Each year, nearly 40,000 people (and growing) attempt to climb Africa’s highest mountain: Kilimanjaro. Only about half successfully reach the summit of this iconic peak at 5,895 meters (19,341 feet). Before embarking on such a journey, it is critical to be prepared with the right gear, but knowing what you need to survive can be daunting. As I prepared for my own trip, I found a multitude of tips and lists, but none that were all encompassing. I had to piece together the puzzle from the variety of resources. If you are wondering, “Where do I even begin?” then you’ve come to the right place. The recommendations and tips below are broken into sections based on gear for each body part and then equipment needed from general climbing gear to personal toiletries. Enjoy and happy climbing!
- Warm hat or beanie: A thermal hat or beanie will keep you warm in the evenings and is critical for keeping your head and ears warm on summit night where you will be trekking in below freezing weather. Make sure your hat or beanie fits snug and covers your ears.
- Neck gaiter or bandana: A lightweight neck gaiter or bandana is one of the most versatile items you can pack. It can be used to protect your neck and face from the intense UV and intense cold temperatures and winds. A neck gaiter or bandana can also protect your nose and mouth from the Kilimanjaro dust. Ensure you purchase one that is lightweight, breathable and quick-drying.
- Sun hat: It can get quite sunny with strong UV rays. You’ll want a wide-brimmed sun hat to keep your face protected from a sunburn and your head cool. Make sure the material is breathable.
- Sunglasses with high UV protection: You will need sunglasses with high UV protection for your eyes. The sun can get intense, particularly as you reach higher altitudes and snow can reflect sunlight making it even more damaging for your eyes.
- Headlamp with extra batteries: A good headlamp will be needed for evening toilet runs and on summit night. Be sure to invest in a headlamp that has high brightness, long battery life, and is lightweight. Black Diamond is on the pricier end, but has one of the best light outputs.
- Lightweight gloves: A fleece or quick drying fabric lightweight glove is essential for keeping your hands warm at lower altitudes where your heavyweight glove might be too clumsy or heavy. As an alternative, you can purchase a good pair of thermal liner hiking gloves that can be used as your lightweight glove.
- Heavyweight insulated outer gloves (wind/water resistant): Having a good outer glove is probably one of the best investments. On summit night you will start your trek in below freezing weather. Imagine climbing for hours and having cold hands that you can barely move. It can be quite taxing trying to hold your trekking poles, take a sip of water, or feed yourself a snack with frozen hands. Not to mention it can feel painful. Be sure to buy a good, wind and water resistant pair of gloves for extreme cold weather to keep your hands warm.
- Glove liners: A thin pair of quick-wicking liners (synthetic or wool, not cotton) can be worn under your heavyweight gloves for added warmth and protection. If you purchase a good thermal pair these can also serve as your lightweight gloves at lower altitudes.
- Waterproof hiking boots: You’ll be on your feet for a 5-10 hours daily and it’s your feet that will take you to the top. One of the best investments will be in a quality pair of trekking boots. Ensure the boots are waterproof (recommend one using GoreTex material) to keep your feet dry. The boot should be mid-weight as heavier boots can add extra weight that is tiring for the hike, be at least medium top to provide good ankle support, and have a rubber sole for better traction. Be sure to break in your boots prior to your Kilimanjaro hike to avoid blisters or ill-fitting shoes. Salomon and Merrell make great hiking boots.
- Training shoes: After a long day of hiking you’ll want to rest your feet while at camp. A pair of training shoes will provide the comfort and offer protection that a pair of sandals won’t be able to.
- Socks: You’ll need a variety of socks for your hike. Be sure to invest in quality socks to prevent your feet from getting damp and developing blisters. The number of socks to bring depends on the number of days you will be trekking. Smartwool makes great socks.
- Outer Socks (3-4 pairs): These socks should be flat, moisture-wicking, and thick to protect your feet. Soft merino wool is ideal for comfort and performance with benefits such as breathability, ability to wick, quick-drying and odor resistance. For those that are allergic to wool, acrylic or acrylic-blend is a good alternative.
- Heavyweight thermal socks (1 pair): Though typically only worn once (on summit night), investing in a good, thick pair of thermal socks with good wicking is essential for keeping your feet warm as you make your way to the top.
- Liner Socks (3-4 pairs) (optional): Though not critical, liner socks are great to wear under your outer or thermal socks. They wick sweat away from your feet is a good preventive measure to getting blisters.
- Gaiter (optional): Gaiters extend up from your boot and are useful in preventing unwanted Kilimanjaro particles from getting into your boots such as mud, dust, water and pebbles.
- Light to medium weight base layer top (1-2) – Merino wool is recommended because it’s breathable, manages moisture better than any other fiber, odor resistant so you can wear it for days without smelling, quick drying and offers sun protection. Smartwool makes some great lightweight base layer tops. I also tried the Under Armour Base 3.0 Crew, which is a cheaper alternative, but didn’t feel as comfortable.
- Hiking shirt (3-4 short sleeve and 1 long sleeve for sun protection) – DO NOT wear cotton! You’ll be sweating and miserable! Ideally you want to get quick-drying polyester, merino or nylon shirts.
- Hard shell jacket – It’ll be windy, wet and cold so you want to be sure to invest in a great hard shell jacket (especially for summit night). Be sure it’s windproof, waterproof and warm. I bought the Arc’teryx Alpha SV jacket, which pained me a bit because of the price tag, but my body loved me for it when I was in the bone-freezing cold. Any Arc’teryx or Marmot coat with Goretex technology will be a good choice!
- Insulated jacket with hood or “primaloft” type extra insulating layer – This is the layer that will truly keep you warm and is the one layer I used every single day. Goose down is recommended since it will keep you warmest and is light. Be sure your coat comes with a hood that is adjustable so you can hike without having to worry about it being blown off by the wind. I chose the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoodie. Other great brands to consider include Arc’teryx or North Face.
- Light to medium weight base layer bottoms (1-2) – Smartwool Lightweight Base Layer Pants or Patagonia Capilene Lightweight Base Layer Pants are great options. Personally, I get cold really easily so I chose to go with the Under Armour Base 3.0 Leggings for most of the nights and upgraded to the thicker Under Armour Base 4.0 Leggings for summit night. They both worked wonderfully!
- Climbing / Trekking pants (2-3 pairs) – Recommend convertible hiking pants so you can wear them as shorts or long pants.
- Hard shell pants (1 pair) – Any water resistant, sun protective hard shell pants that is quick-drying such as these on REI will suffice. These pants will be critical on summit night or any day it rains. Be sure you can fit your base layer and trekking pants under the hard shell pants for summit night.
- Sports underwear/boxers or briefs – I know it sounds silly to invest and buy expensive underwear when I’m sure you already own plenty, but trust me on this! You’ll be sweating and it’ll suck to be in moist under garments. Quick-dry sports underwear is money! I highly recommend the Icebreaker brand. Kept my toosh nice and dry all day everyday!
- Wicking, quick-dry sports bra (for women) – For the same reason as getting quick-dry underwear, quick-dry sports bras make all the difference. Again, highly recommend the Icebreaker sports bras.
- Daypack rain cover: If your daypack doesn’t come with a rain cover, be sure to purchase one separately. Daypack rain covers are affordable at $10-20 USD and you’ll be thankful for dry snacks, day gear, and a dry camera on wet days.
- Waterproof, heavy-duty duffel bag (80-100 liters; no wheels or rigid handles): You’ll need to consolidate all your main gear into a bag for your porters to carry. Due to the changing weather on Kilimanjaro it is vital to have a bag that is both waterproof and heavy-duty to keep your belongings dry. North Face Base Camp Duffel Bag is highly recommended.
- Sleeping bag: Temperatures in Kilimanjaro can get below freezing in the evenings. You will need a 4-season or -10°C (~14°F) sleeping bag to ensure you stay warm. Mountain Hardwear sleeping bags are recommended. Keep in mind that women tend to run cooler and there are different temperature ratings for women’s sleeping bag. Don’t forget a compression sack for your sleeping bag!
- Trekking poles: Trekking Kilimanjaro is no easy feat. With the long days of hiking (5-10 hours daily) and rough terrain you will want to have a pair of trekking poles to reduce the impact on your joints and muscles. According to a 1999 study by The Journal of Sports Medicine, trekking poles can reduce the impact on your knees by up to 25%! Black Diamond is recommended.
- Sleeping bag liner (optional): Sleeping bag liners offer an added level of comfort and flexibility for warmth (some can add between 15°F-25°F of additional warmth).
- Insulated sleeping mat (optional): Most tour companies will provide a thin mattress to go under your sleeping bag. If you tend to run cold (the ground gets quite cold) or you want added comfort, a thermal camping pad is a nice-to-have.
Food and Water
- Hydration Bladder (2-3L) – If you have a daypack that can hold a hydration bladder I recommend the Platypus Hoser Hydration Reservoirs, which is reliable and the best value. A hydration bladder makes it easier to drink water hands free so you don’t have to stop as you’re hiking.
- Water bottle – A good water bottle is a must even if you have a hydration bladder. The hydration bladder tubes tend to freeze in the cold, this is almost guaranteed to happen on summit night when you’ll need water the most. Be sure to have at least two water bottles (0.75L-1L size each) for summit night. Nalgene and CamelBak Eddy are great options.
- Water bottle insulating sleeve (or your thermal socks): Summit night will be extremely cold (this is an understatement). Be sure to keep your water bottles insulated in a thermal sock upside down inside your daypack to avoid having frozen water.
- Personal snacks: Most tour groups will provide you with a snack bag every morning to get you through the day, but you might not be a fan of the offerings. Sometimes it’s crackers or cookies and sometimes it’s a banana or peanuts. Bring your own personal snacks like nut mixes, energy bars and dried fruit to get you through each day. The familiarity will also be a nice treat. Every individual is different, but I’d recommend at least 2-3 energy bars/snack items per day of your hike.
- Electrolytes / energy gels: For some, water can only keep you hydrated for so long and the taste might get a bit lackluster. Bring along some electrolyte powder or energy gels to keep your energy levels high and ensure you’re well-hydrated. I highly recommend Clif Shot Bloks which are tasty and light to carry. Pedialyte Powder is also something I always carry with me when I travel. Not only is it a great electrolyte supplement, but it tastes great and is particularly useful for keeping you hydrated when you have diarrhea, which happens to a good number of people on the climb.
- Basic first-aid kit: Including all the essentials such as tape, Neosporin, band-aids, antibacterial cream, antihistamines, cold and flu medication, throat lozenges, altitude medication, ACE elastic bandages
- Medication including:
- Ibuprofen: It helps prevent Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) also known as altitude sickness. Trust me, you’ll need it. And be sure to take it before you get AMS because once AMS hits it’s harder to cure the symptoms.
- Ciprofloxacin: Used to treat bacterial infections often associated with travelers diarrhea and bladder infection. It was SO needed on our trip. Nearly every person needed it at some point and while other drugs provided symptom relief Cipro was able to destroy the bacteria and get us all back to health. If you take one medication be sure it’s Cipro!
- Imodium (or other anti-diarrhea medication)
- Pepto-Bismol: Useful for digestive relief when you don’t want something as strong as Imodium that can keep you stuck for a few days!
- Malaria tablets: I took Malarone
- Diamox: Prevents altitude sickness, but be warned that it often causes weird dreams, dry mouth leading to increased water consumption and more frequent urination (which means going out in the cold night to pee) as well as tingly sensations. I chose not to take it and was fine for the most part though summit night was extremely difficult for me compared to others who had taken it.
- Dental floss
- Dry shampoo (optional)
- Wet wipes or Hand sanitizer
- Baby wipes (for baby wipe showers in your tent!)
- Sunscreen (High SPF)
- Lipscreen (High SPF)
- Spare glasses or contact lens (plus lens solution/cases)
- Toilet paper
- Women’s hygiene items
- Pee bottle: Buy any cheap water bottle/spill-proof container. This is especially useful at night when you don’t want to leave the warmth of your tent to pee in the cold.
- Go Girl or a pee funnel (for women): For use with your pee bottle so you don’t spill. So glad I had it!
- Airline tickets (itinerary and confirmation)
- International health card: Depending on where you’re coming from and where else you’re visiting, be sure to bring your immunization record with the proper vaccines marked off. You may also require a Yellow Fever certificate. Check with your countries travel health department.
- Passport photos
- Passport (and a copy of your passport handy)
- Travel insurance information
Personal Items / Odds and Ends
- Dry bag (only needed if your main duffle bag is not waterproof)
- Small lock
- Ziplock bag: Use them to store snacks or keep your little gadgets sorted and dry. Larger Ziplock bags are a great alternative to using travel packing cubes.
- Eye shade
- Solar power bank: I got this solar charger and hung it from my backpack during the day when I hiked. It worked great as a backup batter for my electronics!
- Camera and spare batteries
- Cell phone in a waterproof bag (Ziplock works great!)
- Cash and credit cards (be sure to bring enough cash for tipping your guides and porters)
- Camp towel
- Camp pillow
- Insect repellent (90% DEET or higher)
- Hand and toe warmers
- Journal + pen