Climbing Kilimanjaro: this is everything you need to know


So you’ve seen the photos of a mysterious snow-capped mountain in Tanzania, you’ve heard tales of triumph from those who have summited, and now you’re feeling drawn to the challenge of Mt. Kilimanjaro - the towering ‘Roof of Africa’ - yourself.

But what do you need to do to prepare yourself for the climb? and what's actually involved in the trek? These are questions we're often asked, and an important one at that. Before you go lacing up your hiking boots and booking your trek there are a few things you need to know. First, depending which resource you use, the successful summit rate sits between only 40-65% each year. Luckily, while the odds may not look ever in your favour, there are a few easy ways you can maximise your chances of success.

climbing Kilimanjaro: here is everything you need to know

Invest in your boots

The bond between you,  your hiking boots, and Kilimanjaro is a love story for the ages. Call us melodramatic, but a good pair of hiking boots will make or break your hike. Some days (particularly summit night) your feet will spend around 10 hours in these babies. If they’re not the perfect fit your feet are going to let you know very quickly and painfully, jeopardising your chance at success.

Get your boots fitted properly at a hiking store, no ifs or buts. Ask if they have a ramp you can test them out on too. Walking up and down hill puts pressure on different places; buying a pair of boots that bruise, blister, and batter your toes on a downhill is even less fun than it sounds.

Dress for the climate

Kilimanjaro is in Africa, and Africa is always warm, right?  Truth is, beyond the first day, the mountain can be brutally cold. Make sure you have:

  • Thermals – bottom and top. Take a couple of pairs, and keep one clean pair specifically for sleeping. You’ll thank us for it.
  • Down jacket: Non-negotiable!
  • Sleeping bag – make sure yours is warm enough! If you’re hiring one, test it before you start. We can’t stress this enough – Mark suffered through some very cold nights due to a too-thin hired sleeping bag.
  • Your tour company should provide you with a guide to the rest of your clothes. If not, ask them for guidance!

Breathe easy

At a towering 5895m [19,340 ft] above sea level, Kilimanjaro is classed as an ‘extreme altitude’ trek. Why is this worth noting? Each step you take past 3,000m, the air around you thins out. By the time you hit the summit, those tired lungs of yours are only able to access half the amount of oxygen (y’know, that vital life source stuff) that they normally would at sea level.

At these levels, you’re susceptible to an unpleasant guest – altitude sickness, and its more advanced forms; fluid on the lungs (Miranda discovered this one during our own hike last year) or swelling on the brain. The kicker is that unfortunately, altitude affects everyone in different ways. You might be an ultra-marathon runner and be forced to abandon your trek early on, or a pack-a-day smoker and breeze your way on up to the top. Ugh. Life can be cruel.

Our tips for fighting this buzzkill:

  • See your doctor before you leave and get a script for altitude medication like Diamox (it's also an idea to get a check-up too). On the topic of medication: Imodium, Panadol, and Voltaren are your new bffs on the mountain too!
  • G-O S-L-O-W. Conserve your energy. Reaching summit is one of those rare occasions where strolling along at your grandma's pace is totally acceptable.
  • Water has oxygen. Oxygen is life. Drink all the water. But don't worry if you forget this point - your guides certainly won't. Ours made sure we each drank 3-4 litres a day of water, tea, milo or juice.

Eating isn’t cheating

Your chefs will pretty much whip up 3-course meals at every single sitting. Dreamy right?! Unfortunately, the higher you go, the less you feel like eating. By this, we really mean that meal-times feel worse than waking from a sweaty nightmare.

But guess what?! You have to eat absolutely everything placed in front of you.

  • Regardless of how sick you feel, eat as much as you can at every possible opportunity.
  • If you’re sick post meal, you're gonna have to serve yourself a fresh plate and saddle up that pony again.
  • Protein, carbs and sugar are essential nutrients on Kilimanjaro, so buy up plenty of chocolate bars before you head to the mountain. They can also be easier to get down if you’re struggling to eat!

Train for your trek

Altitude might have the final say in a successful climb, but being in good physical condition is vital in the debate.

We get it: training can be hard to fit into busy lives, but when you're faced with a 12-hour hike up and down steep inclines on Kilimanjaro you'll be thankful you prepared your legs for the task.

  • Walk or ride to work every day. If this isn't feasible, get out the door and walk at either end of your work day.
  • Spend your weekends hiking mountains. Steep mountains.
  • If you can, try altitude training at a local gym, and get used to hiking at heights.
  • Start swimming. When you swim, your body is forced to exert itself with limited oxygen available... Sound familiar?

Pack your sanity

Many experts have provided comprehensive packing and equipment lists for Kilimanjaro so we’re not going to repeat these. However, see our top five ‘other’ things to bring to basically keep your sanity intact:

  • Ipod – you’ll need music during the long, mentally challenging periods. Plus, hearing songs after that bring back memories of your trek is pretty awesome (seriously, it’s been over a year and Miranda still gets emotional hearing Coldplay’s midnight).
  • Putting your boots back on just to walk to dinner or the toilet sucks, so bring an alternative pair to wear here. Be warned though, the toilets on the mountain are pretty much from the depths of hell - so make sure your alternative footwear can deal with this!
  • A solar panel charger. Hang it on your bag and let the sun charge your electronic goods during the day
  • Wet wipes will keep you (relatively) clean
  • Bring a Buff – a brilliant multipurpose tool that can act as a scarf, face mask, head band, sweat band etc and protect you from the wind, dust and sun.

Bonus tip:

Obviously you won't need cash during your trek, but make sure you carry it with you for the final day! You’ll need to organise cash tips for your team (guides, porters, cooks and waiter) ahead of time and be ready to distribute it on your final day. Learn from our mistakes and you won't be left with the red-faced shame of having to tell half of your amazing team that you need to drop past HQ the next day to give them the rest of the tips. Sorry fellas!

Have you done an altitude climb before? How did you prepare for it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!