Packing for Kilimanjaro
Once again this section is taken almost directly from the book. Hope you find it useful – we think it’s just about as comprehensive as can be – though if you’ve got any other recommendations don’t hesitate to write and let us know!
What bag(s) to bring for your Kilimanjaro climb
Before we talk about what clothes and equipment you will need to bring for your Kilimanjaro trek, you need to consider what you should bring everything in. In other words, how many bags will you need for your Kilimanjaro trip, and what sort of bags should they be.
Well, the first thing to say is that you need to bring two bags. One should be a large rucksack or duffle bag, about 90 litres in size. It doesn’t have to be too expensive or luxurious. It just needs to be durable, and preferably waterproof. It doesn’t even need to be too comfortable, as you will not be carrying this bag. Instead, this is the bag that you will give to a porter, and he will carry it on your behalf. Inside this bag will go your sleeping bag, spare shoes, toiletries and the clothes that you will not need during the day while you are walking.
Note that it doesn’t really matter whether you bring a backpack/rucksack or a duffle bag/holdall-style bag. In all probability, your agency will put this bag inside a large grain sack for extra protection anyway, and it will be carried on the porter’s head, so don’t be too concerned about the quality or style of this bag.
You will also need to bring a daypack, of about 30 litres. In this will go the things that you will want to take with you while walking. So that’s items such as water, sunhat, suncream, sunglasses, sweets etc. Follow this link for a complete list of what you should carry in your daysack.
Kilimanjaro: A packing list
Do ask your agency what items they provide for your trek. (For example, our own agency, Kilimanjaro Experts, provides good quality sleeping mats free to all our climbers, and can also rent out items such as sleeping bags, head torches, walking poles, down jackets, gloves etc too. Renting items rather than buying them could save you a small fortune, particularly as the gear you require for Kilimanjaro needs to be of a fairy decent specification – warm, durable, waterproof etc. Buying a quality sleeping bag or clothing such as jackets that are warm enough could set you back several hundred dollars, which is a lot of money to spend on something that you may never have use for again.
Items that are seldom, if ever, rented out include thermal underwear and boots. Fleeces, too, are surprisingly rarer than you would expect. So always bring these from home.
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.
Assuming 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 (the ones with the stiff soles) are unnecessary unless you’re taking an unusual route that demands them. If you’re not, a decent pair of trekking boots are fine. 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 the mountain.
- Socks Ahhh, the joy of socks … a couple of thick thermal pairs and some regular ones should be fine for trekking; 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, 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 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.
- Trousers Don’t take jeans, which are heavy and difficult to dry. Instead, take a couple of pairs of trekking trousers, 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 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 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, 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 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 Kili’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
Any trekking agency worth its licence will provide a tent, as well as cooking equipment, cutlery and crockery. You will still need to take a few other items, however, if you don’t want to return from your trek as a sun-burnt, snow-blinded, dehydrated wretch.
Most of these items can be bought or rented in Moshi or Arusha. Your agency can arrange equipment rental, which is the most convenient way, though you may well find it cheaper to avoid going through them as they will, of course, take their cut.
Note that the following lists concern the trek only. It does not include items necessary for other activities you may have planned on your holiday, such as binoculars for your safari, or a bucket and spade for Zanzibar.
Before buying or renting all of the following, check to see what your agency will supply as part of their trekking package. Many will provide mattresses and water purifiers, for example, which will save you a little.
- Sleeping bag On Kilimanjaro, the warmer the sleeping bag the better. A three-season bag is probably the most practical, offering a compromise between warmth and cost. A two-season plus thermal fleecy liner, the latter available in camping shops back at home for about £20-30/US$30-45, is another solution.
- Sleeping mat A sleeping mat is essential if camping but unnecessary if you’re following the Marangu Route, when you’ll be sleeping in huts. Trekking agencies usually supply sleeping mats – ask them before you buy one yourself.
- Water bottles/Platypus Hoser system We recommend you carry at least three litres of water per day. Make sure your bottles are thermally protected or they will freeze on the summit.Regular army-style water bottles are fine, though these days many trekkers prefer the new Platypus Hoser-style systems, or CamelBaks, a kind of soft, plastic bladder with a long tube from which you can drink as you walk along. They have a number of advantages over regular bottles in that they save you fiddling about with bottle tops and you can keep your hands in your pockets while you drink – great on the freezing night-time walk to the summit.But while they encourage you to drink regularly, which is good for dealing with the altitude, they also discourage you from taking a break, which is bad. What’s more, these systems usually freeze up on the way to the summit, especially the hose and mouthpiece. One way to avoid this – or at least delay it – is to blow back into the tube after you have taken a drink to prevent water from collecting in the tube and freezing. (One reader suggested adding diarolyte which also helps to delay freezing.) So if you are going to bring one of these with you, make sure it’s fully insulated – and don’t forget to take frequent breaks!
- Water purifiers/filter Water purifiers are also essential, unless you intend to hire an extra porter or two to transport your drinking water up from the start. (Actually, most companies now treat/purify water for you so you don’t need to worry too much about this now, though do check with your agency that this is the case.) Besides, you’ll still find purifiers and/or a filter essential if you’re going to drink the recommended four-five litres every day, for which you’ll have to collect water from the mountain streams.Of the two, purifying tablets, such as iodine, are more effective, as they kill everything in the water, though they taste awful. A cordial will help to mask this taste; you can buy packets of powdered flavouring in the local supermarkets. Filters are less effective and more expensive, though the water they produce tastes much better.There’s a third option, the Steripen, which kills waterborne microbes by using ultraviolet light. The pen is simple to use. Simply hold the pen in a litre of water for 30 seconds and….that’s it. I’ve seen one of these in action on the mountain and I have to say I found it a very impressive bit of kit. My only quibble was that you can use it on only one litre of water at a time, so it can be awkward if you have, for example, a three-litre bottle.
- Torch A head-torch, if you have one and don’t find it uncomfortable, is far more practical than a handheld one, allowing you to keep both hands free; on the last night up the slopes of Kibo to the summit this advantage is pretty much essential, enabling you to keep your hands in your pockets for warmth.
- Sunscreen A high-factor sunscreen (35-40) is essential.
- Towel The argument here is over which sort of towel to bring. Many trekers just bring one enormous beach towel, because they plan to visit Zanzibar after the trek and don’t see the point of packing two towels.At the other extreme there are the tiny so-called ‘travel towels’, a sort of chamois-cloth affair sold in camping shops and airport lounges the world over. Some people swear by these things, but others usually end up swearing at them, finding that they have all the absorbency of your average block of volcanic obsidian stone. Nevertheless, I grudgingly admit that these travel towels do have their uses on Kilimanjaro, where opportunities to wash anything other than your face and hands are minimal. You can dry your towel by attaching it to the outside of your rucksack with clothes-pegs.
- Sunglasses Sunglasses are very, very necessary for the morning after you’ve reached the summit, when the early morning light on Kibo can be really painful and damaging. If you’re climbing via the Glacier Route or are going to spend some time on the summit, they could be essential on Kilimanjaro for preventing snow-blindness.
- Glasses/contact lenses For those who need them, of course. Contact lenses are fine but super-expensive ones should be avoided on the final assault to the summit as there’s a risk that when the strong cold wind blows across the saddle on assault night the lenses can dry and go brittle very quickly and fall out of the eye. I suggest affordable disposable lenses be worn but that spare glasses be carried, especially during the assault on the summit. Obviously you’ll need to be extra careful to keep your hands super clean and dry when putting them in.
- Money for tipping For a rough guide as to how much you should take, see the guidebook and the Tipping your Kilimanjaro crew webpage — then add a few dollars, just in case.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste Ensure your dental checks are up-to-date; if there is one thing more painful than climbing to the summit of Kilimanjaro, it’s climbing to the summit of Kilimanjaro with toothache.
- Toilet paper
- Tampons/sanitary towels
- Contraceptives Though whether you have the energy to use them on the mountain is doubtful; and gentlemen, if you’re feeling frisky on the mountain but she says she’s got a headache, the chances are she really does have a headache!
Carry everything in a waterproof bag or case, and keep at least the emergency stuff in your daypack – where hopefully it will lie undisturbed for the trek’s duration.
Highly desirable equipment to take with you
Plastic bags Useful for segregating your wet clothes from the rest of your kit in your rucksack.NOTE: FROM 1 JUNE 2019 PLASTIC BAGS ARE NO LONGER ALLOWED TO BE BROUGHT INTO TANZANIA. THOSE WHO DO (INADVERTENTLY OR OTHERWISE) BRING PLASTIC BAGS, INCLUDING BIN LINERS, INTO THE COUNTRY FACE VERY HEAVY FINES. PLEASE SEE OUR POST ON TANZANIA’S DECISION TO BAN ALL PLASTIC BAGS.
- Trekking poles If you’ve done some trekking before you’ll know if you need trekking poles / sticks or not; if you haven’t, assume you will. While trekkers often use trekking poles / sticks (also called ski poles) the whole way, trekking poles really come into their own on the descent, to minimize the strain on your knees as you trudge downhill. Telescopic poles can be brought from trekking/camping outfitters in the West, or you can invest in a more local version – a Maasai ‘walking stick’ from souvenir shops in Moshi or Arusha.
- Boiled sweets/chocolate Sweets are great for winning friends and influencing people. Good for energy levels too. And morale.
- Bandanna (aka ‘buff’) For keeping the dust out of your face when walking on the Saddle, to use as an ear-warmer on the final night, and to mop the sweat from your brow on those exhausting uphill climbs. Also useful for blocking out the odours when using the public toilets at the campsites.
- Chapstick/lip salve or vaseline The wind on the summit will rip your sunburnt lips to shreds. Save yourself the agony by investing in a chapstick, available in strawberry and mint flavour from pharmacists in Moshi and Arusha.
- Money For sundry items on sale at huts en route to and from the summit.
Equipment you may find useful on Kilimanjaro
- Earplugs Some porters have stereos and mobile phones, and they love advertising this fact by playing the former and speaking into the latter extremely loudly at campsites. A set of earplugs will reduce this disturbance.
- Gaiters Gaiters are useful on Kilimanjaro’s dusty Saddle – the desert area between Mawenzi and Kibo peaks. Indeed, more than one trekker has written in to say that gaiters are essential. However, I’ve also met more than one trekker who can’t see the point. It’s a matter of preference.
- Face mask Again, I never would have thought of it but two people have written in to say they were bothered by the dust on the Saddle and would have worn some sort of surgical mask on Kilimanjaro if they’d had one. Don’t worry if you don’t have one, however: we’ve never seen anybody actually wearing one on the mountain.
- Soap Though you won’t get through much of it – and your trekking agency should provide some for you.
- Plastic bags Useful for segregating your wet clothes from the rest of your kit in your rucksack on Kilimanjaro.
- Aluminium sheet blanket An aluminium sheet blanket provides extra comfort if your sleeping bag isn’t as warm as you thought.
- Sandals/flip-flops A change of footwear is useful in the evenings at camp , but make sure they are big enough to fit round a thick pair of socks.
- Candles By all means bring candles with you, but don’t use them in the tent and keep them away from everybody else’s tent too.
- Clothes pegs Clothes pegs are very useful for attaching wet clothes to the back of your rucksack to allow them to dry in the sun while you walk; a reader wrote in to recommend binder clips (also known as bulldog or office clips) as a smaller, stronger alternative.
- Penknife Always useful, if only for opening beer bottles at the post-trek party.
- Matches As with the penknife, always useful, as any boy scout will tell you.
- Sewing kit For repairs on the trail.
- Trowel If you envisage needing to defecate along the trail at places other than the designated toilet huts, this will help to bury the evidence and keep Kili looking pristine.
- Insulating tape Also for repairs – of shoes, rucksacks, tents etc, and as a last resort for mending holes in clothes if you have forgotten your sewing kit, or are incapable of using it.
- She-wee AKA the Miss Piss, this is for ladies who want to wee without the bother of removing layers or getting out of the tent at night. According to some, the ‘female urinal’ is cheaper and better. Blokes, by the way, usually make do with an empty mineral water bottle.
- Watch Preferably cheap and luminous for night-time walking.
- Compass Not essential, but useful when combined with …
- Map A map is not essential, but will, in combination with a compass, help you to determine where you are on the mountain, and where you’re going.
- Whistle It’s difficult to get lost but if you’re taking an unusual route – on the northern side of the mountain, for example, or around Mawenzi – a whistle may be useful to help people locate which ravine you’ve fallen into.
Luxury items for Kilimanjaro
A list of luxury items you may consider taking up with you:
- Mobile phone Many will say this is pretty much essential these days. What’s more, reception is pretty good on them mountain nowadays and in the book we go through each route pointing out where you may get reception/3G. What better place could there be from which to phone friends stuck behind their desks at work on a rainy day in Europe?
- MP3 players and iPods Undoubtedly unnecessary, as you won’t want to listen to music during the day and you’ll probably be too tired to listen in the evening. Nevertheless, while most find the idea abhorrent, people do still bring their music on the trek with them, including many porters. There is nothing wrong with a little mountainside music of course, but do remember that while you may think you’ve found the perfect soundtrack for climbing up Kili, others on the mountain may disagree: bring headphones, so as not to disturb.
- Hot water bottle Several people have suggested this, and indeed a number of trekking companies now supply them as standard. Get your crew to fill it with hot water before bedtime, and use the water in the morning to drink or wash with.
- Pillow One luxury that I have never used on the mountain but would love to is a pillow; and not one of those inflatable travel ones either but a proper, plump, goose-down number. Bulky and a pain to carry, of course – but so much nicer than resting one’s weary head on a scrunched-up fleece at the end of the day.
- Diary/reading material Though you’ll probably be too tired to read or write much. An extensive list of appropriate reading matter can be found in Appendix A of our Kilimanjaro guidebook
- Champagne For celebrating, of course, though don’t try to take it up and open it at the summit – the combination of champagne and altitude sickness could lead to tragedy and, besides, the glass could well crack with the cold.