Clothes for Kilimanjaro

According to his book Life, Wanderings, and Labours in Eastern Africa, when Charles New attempted to climb Kilimanjaro in 1861 he took with him a party of thirteen porters, all of whom were completely naked. New and his crew became the first to reach Kilimanjaro’s snow-line, which is a rather creditable effort considering their lack of suitable apparel.

What to pack signAssuming your goal is to reach more than just the snows of Kilimanjaro, however, you will need to make sure you (and indeed your porters) are appropriately attired for the extreme conditions.

The fact that you will be paying porters to carry your rucksack does, to some degree, make packing simpler – allowing you to concentrate on warmth rather than weight.

However, packing for warmth does not mean packing lots of big jumpers. The secret to staying warm is to wear lots of layers. Not only does this actually make you warmer than if you just had one single, thick layer – the air trapped between the layers heats up and acts as insulation – but it also means you can peel off the layers one by one when you get too warm, and put them on again one by one when the temperatures drop.

A clothes list for Kilimanjaro

  • Boots for Kilimanjaro Proper mountaineering boots are unnecessary for Kilimanjaro unless you’re taking an unusual route that demands them. If you’re not, a decent pair of trekking boots are fine for Kilimanjaro. The important thing about boots is comfort, with enough toe room, remembering that on the ascent up Kibo you might be wearing an extra pair or two of socks, and that on the descent the toes will be shoved into the front of the boots with every step. Remember these points when trying on trekking boots for Kilimanjaro in the shop. Make sure they are also sturdy, waterproof, durable and high enough to provide support for your ankles. Finally, ensure you break them in before you come to Tanzania, so that if they do give you blisters, you can recover before you set foot on Kilimanjaro.
  • Socks Ahhh, the joy of socks … a couple of thick thermal pairs and some regular ones should be fine for trekking up Kilimanjaro; you may stink but you’ll be comfortable too, which is far more important. Some people walk in one thick and one thin pair of socks on Kilimanjaro, changing the thin pair regularly, rinsing them out in the evening and tying them to their pack to dry during the day.
  • Down jacket Not necessary for Kilimanjaro if you have enough fleeces, but nevertheless wonderfully warm, light and compact – and usually expensive. Make sure it is large enough to go over all your clothes.
  • Fleeces Fleeces are light, pack down small, dry quickly and can be very, very warm. Take at least two fleeces for your Kilimanjaro expedition: one thick ‘polar’ one and one of medium thickness and warmth. Make sure that you can wear the thinner one over all of the T-shirts and shirts you’ll be taking, and that you can wear your thick one over all of these – you’ll need to wear both fleeces on the night-walk up Kibo.
  • Thermals The value of thermal underwear lies in the way it draws moisture (ie sweat) away from your body. A thermal vest and long johns are sufficient for Kilimanjaro.
  • Trousers Don’t take jeans, which are heavy and difficult to dry. Instead, take a couple of pairs of trekking trousers for Kilimanjaro, such as those made by Rohan, preferably one light and one heavy.
  • Sun-hat One reader wrote in to say that, because he is a glasses wearer, a baseball cap or similar was much more useful than a regular sunhat as it kept the rain off his spectacles. This is a good idea but do make sure that you have something to cover the back of your neck too. Whatever you choose, headgear is essential as it can be hot and dazzling on the mountain …
  • Woolly/fleecy hat … but it can also be very cold. Brightly-coloured bobble hats can be bought very cheaply in Moshi; or, better still, invest in one of those knitted balaclavas which you can usually find on sale in Moshi. They look a bit like a pizza oven but wearing a balaclava on Kilimanjaro will protect your face from the biting summit wind.
  • Gloves Preferably fleecy; many trekkers on Kilimanjaro wear a thin thermal under-glove too.
  • Rainwear While you are more likely to experience rain on Kilimanjaro during the walk in the forest, where it’s still warm, once you’ve got your clothes wet there will be little opportunity to dry them on the trek – and you will not want to attempt to climb freezing Kibo in wet clothes. A waterproof jacket is ideal for Kilimanjaro, preferably made from Gore-tex or similar breathable material, hopefully with a warm or fleecy lining too, and big enough to go over all your clothes so you can wear it for the night-walk on Kibo. Waterproof trousers on Kilimanjaro are perhaps a luxury rather than a necessity, but if you have a pair bring them with you. Alternatively, one reader suggests a cheap waterproof poncho ‘from a dollar store’ for the trek, preferably one that goes over the backpack as well as yourself.
  • Summer clothes T-shirts and shorts are the most comfortable things to wear under Kilimanjaro’s humid forest canopy. You are strongly recommended to take a shirt with a collar too, to stop the African sun from burning the back of your neck.

Other equipment for Kilimanjaro >>