Unlike the days of old, where heavy jute coats and army boots were the norm, clothing technology is advancing all the time.
Warm clothes are getting ever-more lightweight and effective. Tough, rugged boots needn’t weigh a ton and give you trench-foot.
The temperatures on Kilimanjaro can vary dramatically - a day that starts out very cold can rapidly heat up by lunchtime. And being a mountain, the weather can change very quickly, turning what was a sunny day to cold and rain.
As you get higher up, hiking through the clouds can be damp and chilly. That’s without mentioning the wind.
Rent or Buy?
Some kit can be rented from your operator or from various places in Moshi and Arusha.
Personally, I like to have my own kit that is tried and tested.
Staying warm and dry is the goal for making your climb as safe and comfortable as possible. Wet clothes can quickly turn from making you feel “cold” to “hypothermia”.
Kilimanjaro Packing List - Explained
Over the course of your climb you will be going from warm tropical rainforest to sub-zero icy temperatures.
With everything in between. You may encounter rain and snow. Your Kilimanjaro packing list needs to reflect this.
The trick to keeping warm, dry and comfortable is the layering system. Utilizing different layers of clothing, you can easily adjust as the external and internal temperature changes.
In the earlier parts of the climb, the day can start out pretty cold, and then by lunchtime you’ll be boiling.
Weather on any mountain is unpredictable and can change rapidly. Even if it’s not raining, a low cloud can make for a damp and chilly hike. The wind can make a sunny day icy cold.
The use of layers allows you to adapt quickly to the changing weather. Keeping an even body temperature is key to a comfortable, safe climb.
As the hike can be quite strenuous at times, your core temperature will increase, so the layers closest to your body need to be able to “wick” the moisture away.
Sweat cools rapidly and you don’t want to be clammy and warm whilst hiking only for it to quickly turn to cold and damp.
Consulting our kit list:
You should leave cotton underwear at home. For Kilimanjaro, you need fabrics that are quick drying, breathable and comfortable.
You want flatlock seams to prevent chafing on a long day’s hiking. Most sports underwear is either naturally anti-microbial (in the case of Merino) or treated to keep you dry and smelling fresh.
For Ladies, a great choice available from Amazon is the Icebreaker Women’s Siren. Or try ExOfficio Women’s Give-n-Go Sport Mesh Bikini Brief.
Base Layer Light/Medium
A decent base layer is very important as you climb higher. Not only will it keep you warm, but it will wick moisture away from your body, keeping you dry too.
Things have come a long way since the old fashioned thermal “long-johns”. Technical fabrics mean extra comfort and breathability as well as superior warmth.
It will depend on you whether you prefer a “heavier” medium-weight base layer, or a “lighter” weight one.
It will be very cold, and personally I like to take a pair of light long underwear (which makes good pyjamas in the first couple of days) and two pairs of medium long underwear.
If you are opting for a synthetic fabric, make sure it’s been treated to manage odors, or you'll be unpopular on the trail.
“Convertibles” or zip-offs are an excellent invention, allowing you to switch from shorts to long pants without actually changing. You will really only be wanting to trek in your shorts on the first (and possibly second) day. After that, it’ll be long pants for the rest of the hike.
You should only need 1 or 2 pairs of these, and make sure they fit well with the base layer underneath them.
I’m mentioning these separately from the “convertibles”, because some people don’t like the zips involved. You can simply bring along some shorts for the first day, and some standard hiking pants (1-2 pairs) for the rest of the trek.
Winter Hiking Pants
Once you get higher up, and the cold really sets in, you will dispense with your “convertibles” or all-purpose hiking pants, and you’ll need something a bit warmer.
Fleece-lined, normally water-resistant with a quick-drying outer, these need to fit well with your base layer underneath.
You can go for some really good expedition-weight pants that are fully waterproof. Since you’ll need to have some rain gear for the rest of your climb, it’s not entirely necessary.
Water-resistant is a must, however, for protection from light showers and cloud moisture. Check out the Columbia Bugaboo on Amazon for a mid-priced pair of winter pants.
And for when the rain comes down...
Waterproof Shell Pants
The waterproof pants I particularly like are those that have zips up the sides, so they are easy to take on and off as the weather changes.
On summit night, when it’s bitterly cold, many people start the trek with their base layer, winter hiking pants and a waterproof shell over the top for added warmth. With the zips on the sides, these can easily be shed at daybreak.
On the lower slopes, where rain is more common, keeping these in your daypack will mean you don’t arrive in camp with soaking wet hiking pants and no way of drying them!
Ladies only (I hope), you’ll need a couple of comfortable sports bras. Leave anything cotton, underwired or lacy at home. For this trek, you’ll focus on comfort!
For the lower slopes, you’ll need a couple of non-cotton T-shirts, something light, easy to pack and with some UV protection built-in.
Don't get too complicated over this. You’ve probably got a couple of these stashed away somewhere in the back of your closet.
Light Long-sleeved T-shirts
Particularly important for people who are sensitive to the sun, some long-sleeved, cotton-free shirts are good for the warmer days.
Additionally, these can provide an extra layer when worn over the base layer. They can also be worn under a fleece if the weather suddenly turns chillier.
As with the T-shirts, don't go buying brand new ones if you don't need to - just avoid cotton.
The base layer, which you wear next to your skin is very important for keeping you warm and dry. This layer provides the insulation, when worn under any other clothes to keep you comfortable.
As you get higher up the mountain, you’ll probably find you barely spend any time out of your base layer! So it’s best to get a couple of decent quality, to ensure best comfort.
Gone are the days of needing to buy nylon, that after a day’s hiking smell awful. Modern fabrics are either naturally anti-microbial or are treated to make them so. This significantly reduces odors and your tent-mate will thank you!
The Ubiquitous Fleece
After you’ve chosen your base layer, you’ll need something to insulate you. Here’s where the fleece comes in.
Most of us own one (or several) of these. Polartec fleeces are everywhere these days, but not all fleeces are created equal.
Before rushing out to buy new ones, have a look at what you’ve already got. Discard the old, tatty one with a broken zip that you wear round the house on a winter’s morning.
Modern fleeces are all made with various types of polyester. Unless they are a 1980’s vintage, they all come in 100, 200 or 300 “category” which equates to their warmth.
Personally, whenever I travel to Kilimanjaro, I take a 100-weight and a 200-weight fleece, making sure that the 200-weight fits over the top of the lighter weight one.
I find that this strategy (bear in mind my minimum trek length is 8 days) gives me various options for staying warm:
- T-shirt + 100-weight
- T-shirt + 200-weight
- Long sleeve T shirt + 100 weight
- Long sleeve T shirt + 200-weight
- Base layer + 100-weight
- Base layer + 200-weight
- Base layer + long sleeve t shirt + 100-weight + 200-weight PLUS everything else for summit night!
You get the picture. Also, bear in mind that once you arrive in camp, after a day’s hiking, you will very quickly get cold after the exertions of the day are over, and the sun is setting.
There is nothing worse than hanging around in a freezing mess tent with insufficient layers.
Why not buy a 300-weight? Well, you can. If you are prone to feeling very cold, then do consider buying 300-weight. You may find it too hot some days, but that’s really a personal preference.
Overall, it’s better to be too warm than too cold on Kilimanjaro!
Once you’ve got your fleece lined up, you are well insulated, but for the most part, fleeces don’t give great protection from the wind. You can buy “wind-proof” fleeces, but I’ve never found them very effective in mountain conditions.
Selecting a shell jacket is often a source of much confusion. Do I get a waterproof one? Is water-resistant good enough? Should it be a ski-jacket?
This is why I always recommend taking separate “rain gear” (pants and jacket) which are relatively light-weight, easy to pack into your daypack and can be worn both when it’s hot and when it’s cold.
If it rains heavily in the forest, when it’s around 25 degrees C outside, you don’t want to bundling into a heavy-weight ski-jacket just to keep dry.
On the basis that you’ll have your rain gear already, then your shell jacket needs to be water-resistant, wind-proof and warm.
I recommend having a down jacket as well as a soft-shell jacket. Though if you wanted to, you could opt for just one. My reasoning is that the warmth and comfort of a down jacket is fantastic when you are at camp, you can sleep in it at the very high camps, and you can put it on under your rain gear to keep it dry.
My soft shell jacket is a medium-weight, large enough to fit both my fleece layers underneath comfortably, and gives an element of wind-proofing and water-resistance.
That way, in the case of light rain or cloud moisture, I don’t need to put on my rain gear. Unless the rain is very heavy.
I love my down jacket, I wouldn’t set foot on Kilimanjaro without it. That said, apart from on summit night, I don’t use it for hiking very often. But for the freezing cold evenings, there is nothing nicer than a snuggly down jacket to keep me warm.
There are various types of down jacket, some with actual “down” filler and others with synthetic filler. The ones that use real down are warmer, and can be considerably more expensive.
Unlike ski-jackets which can be cumbersome to pack, a good mid-weight down jacket will compress well and is light enough not to make a major impact on your weight restriction. Look for something with 700-down filling (or synthetic equivalent).
And For when the rain comes down…
You’ve got your zipper-side rain pants, now you need a waterproof jacket, with a hood, that will protect you from sudden downpours. Rain is less likely the higher you climb, so this also doubles as a final “outer” layer if your summit night is really cold.
It needs to be big enough to fit your other layers underneath, so don’t buy that close-fitting one that looks so good in the shops!
When you trek through the rainforest, rain is very possible, so something lightweight that you can peel on and off does the job well.
Some come with fancy hoods, personally I find rain gear to be the least exciting (after underwear) of my mountain-shopping, so I buy a good Gore-Tex jacket with a serviceable hood.
When it comes to rain, don’t forget that there are things called Umbrellas that have been used for centuries to keep dry! I keep a small travel umbrella in my daypack at all times.
Base Layer or Thin Glove
No cotton! A good wool, silk or synthetic glove that will keep your hands warm and protected on a dry day. I like them to be thin thermal gloves that wick moisture away from your hands. Nothing nice about sweaty palms.
If you opt for silk liner glove, this can also be used to protect your hands from the sun when it’s not cold enough for the winter gloves.
The Icebreaker Apex liner glove is merino wool glove that is very thin and fits under most ski gloves. If you prefer a synthetic glove, then North Face Power Stretch Glove are a good option available on Amazon.
They should be thin enough to fit inside your waterproof, winter gloves. You can also buy a combination “inner and outer” glove.
When selecting your base layer glove, just make sure you try it on with your outer glove to ensure a comfortable fit.
I’m not a fan of mittens, as I like to have use of my fingers. Others I’ve spoken to love the cosy feeling of mittens.
Either way, they need to be fully waterproof and able to be layered with your inner or liner glove. Having two layers of insulation ensures that you never have to endure freezing cold hands!
Do not be tempted to save money and omit the outer glove. You will need this on summit night. They must be waterproof and heavily insulated. If you’ve got a pair of ski gloves already, then these should do just fine.
Most outer gloves feature a long wrist cover, which can easily be tucked in under your jacket, so the cold can’t sneak in.
The Outdoor Research pictured above are a good choice. You don’t need to spend a fortune on gloves, particularly if you are unlikely to use them again.
Hats & Other Headwear
As you’ll be moving from hot, humid conditions at the base of the mountain to frozen Arctic tundra at the top, you’ll need relevant headwear for the different conditions.
The one condition that will remain the same is protection from the sun. Even on a freezing day, the sun at altitude is ferocious.
So you’ll not only need to keep your head warm, but you’ll need to protect your skin and eyes from the harsh rays of the sun.
Brim Hat, with Neck Protection
A good brimmed hat that keeps the sun off your head and face is essential. You want something lightweight, easy to pack in your daypack and preferably treated for additional UV protection.
The material should be cool and breathable, preferably not cotton. Peaked caps are a possibility but they provide no protection from the sun on your neck and ears.
Warm Hat, preferably with Ear flaps
Or, if you don’t want ear-flaps you can use your “Buff” (neck gaiter) underneath your winter hat.
Some people like the full bank-robber balaclava look:
Others enjoy a beanie: (hint, please don't buy one with a pom pom on the top like this one!!)
Whatever winter hat you choose, it should keep your ears warm, not fly off if it’s windy, and fit underneath your rain-gear hood.
I can’t say enough about these versatile little beauties. I always carry a variety of "Buffs" in different colours and warmth ratings.
You can wear them as a neck protector, as a face protector (like a balaclava). With some nifty folding they can be a beanie style hat, an “under-hat”, a wrist-band, a head-band, mini-towel, sunglass cleaner or something to strangle your tent-mate with.
I have a great collection bought in Nepal along the path to Everest Base Camp. I recommend a couple of the normal weight ones and then a nice fleecy one to line your neck on summit night.
Not only for summit night where you will need this to light your way, having a good headtorch is essential for your comfort in your tent.
Finding your way to the bathroom after dark, locating hidden items in your duffel bag at night, and reading in your tent if you have the energy to do so.
Batteries do not like the cold. They drain much quicker than usual. It’s important to have a head torch with good battery life and spare batteries.
The harsh equatorial sun at altitude can be very damaging to your eyes. Snow-blindness can occur even when there is not much snow.
The sun still reflects off the glaciers. As you get higher up the mountain, the UV rays are more intense, and the sun is more damaging than at sea level. Extremely painful solar keratitis (inflammation of the cornea due to sunburn) can occur after only 10-15 minutes of exposure to the sun at altitude. (1)
Things to look for in sunglasses for Kilimanjaro:
- Wrap-around sunglasses are essential, preventing any light coming in from open sides, and lenses that fit close to the face and cover the whole eye area.
- 99-100% UV absorption
- Category 4 rating: blocks 90% of visible light.
- Polycarbonate lens. Lighter and more durable than glass
The normal sunglasses that you wear to the beach may not be sufficient for the harsh UV rays on Kilimanjaro.
Julbo makes greatt sunglasses for Kilimanjaro. The brand is well established in mountaineering circles, and there are a variety of styles to fit your budget and aesthetics. All sunglasses they manufacture are guaranteed to provide 100% protection from UV A, B and C rays.
If you wear prescription lenses, you can either get a pair of 100% UV sunglasses made in your prescription, or consider clip-on lenses that you wear over your normal glasses.
Contact lenses can be fine in the lower slopes but you’ll need to be careful of the fine dust as you get higher up. If you do wear contact lenses, be sure to have a good pair of wrap-around sunglasses to keep the dust out.
Hiking Boots, Socks & Other Footwear
The most important purchase you are going to make – if you haven’t done so already – for your climb is going to be your Kilimanjaro hiking boots. (Secondly, your socks.)
Blisters and sore feet can stop a climb in it’s tracks. You’ve got enough to challenge you without being uncomfortable in the foot department.
Once you’ve bought your boots, be sure to “break them in” properly. Wear them around the house to the annoyance of your family. Wear them to the shops. Wear them at every opportunity you get.
And don’t forget to wear them out hiking. Can they carry you for 6-8 hours without giving you blisters? In warm conditions and in cold conditions?
You certainly don’t want to arrive on the mountain to find out that you haven’t broken them in well enough.
As an aside, my first pair of boots were some leather Scarpas and I thought I had them pretty well worn-in. I had selected these as they allowed crampons to be fitted and I was climbing the Western Breach.
Off I went for a weekend of hiking. After the first three hours I had bleeding blisters which were so bad I walked back to my accommodation in bare feet. After more wearing in, and no further blisters, they carried me to the summit comfortably!
Conversely, my current hiking boots (non-Western Breach) took very little time to wear-in and are comfortable even when I’m walking to the pub. Salomon Quest. I like ‘em.
I’m all for saving money, but buying cheap boots is a false economy. Don’t buy something just because it’s expensive, but do expect to pay for quality.
Your climb is already expensive, and cheap hiking boots is not the place to save a few pennies.
What to look for?
- Waterproof. Either synthetic or leather works well. Leather can take longer to “break in” and be heavier.
- Weight. You don’t want to be hiking up Kili with boots that feel like concrete.
- Ankle support: the trails are rocky and rough. A sprained ankle can mean your climb is over. And trust me, whacking your ankle on a rock is painful!
- Good grip, Vibram-style sole. You’ll need something with good solid traction, so look for deep lugs in the sole.
- Fit. Very important. Don’t borrow boots that “kind of” fit. Typically, you need hiking boots a half a size to one size larger than your normal shoe size. You will be wearing a liner sock and a thick outer sock, so room needs to be made to accommodate these.
Since you won’t be wearing crampons (except possibly if you climb the Western Breach), you don’t need heavy duty boots for this trek. A good medium-weight boot with a high ankle support and a rugged sole will do the trick.
Don’t buy hiking boots online unless you’ve tried them on first! You may get a much better price on Amazon than in your local outdoor retailer, but do go to the shop first.
Even if you come home and order them. Some boots simply don’t agree with some people. Just because my Salomon Quest boots are the best thing in the world for my feet, your feet might disagree.
Take a trip to a local stockist of hiking boots, try various brands, then shop around online for the best price.
If you don’t have any local shops worth going to, then make sure you purchase from somewhere with a great returns policy, so you can send them back if they are not perfect.
What to look for when fitting a boot:
- Space in the toe-box to accommodate your foot width. You might get away with a pair of dress shoes that are a little on the narrow side, but after a day’s hiking, you’ll be pleased you opted for a slightly wider fit. You should be able to wiggle your toes with your boot on.
- When you push your toes right down to the front of your boot, you should be able to fit your index finger snugly between your heel and the back of your boot. (Remember, you’ll want a hiking boot to be ½-1 size larger than your usual shoe size).
- Neither too tight nor too loose. A loose boot will move as you walk, creating friction, ending up in blisters. A tight boot will end up hurting you as your feet swell slightly through the day.
- When correctly laced, your toes should not hit the front of the boot – or you’ll lose a couple of toenails on the descent.
- Always try on the boots with the socks you intend to wear for your hike.
- If you wear orthotics (insoles) be sure to try these on with the boot.
Take your time to select a boot that you are comfortable with. Selecting any of the brands above will be a good choice, but before brand is correct fit and comfort.
In addition to your Kilimanjaro hiking boots, you’ll need a pair of sneakers or “light hikers” to wear around camp. At the end of a long day’s hiking, you’ll want to change out of your sweaty boots and let them air and dry out before the next day.
Some people bring sandals, which works fine for the first day or two, but thereafter it’s just too cold. Trainers or light hikers will allow you to move around your campsite and give your feet a rest from your hiking boots.
Your ordinary “trainers” or “sneakers” that you have at home will be perfectly fine.
Bring a spare pair of laces! Hopefully you won’t need them, but a broken lace can be highly inconvenient when halfway up a mountain. I always have a pair in my daypack.
Attaching to your boots, gaiters are waterproof lower leg protectors that extend up to your knees.
Wearing gaiters will prevent dust and small stones getting into your boots. They will also keep the bottoms of your hiking pants clean.
You don’t need anything fancy. You can often rent gaiters from your operator or at various outlets in Moshi/Arusha.
Quick reminder: NO COTTON! Cotton stays damp and does not “wick” moisture away from your feet. Moist, clammy feet are more at risk of blisters.
Getting the right pairs of socks for your trek is crucial. A bad pair of socks can turn a well-fitting hiking boot into a blister-creating mess.
- Thermal socks for summit night
- 3-4 pairs of good quality “outer” socks (depending on how often you like to wear a clean pair
- 4-5 pairs of “liner” socks.
What does all this mean?
So I like to change my liner sock every day. That way there is no dried sweat next to my skin, and any dust or small stones that has managed to get into my boot is not rubbing my feet the next day. The advantage of wearing a liner sock and an outer sock is that you can change the liner sock and re-use the outer sock over a couple of days.
Some of the cheaper liner socks don’t maintain their shape. This can be a problem if they cause rucks which create friction and blisters. I recommend Bridgedale Coolmax liner sock.
A midweight hiking sock is worn over the liner, providing comfort and warmth. On summit night, you’ll need a heavy duty thermal sock.
A good quality wool trekking sock is the best for keeping your feet dry and comfortable. You’ll need flat-seams (nothing that rubs). Personally, I take a clean pair of trekking socks and a clean liner sock for every day on the mountain. Others don’t mind re-using the trekking sock a couple of times.
In terms of the fit, they want to be snug, not tight and not too loose. Loose socks will cause blisters. I like thicker socks as they provide foot cushioning for long days.
Summit night is cold. Bitterly cold. You’ll be moving slowly and although frostbite is not normally an issue on Kilimanjaro, you don’t want your feet to feel like ice blocks. Get 1-2 pairs of super-warm socks.
Foot Care on Kilimanjaro
See my in-depth article on preventing blisters when hiking for further information.
Top tips for keeping your feet in perfect condition:
- Trim toenails, ensuring no sharp edges
- If you feel a ‘hotspot’ whilst hiking, don’t ignore it, put a blister-plaster, moleskine or Leukotape on
- Keep a Foot first-aid kit in your daypack
- At the end of each day, clean your feet and dry well before changing into your trainers
- Use antibacterial wipes and moisturize your feet, allowing them to dry thoroughly
- Don’t stay in wet socks!
Contents of Foot First Aid Kit:
- Compeed Blister Plasters
- Anti-friction cream (I just use Vaseline)
- Nail clipper
- Antibacterial wipes
Some people hate them, some love them. Some people use just the one, others love using two. It’s entirely your choice. At first it can feel odd walking with poles, but once you are used to them, they certainly help relieve your knees, particularly on the downhill sections.
I would never undertake a long trek without poles. They help you in difficult sections of the trail, you can use them to lean on and rest without having to sit down. And I find that using them keeps the blood flowing to your hands, so they don’t swell up.
Adjustable poles are great, they pack down smaller for when you are traveling to your destination and you can lengthen them for the downhill sections.
Features you want:
- Adjustable length so you can find the perfect length for your height, and adjust the length for when you descend.
- Lightweight – unless you are planning on doing many treks of this nature, the lighter the better. Although this makes them a little less durable than some of the really heavy-duty poles available
- Comfortable grip. Avoid poles with a simple plastic handle, as this will get uncomfortable and cause your hands to sweat. Rubber handles work well, though you can opt for foam or cork instead.
It is possible to rent trekking poles in Moshi or Arusha, but if you want to practice hiking with them, you might as well get your own. I recommend something like the Black Diamond, available on Amazon.
After a long day’s hiking, there’s nothing nicer than snuggling down in a warm, toasty sleeping bag.
Sleeping in a tent can be enough of a challenge for some people, and being cold is certainly not necessary.
Sleeping Bag: Rent or Buy?
A sleeping bag for Kilimanjaro is available to rent in a variety of places in Moshi/Arusha. Your tour operator may rent one to you. If you don’t think you’ll use your sleeping bag again after this trip, then renting may be a good idea.
However, you’ll soon regret that decision if you are presented with a dirty, smelly bag with holes in it and a zip that doesn’t work. If you are using a high-end operator, they often have bags to rent that are laundered between each climb.
Personally, I don’t want to sleep in an unhygienic sleeping bag last used by someone with a contagious disease. That said, if I’m comfortable with the operator who is renting it to me, or I’ve managed to source it from someone I trust, then renting is certainly an option.
Considering that night-time temperatures can drop well below freezing, and all that’s between you and the elements is a plastic tent, a good sleep system is essential for your comfort and safety on the mountain.
What to look for?
- 3-4 season rating. Temperature rating 0F (-15C). You can possibly get away with something like 15F (-9C), but with that one I would certainly take a good insulating sleeping bag liner, and you would probably have to sleep in your clothes.
- Shape: “Mummy” shape is very popular these days, as it packs down well into a small space and the shape gives excellent insulation, not allowing any air to escape into the bag. Hood. Most “mummy” shaped sleeping bags have an insulated hood which you can secure around your head, eliminating the need to sleep in your hat!
- Fill – down or synthetic. Down-filled sleeping bags are superior, but they come at a higher price tag. You can consider a synthetic sleeping bag if you are not intending to use it much after this trek. As synthetic bags are often a bit colder than their down-counterparts, do take a sleeping bag liner along.
- Weight and size. As you are restricted in your weight allowance, you want a good combination of warmth and lightweight. But don’t compromise on warmth!
Sleeping Bag Liner
I would never be without my sleeping bag liner, on warmer nights (first night on the mountain!) you can unzip the side of your sleeping bag, so you don’t get too hot. Further up, when it’s below freezing and the wind is buffeting your tent, you will be warm and cosy.
Whether you rent or buy, I highly recommend that you get hold of a liner because it keeps your bag clean and offers extra insulation. And in the case of a rented bag, keeps you clean.
If you are going with a decent tour operator, they should provide you with a good quality, rugged sleeping mat that is both comfortable and insulating. Some of the lower-priced outfitters will require you to bring your own. Sometimes you might just want a little extra comfort than the mat provided.
Things to look for
- Easy to pack down into your duffel bag
- Self-inflating (you don’t want to be carrying electric inflation devices
- Size – the right size for your body shape.
Inflatable pillow. A nice cheap inflatable pillow that you can use on the plane is a good idea.
Personal Health & Comfort
On the mountain you will not be showering, nor washing your hair. But each day you will be provided with warm water for brushing teeth and “birdbath” type cleaning.
- Tampons/sanitary towels for ladies
- Soap – antibacterial soap like “Dettol” works well
- Fingernail brush
- Nail clippers
Take plenty. These make for a good “bath”, keeping your nether-regions nice and clean. You can also take some antibacterial ones, which are good for underarms and hand/foot cleaning.
As you climb higher and it gets colder, you will have less motivation to wash your underarms every morning. A quick wipe with an anti-bacterial should do the job of keeping you fresh.
Whether you are using the public facilities or have a private toilet-tent, it’s always worth bringing your own toilet paper. The local stuff can be rough. I recommend discarding the cardboard tube and keeping the roll of paper in a ziplock bag. Keep one in your duffel and one in your daypack for toilet stops on the trail.
Very important for cleaning hands before eating. Keep a small one in your daypack and a larger one in your toiletry bag. Something like Purell, or whatever the latest popular brand is. “Kills 99.9% of bacteria” is what it should say on the bottle.
50+ very important. Your skin will burn easily at altitude, so make a habit of putting it on every exposed part of your body each morning. (Don’t forget the back of your ears). Keep a small one in your daypack to top up as needed.
Recommended ones are Neutrogena these are good for hiking as they dry properly so you don’t have an oily residue that attracts dust, and are sweat-resistant.
Make sure you’ve got an adequate supply of any medications you are taking. Consult your doctor for any interactions with other medications that you may need to take, such as Diamox. Don’t wait until you arrive in Moshi only to discover that you can’t fill your Rx prescription!
If you decide you want to take this, consult your doctor (it’s available prescription-only).
At altitude you will not have any mosquitos bothering you. However, Tanzania is a malaria-zone, so you will need to consult your doctor for the appropriate anti-malarial medication to take. And always sleep under mosquito nets in hotels and lodges.
Personal First Aid Kit
Your operator should be carrying a comprehensive first-aid kit, but it’s always worth having your own for minor injuries.
- Blister plasters
- Moleskin (I'm using Leukotape these days)
- Antibiotic cream/ointment
- Band-Aid/Elastoplast for minor cuts and scrapes
- Ibuprofen/Paracetamol – over the counter pain relief
- Skin healing ointment such as Aquaphor
- Immodium for diarrhea
- Anti-nausea medication
These items can be worth carrying with you, as guides are not permitted to administer antibiotics or narcotic pain relief. You should consult your doctor about any prescription medications. These are just a guide to what you might wish to carry with you:
- Prescription pain medication – consult your doctor about what is right for you. Note: you would only use this in the case of an emergency, not to deal with minor headaches
- Prescription antibiotic – for stomach bugs – consult your doctor
Consult your doctor before you travel to get his/her advice about what medications you should take with you. Do not use the information here as a replacement for your doctor's advice.
Other Needful Things
Small quick-dry towel
Microfiber travel towel (don’t bring a cotton one from home, it’ll never dry). There are various available at online retailers or your local outdoor store.
For the light sleepers amongst us. Block out snoring tent-mates and noisy porters.
10-15 ziplock bags
As I’ve mentioned before, these are perfect for arranging your bits and bobs. Compression stuff sacks are a wonderful way of organizing your duffel bag. Ziplock bags make keeping all the small bits in order.
At night, when it’s freezing outside, the last thing you want to do is leave the warmth of your sleeping bag, find your shoes and stumble to the toilet.
Since you should be keeping well-hydrated, a night-time pee is quite normal. Take a bottle but don’t confuse it with your drinking water bottle. For gents it’s very easy, for ladies a little more dexterity may be required.
Pee-funnel for Ladies
If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to pee standing up, like the gents, then here’s your chance. Grab yourself a Freshette. Do I recommend this?
Actually, yes. After providing hours of fun getting used to it, I did find it invaluable on summit day when I didn’t have the energy to squat down and get back up again. On a busy trail it can provide some much-needed privacy!
I always keep a small torch for times when I don’t want to put my headtorch on. I also attach it with a piece of string to the roof my tent each evening, so I’ve got some light in the tent.
Pocket Knife (Swiss Army Knife or “Leatherman”)
Useful for all sorts of things: taking stones out of the bottom of your boot, opening a wine bottle after your trek, and picking food out of your teeth.
Best not to use it for threatening people. And remember to pack it in your checked bags – not carry-on – for the flight.
Camera, Go-Pro, iThings
You will be wanting to take photos! Do not rely on your iPhone to maintain it’s charge. Have a good, lightweight camera that you can pull out quickly to capture those memories.
Take spare batteries, they die quicker in the cold. GoPros are becoming popular, so if you like uploading endless videos to YouTube, then try one of these.
Some people like to bring giant DSLR cameras. I’m too lazy to carry it and keep digging it out of my daypack. A good “bridge” camera or “point-and-shoot” that can be carried easily is the best bet.
If you want to drown out the noisy chatter of your team. Or for when you are feeling tired and irritable in your tent.
Water & Snacks
When trekking at altitude, it’s very important to stay well-hydrated. On Kilimanjaro, it’s a good idea to use a hydration system, that stows in your daypack.
These are great systems as they mean you can sip water throughout the day, not just at rest stops.
In addition to a hydration pack, you’ll also need 1-2 water bottles, these are more convenient when you are in your tent or making lunch stops on the trail.
If you hate the idea of a hydration system, then you can simply bring 3 water bottles.
You could just rely on water bottles, but this entails stopping every time you want to have a drink.
Hydration bladders are highly recommended as it allows you to drink small amounts of water frequently through the day.
Preventing dehydration is one of the keys to successful acclimatization. You also don’t want to be battling with frozen water bottles on summit night!
Since you’ll start each day with 2-3 liters of water in your day pack, you are motivated to drink plenty as it makes your daypack lighter.
You might want to consider getting the insulated cover for the hydration pipe, as the water can freeze on summit night but I have never used one.
I find that just making sure you blow back into the pipe after taking a sip keeps water out of the pipe so it can’t freeze.
A couple of good, rugged water bottles that fit comfortably in the side pockets of your day pack are essential.
You’ll need these for at night, for at rest stops and for when your hydration bladder finally runs out.
It’s a matter of preference whether you take stainless steel or plastic bottles. There are several that are BPA-free.
Obviously leave glass bottles at home! The bottle needs to be tough enough that if the water freezes and expands, that they don’t crack.
I recommend Nalgene, I’ve had an early version for more than 10 years and it’s still going strong, in spite of being thrown off a balcony in Namche Bazaar, Nepal.
Unless you are traveling with a low-budget operator, you should expect that your water is boiled and filtered daily.
It’s an important question to ask, because one glass of bacteria-filled water will ruin your climb.
If you are still not confident of the cleanliness of water, then you are going to have to take matters into your own hands.
Thankfully there are several products available to filter and purify even the nastiest water.
Water Purification Tablets: these are revolting. Using chemicals such as Iodine or chloride, they kill bacteria in the water. They also make it virtually undrinkable except in an emergency.
Filters: Personal Filtration Systems as they are sometimes called. Katadyn makes excellent products with a hefty price tag. The SteriPen is great and easy to carry. You just pop the “pen” into the filthy water, wait until it gives you a smily face, and voila! It’s safe to drink.
I’ve never carried any water purification with me on the mountain. In my opinion if an operator can’t even provide safe, clean drinking water, then they’ve got no business taking tourists up the mountain.
The flavor of water on Kilimanjaro can sometimes not be great, depending on how it is treated. And water is boring.
But there is a much more important reason to take an electrolyte additive.
In order for your body to do the job of keeping tissues and cells hydrated, it needs electrolytes. The most commonly known electrolytes are Sodium and Potassium.
Sodium regulates how much water is outside the cells, and Potassium regulates how much water is inside the cells.
If these electrolytes are not balanced, the water you drink will simply be excreted from the body, instead of hydrating the cells.
The very fact of drinking a lot of water means that you will urinate a lot. Each time you urinate, you excrete some electrolytes.
When you hear the recommendations of how much water you need to drink on the average day on Kilimanjaro, you’d be wise to add some electrolytes.
This will ensure your body uses the water to hydrate itself and not the side of the mountain!
Good electrolyte formulas are:
Elete – supposedly tasteless but actually tastes a bit salty, not great but does the job well.
High5Zero comes in various flavors, Gatorade powder and the oddly-named nuun. I suggest finding a flavor that you enjoy in advance of your trip. You’ll probably need 1-2 of the flavored tablets per day.
Whilst you should be well-fed for three meals a day, keeping your blood sugar levels stable and energy levels up between meals is important.
I like to carry nutrient-dense, high-energy snacks. Or a good solid trail mix will do, of dried fruit and nuts, giving slow-release energy throughout the day.
Budget for 2-4 bars per day, depending on how hungry you get between meals. I take a combination of Clif bars which tend to be high in slow-release carbohydrates and some protein bars, because, well, I like protein.
Ordinary candy or chocolate bars for when I feel I need a quick ‘pick me up’ burst of sugar.
I don’t recommend taking just candy and chocolate, as you do want some slow-release energy and you don’t need the ‘slump’ once your blood sugar drops.
The exception to that is on summit night, when I do nothing but chow down my favorite chocolate and candy bars!
Packs & Bags for your Kilimanjaro Climb
Well, now you know what you need to pack, you've got to have something to pack it in!
On the mountain, most of your kit will be carried by a porter. There are strict weight limits to what the porters can carry, as he will be carrying your kit as well as his own.
In addition to your duffel bag you will carry your own small rucksack, in which you will keep your rain gear, your passport/money, some snacks, foot care kit, sunscreen, water, camera/phone and any other bits and bobs you require throughout the day.
Kilimanjaro Duffel Bag
You will need a good sturdy waterproof bag. These things get knocked around quite a lot, so a light canvas overnight bag will not perform well.
If it rains, you need to be sure that you don’t show up at your camp to find your sleeping bag is a sodden, soaking mess.
A good duffel bag will be:
- Waterproof (including around the zipper)
- 80-100 liter capacity
- Soft outer (no hard-shell cases)
- Strong Zipper that can accommodate a small lock
Suitable Duffel Bags for Kilimanjaro conditions:
This is the duffel bag preferred by the high-end operators that provide duffel bags to their climbers. If your operator does not provide one, then this is really the best.
It is completely waterproof, the zipper is rugged and tough, and there is not much you can do to destroy it.
I recommend the L size (95 liters) which is the perfect size to contain all your kit without exceeding the weight restriction.
See the price on Amazon here.
Helly Hanson 90L Duffel Bag
The Helly Hansen 90 liter is a cheaper option, but will work just as well. If you don’t think you will be using it again after your Kilimanjaro climb, then go for this one. I would highly recommend buying a set of these waterproof stuff sacks just to be certain that your gear remains dry.
It's a little bit less rugged than the North Face, but will do the job.
Check the price on Amazon here.
Alternatively, if you’ve already got a large rucksack (70-80 liters) that fits all your gear in comfortably, it is perfectly fine for you to take that along and not go to the expense of the duffel bag.
Unless you are completely sure of the waterproofing, do buy some waterproof compression sacks. Or at the very least pack your gear in plastic garbage bags.
Compression Stuff Sacks
I love compression stuff sacks. I use them in my duffel bag which helps me organize it properly (and protects against dirt and water).
I also line my rucksack with one. This gives me peace of mind that in a rain shower my gear will stay dry even if I don’t get the rain cover on quickly enough. It also protects things from the dust that inevitably creeps in.
Getting a set of these will keep your gear dry. They will help organize your kit so you know where things are, particularly when waking up at midnight to start your summit attempt!
Alternatively, you can just use some garbage bags that you buy from the supermarket. The only problem with these is that you can't get them completely waterproof unless you have some way of sealing the top.
Whilst your porter will by carrying your main duffel bag, you will carry a daypack with everything you need for the day’s trekking. You will not see your duffel until you arrive at camp in the evening.
You want a small, light rucksack that is still big enough to contain your hydration bladder (or water bottles), your rain gear, another layer (or two) for if you get cold, and your snacks and other bits and pieces.
Features of a good daypack include:
- Waist Strap: this helps to distribute weight so it is not pulling on your shoulders - some have handy pockets in the waist strap for small items such as sunscreen
- Good air-flow between the back of the pack and your body which prevents overheating and a sweaty back
- Adjustable straps so that you can find the most comfortable fit for your body type and shape
- Compartment for hydration bladder
- Between 25-35 liters depending on how much you carry around. Any smaller than this and you may have difficulty fitting everything in - unless you pack super-light!
If you are new to wearing a rucksack, I don’t recommend buying a super-cheap one, as it may feel comfortable for an hour or two, but won’t be after a few hours.
With 2-3 liters of water onboard, you want something that will see you comfortably through the day without pressure points and sore muscles.
Once you’ve bought your daypack and hydration bladder, do spend some time adjusting the straps and getting the fit just right.
Practice hiking with it so you know where you’ve stowed things. Find some uphill sections, as the balance will change and you may need to make further adjustments.
Some rucksacks come with a built-in rain cover, usually hidden carefully in a pocket underneath.
If your rucksack does not come with a built in rain cover, then be sure to get one, or your gear risks getting soaked.
Have a small padlock for locking up your duffel. I have not experienced theft on Kilimanjaro, but if you are going with a budget operator, you may just like the peace of mind it offers.
Personally, I’ve never used one, and never had any problems.
Just make sure it's got the little red TSA logo if you are traveling from the USA - in case they need to open it at customs.
Kilimanjaro Gear Tips
Packing for Kilimanjaro need not be complicated.
Bearing in mind the weight restriction, you just need to be organized. And if you are organized ahead of your climb, you won’t be rooting around in the dark through your duffel bag wondering where things are.
Once you’ve read through the packing list, and made a list of what you need to buy, check out our reviews of kit for different budgets.
- Since you will be using layers to keep warm, it’s important to test your clothing before you leave. It’s no good getting to summit night and finding that the fleece you wanted to wear under your down jacket doesn’t fit!
- I had many hours of fun experimenting with different layer combinations. You want it all to feel second-nature. Practice hiking with your chosen daypack, sorting out where the water bottles go, where you’ll keep your sunscreen and camera.
- Most modern daypacks are adjustable, so be sure to try it out with different layer combinations.
- Once you’ve got all your kit, practice packing and unpacking your duffel bag. Once you get to your tent at the end of the day, you’ll be short of space, and you want things to be easily accessible. Not to mention that at the higher altitudes, the simple task of packing and unpacking your duffel bag can become very confusing!
- Start preparing your gear well in advance of your climb, particularly if you are inexperienced.
Would you like a copy of our free printable checklist? Download it here.