shoes are taller, stronger, more stable, providing better protection for your feet. In general, you don’t necessarily need them for short walks, although sometimes you would walk on quite a rough terrain. But at least you would be better prepared for a longer hike if there is such an opportunity. Besides, these shoes can provide more warmth to your feet too.
Let’s see some of them:
Of course, you need socks while you wear your shoes. But not all kinds of socks material is good. Avoid cotton or silk sock! Like for all of the other types of clothing, the best material is wool again. It can protect your feet warm, at the same time it absorbs the feet sweat better than other materials.
Let’s take a look at some wool socks:
In general, that’s what you have to wear in Eastern Tibet. And of course, bringing more T-shirts, more socks, and more underwear is always good, depending on the duration of your trip. But some other accessories are also necessary, or at least very useful.
Many accessories are a part of important travel equipment, but for an easy self-driving or bus trip with short walks, you don’t need most of them. However, several things are highly recommended.
When you go on such an easy Eastern Tibet trip, most of your luggage can be in big backpacks or even suitcases (with wheels). But for the short walks, you would often need to bring something necessary. And if your walk is a bit longer, it would be a must. So, a small backpack with a volume of around 20-30 L would be a good choice for that purpose- lightweight and convenient.
Let’s take a look at some small backpacks:
As I mentioned above, summer is the rainiest part of the year. Yes, it doesn’t rain every day, and rains are usually short, but if you are anyway caught by rain during your walk, a raincoat would be a much better solution than an umbrella. Again, short walks in Eastern Tiber are often uneven and bumpy, and an umbrella would be too inconvenient to bring.
If you don’t like raincoats anyway, you can at least bring a waterproof jacket. It can be the same kind of thin jacket that is described above but just with higher waterproof features.
Again, the sun in the high altitude is much stronger than in the lowlands, including its UV rays. So, normally in the grasslands sunglasses are not necessary, although they can help a lot. But if you go walking to snowy areas like glaciers, etc., sunglasses would be a very important accessory. If you bring normal glasses, today some sunglasses can be attached to your glasses, so that’s not a big problem.
And it is important to choose sunglasses with good UV protection. Otherwise, the strong sun radiation can harm your eyes. So, let’s take a look at the sunglasses:
Sunburn is something very real in Eastern Tibet, no matter whether it is warm or freezing cold. And it is not like on a beach at the seaside, where you can expose your skin to the sun to make a good tan. Again, on the high altitudes, the UV rays are much stronger, and they cause sunburn.
So, it is good to bring sunscreen when you go for a walk, and cover your exposed skin with a layer of it. Yes, the local Tibetans (who are usually with a bit darker skin) don’t do it, but they have grown there during their whole life. We foreigners are different, and our skin is not adapted to such conditions.
And the best sunscreens are at least between 45 and 60 SPF or above. Let’s take a look at the sunscreens too:
That’s the most important of the things that you would need for an easy Eastern Tibet trip. And of course, don’t forget your other necessary things like power bank, battery charging cable for your mobile, some other normal daily clothes and underwear, etc.
But if you want to dive deeper into the nature of Eastern Tibet, you should join a longer trek- an experience that can be difficult, but really fantastic. And you should add more of the important accessories to those that I already described above. So, let’s get into detail.
Special packing list for summer trekking in Eastern Tibet
In general, this packing list would content not so different accessories than those that you would bring for trekking in every high mountain on the Earth. However, some details are specific for the Roof of the World only.
And now we talk about trekking in summer, mainly between 3000 and 5000-5200 m altitude- on grasslands and forests, and only sometimes a glacier (eventually). Many routes in Eastern Tibet include the most attractive mountains and the grassland areas around them, and usually, they are at least 4-5 days, some of them even more than 10 days.
For such a multiple days trek, you need much more luggage to bring, so you need a good large-volume backpack. I should be at least 70 L or more. Good quality backpacks have good waterproof features, they are durable and convenient, with enough pockets and straps.
Remember, you have to put inside the backpack everything that you need for the whole trekking and no matter how you try to reduce the weight, your backpack still will remain full. So, let’s take a look at the good backpacks below:
Normally, a tent would be the only shelter that you can spend the night during a multiple days trek. Yes, sometimes the local Tibetan nomads can invite you in their tents, but don’t count on it- these nomads are not everywhere.
The best kind of tent you need is a small one (2-person in the best), three-season, and as more as possible lightweight. Also, it should be with good waterproof and windproof features- rain (even snow) and wind are possible at night. Let’s take a look at the tents:
And let’s see what you need inside the tent.
The sleeping bag is one of the important camping accessories. And the best types of sleeping bags for Eastern Tibet are those that are mummy-shaped, with a comfort temperature of at least 0°C (30°F), although I would recommend warmer, with lower comfort temperature sleeping bags, like -10°C (14°F). If anyway you feel cold, because the temperature can drop below freezing, you have to sleep wearing your winter jacket or something else that can keep you warm.
Here are some good sleeping bags:
This is another important accessory. The ground under you is cold and can be a bit wet at the night. So you need good insulation. Besides, it can be uneven by stones or grubbed by some local animals. And a good, thick and soft sleeping pad can also provide comfort.
Good sleeping pads have a higher R-value (R-value measures the grade of insulation), proper for the conditions in Eastern Tibet. So, the most proper sleeping pads have R-value between 3 and 4,5. Higher R-value can be even more warm and comfortable, but it would be too big for your backpack luggage.
Let’s see some sleeping pads:
Besides these, don’t forget a soft and comfortable pillow. If you anyway forget it, you have to use your backpack or something else, otherwise, you would experience a very difficult sleep (if you can sleep at all). But an inflatable pillow would be the best option.
No matter whether you stay in your tent at the night, go to the toilet or still walk, you would need a light. And the best source of light is a headlamp. It is convenient, because it is hands-free, and at the same time, being close to your eyes, it provides the best lighting for you.
So, let’s take a look at some good headlamps below:
There is another problem in Eastern Tibet (as well as in the whole of Tibet). Due to the high altitude, you would feel thirsty more quickly than at sea level. At the same time, you will see a lot of bodies of water- ponds, rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, but you can’t drink it, despite the temptation to do it. Yes, some of the waters are drinkable, but many of them are not (they can contain some bacteria or other harmful microorganisms), and you don’t know which you can drink from.
So, you have to cook the water. There is a lot of pure water that only has to be cooked to kill some microorganisms (if any). For this purpose, you need a cooking set- a gas bottle with a lighter system and some simple vessels.
And of course, you would use it not only for water but for some simple food cooking too. If you plan to bring only dry food- it would be a mistake- you will be too thirsty and you would feel disgusted by the dry food. You will desire something liquid- soup, noodles, or anything like this. Let’s take a look at the cooking sets:
The hiking routes in Eastern Tibet are often difficult, steep, on uneven terrains, like in most of the high mountains of the Earth, even though large parts of the land are on a plateau. And there is more here- in the high altitude, you get tired more quickly than at the sea level.
So, hiking poles can help you when you are tired, bringing your heavy backpack. Yes, if there were only forests, you probably could find some rods, but in Eastern Tibet, most of the routes are in open spaces, and your only option is hiking poles. Let’s take a look at some good hiking poles below:
Although in summer it is not very cold, the weather still can be harsh. If you go for a short walk, it wouldn’t be a big problem, but a long trek is different. Yes, most of the time it is sunny, but sometimes a storm can appear, with strong winds, icy rain, even snow (it happened to us once, during our trek in Genyen Mountain).
So, prepare a winter hat for your luggage, it could protect your head from freezing. Let’s take a look at some winter hats:
You would need gloves for the same reason. Sometimes the weather can change without warning, within minutes. If a strong wind with icy rain or snow starts, your hand can freeze quickly. And since you hold your hiking poles, you can’t just put them in your pockets, and even if you do it, it can’t help too much and it is inconvenient.
So, bring a pair of gloves on a trek in Eastern Tibet is also very important. Let’s take a look at some good, waterproof gloves:
As I already mentioned above, you will be thirsty. Of course, you can just bring bottles, get some water, cook it and then put it in your backpack. But a better and more convenient way is to pour the water into a water bladder (after cooking), put it into the backpack, and drink at any time you feel thirsty. So, let’s take a look at the water bladders:
For a long trek, you would need some electricity that you can use for recharging your mobile, your GPS, your headlamp, and probably some other accessories that you bring. There would be no place to recharge for many days. And a solar panel would be your only source of electricity.
Fortunately, the sun in Eastern Tibet is strong, the weather is sunny most of the time, so you would have enough electricity. You just can attach it to your backpack and it will charge while you walk.
So, let’s take a look at some convenient solar panels:
In general, that’s the most important additional accessories that you would need for long trekking in Eastern Tibet during the summer. Now, let’s see how about other seasons.
Special packing list for spring and autumn
Is there any difference for the Eastern Tibet special packing list in other seasons? Yes, but not too much.
The only difference is the temperature. For spring and fall, you just have to bring more warming accessories. At least you don’t need to worry too much about rain and wetting, because these seasons are much drier than summer.
So, whether you go for a road trip with short walks, or for trekking, you definitely need one thing- winter pants.
Winter pants are thicker than summer hiking pants, and this makes them warmer. If you go on an easier road trip, you would need them when you are outside, since the temperature is lower and often drops below freezing. The good thing is that there is heating in the hotels and guesthouses, so you don’t need to worry about the night.
But if you go on a trek, you would need winter pants all the time. So, let’s take a look at some winter pants below:
Other spring-autumn accessories
Other things that you would need are a winter hat and winter gloves, even for short walks. Maybe not necessary all the time, but at least in the morning and evening.
If you go on a trek, you can still bring the same three-season tent, but you would need a sleeping bag with a lower temperature of comfort- at least -20°C (-4°F). And better don’t bring summer hiking shoes, it would be cold for your feet. Three-season hiking boots would be the best footwear. All other clothes would be the same, but now the T-shirt would be just your first layer of clothing.
And how about winter?
Special packing list for winter
In general, winter is not the best season for traveling in Eastern Tibet, mainly due to the severe cold, but also due to some closures and restrictions in February, since at that time is the Tibetan New Year. But anyway, you can still travel there and can have a good time.
Is there any difference in your packing list? Again, yes. Now, you would not need any summer things like a summer hat or raincoat- if there is any precipitation, it would be only dry snow.
If you go on an easier road trip with short walks, now you have to wear like in cold winter- winter coat, winter pants, three-season hiking boots, winter hat, winter gloves, and inner layers of T-shirts and a sweater.
Trekking in Eastern Tibet during winter?
Trekking in winter is not advised- it is too cold, especially at night! But anyway, if you want to go on a trek in Eastern Tibet during the winter, you have to prepare for a serious adventure, like a polar expedition!
You have to be ready to spend the night in -40 (-40F), even -50°C (-58°F)! So, you would need a winter (four-season) tent and a sleeping bag with an extremely low temperature of comfort.
Also, it would be snowy in some places, so you would need winter mountaineering boots. They are harder than the three-season boots, so they are proper for all kinds of crampons, that you would also need. In addition, you would need an ice axe- all of these are for passing through snowy and icy surfaces.
Let’s take a look at some winter mountaineering boots:
And some ice axes:
Special packing list for other activities in Eastern Tibet
Two other activities are popular in Eastern Tibet- biking and mountaineering (climbing). How about them?
Biking in Eastern Tibet
For this, the first thing, of course, is to rent a good bike- and you can do it in Chengdu, Lanzhou or other big cities. Biking is proper for spring, summer, and fall, but not winter- it is too cold. And the best bike you rent (or somehow bring) should be a touring bike.
So, in general, you can bring most of the same things that you need for trekking. Of course, you would not need hiking poles. Also, the best you can do is to replace your big backpack with the side bags on your bike.
Then everything depends on whether you plan to sleep in hotels and guesthouses, or in a tent, wherever the night falls.
Mountaineering (climbing) in Eastern Tibet
Although Eastern Tibet is not as popular as the Himalayas and Karakoram, there are still a lot of alpine peaks above 5500 m altitude that provide the same level of difficulty. Popular mountains for climbing are Minya Konka, Siguniang, Chola, Amnye Machen, Genyen, Yading, Yuzhu Peak in Kunlunshan, and Zhara (Yala).
All of them require a climbing tax that depends on the elevation of the peaks. Yes, it is definitely cheaper than Mt. Everest, but still, you have to consider that. Then, everything depends on your mountaineering skills, an organization with others, and your equipment. For more details, see our mountaineering equipment guide.
Too heavy? Reduce weight and volume!
Yes, if you go on a road trip, especially by rental car or organized tour, it wouldn’t be a problem- you just leave your heavy luggage in the car and go for a walk. If you travel by bus, it would be not so convenient, but at least your luggage would not be too heavy. But what about a trek?
That’s why don’t go on a trek in Eastern Tibet solo! Yes, it is possible, but you have to bring everything by yourself. Don’t mention the safety problem and dangers like storms, blizzards, bad dogs, etc.
So, the best way is to join a group with at least one Chinese or Tibetan member. Thus, if you are four people, you would need only two 2-person tents. Two of you would bring tents, and the other two would bring other things like a cooking set and more food. Those who are stronger can help others.
That’s about traveling in Eastern Tibet. Your packing list is a very important part of your trip, and as you can see, it is not so difficult to arrange. Just don’t forget the most important things, and don’t bring too much, especially things that you would not use, and you can enjoy a great experience in this wonderful highland.
Check some travel books about Tibet:
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