Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro as the beautiful Serengeti lies below you, is one of the most spectacular African journeys available to man. I was blown away at the striking landscape and the people of Tanzania. The experienced hiking guides are strong climbers and want you to succeed. Here’s the small problem… I was stunned at the lack of preparation other climbers had made for the hike. It’s hard and you really need to know you stuff.
If you are a good hiker, it can be done with some effort but it’s REALLY worth it… Here are a few of my personal tips that will help you reach the summit.
1. Training for Kilimanjaro
The Kilimanjaro climb is often sold as an adventure holiday in an effort to sell more trips and gear but the mountain claims several lives every year so it is best to be fit and prepared for the challenge.
There are a few who decide to take on the mountain with little to no training, from my experience, this would be a mistake. Most recommend a minimum of 3 months training.
Although you do not need to be an expert marathon runner to manage this climb, incline and cardio training, even on a treadmill is essential to ensure you are up to the challenge. You can load a backpack with around 20 pounds of weight to help you prepare for the climb.
Most days on the climb involve hiking for 5 to 7 hours a day before the final assent and decent which can be around 15 hours. Get hiking fit!
2. Good Hiking Boots
To ensure your feet survive day one, your hiking boots need to be worn in. When starting your training, have your boots ready and waiting. Use them regularly as part of your training to ensure they are comfortable.
We would recommend hiking boots over shoes as they offer additional ankle support which you will definitely need especially when you are tired and on the shale slopes. Taking a bad step is inevitable and a sprained ankle will not be welcome.
3. Water Purification Tablets
The water available on the mountain is not drinkable without boiling or purification tablets. There is no natural water source so the water at the camps has been carried there and often stands for long periods. Water purification tablets will ensure you don’t pick up any unwanted bugs. To make the water taste a bit better, bring along energy supplements to add to the water and mask the taste of the tablets.
4. Wet Wipes
At the end of a day’s hiking, you will be presented with a small, shallow bowl of water with which to clean yourself. Given how dirty you get from the hike, you won’t get far with a little water.
Wet wipes are a welcome and refreshing addition to you cleanliness regime. Being able to clean yourself up plays a huge roll in your psychological mind-set to prepare you for the next climb.
Another factor in hygiene is that the toilets are pre-dug “long-drops” in little toilet cabins. So you don’t use portable toilet seats, the kind traditionally used in modern camping setups. You’ll definitely want to have some way to clean your hands after using these makeshift cabins.
5. Hiking Energy Snacks
From our experience on the climb, most of the food provided is carb rich and deep fried in old oil. Your guides knows what basics you need to keep you going but it does not hurt to boost your nutrition with individually packaged energy bars or packets of nuts.
Energy drink powders make a welcome change to the slightly chemical taste that the water purification tablets leave in your drinking water.
6. Hand Sanitizer
I am no germaphobe but am completely convinced that the environment, limited hygiene and access to water was the reason that 90% of our group became ill along the route. My hiking partner and I remained free of any tummy bugs or nausea by using hand sanitiser before every meal and both before and after every bathroom visit.
The climb is challenging enough without having to contend with any illness. A bottle of sanitizing hand spray or gel is light and well worth the minimal extra effort. As you ascent, the bathroom conditions become increasingly primitive, you will not regret carrying this little extra weight.
7. Carry a Lightweight Backpack
Depending on the tour or route you have selected, the average backpack should weigh about 10 pounds. Your lightweight backpack should include 2 litres of drinking water, a warmer outer jacket should the weather become cooler, your snacks for the day and your camera.
Your guides will have a team that carry the balance of your belongings to the next camp.
8. Warm Hiking Jacket and Hiking Gloves
As you will be passing through 4 different climate zones on the Kilimanjaro climb, it is a good idea to layer your clothing so you can remain comfortable and not overheat or become too cold. Wearing a base thermal layer and a medium warmth fleece is recommended. Your outer jacket should be carried in your backpack in case the weather changes as well as for the higher, colder parts of the mountain. You will need gloves on your last night so have them ready. Disposable heating pads can be placed in the palm of your hands to keep you that extra bit more snug.
9. Camera with Reliable Battery Life
It goes without saying that you will want to document every step of your trip. Often, batteries die faster in cold temperatures so if you have a spare, keep it in your jacket, close to your body.
The final climb is generally completed during the night so that you summit at sunrise. This image above the clouds is without a doubt a scene you will not want to forget or capture for friends and family. The red and orange of the sunrise contrasted with the white and blue glaciers is magnificently magical.
10. Avoid the use of Altitude Sickness Tablets
Some believe that medication used for Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) masks the symptoms of Altitude Sickness. We recommend avoiding Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) by following the following 3 basic steps.
- Walking slowly and do not exert yourself. Your guides will constantly repeat these words, “Pole Pole” (pronounced Polay Polay), meaning ‘Slowly Slowly’ in Swahili. Listen to them.
- Keep hydrated. The more you drink, the better. The daily recommended intake is 3 litres.
- Climb High and Sleep Low. This allows you to experience altitude for a short period before descending to sleep. It is recommended to have an acclimatisation day on Kilimanjaro.
The most important thing is to listen to your guides. They have made the climb many times and are their primary focus is your health and a successful summit. Get ready for a fantastic experience and life long memories. We wish you a safe and successful climb.