Header image by Stig Nygaard.
In October 2010 I traveled to Tanzania with the goal of conquering a mountain. And at 5,895 metres (19,341 ft), it was really, really tall. The highest mountain in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world, if we’re keeping score.
I trekked through some truly incredible landscapes, transformed as a person along the way, and battled through one of the world’s most challenging journeys over 7 days.
Kilimanjaro is powerful, awe-inspiring, and an experience which inspires transformation. But if you don’t know what to pack it’s going to make your life a hell of a lot harder than it has to be.
From my experience, use the following tips to guide your packing.
What to Pack if You’re Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro is unique in that the mountain is home to a diverse range of ecosystems. You might be trekking through a desolate mountain environment one day, and walking into a dense rainforest the next. And then of course there glaciers. So where clothing is concerned it’s best to dress in layers.
You’ll likely find that you’ll be stripping off throughout the day, so make sure you have space in your day pack for clothing. A base layer or thermal long Johns are a must have for the summit night as you go higher up.
Light trekking T shirts and trousers made of breathable fabric are easy and trek friendly. Shorts are also a viable alternative. Cotton fabric and jeans are always a bad idea as they chafe and take forever to dry. We recommend polyester, merino or nylon fabrics.
The cold doesn’t get any better, only gets bitter. Your best bet at insulation is a fleece jacket to go over your T shirt. And then your final layer should be a warm, waterproof down jacket or a hard shell jacket with waterproof trousers.
Other add-on ’s could be down mittens, hiking socks or thin liner socks, waterproof boots with a good ankle and arch support and of course, gloves. Warmth, weight and waterproofing are the three W’s to watch out for when packing clothes for Kilimanjaro.
Health and Medical
Climbing Kilimanjaro is probably going to be one of the toughest and most challenging treks you’ll face in your lifetime. And in the harsh environment, you’ll need to make sure you have medical supplies to take care of yourself. So make sure you’ve stocked a first aid kit.
One of the biggest killers on Kilimanjaro is the altitude. And this should not be underestimated. You’ll find that your trek will be paced slowly (unbearably at times!) to allow your body to acclimatize, but you might also consider traveling with altitude sickness medications.
It is important to note that there is no substitute for proper acclimatization. Medicines are available to shorten the time it takes to get used to high altitude, however, people with altitude sickness should not continue to ascend until they have gotten used to the altitude.
But good news! Since the Anopheles mosquito’s maximum altitude is much lesser than the altitude of the mountain for most of the trek, you’re extremely unlikely to catch malaria!
But that said, prevention is always better than a cure, so if you should take a course of anti-malarials (or the general Malarone) for your time in Africa anyway. Insect repellents are required for the first and the last day.
Trekking First Aid
Trekking inadvertently causes small cuts and grazes. Tend to them with antiseptic cream. Plasters (band-aids) are going to come in very handy throughout your 7-10 days, so keep them close.
Be sure to pack bandages to beat twists, sprains and even larger flesh wounds, and anything you usually use to help against blisters.
If you’re prone to knee related problems or facing it, elastic knee supports are recommended and come to the rescue specially during steeper gradients. You might think the trek up the mountain is difficult, but coming down from the summit take a huge toll on your knees.
The Kilimanjaro trek is physically demanding, and as well as battling the altitude, you’re probably also going to be exhausted at the end of every day.
You might consider traveling with medications like Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Paracetamol, Bismuth subsalicylate, Imodium, throat pastilles, re-hydrating powders such as Diarolyte.
These wonder drugs help you fight a host of health problems. Lip salve or chapstick/Vaseline is essential to prevent your lips from chapping too. Trust me on that one. You’ll thank me half way through!
Lip Balm – I’m telling you!
Before you head out, get ready for what’s ahead. You’ll need to pack some basic headgear for the Kilimanjaro trek, to help you handle the cold, wind, rain, and snow.
With the rest of your body warm underneath your layers, your head and face will be copping the worst of the elements. A woolen hat, a wide brimmed sun hat and a hat with a neck cover can go a long way in keeping you comfortable. A thermal beanie also works as the perfect insulator.
You’ll face extremes of being really hot during the day, and really cold during the night. A balaclava can shield you from the wild extremes of heat and cold. And you will absolutely need a compatible headlamp for your night hikes.
Hands and Feet
You’re about to set foot on a mountain riddled with challenges. So you should make sure you have a pair of comfortable, well fitting hiking boots. However you don’t want them to wear out, so make sure you’ve invested in high quality.
Pro Tip: If you’re buying new hiking boots specifically for Mt Kilimanjaro, MAKE SURE you break them in before you travel. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. If you do not break in your shoes before the trek, you’re going to have blistered and broken feet.
Carry some trekking sandals for flat terrains and trekking socks that aren’t cotton, for dry and happy feet. Keep your feet warm with thermal socks. Trekking poles help your knees bear the brunt of long, tiring treks. They also offer a better grip and balance.
Get your hands on some warm gloves with a good thermal lining. You’ll also need a pair of mittens on your hands, to beat the cold. Make sure they don’t curb your movement.
Documents and Money
While it’s obvious that you need your passport for entry to Tanzania, make sure you have 6 months’ validity left on it from the day you intend to fly home.
You’ll also need a Tanzanian Entry Visa, and it’s is highly recommended to carry CASH in US dollars for this. Notes with denominations of $10 and $20 and $1 will be very helpful for your tipping allowance, local purchases, taxis, meals, etc.
While keeping your credit card is essential, ensure that they are used only in cases of emergency. Also note that Mastercard is more widely accepted than Visa here. Traveler’s cheques are not recommended as they have poor conversion rates in Arusha.
It’s important to carry your travel insurance documents, as well as Vaccination Certificates. Yellow Fever is a mandatory vaccination, and you’ll need to present your certificate at immigration on entering the country. If you don’t have this proof, you may be forced to have an injection in an unknown backroom in the airport.
Photo CC Pan American Health Organization
Bags and Other Things
Grab a duffle bag and a daypack to help you bag the best climbing experience. Buy waterproof bags to keep harm from the rain at bay.
Always take a comfortable sleeping bag, with good insulation for the cold nights. And make sure that your bags are light.
Remember that plastic covers, zip lock pouches are the unsung heroes that come to your rescue, so ensure that they find a place in your bag. Also, it’s a good idea to pack alcohol wipes – you would be amazed at how dirty you are by the end of the day.
With packing done right, all that is left is to revel in the pinnacle of happiness at Kilimanjaro! Happy trekking!
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