- A decent rain/waterproof wind jacket
- A lightweight and warm wool sweater
- Hiking boots
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Sunglasses (with really good UVA protection)
- A sturdy, practical daypack.
- (if camping): Camp stove and sufficient refills
- (If you like reading): A Kindle, iPad or Tablet (not a lot of non-Russian books here…)
Why You Should Bring These Things Instead of Buying Them Here:
(1) Most of these things you can find in Kyrgyzstan – in one form or another. But quality is often low and prices quite high – even for fakes or low-quality goods shipped right across the border from China (if you are coming from China, stock up in Urumqi – there are a few outfitting stores around Hongshan). Trying to find a winter jacket two years ago we discovered that there isn’t a great range of good-quality outdoor gear, a lot of stuff for sale is actually fake, and even the fakes are fairly pricey ($200 for a fake Columbia jacket with bad stitching and cheap lining). Due to taxes, import tariffs and shipping, most real brand-name gear will also be [much] more expensive than it is in the west.
(2) [Related to the reason above] There’s not a lot of midrange in Kyrgyzstan. Either you buy $4 sunglasses from a street stand or $300 Raybans (the same that cost $160 in the states); there are no $50 or $100 sunglasses. Same with daypacks – you can buy a really bad quality bag from the bazaar for a few dollars, or a bag from adidas for around a hundred.
(3) There’s a definite dearth of good outdoor sports gear for women. Sports/active wear there is, but camping wear pickings are slim. Most women’s wear is on the fashion and bling end of things. Apart from fake Tom’s from the bazaar, it can be hard to find even decent flats without rhinestones and other embellishments. Most women’s sunglasses for sale are not very suited to sports activities.
(4) Inconsistent Supply: don’t rely on being able to purchase something in Kyrgyzstan. You may be able to find it here, or you may not. There isn’t a large enough market for some things to create great enough demand to ensure consistent supply. Sometimes stores will run out of a product for several months at a time. If there’s something you know you will need (like extra canisters for you stove or equipment for your water filter), bring it with you.
However, If You Do Need to Stock Up in Bishkek:
- For non-tech gear, head to the bazaars. Osh and Dordoi Bazaars probably have the best selection of socks (including decent wool socks for about $1-2), cheap canvas shoes, string, hardware, and a thousand other sundries. Osh Bazaar also has a whole section of army gear…if you happen to need anything of that sort.
- Bishkek does have an assortment of sports and outfitting stores: Alex.kg on Sovietskaya, K2 on the southern end of Manas (2 blocks S of Axunbaeva), a complex of small sports stores on Moscovskaya (one block west of Manas, next to a furniture store), Gerger Sport between Sovietskaya and Manas on Gorkova (I think they have mostly winter gear), and the ‘Columbia’ sports store in Vefa Center (I think they carry some fakes). A longer list of stores here; I’m not sure how old this list is, as some stores may no longer exist.
- For techie camping gear: Vefa has a kiosk of (overpriced) good quality thermoses, grill gear, compases, binoculars, knives and other hardware on the second floor.
- For shoes: both Vefa and Bishkek Park have Ecco/Geox shoe stores. Osh and Dordoi bazaars have a decent selection of cheap canvas slip ons and light tennis shoes.
- For grills and other BBQ equipment: Beta Stores (both 1 on Chuy and 2 on KarloMarx) have a pretty good selection
- You can also rent equipment from the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan (TUK). They have bikes, tents, sleeping bags and a dozen other items all for reasonable rates.