It’s the biggest question people have before climbing Kilimanjaro, and certainly the one which gave me the most anxiety before my own climb: how do I train so I’m fit enough to get to the top?
Kilimanjaro is a non technical climb, meaning it doesn’t require any climbing experience to reach the top. However that’s not to say that it isn’t incredibly challenging to get to the summit.
This is a climb that will push you beyond your physical and mental limits; you’re trekking upwards, and in high altitudes for 4 – 6 hours a day, scrambling over rocks, through a variety of different ecosystems, climates, and environments.
It will be hard.
But there’s nothing more gratifying than taking that final step onto the crater rim knowing you’ve achieved something truly inspiring; nothing more rewarding than looking over the clouds at the top of Africa knowing you’ve conquered the world’s highest freestanding mountain.
Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can summit Kilimanjaro, and the best tour operators like Altezza Travel have great teams who know how to exploit your strengths to offer the greatest summit opportunity possible.
But training beforehand will definitely improve your chances of reaching the top. Here’s what I recommend; the training which personally came in handy, and the training I wish I had done.
Photos in this post include shots from Jackson Groves of Journeyera.com.
How to Train for Mt Kilimanjaro
Train Yourself to Pack Light
First of all, before you start walking, swimming, running, or climbing those hills around home, the most important part of your Kilimanjaro training will be training yourself to pack light.
Not what you were expecting me to say?
Kilimanjaro isn’t just about physical training, it’s also about mental training (which we’ll get to in a minute), and training yourself to travel light.
Because one of the biggest mistakes people make when climbing Kilimanjaro is that they pack way too much gear.
Yes, you’ll have porters with you on the mountain to carry your stuff, but pack off the general principle that everything you take with you also has to get to the top (and porters are generally limited to carrying 15 kg of personal belongings).
Further to that, some of the gear you will need to carry yourself. This includes everything you might need immediately accessible on the hike between the camps – membrane jacket and pants, poncho and a camel bag (or flask of water). All these should always be in your personal backpack.
Excess weight and unnecessary gear, like bulky camera equipment, books (you’ll be too tired to read, and trust us, the view is captivating enough!) etc will only weigh you down and impact your ability to get to the top.
If you book with a good company like Altezza Travel they’ll provide you with a packing list after you’ve booked, which makes it easy to pack the right amount of stuff. Anything extra you take, like safari gear etc, can be stored at the hotel in Arusha.
Train With Your Gear
Once you know what you’re likely to pack, and what you’re likely to hike with in your day pack, start training in those clothes / gear / carrying that bag.
We’ll get to the type of training in a minute, but the most important preparation you can do is to get used to hiking in your shoes, carrying your own day pack (think 3-5 kg), and wearing the clothes you plan on packing.
Breaking in your trekking boots is incredibly important, as brand new boots will rub and cause you pain and blisters. Many travelers buy new boots specifically for climbing Kilimanjaro, so it’s important to train in them several months before you go.
This allows your boots time to get in sync with your feet, and conform to one another, and it’ll give you plenty of advanced notice if any issues arise, like you feel they’re not the right fit, or they’re not as waterproof as the label said.
Similarly, once you receive your packing list, start training in the clothes you plan to wear; this will give you an idea of whether they’re comfortable when you’re active, sweating, whether they retain dirt, are quick to dry, etc.
Prior planning and thoroughly testing your gear is the best thing you can do in the lead up to climbing Mt Kilimanjaro as it allows you to eliminate any issues which would make it so much more difficult for you to reach the top.
Best Physical Training for Kilimanjaro
As mentioned, Kilimanjaro is a non technical climb, which means anyone with a moderate level of fitness can reach the top. However it does pay to get in the best shape possible.
It’s best to start training at least 3 months in advance of the climb, unless you already lead an active lifestyle. And as mentioned, the longer you can spend training in your shoes and clothes, the better.
Kilimanjaro is more about endurance than a sprint; you’ll be hiking slowly for 4-6 hours a day, uphill, and through various terrains, so aim for exercise which builds strength in your legs (lunges, squats).
Hiking & Leg Strength
You want to simulate the conditions you’ll be hiking in as closely as possible, so hiking is the best form of training for Kilimanjaro (after-all, this is what you’ll be doing on the mountain!).
If hiking isn’t an option we recommend jogging two or three times a week, for up to 40 minutes, or taking long, hilly walks which get you used to walking up an incline (it’s equally as important to train for walking downhill as it is up, as this will impact your knees).
You’ll be walking up the mountain slowly, usually twice slower than your usual walking in order to properly acclimatize, so center your training around building up your endurance and being able to sustain the level of exercise for 4-6 hours a day.
If you have limited access to the outdoors, another great option is training on stairs; stairmaster machines are a great way to build stamina and strong legs.
The route you pick can definitely make a difference here; Altezza Travel recommends Lemosho and Rongai routes for novices, Northern Circuit and Machame for beginners, and Marangu and Umbwe for climbers with prior hiking experience. I personally climbed Machame.
Longer variations are always better. Unless you’ve prior acclimatization, consider seven-day options or longer.
Oxygen / Altitude Training
The most challenging part of climbing Kilimanjaro is dealing with the lack of oxygen as you hike higher and higher towards the top.
Proper high-altitude acclimatization is more important than your endurance, stamina and strength, so if you have the opportunity to train or hike in high altitudes, this will really pay off.
Each route is planned specifically with acclimatization in mind, which gives your body enough time to properly acclimatize to the reduction of oxygen, so if high altitude hikes aren’t accessible to you, it’s not the end of the world.
But something you can do at low altitudes to train yourself for acclimatization is swimming and general aerobic exercise – this will help build up your physical endurance while pacing your oxygen.
Potentially more important than your physical training, there comes a point where Kilimanjaro becomes more about mental endurance than anything else.
That is, can you convince yourself to keep putting one foot in front of the other when every muscle in your body is screaming at you that you’re done?
Can you dig deep when you want to give up?
Kilimanjaro is an incredibly tough climb for beginners, and you’ll need a level of mental stamina that means you can keep climbing even when you’re exhausted and tired.
Train in activities that build mental stamina before the trip; this could mean activities which push you out of your comfort zone, or which push your body to the extreme, like long-distance running or marathons.
Anything which requires you to dig deep into your mental reserves to complete, is a good way to train for hitting this wall when on Kilimanjaro.
Your tour guides on the mountain are all well trained and know how to inspire, motivate and push you to maximize your full potential, but ultimately in the end it comes down to you.
Conclusion – How to Train for Kilimanjaro
The main points here are that most people can climb Kilimanjaro – you don’t need any technical climbing experience, however you do need to be fit enough to handle 4 – 6 hours of hiking uphill for 7 – 9 days.
The best thing you can do to properly train, and give yourself the best chance of reaching the top, is to simulate the experience as closely as possible in the 2-3 months beforehand.
This means endurance training like long distance hiking, and making sure you’re doing so in the shoes you’ll be wearing, the clothes you plan to take, and the gear you’ll have with you (including 3-4 liters of water).
Research and understand how the body acclimatizes to altitude as this will properly prepare you for how to handle it when you come up against low levels of oxygen.
And make sure you also build up your mental stamina before-hand; Kilimanjaro requires training for both your body, and your mind.
This post was published in partnership with Altezza Travel.