For those who want to climb Kilimanjaro, it’s important to be well prepared. Climbing to the summit - Uhuru peak - and back usually takes over six days. You’ll be crossing five different ecological zones from arctic desert to rainforest. Each has its own microclimate and weather conditions change rapidly. Strong sunshine may give way suddenly to pouring rain, fog or even snow on Kilimanjaro. Temperatures range from well below freezing at night on the summit, to over thirty or forty degrees centigrade in the burning sun. You will trek for six hours or more every day. Good, comfortable footwear is essential and has to cope with all of these conditions. In this article we’re going to look at the best boots for climbing Kilimanjaro, features you need to look out for, and advice for maximizing their effectiveness.
Cheap boots for Kilimanjaro trek are available in the towns. Photo by Catrin
If you don’t already own a pair of quality boots for Kilimanjaro that are suitable for its conditions, you need to get hold of a pair. Although some people go wearing lightweight trail shoes, and indeed the porters who tend to wear ratty trainers, problems can arise if you run into any kind of difficulty. It’s the summit days that you will most appreciate a pair of proper trekking boots on Kilimanjaro, when the terrain gets much rockier and can be icy. It’s better to be safe than be sorry, and maximize your chance of comfort. Although you can buy really cheap boots ( in Tanzania in the trekking towns), it’s generally a bad idea. Material and build quality will be low, they may not be durable enough, and above all, they’re likely to be less comfortable. Investing a decent amount of money in your trekking boots is vital (unless there is a deal). But you don’t need to buy very expensive boots for Kilimanjaro unless you are planning on keeping them for years, there are perfectly affordable good quality boots out there which are suitable for a hike like this.
If you have a mediocre pair of hiking boots you may not notice it if you only do the occasional day hike. They might be a bit uncomfortable or poor in some way, but it’s liveable. The problem with the Kilimanjaro trek is that you will be wearing them every day, all day for a week or more - spending at least half of that time climbing uphill. Getting wet boots and feet is miserable and can cause other problems like rubbing and blisters. Poor support for the foot or ankle can cause injury or strains. Uncomfortable boots, or ones which don’t fit properly, will become very painful to wear after a day or two. Blisters and other foot sores are not only painful but can become infected. Misery from foot problems can really spoil your trek, and it won’t just go away, you’ll be stuck with it for days and days. Consider that a small investment in a decent pair of boots for Mt Kilimanjaro can potentially save you being miserable throughout your “Once in a lifetime Adventure”A good pair of trekking boots for Kilimanjaro can minimize or eliminate all of these problems - do yourself a favour or you’re likely to regret it!
For most Kilimanjaro treks, regular hiking boots are fine. You shouldn’t need hard, sturdy mountain boots unless you are trekking off-season or taking one of the few routes with rougher terrain - check in advance what the terrain is like. It’s typically better to go for a medium-weight boot over a heavy one as it’s much more tiring and uncomfortable in this type of terrain to take a heavy mountain boot. Some people do the trek in trail running boots but this is risky as unless you have strong ankles you stand the risk of ankle damage - and they also offer little protection against the elements. It’s safer to stick with regular trekking boots on the Kilimanjaro hike.
Your boots need good, solid grip on the outsole (the boot’s underside). Terrain is varied on the trek, from muddy or dusty tracks to sharp rocky paths. It can get slippery it it’s icy or wet. Look for medium or deep grips (known as lugs) on the sole designed for mountainous terrain. Generally, they are made from rubber-based materials. Vibram
is a particularly well-respected brand of sole material for mountainous trekking.
Ankle support is an important feature in you trekking boots for Kilimanjaro. Photo by Barney
Your boots need good ankle support. This prevents strain and reduces the risk of twisted ankles, especially with Kilimanjaro’s long descent. Look for boots with “full-height” or “medium-height” support - the sides of the boot should come above your ankle bone. Note that full-height gives better support and will be more resistant to rain and mud, but they are heavier and less comfortable. For comfort, we would strongly recommend medium-height unless you are trekking in one of the off (rainy) seasons.
Even in the good weather seasons of Kilimanjaro , it can still rain, and it’s common for fog to appear in the morning making everything a bit damp. Depending on the season you may also experience snow and ice. For these reasons it’s really important to have waterproof boots. Look for materials like Gore-tex
. You can use a waterproofing spray to add extra protection. When looking for a waterproof boot, also keep an eye out for Breathability
- another important feature, as some waterproof boots aren’t breathable - meaning your sweat will make the boot damp inside anyway. You can use gaiters in wet conditions to help stop water seeping into your boot or moisture from soaking through from your sock.
Look for both Waterproof and breathability in your trekking boots. Photo by eltpics
The most important features of all! It’s vital that you find your boots comfortable and they are a good fit. To test this it’s vital that you try on the boots before you buy, and tie them up properly. If you’re buying boots for Kilimanjaro online, at least find the same boots in the same size in a store and give them a try. Your boot should feel fairly comfortable immediately, if not - try something else.
For a good fit, bear in mind that you will be wearing hiking socks on the trek, so take the ones you plan to wear on the trek. Get an experienced store assistant to help you check the fit. Basically, you are looking for some space to move the foot around - a good guideline is that with your foot pushed forward in the boot, by poking your index finger in the gap between your heel and the back of the boot it should be a snug fit. Also remember that your feet swell whilst hiking so when trying a boot on it’s best to do it the afternoon after walking around, or at least take it into account. Trying walking up and down stairs with the boots on - your toes should not be getting squished into the toe of the boots. Please note this is only a rough guideline - get a boot store attendant to help you out and check out more comprehensive fitting guides online which are easy to find.
Check out these websites for other useful information about different boot qualities and what to look for: Go Outdoors
, Mountain Warehouse
Here are some of the most popular and well-respected hiking boot brands to give you a good starting point if you don’t know where to begin.
Here are some specific boots that we’ve heard good things about from people who have done the Kilimanjaro trek or other similar treks.
Scarpa R Evo
Karrimor KSB Latitude
Brasher Supalite II
Asolo Fugitive GTX
It's essential that before you go on your Kilimanjaro trek, you have fully broken in your boots. This means wearing them for as long as it takes to mould them to your foot. Wear them during your Kilimanjaro fitness training
, wear them when you go out walking, wear them whenever you can until you’re sure they are broken in! Start off with slower walks and activity and build it up over time.
It is important to break in your boots before Kilimanjaro trek. Photo by Scott
If you don’t do this, you have a high chance of getting agonizing sores and blisters when you do your Kilimanjaro trek as your feet rub against your boots. Listen to your feet - If you feel pinch points or pain, try different lacing methods, and if this doesn’t help then they probably aren’t a good fit and you should return them or get another pair.
Take a couple of pairs of decent hiking socks like these
, in case one gets wet, or too smelly to wear ! Sock liners
can also provide a little extra padding and warmth for the summit bid.
Long or short gaiters (cheap
) are an easy way to help keep your feet dry. They cover the top of your boot, socks and trouser bottom - helping to prevent water and cold getting through to your feet. Many visitors to Kilimanjaro think they are worth taking, and they’re very light and compact to boot (I’m here all night folks…).
We hope you found this guide to choosing the best boots for Kilimanjaro useful. Treat your feet with respect and invest in a good pair of boots for your Kilimanjaro hike - you really won’t regret it!