5 Tips for Climbing and Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro

Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott March 21, 2012 14
5 Tips for Climbing and Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro. The name alone sounds exotic, adventurous. To climb Mount Kilimanjaro appears on bucket lists, a dream of many.

It had been like that for us for over a decade.

Then in June of this year, we summited, making it all the way the top, Uhuru Peak. After eleven years, we were finally able to check “Climb Mount Kilimanjaro” off our bucket lists. But the entire climb and feeling of accomplishment was more than something to cross of a list. It was a journey in and of itself.

If you’ve been thinking of — dreaming of — climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, here are some tips to turn it into a successful reality.

Choose your route

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Photo by Dan and Audrey

No matter which Kilimanjaro route you choose, we suggest booking a group tour. It’s more fun to trek with a group of people and share in the excitement of the journey together. Also, the additional support from fellow trekkers helps when things get tough towards the top.

When choosing a route, remember that they all lead to the same place – Uhuru Peak (5,895 meters/19,340 feet). Don’t belabor the decision. Take a look at the Kilimanjaro trek comparison guide to find the best match for your interests, sleeping preference (huts or tents), budget, time and fitness level.

We took the Marangu route, which is affectionately called the “Coca Cola Route” because you sleep in huts along the way. This route is sometimes criticized for not having interesting landscapes, but we can vouch for the surprising beauty of the entirety of this route. See for yourself in our Kilimanjaro photos.

Gearing Up

Gear for the climb

Photo by Dan and Audrey

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro does not require a lot of technical or specialized mountain climbing gear. There is no need to spend a fortune on new gear for this trek, but a few key items are useful. Porters carry 15 kilos per person – this includes the weight of your sleeping bag.

    What you need to bring with you:

  • comfortable pants, shirts, underwear
  • fleece jacket
  • hiking shoes with ankle support
  • headlamp
  • long johns or silk underwear (need many layers for summit day)
  • hats (one for sun protection, another for warmth

If you don’t already own the items below, consider renting them in Moshi instead of buying them new. This will also lighten the weight of your luggage for flights and other travel.

  • Sleeping bag – make sure you get the warmest one available (-20 to -30 Celsius)
  • Waterproof pants and jacket
  • Walking sticks – used mostly on the way down, but can also offer support on the ascent
  • Gaiters – particularly if you expect snow in and around the peak (if you are trekking in dry season, they may not be necessary)

Dealing with Altitude

Nearing the top of Kili

Photo by Dan and Audrey

No matter which route you take, you will find yourself gaining a significant amount of elevation in a short period of time. For instance, on the Marangu Route, we hiked from 1,800 meters to 5,895 meters in 66 hours.

That’s fast, but also surprisingly doable.

Everyone’s body reacts differently to altitude. Some people are more susceptible to altitude sickness than others. Here are some things to help your body deal with altitude. Taking these steps will also build your confidence and reduce any anxiety you might have about your body reacting badly to high elevation.

  • Drink water. Then drink some more. And then some more. You should drink a minimum of 3 liters of water per day. Guides and porters will all tell you: water is the single best altitude sickness prevention medicine for your body.
  • Pole Pole (Slowly, Slowly). This is the key mantra for all climbers. Every guide and porter will remind you of this from the moment you begin the climb. Why? When you move slowly, you conserve energy and allow your body adequate time to adjust to the changes in elevation.
  • Sleep and eat. Both of these things will become more difficult as you climb higher in elevation, so try to stock up on them in lower altitudes. Especially at lower altitudes, force yourself to eat. For sleep, consider brining a good set of earplugs to eliminate outdoor noise (if you are sleeping in tents) and all those toilet visits that your mates are making (if you are sleeping in huts).

Finally, as a confidence boost, your guide and assistant guides will be watching out for you and paying attention for signs of altitude sickness. Follow their advice to the letter – they have lots of experience in this – and your experience will be the better for it.

On Kili, the biggest challenge is mental, not physical

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is plenty physically challenging and summit day can feel especially brutal. But Kilimanjaro is every bit mental – altitude anxiety, fear of not making it — as it is physical.

When those voices of doubt creep in when altitude sickness begins to hit, try to put them in their place by focusing at the task at hand and using the support of your climbing team. Dig deep inside you to find the energy and perseverance to continue. Slowly, slowly.

Enjoy the journey

Everyone’s goal is to get to the top, to Uhuru Peak. But Mount Kilimanjaro is more than just getting to the top. Look around as you climb. Take a pause and look back to reflect on how far you’ve come. Your position above the clouds is something to be savored.

Mount Kilimanjaro offers beautiful surroundings, a mind-clearing hike, camaraderie with people around you, changing landscapes, support of the trekking team and the satisfaction of overcoming challenges.

Kilimanjaro is a journey, a lifetime experience.

14 Comments »

  1. Francine B March 29, 2012 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    Just did the Machame route! Great physical challenge, beautiful route, first camping experience for me , memorable, unique, enjoyed every moment!
    Did the night climb to the summit which is physically and mentally challenging but so rewarding, unbeatable sunrise….

  2. Audrey | Uncornered Market March 31, 2012 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    Glad to hear you had such a great trek on the Machame route! We’ve heard that the first days of that route are more difficult than the Marangu route, but that the landscape is wonderful. And you’re so right – that summit day is soooo challenging, but so worth it. Congrats on making it to the top!

  3. CAivka April 1, 2012 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Great tips! Very helpful. I’m heading to Tanzania in 3 months to climb Kili.

  4. chris July 23, 2012 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    i want to climb but i have nobody to climb with and I don’t know where to start. I don’t know anyone who has climbed so I feel overwhelmed. How do I pick a tour guide? I’m worried about going alone because I am a single female but I really want to make this happen.

  5. sharron October 13, 2012 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Hi Chris, im doing Kili in march next year, im on my own like you so decided to go with the breast cancer campaign group, its an all women challenge so i feel a little bit more relaxed about going on my own, the tour company is classic tours so you then choose your own charity to do it for like i have chosen breast cancer. my friend is doing this next week so it will be interesting to get her feedback on her trek, hope this helps .

  6. Steve December 24, 2012 at 8:38 am - Reply

    I’m climbing March 2013 as well. It’s more a personal thing as I have lost a lot of weight over the last three years (just under 10 stone) so this is my way of making it all feel worth while!

    I know a few people who have done the climb they have all said it the best experience of their lives. Some have done it on their own, others with family or groups like Sharon for charity. I’m going on my own; to me that feels more appropriate for what I am setting out to achieve.

    Best of luck to you all!

  7. gray June 29, 2013 at 4:51 am - Reply

    Make sure a child’s helmet and harness are secure before the climb. Go over the basic rules of rock climbing before their first adventure. Don’t force a child to do

    anything they are not ready for. If they are frightened, stop the climb. Bring toys or other activities for the child to play with in case they decide they are not

    ready to climb. They will let you know when they are ready to begin rock climbing again.

  8. Ahmed September 25, 2013 at 3:46 am - Reply

    Great blog. I had a smilar experience climbing Uhuru a couple of years ago. Please check my website http://www.saudihiker.com

  9. Andrea Morassutti October 15, 2013 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    I found your post very useful, with lots of great tips for how to prepare for and tackle Kili. I’m starting to plan my August 2014 trip, and can’t wait for my journey to begin.

    I just started a blog to document the preparations leading up to my trip and the trek, itself. It would be awesome if you could check out my first post (http://www.andreamorassutti.com/how-do-you-climb-kilimanjaro/) and tell me what you think.

    Any additional pointers about how to prep for the trip of a lifetime are welcome :)

  10. Pfungwa January 8, 2014 at 10:18 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for great advice. I start my hike Sunday 12th January 2014…just a nervous but more than that excited. Thank you found your advice very encouraging as i prepare my mind!!!

    • Audrey January 9, 2014 at 5:47 pm - Reply

      Pfungwa, congratulations on your decision to climb Kilimanjaro and good luck with your upcoming climb! So glad that this advice was encouraging and helped you prepare.

  11. cornelius January 26, 2014 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tips. On my bucket list is Mt Kilimanjaro this year. Would like to do it with my 7 year old daughter. Any age limit restrictions? kindly advise. She seems so exited about it.

    • Daniel Sendecki January 27, 2014 at 11:18 am - Reply

      Hey Cornelius—thanks for the question. While, our Family Adventures are open to families with children aged between 5 and 17 years of age, our standard (non-family) like our Kili adventures are open to children aged 12 years or older when accompanied by a parent. That being said, Kilimanjaro can be quite demanding — not for just physical and medical fitness but also for mental endurance.

  12. Michael Thomas April 1, 2014 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    I climbed last winter with Ultimate Kilimanjaro on the 8 day Lemosho route. Its not that hard if you take your time!

Leave A Response »