Drinking on Kilimanjaro

What do you drink?

Kilimanjaro lagerIt’s important that you drink on Kilimanjaro, and drink a lot.

Water is obviously the best stuff to imbibe. Apart from the first day, when you’ll probably be served mineral water bought for you by your team, the water you’ll drink on Kilimanjaro will be sourced from the mountain. (Note that those plastic mineral water bottles are banned from Kilimanjaro National Park by the authorities, so you’ll have to decant their contents into your bottles before you start your trek.)

Porters will collect water from the rivers and streams along the trail. Some of this they will boil/filter/treat for you at the start of the day to carry in your water bottles. It is possible, if you want, to collect water yourself from the many streams and purify it using a filter or tablets. But, like I say above, you don’t have to do this because your crew will provide you with enough to drink.

Note, however, that as you climb ever higher the water becomes more scarce. On the Machame trail, for example, the last water point is at the Karanga Valley, the lunch-stop before Barafu. While on Marangu, it’s just before the Saddle. For this reason it is essential that you carry enough bottles or containers for at least three litres.

How to carry your water

You will want to drink frequently on Kilimanjaro because it helps with the acclimatisation process. But if it’s cold, it’s rather annoying to have to stop every few minutes, take off your gloves and fish for your water bottle in your daypack. For this reason, I heartily recommend bringing a camelback/platypus system. This is a soft-sided bladder that has a pipe at one end with a valve attached to prevent leakage. That hose then goes over your shoulder so the valve rests conveniently near your mouth.  So when you want a drink you just bite gently on the valve and suck, and the water will flow through the pipe to your mouth.

(I’ve made this sound much more complicated than it really is, but I hope you get the idea!)

These bladders encourage you to drink frequently. Indeed, I have found that I drink a litre more per day when I am using one of these bladders, compared to when I use bottles only.

The only problem with the bladders is that they will freeze on that final night-time push to the summit. You can blow into the tube everytime you finish drinking, in order to prevent water settling and freezing in the pipe. But this only delays the inevitable. So we advise you to bring a regular water bottle too. This you van keep in your daypack until your platypus is frozen and unusable. Your bottle should have some sort of insulating properties too, so it doesn’t freeze as well. If it doesn’t, then wrap it in a towel or a sock in order to keep it from freezing.

What else you’ll be drinking on the mountain

In camp, your crew will serve you hot drinks such as coffee and tea. Hot chocolate may be available too. All of these will be made with powdered milk because fresh milk is hard to come by in Tanzania, and even more so on the mountain.

Remember that caffeine, present in both coffee and tea, is dehydrating, which can be bad for acclimatisation. Caffeine is a diuretic too. That is to say, it encourages you to urinate, which is something that you’ll be doing plenty of anyway as you acclimatise.

What shouldn’t you drink on Kilimanjaro?

One thing we advise you not to do, at least not until after you’ve reached the summit, is to drink alcohol on Kilimanjaro. It’s not going to do you any god, but it may do you quite a lot of bad. Your body has enough to cope with, without having to get rid of unwanted poisons too. Every time I am on the mountain I always find a bunch of guys drinking beer. They usually like to make sure everyone in the camp knows they’re drinking it too. But while they think they are burnishing their macho credentials, those same credentials may take a bit of a hit if they subsequently fail to get to the summit.

Check out our page on Food in Tanzania, including a section on Which is the best beer to celebrate your Kilimanjaro climb.

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