All you need to know to prepare for the hike of Mount Kilimanjaro | HotelGyms.com Blog
12Jan 2024
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Written By
Michel, HotelGyms.com Staff

All you need to know to prepare for the hike of Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro, with 19,340 feet (5,895 m), is Africa's highest mountain and the most free-standing mountain in the entire world. So, no surprise over 35,000 climbers attempt the difficult ascent each year.

Does your bucket list include an ascent to Mount Kilimanjaro? Then this guide is the one for you. We share the program and preparation we followed before our climb and summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (September 22). So, let's dive in.

Why Preparation is important

Statistics indicate that up to 50% of climbers fail to complete their climb. The first reason is altitude sickness; nearly everyone will experience some symptoms at high elevations. However, the second reason people struggle or fail is a lack of fitness. While there is no need for special hiking equipment to reach the top of Kilimanjaro, it does not mean it will be a walk in the park. Hikers need to be physically fit for a safe and successful summit.

Of course, the best and most straightforward way to prepare to climb Kilimanjaro is to hike in a controlled environment. Participating in one or two-day local hiking challenges will be a fun way to prepare yourself mentally. Also, you want to ensure your body is used to long walking distances before traveling to Tanzania. Your feet will be grateful if you practice hikes lasting several hours or even days.

But what else can you do to prepare for this demanding six-day (or more) hike? Many think that jogging would be good preparation for this hike. However, it may improve your fitness level but does not adequately prepare your muscles and feet for a demanding six-day hike. Also, you do not need to run for several hours to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro because it is not a marathon.

Fitness Preparation for Kilimanjaro Hike?

There are three areas every aspiring climber should work on for success:

  1. Strength training
  2. Aerobic/cardio training
  3. Altitude training

Let's break them down:

Strength Training

Building whole-body strength will be incredibly beneficial for your climb. The two areas to focus most on are the lower body and core (midsection).

Your lower body (calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes) will play the most significant role during your climb and descent, and the core will keep you stable, safe, and injury-free. It is best to do a combination of exercises and train in various repetition ranges. Doing so would develop power and strength endurance while ensuring no muscle is overlooked.

Here are some excellent leg exercises you should perform:

  • Squat (goblet, front, and back squat)
  • Lunges (forward, back, and walking lunges)
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Wall sits
  • Romanian deadlift
  • Hip Thrust

Workouts to prepare for Kilimanjaro

Your goal is not to build definition and bulk but to strengthen your muscles and withstand extended steep inclines. Have a look at the following workout plans:

Workout #1

  • Barbell back squat
    • 4 x 8 to 12 Reps
    • Rest between Sets: 1.5 - 2.5 mins
  • Leg press
    • 3 x 10 to 15 Reps
    • Rest between Sets: 1.5 - 2 mins
  • Leg extensions
    • 3 x 15 to 20 Reps
    • Rest between Sets: 1.5 mins
  • Standing machine calf raise
    • 3 x 15 to 25 Reps
    • Rest between Sets: 1 - 1.5 mins

Workout #2

  • Romanian deadlift
    • 3 x 8 to 12 Reps
    • Rest between Sets: 2 - 2.5 mins
  • Reverse lunge
    • 3 x 16 to 30 (total)
    • Rest between Sets: 1.5 - 2 mins
  • Glute bridge
    • 3 x 15 to 30 Reps
    • Rest between Sets: 1 - 2 mins
  • Wall sits
    • 3 x as long as possible
    • Rest between Sets: 1 - 2 mins
  • Seated machine calf raise
    • 3 x 20 to 30 Reps
    • Rest between Sets: 1 min

Weekly Schedule:

You can do these workouts as you see fit and, depending on how you can combine them with your other training. However, leaving at least 48 hours of recovery between the two sessions is best. For example, do workout #1 on Monday and workout #2 on Wednesday.

Progression:

Aim to increase the number of reps you get per set on each activity. For example, if you do sets of 8 Reps on Romanian deadlifts on week 1, you should ideally be doing sets of 12 to 15 reps several weeks down the road. Then, once you steadily do more reps across all Sets, increase the resistance and start over.

The same goes for the other movements but take your time with the progression because that can hinder your technique. You can also use a premium fitness app like Fitbod to find the best exercises for your workouts.

Aerobic/Cardio Training

In addition to strength training, cardio exercise will develop your aerobic capacity and endurance, allowing you to last longer during physical activity.

The climb to the top of Kilimanjaro is challenging, but you can maintain a low intensity from start to finish. In other words, you do not have to do short bursts of intense exercise.

It is best to pick two or three cardio activities and switch between them during the week. Here are some great options:

  • Jogging and running
  • Bike riding
  • Incline fast walking on a treadmill
  • Hiking
  • Swimming

Lower-body-focused cardio activities are preferable because they also develop your leg muscles, which has a more significant carry-over to the Kilimanjaro hike.

In addition, frequent hikes are also great because they make you more comfortable with the environment and train your body in a highly specific way. As a result, you become even more prepared for the real challenge. You can also be creative; even dancing can be effective if it increases your heart rate.

Workouts to prepare for Kilimanjaro

Following such workouts would keep your training fresh and reduce the risk of overuse injuries that can occur if you stress your body in a specific way for an extended period.

Workout #1

  • Type: Stair Master
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Intensity: Moderate, 60 percent of MHR (Maximum Heart Rate)

Workout #2

  • Type: Jogging
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Intensity: Moderate, 55-60 percent of MHR (Maximum Heart Rate)

Workout #3

  • Type: Stationary cycling
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Intensity: Moderate, 65 percent of MHR (Maximum Heart Rate)

We recommend doing more than one activity for your cardio to keep the stress varied and reduce the risk of overuse injuries.

Weekly Schedule:

As with weight training, it is best to give your muscles recovery time. For example:

  • Tuesday - Stair Master
  • Thursday - Jogging
  • Saturday - Stationary cycling

Progression:

According to various sources, the Kilimanjaro climb takes five to nine days. Given the long duration, it is best to progress your aerobic activities by going longer instead of training at a higher intensity.

For example, you can start with 60-minute sessions and gradually work up to 65, 70, and even 75+ minutes in the weeks leading up to your climb.

Altitude Training

Cardio and strength training are crucial when preparing to hike to the top of Kilimanjaro, but altitude training is also essential. Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, at 19,341 feet (5,895 m) above sea level. As a result, each breath there only contains about half as much oxygen. Every hiker must acclimate to a certain extent, regardless of their normal altitude.

Specifically, you should introduce activities that mimic the Kilimanjaro hike as closely as possible. Lower saturation of oxygen experienced at higher altitudes has a physical effect on all bodies, even the most athletic. While cardio exercises help prepare the body for the physical activity, every hiker will engage in during the climb; it takes more than just physical stamina to ascend this mountain.

The best way to prepare is to hike frequently in environments similar to the one you will experience on the highest mountain in Africa:

  • Cold environment
  • Steep
  • Uneven surfaces
  • High altitude
  • Long durations

Frequent hiking will develop your skill and familiarize you with more of the necessary equipment. Overnight hikes are also beneficial because they will help you get used to sleeping in a tent, which you must do to climb Kilimanjaro.

In addition, hiking at higher altitudes will help your body adapt to environments with less oxygen, reducing the risk of altitude sickness. Of course, as with any form of exercise, it is best to start with shorter and less intense hikes and gradually increase the intensity and duration to build up your physical capacity.

Workouts:

If you are serious about climbing Kilimanjaro, you should include altitude training, but be careful not to overtrain. It is best to replace some of your cardio training with high-altitude hiking.

For example, your weekly training schedule might look like so:

  • Monday - Workout 1 (Resistance exercise)
  • Tuesday - Workout 1 (Stair Master; cardio)
  • Wednesday - Workout 2 (Resistance exercise)
  • Thursday - Workout 2 (Jogging; cardio)
  • Friday - Rest day
  • Saturday - Workout 3 (Stationary Cycling; Cardio)
  • Sunday - Rest day

Instead of doing that, drop one cardio session, for example, on Saturday, and go for a long hike over the weekend. Of course, the duration will be far shorter than the actual climb, and you will not get to the same altitude, but that training is far more specific and will undoubtedly carry over and boost your chances of success.

Of course, you can also consider using altitude simulators to give yourself an even greater advantage and assist you in ascending Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak.

Progression:

Like resistance and cardio exercise, your altitude training should follow a natural progression. For example, if you plan on hiking in the same region every week, strive to cover longer distances each time.

One option is to get a pedometer to track how many steps you take on each hike and gradually bump the number each week. For example, you can aim for a relatively aggressive progression pace of 7 to 8 percent.

If you cover 15,000 steps per day in the first week, strive for at least 16,000 daily steps in the following week.

Mental Training

It takes more than a few days to climb Kilimanjaro, so it is crucial to have the right mindset. Even though you may hike in a group, the experience does not necessarily feel like a team sport. When hiking, you spend a lot of time thinking, and those inner thoughts can be powerful. If you are not focused, it will either be your inner voice encouraging you or depressing thoughts making you feel low. And usually, the guides also help you stay positive with their motivating Kilimanjaro song.

Just as much as being physically fit, preparing for your climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in advance can help you feel more optimistic. Instead of self-doubt, your inner voice will encourage you during those early morning hours when you are pushing for the finish line and feeling every bit of the challenge of climbing the highest mountain in Africa. This is because you worked so hard for this moment.

However, the priority is always safety. Never overextend yourself in terms of your health and safety. While feeling winded or out of breath will be expected at a high altitude, a sudden and severe headache, nausea, or vomiting are signs of altitude sickness and should be taken seriously.

Required Equipment for Kilimanjaro Hike

Wear the boots and socks you will be taking to Mount Kilimanjaro when going on training hikes. You will be more comfortable on your climb if you get used to it, break in your trekking boots, and avoid nasty blisters. It is also advisable to practice climbing with the backpack you will use for the actual ascent. This will make it easier to handle and allow you to add weight to the pack as you gradually develop strength. Be aware there are five ecological zones on Mount Kilimanjaro, each with distinct weather patterns. In a matter of days, climbing Kilimanjaro is like hiking from summer to winter. Therefore, climbers must have the proper equipment to stay warm, dry, and comfortable. At the beginning of your trek, it is usually warm and humid in the rainforest. The moorland and alpine desert region follow as you ascend higher, where it gets colder and drier. Finally, as one might expect from being in the Arctic Zone, the summit can be very chilly and windy.

Own or Rented Equipment?

Equipment is one of the most important and challenging topics regarding preparation. You probably already have most, if not all, of the equipment on the list if you have hiking and backpacking experience. It will take some time and money to put the pieces together if you are starting from scratch. If possible, borrow equipment from friends or rent it from stores to further cut costs. Plan enough time to buy the equipment, for example, to profit from Black Friday discounts.

Yes, you can rent equipment for Mount Kilimanjaro from travel agencies or neighborhood sporting goods stores in Moshi and Arusha. These items' quality and variety can vary greatly. Bring at least your layers of clothing, such as base layers, an insulated hiking jacket, well-worn hiking boots, warm gloves, a beanie, and a water bottle. Hiking poles and sleeping bags are available for hire, so if you do not already have them or do not want to buy them, renting them is a good alternative.

Our Kilimanjaro Packing List

In this section, you can find what we used for the Kilimanjaro hike. As a bit of disclaimer, if the weather is cold or not, and if clothing is good, are very individual. What works for someone might not work for you (or vice-versa). Therefore, it is recommended to test the equipment/clothes before you travel to Kilimanjaro. We found this packing list being very helpful.

Kilimanjaro Packing List - Clothes

Mount Kilimanjaro creates its micro-climate, which means you will experience a temperature range from 20 C (68 F) at the beginning in the rainforest to -10 C (14 F) at the summit. The trick is to use a system where more layers can be added or removed depending on the weather conditions.

 

Kilimanjaro Packing List - Jackets

Technical clothing, including a few baselayers, a waterproof jacket, and a fleece jacket, is required. In addition, a beanie and a pair of warm gloves are essential pieces of cold-weather clothing. You might also want to pack a pair of light gloves and a hat to protect yourself from the wind.

 

Kilimanjaro Packing List - Hiking Accessories

One of the most helpful tools for your hike is the trekking poles, especially for the descent, which is on loose scree. Ensure you have a sound drinking system, as you will need to drink approximately 3 liters daily. Camelbacks are fine; just make sure the tube does not freeze on summit day.

 

Kilimanjaro Packing List - Accessories

Some additional equipment can remove some annoyance and give you peace of mind. For example, with colored stuff sacks, you can find things easily in your bags while keeping them dry and clean. Then, to be prepared for minor repairs during the trip, the Swiss Army Knife is a great asset to bring. And last but not least, there are no charging stations on Mount Kilimanjaro. However, if you keep your phone in Airplane Mode, a strong power bank (with more than 20,000 mAh) will be enough to take plenty of pictures.

For the additional bag carried by the porters, we used the Northface Base Camp Duffel Bag, but 70 Liters was a bit of a stretch.

What about mosquitos? The good news is that there are almost no mosquitos due to the height of Kilimanjaro. However, when arriving in Tanzania, it is highly recommended to use repellent spray. Ensure you use it when you arrive and finish descending.

Some Final Thoughts

It is essential to get the best preparation advice before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Your tour operator will most likely provide you with a training plan, or you can also seek the assistance of a personal trainer. Start training at least two months before your trip, and you will be well prepared for Mount Kilimanjaro. Then, follow the above instructions, which will help you hike the 100 kilometers and get you up Uhuru Peak, where you can take this earned picture. You can find good Kilimanjaro guides and tour operators on Viator (part of Tripadvisor), or you might prefer to book with a trusted operator from your country.

Do not underestimate the importance of the right equipment. The weather can become very windy, wet, and freezing - especially when you hike at night for the final ascent to the peak. And last but not least, climbing with the right group of people who support each other is super crucial. This is a memory for life - you should enjoy it.

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