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.
How to prepare for Kilimanjaro Hike?
To get ready for Kilimanjaro, climbers should practice aerobic exercise frequently. Running, jogging, cycling, and even aerobic dance classes can all be considered forms of cardiovascular exercise or cardio. Given that it raises heart rate and breathing, cardio is a useful form of training for climbing Kilimanjaro. To keep your heart and lungs in good shape for the upcoming hike, plan at least 45 minutes of cardio activities, 3-4 days per week.
While it is crucial to get your body in good physical condition, cardio is not the only type of exercise to focus on. Consider regularly participating in aerobic activities that simultaneously develop leg muscles to get your legs toned. Running on trails or cycling are both also excellent forms of exercise. You can also be creative; even dancing can be effective if it increases your heart rate.
Climbing Kilimanjaro entails long descents, after five or more days, of six to eight-hour ascent hiking. Your calves and hamstrings will have to work hard to climb up, and your quadriceps will have to work hard to descend. If you want your legs to be prepared for this challenging climb, tone your muscles. Allocate two weekly sessions for strength training, with a strong focus on the legs.
Of course, you want to ensure your legs are strong when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. However, it would be best if you did not solely concentrate on the legs. Instead, try to be creative with your workouts and incorporate the back, chest, and arms. After all, while on your trek, you will carry your rucksack.
With this weight training, your goal is not to build definition and bulk but to make your muscles strong and able to withstand extended periods of steep inclines. The premium fitness app Fitbod will help you find the best exercises for your workouts.
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.
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. All bodies, even the most athletic, are physically affected by the lower oxygen saturation at higher altitudes.
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. Therefore, plan your climb with enough time (days) to ensure that your body is properly (and safely!) adjusting to the higher altitude. And do not try to run up the mountain; instead, allow enough time for proper acclimatization to complete a successful climb. 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.
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.
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.
- Merino Underwear from Icebreaker
- T-Shirts from Icebreaker
- Zip Pants from Mammut
- Rain Cover Pants from Mammut
- Hooded Jacket from Mammut
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.
- Insulating Jacket from Mammut (keeps you warm)
- Hardshell Pants from Mammut (protects from rain and wind)
- Hardshell Jacket from Mammut (protects from rain and wind)
- Beanie or hat
- Light and insulated gloves
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.
- Trail Trekking Poles from Black Diamond
- Hiking Gaiters from Black Diamond
- Headlamp with 450 Lumen from Petz
- Stratos 36 backpack from Osprey
- 3 Liter Water Reservoir for Stratos from Osprey
- Hydro Flask
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.
- Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Mat from Seat to Summit
- Silk Sleeping Bag Liner from Sea to Summit
- Stuff Sacks from Sea to Summit in different colors (to keep things organized)
- Sunglasses and cap
- Swiss Army Knife to fix things
- Powerbank Xtrom or Anker. But not higher than 26,000 mAh
- (Small) quick drying towels
- Eye Mask, for example when there is full moon
- Earplugs (yes, it can get loud in the camp)
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.