Packing for the Trans-Siberian Railway can be a daunting prospect. If you have never taken a long train journey before, you may not know what to expect. Never fear! On our Trans-Siberian adventure from Shanghai to St Petersburg, we picked up some great packing tips. Follow this Trans Siberian packing list and tick off the items as you go, soon you will be packing like a pro.
Plus, at the bottom of the post, you can download the complete packing list!
This is not the time to over-pack (that is one of the reasons I created this list). There really isn’t a lot of space for luggage storage so the ideal luggage is a soft-sided bag of no more than 60 litres. Packing light is a skill you will be extremely grateful for on this trip. If you need some advice, check out these tips for packing light.
We opted to use backpacks for four reasons:
With all that in mind, something like the Osprey Fairview 40L would be perfect. I like Osprey as they have a lifetime guarantee. (I have to have a children’s pack as my back is so very short).
During our train journeys, the carriages ranged massively in temperature. On the fast train in China, I was huddled under a giant scarf doubling as a blanket. In Russia, despite the freezing temperatures outside, one of our trains was around 30°C. We were all roasting!
How much clothing you will need depends on how many stops you plan to do and for how long. If you are planning on doing the train all in one go, you will be travelling for a whole week. In this case, you will need at least:
Stopping off in hostels/hotels with laundry facilities will reduce this. We like to have seven days worth of clothes with us when we travel either way though. It is a just in case thing.
To stay fresh, you will need to change your clothes every day. Personally, I believe that you also need to change out of your day clothes for bed, and that means PJs. The carriages will warm up during the night, and the duvets provided are quite thick, so I would recommend a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.
Gents – If you wear boxer shorts, these could do for these purposes but do bear in mind that if you need to pop to the bathroom, people are going to see you in your undies. If you prefer tighty-whiteys, then please do get some shorts to sleep in!
Ladies – There are lots of PJ sets with shorts and a strap top but I think a full t-shirt is better. It allows you to dispense with your bra overnight, this will help keep you fresh. It also means you don’t wake up accidentally exposing your bra, or lack of, to the rest of your cabin-mates.
Russia, in winter, is cold. No surprises there.
However, just how cold it is, is hard to grasp until you are faced with it. I learned some hard lessons about what to pack for these conditions.
A very good coat is an absolute must! I was lucky enough to take a heated coat but this was ordered specially from the USA.
If you can’t do that then investing in a proper down coat would be the best option. Find one that comes down past your bottom to truly stay warm and pair it with a windproof jacket over top for a properly cosy feeling.
I cannot keep my fingers warm…like really, no gloves have EVER worked for me! That was until I got heated gloves. Such battery-powered joy!
If you can’t afford the heated variety, look for decent ski gloves and have a second, normal pair inside. You can whip the outer pair off and use your camera, keys etc without your fingers falling off in the -30°C cold.
There are two types of heat pad that would really make the winter chill more bearable. We used both and wouldn’t have given up either!
Single-use hand warmers are amazing for your feet. We cracked open a pair and stuck them to the underside of our toes. It kept them at a reasonable temperature, avoiding the insistent creep of cold through our boot soles.
The most important advantage of these is that they are reusable. This means they are great value and if you are sneaky, they can be used twice per boil. Boil them once to make the filling liquid, they will then hold their heat for a short while. To reactivate them, click the metal disc and the contents will harden and become warm. It is rather clever really.
I swear by packing cubes. I love them so very, very much and can’t recommend them enough!!
For this trip, I used my packing cubes in a slightly different way to normal.
Normally I would have my trousers, skirts and dresses in one, and all my tops in the other. However, for longer train travel, I found it easier to make a little pack for each day.
Take an extra packing cube to fill with laundry as you go. If they are the same size then one will just displace the other as it gets fuller meaning you don’t have to worry about repacking.
If you have sensitive skin or don’t enjoy using solid, basic soap, then bring your own. Some trains only have a communal bar of soap or industrial-strength liquid soap. It dried our hands out instantly, especially after having been in such cold weather. We took a travel soap with us to use as this was kinder to our hands. It even doubled up as washing up liquid for our dinner things (more to come on that later).
Washing your face, and anything else, in the bathrooms of the Trans-Siberian railway can be tricky. The sinks are clean but not sparkling, and the taps can’t be left running. You need to push up on a bar to make them work. I took face wipes with micellar water to use on my face and body. These are cleansing, moisturising and hydrating.
I know you will probably remember this, but some passengers don’t…
This is just a friendly reminder to think of others.
If you are doing the whole of the Trans-Siberian, or even just half of it, your hair may need a refresh. There is nowhere other than the bathroom sink to wash your hair, and then there is nowhere to dry it. If you have long hair, dry shampoo, hair ties and bandannas are your only options.
Nobody said this was going to be a glamorous trip!
OK, you do have an option here.
Every train has a dining car. These serve plenty of refreshments; crisps, nuts, chocolate and other bits for excellent snacking. The dining cars also have kitchens and you can get full meals. However, personally I feel like they are slightly overpriced for what you get. We visited on my birthday and got:
The meal cost us around £25. So what is the alternative?
Every carriage has a samovar at one end (that is a fancy word for a hot water urn). This means you can bring things that are re-hydrated by hot water in a few minutes; noodles, rice, couscous and the like. We took a few packets of Ainsley Harriott couscous, which has a few fun flavours.
Also, we chose a few tubs made by Prep Co. I liked the Prep Co brand as they have nice punchy flavours and each one has a serving of vegetables, something sorely lacking in many snack meals.
You can bring other food onboard but remember, it can be very hot on board so don’t bring anything that would go bad quickly.
If you are bringing food to cook, you will need some decent Tupperware to cook in. and some cutlery to eat it.
This is not only a great way to waste some time, but it may be an important communication tool as well.
Play Pictionary, play hangman, write poems or keep a travel journal. You would be amazed how creative you can be with these school bag basics.
These come in three forms and each has their pros and cons.
If you are an amateur photographer, you will probably want to be taking a smaller camera for packing for the Trans-Siberian railway. If you are doing the train from end to end then you won’t have loads of time to take photos so you may not need to bring all your gear. I would suggest bringing a smaller camera as you may not get that much chance to use it through the frozen, slightly mucky, windows.
Maybe, you will get by just with your smart phone!
If you are a professional photographer then you will have to make sacrifices elsewhere in your Trans-Siberian packing choices.
Due to the lack of plugs onboard the train, it is a VERY good idea to have a portable charger with you. I don’t mean the little ones that charge your phone once, but a decent-sized one that’ll give everything a few boosts.
This charger from Anker is small, light and powerful.
If you are anything like me, you can’t live without your phone for communications, social media, photography and time-wasting. During our Trans-Siberian trip, I had my phone attached to the charger far too much though, as I couldn’t stop playing a wildly addictive game.
Phone signal is usually only available in towns so you may want to keep your phone on airplane mode, or off, in between stops to save battery.
You may need to pack adapters for your electricals.
A top tip from us: Buy a multiplug. This means you can share one outlet with others if there’s only a few in your carriage.
If you need to do work, love to watch films or binge on TV series, then a laptop or tablet is the way to go. Bear in mind that you may struggle to charge these. I took my iPad Mini but we didn’t use it too much to preserve the battery.
Do you need to blow dry your hair? Can’t live without your straighteners or curling wand? This is where you will need to consider the weight and space implications. Bear in mind that if you are doing the Trans-Siberian from end to end, you won’t really have the chance to wash your hair properly.
You aren’t going to get anywhere without these. When we were preparing for our trip, we got our visas organised through a company called Real Russia. You can read all about their visa service in our post: The Real Russia’s Visa Service – Tran-Siberian Travels
You don’t want to find yourself stuck in the middle of Siberia with an injury and a huge medical bill. We’ve written about why getting travel insurance is vital; as it could cover all kinds of misfortunes.
If you book your tickets directly through the Russian Railways app, or Russia Railways website you can just show them on your phone. However, as the plugs can be few and far between, I would recommend having them printed out as a backup. It is always nice to use them as scrap paper too.
I really hope you find this guide useful. I have tried to get as much personal experience as I could in it but if there is anything that I have blatantly forgotten, just let me know by commenting below.
Whatever you put in your bag, have the best time traversing Russia by rail. It is one of the most amazing travel experiences on the planet! Now, get packing for the Trans-Siberian railway
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