In the East African country of Tanzania, the tallest mountain in Africa stands as a snow-capped sentinel over the wildlife and savannah below. At 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) tall, Mount Kilimanjaro is also the tallest free-standing mountain on Earth. Although not a “technical climb” by mountaineering standards, it presents a unique set of challenges. With those come breath-taking views and bragging rights. Thousands are drawn to her slopes annually.
Despite its ‘non-technical’ status, planning is vital. Both regarding fitness and what to take. How you get fit is up to you but we thought we’d share some tips on what to pack and why. Having the correct gear can make all the difference, so read on if you’re planning a trek to the top of Africa.
Renting your trekking clothing and gear
For many who attempt Kilimanjaro, it may be the only time they attempt such a feat. Therefore, buying specialist equipment might feel like an excessive expense for just a few days of use. Thankfully, there are equipment rental options available in Tanzania. This includes clothing, accessories, and other gear. Contact your tour operator and ask for advice regarding available rental options. Get a list of available items and book it beforehand. Ensure that the rental company provides well-known and trusted brands.
Climbing Kilimanjaro involves progressing from the hot to alpine conditions. You might experience extremes in weather that makes it vital you can adjust your clothing to ambient conditions. And layering your garments is the best way to do that.
Types of clothing
Choosing the right clothing is essential. The weather can be wildly unpredictable. Being prepared for sudden rapid changes entails knowing how much to pack, what to wear and when, and where to pack it.
- Base Layers - These are the foundation garments, worn against the skin. Their wicking properties will keep your skin mostly dry. Pack at least two sets of these items. Alternate wear throughout the trek.
- Mid Layers - Basic warmth and insulation to keep you comfortable when it gets cooler. Pack two to three sets of mid-layers.
- Outer Layers - Protect you from rain and snow. They should be made of waterproof and breathable fabric, such as Gore-Tex.
For emphasis: When selecting your clothing opt for wool or synthetic materials like polyester, nylon and spandex. They dry quickly and are durable and lightweight. They are also breathable, with moisture-wicking properties. IMPORTANT:
- You will need enough socks, underwear and additional changes of base and mid layers for your entire expedition.
- Obtain moisture-wicking socks to keep your transport (FEET) dry and free of blisters.
- AVOID cotton! Synthetic and woollen fabrics give better insulation when wet, and they dry quicker.
- You will summit at night when temperatures can drop to -20°C (-4°F). Warm clothing, including a down jacket, thermal leggings and a balaclava are all but essential.
Dressing for summit night
The biggest challenge of the trek is Summit Night. To reach the summit, you set off in the pitch dark, often in freezing temperatures. We suggest wearing a down jacket as an extra layer. Also, wear your balaclava to keep your head and face warm. Waterproof gloves and mittens complete the ensemble.
Undergarments and shirts
Pack enough so you have a clean set for each day of your expedition. For both, choose a material that has moisture-wicking qualities that draws moisture away from the skin. Also, make sure they are breathable fabrics. Woollen or synthetic socks reduce the likelihood of blisters. Again - AVOID cotton.
Convertible trousers with zip-off legs can be practical as they allow you to adapt to temperature changes at different altitudes. Consider trousers with reinforced knees and seat areas for added durability and protection. Ensure a comfortable fit that allows for easy movement and consider options with multiple pockets for convenient storage. Layering with thermal or base layer bottoms underneath can provide extra warmth during colder segments of the hike. Avoid denim or cotton trousers as they retain moisture and take longer to dry, potentially causing discomfort.
When choosing jackets for Mount Kilimanjaro, it's crucial to prioritize warmth, weather-resistance, and versatility. A three-layer system is ideal, starting with a moisture-wicking and breathable base layer, followed by an insulated mid-layer, and topped with a waterproof and windproof outer shell. For the mid-layer, opt for a high-quality down or synthetic insulated jacket that provides excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. The outer shell should be a durable and waterproof jacket with taped seams and a hood to protect against rain, snow, and strong winds encountered at higher altitudes. Ensure that the jackets have a comfortable fit to allow for layering and ease of movement during the trek. Remember that temperatures can vary significantly, so having a layering system allows you to adjust your clothing according to the conditions.
Start with a moisture-wicking and breathable hat or headband to manage sweat during the lower-altitude sections of the trek. As you ascend, switch to a warm beanie or a balaclava to retain heat in colder temperatures. Look for headwear made from insulating materials like fleece or merino wool. Additionally, a wide-brimmed hat or a cap with a neck flap is crucial for protecting your face and neck from the strong sun at higher altitudes. Don't forget to bring sunglasses with UV protection to shield your eyes from the intense mountain glare.
Trekking poles are highly recommended for Mount Kilimanjaro as they can provide valuable support and stability, especially during challenging sections of the trek. When choosing trekking poles for your Kilimanjaro expedition, opt for the ones made from sturdy and lightweight materials such as aluminum or carbon fiber. These materials are strong enough to withstand the demands of the trek while keeping the overall weight manageable.
Ensure that the trekking poles are adjustable in length. This feature allows you to customize the height according to your preference and the terrain, providing better balance and reducing strain on your knees and joints.
Also,look for poles with comfortable grips that fit well in your hands. Padded or moisture-wicking grips can be beneficial during long hikes. Adjustable wrist straps also help to maintain a secure hold on the poles and reduce the risk of dropping them.
Some trekking poles come with built-in shock absorption mechanisms. This feature can be advantageous, particularly when descending steep sections of the mountain, as it helps reduce impact on your joints.
It's a good idea to bring at least two pairs of gloves so you can layer them accordingly based on the weather and altitude. For example, you can wear liner gloves and mid-weight gloves during most of the trek, reserving the heavy-duty mountaineering gloves for the summit night.
The thin and lightweight gloves are useful for providing a layer of insulation and added warmth during mild weather or while hiking at lower altitudes. They also work well as a base layer underneath heavier gloves.
Insulated Gloves/Mid-weight Gloves are designed to provide more warmth and protection against cooler temperatures. They are suitable for hiking at higher altitudes on Kilimanjaro when the weather gets colder. As you ascend to higher elevations, you may encounter rain, snow, or strong winds and in this case, waterproof and windproof gloves will keep your hands dry and protected from the elements.
Without your feet being taken care of, your dream Kilimanjaro adventure can turn into a nightmarishly painful or expensive descent. They are your biggest asset physically. So – do not take chances when it comes to footwear. Hiking boots can be rented if you’re averse to the expense. However, they might not give you the comfort and assurance of a pair you’re familiar with.
Invest in (or rent) a pair of good quality, medium-weight hiking boots. They should be waterproof and breathable (made of Gore-Tex, or similar, fabrics). Ensure they have a sturdy, lugged sole. Ankle support is crucial for steep and uneven terrain, which could cause sprains or worse.
It is important that your boots have been properly broken in. Before your expedition, use them for hikes, and wear them all day or around the house. Ensure that they are properly moulded to your feet. This will reduce the chance of blisters (and other unpleasant surprises).
A pair of comfortable, lightweight sneakers are recommended. You can wear these on the easier hiking days, and around the campsite in the evening. Your feet will appreciate the relief after a day in heavy boots. Sandals, or similar, are not recommended.
Having good-quality socks adds another layer of insurance against blisters. Merino wool or synthetic thermal materials are recommended. Once again - AVOID cotton at all costs. Once cotton socks get wet, your feet will shrivel, get cold, and get blisters.
The value of gaiters is often under-appreciated. We do suggest using them as they help protect your lower legs, particularly in the wet season. You can rent these.
For the majority who climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the bulk of their luggage is carried by a porter. So, having a climbing or trekking rucksack is not necessary. Note, porters prefer to carry duffel bags (which are balanced on their heads). Basically, the bulk of your gear goes in the duffel bag. Whether you provide your own duffel bag or rent one, be sure that it is of good quality, and able to withstand rough handling and the elements. Ideally, it should be soft, with a capacity of 90-120 liters. When packed, it should not weigh more than 15 kg (according to regulations).
You will want a day pack that is made for hiking. It should have ample padding, waterproofing, breathability, and, most importantly, a waist belt. The waist belt allows you to distribute weight off your shoulders evenly. Carry your snacks for the day, sunglasses, sunscreen, rain poncho, and flashlight. Also, put your camera/smartphone in an accessible compartment. Try to keep your day pack as light as possible.
It is a good idea to have several dry bags for extra protection should it rain. You can use these to separate and categorize your gear for easy access. Placing it within your duffle bag or backpack will aid in keeping all your Kilimanjaro gear dry and ready to be used. If you opt for this option, ensure that the dry sack is spacious enough to accommodate your sleeping bag and other equipment.
It is strongly advised to bring a hydration bladder, also known as a "camel bag," for this journey. For this trip, 1.5 and 2-liter sizes are ideal.If your daypack can accommodate it, having one will significantly enhance your trekking experience. However, exercise caution and opt for high-quality models to ensure reliability. Be certain that the tube is insulated to prevent freezing during the summit night. Other important accessories.
Travel bag organizers are strongly recommended item that enhances the comfort of organizing your gear inside a duffle bag. You can sort out toiletries, types of clothing, and wet and dry clothes among others.
Hiking sleeping bags
A good sleeping bag for Kilimanjaro should be lightweight, warm, and able to withstand sub-zero temperatures. Look for a bag with a temperature rating suitable for freezing or below-freezing conditions. Generally, a bag rated between 0°F to -10°F (-18°C to -23°C) should be sufficient for most trekkers. However, if you tend to get cold easily, you may want to consider a bag with a lower temperature rating.
Down sleeping bags are popular for their excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, but they can lose insulating properties when wet. Synthetic sleeping bags, on the other hand, provide better insulation when damp but might be slightly heavier.
Using a sleeping liner for Mount Kilimanjaro can be a valuable addition to your gear, as it adds an extra layer of warmth and cleanliness to your sleeping setup. When choosing a sleeping liner for Kilimanjaro, consider the material. Opt for a liner made from lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking material. Silk and high-quality synthetic materials are popular choices as they provide comfort and help regulate body temperature.
Select a liner with a temperature rating suitable for the expected conditions on Kilimanjaro. Since temperatures can drop significantly at higher altitudes, a liner designed for colder climates, such as one with a temperature rating around 40°F (4°C) or lower, is recommended.
Ensure the liner fits well inside your sleeping bag and is easy to pack and carry. Look for a compact and lightweight option to minimize the additional weight in your backpack.
Gadgets and Entertainment
These items can add value and enjoyment to your journey while allowing you to document and remember the incredible moments on Mount Kilimanjaro. Remember to protect your electronic devices and journal from the elements, especially during rainy or snowy weather. Additionally, check the weight of your gear to ensure it doesn't add unnecessary strain to your backpack.
Toiletries and medication
Pack only basic toiletries. There are no ablution facilities on the mountain. We suggest separating your toiletries and medication into sealable plastic bags to prevent cross-contamination and moisture damage.
- Prescription medication (sufficient for the duration of your trek)
- Painkillers and antihistamines
- Treatment for gastric complaints (diarrhea, constipation)
- Consult your doctor or travel clinic for advice on anti-malaria prophylaxis
- Consult your doctor or travel clinic for advice on medication to prevent or treat altitude sickness, e.g. Diamox and Ibuprofen
To avoid altitude sickness, drink plenty of water, walk slowly, rest as required. If you experience symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headaches, nausea, or dizziness, it is important to inform your guide immediately.
Proper packing is essential for a successful climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. This article has provided a comprehensive packing list for clothing, footwear, gear, accessories, toiletries, and medication. Before embarking on your climb, make sure to review this list thoroughly and consult with your guide or tour company for any additional recommendations. Also remember, rent what you can to keep costs down. Be sure that all equipment you need is either purchased, booked - and available before departing for Tanzania.
Remember to pack light and only bring the essentials, and always prioritize function over fashion. With the right gear and a positive mindset, you can conquer Mount Kilimanjaro and make unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime.
See our gallery of successful conquerors of Mt. Kilimanjaro Summit and get ideas on their gears and clothing