What do you wear on Kilimanjaro each day?

Your bag for Kilimanjaro is packed with clothes for every season. You have T-shirts for first day or so when you’re on the mountain’s lower slopes, walking through the rainforest. But you also have thermal underwear, thick fleeces and warm winter coats for your nighttime  push to the summit itself.

But more and more frequently people are asking me at what point they should wear certain clothes. On what day should they start wearing a fleece, for example, or how far up the mountain can they wear shorts?

Well, to be honest, there are no set rules for what you should be wearing each day. Because it won’t surprise you to learn that on Kili, just as everywhere else on the planet, some people feel the cold more than others.

As a general rule of thumb you will probably be wearing T-shirts and shorts at the start and end of the trek as you tackle the forested lower slopes. Then you’ll be wearing thicker and warmer clothes as you make your way up the mountain and the temperatures drop. And the chances are you’ll be wearing almost everything as you make your way to the summit itself.

But this rule doesn’t take into account various factors – variations in temperature throughout the year, what the weather’s like when you do your climb and, most importantly, how much you feel the cold too.

What you wear on Kilimanjaro each day: An example

Take this photo for example, which neatly illustrates my last point:

Group of six people surrounding the sign for School Huts on Kilimanjaro.

It was this photo that prompted me to write this post in the first place. It was taken last week by one of our (brilliant) guides, Ibrahim. What struck me when I first saw it was just how differently everybody was dressed. For example, at one end we have Ben in a blue hoodie (with the hood up), long trousers, sunglasses and gloves, while on the opposite side of the sign and at the other extreme we have Sandy, standing in just shorts and T-shirt. And in between, both literally and sartorially, we have four other trekkers in the group – Jackie (yellow fleece), Anna (grey long-sleeved top), Olivier (seated, long trousers) and James (seated, in shorts) – all of whom are dressed somewhere in between the extremes of Ben and Sandy.

The picture was taken at the end of the walk, when they turned up to camp. So the trekkers had had all day to experiment until they found the combination of clothes that suited them best for that day’s conditions.

And note that the venue for this photo was School Hut, which they would have reached at the end of Day 6. In other words, they are now at quite a high altitude. (The sign says 4800m, but as with just about every sign on Kili, it’s wrong; we think the altitude at the huts is 4717m or 15,476ft.)

That night they would set off on their quest for the summit. In other words the trek they’ve just completed would be the highest daytime walk they will do on the mountain.

And yet, as this group proves, while some people will be feeling the cold and are well wrapped up, others, like Sandy, has fond all the effort he’s making is generating quite a lot of heat, and is more comfortable wearing something less restrictive and warming.

(I should mention in passing that, as I write this, all 8 of the group, including the two not pictured here, made it successfully to the summit, and are now, as I write this, heading to Mweka Gate to collect their certificates!)

Take into account what time of day it is – and how much exercise you’re doing too

You also need to remember that once the sun goes down on Kili, it gets much colder. Indeed, at dusk on the mountain I often feel compelled to slip on my summit coat even if it’s my first day on the mountain and I’m actually still in the cloud forest.

I find that often I need to stick on a fleece or my rain-jacket even if we’re just stopping on the trail for a break for a few minutes. Because once you stop walking, it’s normal to suddenly feel colder. And putting on an extra layer just ‘takes the edge off’ the cold.

When you’re on Kili, you’ll quickly work out what’s comfortable for you, and whether you need to wear more or fewer layers to keep yourself at a pleasant temperature.

Conclusion

In conclusion: you are advised to bring a range of clothes to Kilimanjaro, because you will be climbing through four seasons in a week. But it’s difficult to say exactly what you’ll be wearing day by day, as everybody feels the heat differently. Personally, when I arrive at School Hut, I’m usually dressed more like Ben (blue hoodie), Jackie (yellow fleece) or Anna (grey long-sleeve top). But others will find wearing something a little skimpier will be more comfortable.

The only mandatory advice I can give you when it comes to talking about clothing on Kili, is the following: whatever day of the trek you’re on, always have a rain-jacket and waterproof trousers (rain pants) in your daypack. A sunhat and sunglasses should also go in there, unless you’re going to wear them (which I think you should). But as for the rest of your clothing, just listen to the advice of your guide, work out whether you’re the type of person who feels the cold more than other people, or less, and adapt accordingly.

The bottom line is, as long as you bring a range of clothing for your Kilimanjaro climb, and have a guide who can tell you what the temperature is likely to be each day, you’ll be able to judge what to wear day by day, what to leave behind in your main rucksack, and what items to carry in your daypack, just in case.