So, you’ve booked a trek to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, congratulations! You’re in for a great adventure, you’ll be hiking the tallest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro being one of the famous Seven Summits (the highest mountains in each of the continents). Depending on the route that you’re taking, the Kilimanjaro trek will be around 5-10 days long, with most leaving from the town of Moshi in Tanzania. Anything that your porters aren’t carrying, you will be, and you have to deal with high altitudes, high and low temperatures and different weather conditions. There’s a lot to consider, so this article is to give you some tips on what to pack for Kilimanjaro!
Before we look at what to take, you need to know about the restrictions that will govern your kit for the Kilimanjaro climb. First, the porters will usually carry a maximum of 15 kg of your luggage for you. Of course this is a big help, but 15 kg isn’t a great deal. Everything beyond that you’re carrying yourself in your day pack. Weight is everything! It’s a tough exercise but you need to make your pack as light as possible and minimize your luggage. Remember that at high altitude carrying a backpack is even harder and you will be going uphill, so you want it to be as light as possible, especially as you are hiking for days. But also keep in mind that you don’t need to worry about the weight of items that you will be wearing daily such as basic clothes, boots and walking poles, for example.
Before you rush to the shops, be aware that many of the tour operators and companies around Kilimanjaro hire out equipment for the trek or provide it, so check first and decide what you should buy yourself, and what you can rent or get for free. You may also be able to borrow some of these things from friends. Some people go all out, buying lots of expensive trekking gear or use their existing kit, whilst others make do with cheaper goods. This is entirely your choice. However, regardless of your philosophy, there are some things that everyone needs to take for climbing Kilimanjaro.
Packing for the Kilimanjaro trek. Photo by Cdamian
Don’t underestimate the importance of good footwear regardless of the route you’re taking. You need a good, comfortable pair of hiking boots and out of everything else, this is where you should be prepared to invest money. If your feet are going to be in pain, or you end up with a twisted ankle thanks to poor boots, your trek is going to be miserable and you may even have to give up. If your boots are expensive, you can always sell them after the trek, or maybe you can borrow a friend’s, providing they fit you well. You need something with lots of grip, waterproof and with adequate ankle support as the inclines can be steep. A pair of spare laces is also a good idea. If you buy boots for Kilimanjaro trek, make sure you break them in properly before you go.
Some Amazon suggestions:
Boots for men
Boots for women
Once you get up that mountain, the temperature drops and at night it can get below freezing. Get hold of some decent base layers - preferably not cotton as you will sweat more, causing you to be colder. A pair of leggings/long johns and a long sleeve top or t-shirt with thermal properties and moisture wicking provides a good foundation for warmth and saves you having to wear big and bulky layers instead. If you can afford it, base layers made from Merino wool are extremely warm and comfortable.
Some Amazon suggestions:
Women’s base layers:
Men’s base layers:
You need to think about layering on top of your base layer, with the ability to remove layers if you get too hot. Thinner is better but as long as you have the required warmth/resilience to weather with all your layers on, that’s what is important. You’ll want something on top of your base layer like a long sleeve shirt. On top of that should be another warm layer such as a good fleece. In addition, a t-shirt or thin long shirt or two for the humid jungle sections, and to wear in bed. For your legs, go for something durable like trekking pants and you’ll want a pair of fleece pants for the higher altitudes and that freezing night summit bid. Jeans might seem like a good choice but if they get damp or wet it will be very difficult to get them dry again. Some people take shorts for the lower sections of the Kilimanjaro trek when it’s hot, that’s up to you, or you could get some of the trekking trousers that have zip-off legs, converting to shorts. They may not look cool but they are certainly practical!
Some Amazon suggestions:
Long Sleeve Shirt
Long Sleeve Shirt
Take a couple of pairs of hiking socks in case one set gets wet. Some people take one thin pair and one thick pair. When trekking Kilimanjaro, you’re going to have to accept that a fresh set of clothes every day is not going to happen, unless you really want to carry a backpack full of dirty clothes with you. Don’t worry, everyone is in the same boat. If you get really smelly feet you could take a small amount of shoe powder or spray to help. The amount of underwear is at your discretion but 3 pairs is a good figure, and women should opt for a couple of sports bras for extra support.
Underwear: Women , Men
Hiking Socks: Men, Women
On Kilimanjaro, jackets can be the difference between being constantly cold or pleasant. A soft shell jacket or thin fleece provides a good jacket base layer. Then you’ll want a good insulated jacket for the cold, either synthetic or down. Finally you need a decent wind and waterproof jacket to wear on top of or instead of these. Goretex is a good material to look for as it can handle both and is breathable. Windproofing is important as the wind can be freezing on the summit day of your Kilimanjaro climb. It can rain, and unless you want to get wet then your jacket being waterproof is wise, especially as it’s hard to dry things once you’re at high altitude. An emergency option is to buy a cheap plastic poncho (you can get these from vendors at the trek start). It could actually be a good buy even if you have a jacket, as if you don’t have a waterproof pack a poncho can be a good bag protector too.
Shell Jacket ,
Down Jacket ,
Shell Jacket ,
Down Jacket ,
Don’t forget to try on all your layers at once before you settle on what to buy or take. If you’re going clothes shopping, wear the under-layers that you want to take and take you so you can see if the new clothes fit. Always try to go for breathable and moisture wicking fabrics if you can, they will be much more comfortable as you sweat. Finally, light-weight is key - whether it’s in your pack on on your body, you need to be able to handle all of those clothes!
On your Kilimanjaro hike you will be going from very hot periods under burning sun to freezing temperatures up at the summit. For this reason, it’s advised to take two hats - one sun hat and one warm thermal hat for those cold nights and the mountain top. For the sun hat, it’s good if it covers the back of your neck to protect from sunburn, but if not then just make sure you have something you can cover up your neck with.
Wide Brim Sun Hats
Get yourself some warm gloves, and ideally waterproof ones. Thin but thermal ones are good as they’ll let you more easily use walking poles and items like cameras without having to take them off. Some people like to take a thicker pair for the freezing summit night - the only problem is that they are usually bulky. A better option is to get some thin glove liners and medium sized main gloves to give the option of added warmth without too much extra bulk.
Thermal Glove Liners,
Waterproof Gloves ,
Very Waterproof Gloves (probably best with thermal liners)
- Earplugs - Some busy camps can get quite noisy when hiking Kilimanjaro and if your sleep gets disturbed by noise then taking some earplugs is a good idea - you need your beauty sleep to be revitalized for the next day of trekking! - Here's my personal favourite
- Headtorch - This is vital especially if you are camping, headtorches are better than handheld ones and LED headtorches are great because of their powerful beam and long battery life. Take a spare battery or two as well, and stick with reputable brands from home as the knock-offs you can get cheaply in Tanzania have a tendency to fail in low temperatures. - Here is the one that I use for camping/night hikes
- Toiletries - Keep these to the bare minimum. Check with your tour operator what facilities there will be. Many people like to take wet wipes or antibacterial handwash as they are useful in multiple circumstances. Many people take toilet paper as well, and is recommended by most travellers for the trek (about half a roll to a roll should be enough). Toothpaste and deodorant are two things that weigh a lot and you don’t need much of, so taking smaller travel versions is a good idea. Why are you carrying around a huge full tube of toothpaste for 5 days?
- Towel - If you can, get hold of a microfibre towel, as they are very thin and light. They may not be as comfortable but that extra weight saving is a massive help. If not, take a small, light towel which isn’t too bulky. You aren’t going to be having any epic baths or showers when trekking Kilimanjaro, so if you have a big towel leave it behind. Good Microfibre towels on Amazon
- Sunscreen - The sun is very powerful out there! Take a high factor sunscreen (30+). And remember to reapply it a couple of times a day.
- Sunglasses/Goggles - Make sure they have a good UV protection level, polarised is better too. The light is very bright especially if you are on a Kilimanjaro glacier route.
- Plastic Bags - Ziplock bags are amazing for keeping items dry from cameras to valuables. Other plastic bags are useful for separating dirty clothes and generally handy. If you have any important larger electronics or valuables then consider using an appropriately sized proper waterproof roll-bag which will guarantee your stuff stays dry. These have saved my expensive camera on more than one occasion in a downpour!
- Pegs - A few clothes pegs are really handy for drying out your stuff during the day, you can use them to fix clothes to your bag or hang up from a tent or clothes line.
- Money/Tips - Your hard working guides and porters on the Kilimanjaro trek will really appreciate a tip afterwards, and you may want to buy some stuff for yourself at the start or end points. Make sure you have enough spare cash to tip or buy things you need - ask other travellers who have done the trek for tipping guidance. Some people like to give their porter/guide a gift too, if you want to do this then just remember that someone has to carry it on the trek so make it small, or buy them something afterwards!
Walking Sticks are highly recommended for the Kilimanjaro trek. Photo by Glenn
- Day Pack - Don’t forget you need a way to carry your stuff! You can take your own backpack or some companies rent them. Make sure it’s comfortable and remember to wear it during your training, or at least something similar. It is a massive help to get one with chest and waist straps - this takes the weight off your shoulders a lot and helps to reduce neck pain as well, distributing the weight over your upper body. Packs with outside straps for tying extra things on, and outside pockets are very useful for all the bits and bobs you will be reaching for, or drying out throughout the day. I like North Face and Osprey branded packs as they are durable, good for hiking and very comfortable. Amazon suggestions: North Face day pack , Osprey day pack
- Water Bottle - It’s recommended that you carry 3 liters of water a day for your Kilimanjaro climb. However you decide to carry that in bottles is up to you. Just be aware that on summit day at night the temperatures can be freezing - and that means your water is likely to be an icy block. To avoid this, consider having one thermally protected container like a Naglene or army water bottle. Camelbaks or similar water systems are good, but again are prone to freezing and are hard to get unstuck. Check with your tour company as some provide water bottles with the tour. Amazon suggestions: Insulated Bottle for summit , Naglene Bottle
- Walking Poles for Kilimanjaro - Although you may dismiss poles as unnecessary and just for hardcore or old trekkers, they are actually a massive help. Two is better than one. They will save you a surprising amount of energy in the long run and as well as helping with climbing, they make steep descents much easier on your joints (especially knees). They also have the benefit of taking the strain of the Kilimanjaro trek off just your legs, allowing your upper body to do some of the work. You don’t need fancy, expensive, lightweight ones, even a big stick is better than nothing. It’s definitely worth hiring them or buying cheap ones at the trek start if you don’t have some. I started using a walking stick half-way through the trek and it made it so much easier, now I never go on a big trek without one! Amazon suggestion: Cheap Aluminium Poles or these trekking poles
- Sleeping Bag - Check with your tour operator whether you need to provide your own sleeping bag for Kilimanjaro. If you do, it is worth paying the extra money for something light. It needs to be warm and able to handle zero degree temperatures. Many tour companies rent or provide them though. Amazon suggestion
- Sleeping Mat - This is more of a luxury, mainly good for the camping routes to Kilimanjaro. As they are generally very light it’s not too much of a problem to invest in one and they can usually be strapped onto the back of your pack easily. Here is a comfy one that you can strap to your pack
- Duffel Bag - This is usually needed to carry the kit that your porters will carry for you. Some companies provide them free of charge or hire them out. If you get your own, it’s a good idea to get a waterproof one to be on the safe side. Something like this will be good.
- Paperwork - There’s a few important documents you should keep with you at all times. Your trip receipt, your passport, your visa, immunization documents and insurance documents should all be kept safe. Keep them in something waterproof like ziplock bags.
- Balaclava - Some people find that a balaclava is good for that cold summit ascent and the chilly nights, something light like this is better than a bulky woolen one.
- Pee Bottle - Living the dream! If you are camping, this can be a good idea to prevent you having to leave the tent at night in the dark and freezing cold. Something like this for guys, or this for the ladies.
- Sleeping Bag Liner - Provides extra warmth and cleanliness for those renting a sleeping bag. Something like this or this .
- Light Shoes - Canvas or other light shoes can be handy to wear around camp or on rest days, as you don’t want to be wearing your boots 24/7. It’s your call whether the extra weight is worth it. Even sandals might be alright if you can wear your thick socks with them.
- Sock Liners - These thin liners are worn under your socks and some trekkers find them invaluable for preventing blisters. They are small and weigh almost nothing so might be worth investing in. Amazon example here
- Gaiters - These act as a “shield” for your lower legs against mud, rain and snow. They cover the tops of your boots preventing water from entering the foot opening. Worth considering if you are trekking during a season that is prone to rain and definitely a good idea if you’ll be hiking through snow. Something easily compressible like these would be wise.
- Water Purifiers/Filters - Check with your tour operator whether it’s worth bringing these. All tours will provide you with safe drinking water, but it can be nice to be able to get your own water from streams and will also ensure you are properly hydrated. Also seek advice from other travellers who have done your route and see if it’s worth taking them. Aquatabs - are a popular and light choice although you have to wait 30 minutes for the tablets to do their magic.
- Mosquito Spray - If you’re passing through the jungle, mosquito bites are a possibility. However, usually people are covered up pretty well. If not, you might want to bring some spray or ointment, or even bite treatment - just keep it as small and light as possible. Most people either have no problems or endure a few bites! Do check out the current disease warnings for mosquito bites in the region and check with your tour operator about whether you need vaccinations or anti-malarial medication, just to be safe. Repellant with DEET is the most effective, although I prefer lower percentage DEET sprays like these as it is severely chemical and high DEET content will melt plastic (trust me, I’ve seen it!).
- Medications - Aside from any prescription medications you will be taking anyway, consider looking into altitude sickness medication, also painkillers like Ibuprofen and Paracetamol can really help with muscle pains and strains after a few days of hiking.
- Snacks - Munching on high energy/high calorie snacks through the day can really give you an extra boost. Go for light-weight ones. It’s sometimes possible to buy stuff like this at the start of some tours at Moshi, or at the huts on the Marangu route.
- Things to do in the Evening - When you aren’t trekking, you’ll be sitting around relaxing or socializing. Many people like to bring things like journals, playing cards, books or E-books to pass the time and clear their mind for the next day. Don’t go overboard though, you have to carry it all, and you will be tired enough to fall asleep quickly!
- Camera - Who isn’t going to bring a camera or camera phone? But just remember to also bring it with a fully charged battery and a spare battery or two - the Kilimanjaro hike is a long one and you will probably be taking a lot of photos! Once you get to the colder parts of the hike, keep your spare batteries somewhere warm (like in your sleeping bag or pockets) during the night as the cold can cause them to drain. Also bring a spare memory card or two if you don’t have much space, expect to take hundreds of photos! It’s also worth bringing a clean cloth or hanky for keeping the lens clean (a ziplock bag is a great way to store it), a small glasses cleaner spray is good for more serious photographers, or a Lenspen is also brilliant for lens/screen cleaning and comes in compact sizes.
So there you have it - a good starting point for your Kilimanjaro packing. Remember to check your weights and keep it as light and compact as possible. Every kilogram counts when you are taking it on your back for 7 hours a day, trust me! Go through everything you want to take and ask the question “do I really, really need this?”. Be honest with yourself. If the answer is no - ditch it! With your kit out of the way, you are all ready to take on the Kilimanjaro climb and the trip of a lifetime! Enjoy!