Here’s the packing list which got us to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
We were backpacking before and after our Kili hike so weight was a huge issue for is. We were planning on doing more trekking too, so whatever we took with us was going to be with us for a long time….
Unless you are a keen walker/camper, (or know someone who will lend you stuff), bear in mind that on top of the cost of your Kili trip, you’ll have to fork out a lot for gear. We didn’t appreciate how much this would cost us before we booked our trip so remember to factor it in to your budget.
1. 4/5 Season Sleeping bag
A decent four/five season sleeping bag, and liner is essential. Nights on Kili are cold and the least you want to be worrying about is not being able to sleep.
We settled on a down rather than synthetic as down was lighter and warmer than the synthetic options available to us at our price point.
We opted against hiring a sleeping bag after many friends told us that their hired bags were not warm enough. (We also needed a sleeping bag for a trip before and after Kili where hiring wasn’t an option.)
If you are hiring a sleeping bag, consider taking your own fleece liner which will give you some additional warmth. Not all companies provide liners which means that you might be sleeping in an unwashed sleeping bag slept in by countless other sweaty bodies before you too.
2. iPod/MP3 Player
For me music was essential in getting me to the top. Take an iPod or MP3 player with a playlist of energising and inspiring songs. Here is my playlist of champions courtesy of Spotify. I started mine half way up the mountain on summit night, (I was paranoid about the battery running out so I avoided switching it on before then). The music really helped my mood and gave me a lot more energy than I would have had otherwise. If you have any other good work out song recommendations, let me know!
Hiking up Kilimanjaro is a once in a lifetime experience – take lots of photos. Even if they are rubbish ones or you don’t feel like taking them. Take them. You won’t regret it. Take a camera or use your phone.
Bear in mind that unless you bring a portable charger with you, you won’t be able to charge any batteries, so bring spares or keep your phone off most of the time.
Some camera batteries freeze or lose their juice more quickly at cold temperatures so you might want to keep a spare battery next to your body on summit night.
If you have an iPhone, consider downloading the iMovie app. One of our group created a great slide show of our trip from the photos and little bits of video that he took. It’s a great memento of our journey together.
4. Walking Poles
I found poles useful on summit night if only to help get into a rhythm while walking.
I hadn’t had that much practice using them so found it easier to walk without them the rest of the time. Others found them invaluable.
Lots of people found them useful on the descent too, although I found it easier to balance without them. On our route there were several big boulders at the top which I found easier to crawl down rather than relying on poles.
5. Sigg Water Bottle and Camelback/Platypus
A Sigg or other metal water bottle is useful for holding hot water, and can also double up as a hot water bottle.
Another couple of bottles or a water pouch to carry another 2-3 litres is useful. Our trip notes told us that we needed to carry just 2 litres, each but our guide told us to carry at least 3. He was right, on summit night we could have done with 4-5 litres each and some of us ran out of water.
Some people find Camelback’s really useful. Just make sure that you also have a water bottle. If your Camelback/Platypus starts leaking you’ll need a back-up water source.
Water in the camelback tubes and main case tend to freeze on summit night. You can help limit the likelihood of this by dissolving electrolytes in the water. You can also reduce the chances of the tubes from freezing if you blow air into the bag after each sip of water. This will help keep the tubes clear. However, that’s hard to do at altitude when you are tired, while you’re trying to catch your breath, so take a couple of bottles too.
A good mattress is essential. It will help insulate you from the frozen ground and the rocks.
We had a couple of Thermarest light mattresses which were expensive but a good buy. We blew them up with a bag that you can buy to blow the mattress up. This was useful as I don’t know if I’d have been able to blow up a mattress myself when I was tired and cold.
One of the mattresses got a puncture just before we started the climb so I ended up hiring a mattress from AWC which was comfortable and was carried by a porter.
7. Travel pillow
My boyfriend didn’t have one and really regretted it. He managed by stuffing his sleeping bag holder with clothes but it wasn’t that comfortable. I had a small light foam one which was great.
8. Head torch
You’ll be hiking in the dark for hours on summit night so this is essential. Consider bringing a spare one with spare batteries. My torch packed up just before we left for the summit which was a bit stressful. Fortunately another member of my group had a spare one otherwise I might have been walking in the dark!
9. Day pack
Most companies recommend a 30-40 litre rucksack. Ours had our camera, waterproofs, fleece, sun hat, snacks and our water.
Bear in mind that it will need to be big enough to carry your water bottles, plus most of the layers that you will peel off on your way down from the summit e.g. big down jacket.
Ideally, do a few practice walks wearing your rucksack to minimise chafing.
10. Big bag/duffle bag for porters to carry
Some tour companies provide you with their own branded duffle bags and/or waterproof covers, others will expect you to bring your own. Either way bring an additional bag to leave at your hotel – there will be things like laptops, spare clothes and shoes that you won’t need on the mountain. Give your porter a break and leave these things at your hotel.
11. Down jacket
I’m embarrassed to say that so much of our lives got consumed by this issue….. we spent countless weekends in outdoor shops and I learnt so much I could easily get a job at Ellis Brigham.
We originally wanted to take a micro down jacket – because of the weight and the cost. Everyone we spoke to who had actually climbed Kili however, strongly recommended a much warmer jacket.
We agonised over whether or not we really needed a big down jacket for Kili. Having now completed the climb, the answer is a definite yes, you do. Even the first night was freezing and I was glad that I had a proper jacket to keep me warm. You can hire down jacket but they are expensive to hire, are often quite bulky and won’t be as warm as one you buy.
We needed a warm jacket for other sections of our trip, so we settled on buying the expensive Rab neutrino jacket on the basis that it was an “investment” and was so light and warm. It’s definitely one of the best decisions we made. It was freezing on Kili and in many other places we subsequently visited – we would have been lost without this jacket!
12. Mid layers
We took a thin fleece and a think windproof jacket.
This meant that we had a light jacket when it was too cold for just the fleece but not cold enough for the massive down. We used both for lots of training walks we did too.
13. Base Layers
Breathable t-shirts are useful. I get really hot so I found that I only needed a tshirt with maybe a light soft shell or fleece and trousers most days.
When it got colder at night and on summit day thermals were required. We invested in Icebreaker active range thermal top and pants which we got in the sale. We’d bought cheap thermals before but they were uncomfortable and itchy so it’s worth spending a bit more.
Good liners and a good outer pair are crucial for summit night especially if you’re using poles as your hands will freeze.
15. Buff or balaclava/scarff
These are useful to keep your neck warm and to cover your mouth and nose from dust – essential for the way down from Gilmans point. A covering over your mouth and nose will also help keep your face warm.
Most people find that a cut off pair are useful so that you can wear shorts on the warmer lower slopes. I used one light pair and one slightly heavier pair for when it got colder.
17. Waterproof trousers and jacket
You never know what the weather will throw at you, so you will need to carry your waterproofs with you at all times.
Breathability (as I get really hot when I walk) and weight (as we were travelling for a long time) were key factors for us so I went for the Rab Myriad Polartec Neoshell jacket, whereas Andrew went for the Mountain Equipment Morpheus Gore-Tex jacket. Both jackets have performed really well.
18. Sun hat
I found that mine was invaluable as I couldn’t see where I was going properly when I had my sunglasses on. A chord to tie the hat to your face is useful if it gets windy, (I felt like an idiot but everyone was in the same boat).
Special travel underwear is expensive but great if you can afford it, although most women ones look like mens! G-strings or pantyliners can help lighten your load.
Gaiters are useful on Kili if only to protect your shoes from the dust that will continuously cover everything. Gaiters will help protect your shoes and keep the bottom of your trousers clean. (They will also help shield your trousers from splashes of vomit if you throw up, or have the wind blow urine over you…).
Gaiters are especially useful on the ascent and descent from the summit on the Rongai and Marangu routes because of the sand and scree that can get into your shoes.
They are also useful if it rains and the ground gets muddy. They’re a good investment for anyone who walks in the UK.
Good warm walking or skiing socks are needed, especially for summit night.
Thin breathable socks to line hot feet help minimise blisters. I would pack a clean pair of liners for each day of walking if you can.
22. Hiking Boots
Good hiking boots with ankle support are essential. Make sure that your shoes don’t squash your toes when you come down the mountain – a few in our group had some nasty toe injuries from the descent.
Breaking your boots in, in advance is obviously ideal. Having said, that I know a few people who have climbed Kili in boots they’ve just bought so its not the end of the world if you don’t – just bring lots of blister plasters…!
I’ve always had Solomon walking shoes which are really comfortable.
23. Sun Block
On summit night don’t forget to apply sun tan lotion to your face and sunblock on your lips. You are tired so it’s easy to forget but cover up.
We met one poor lady who had summited, but was so tired on the way down that she ended up with a badly burnt face and blistered lips – all of which could have been avoided.
There’s a lot less atmosphere up there between you and the sun, protect yourself.
24. Nail Brush, Wet Wipes and Tissues
Take plenty of wet wipes, a nail brush and lots of tissues.
Kilimanjaro is extremely dusty. Your nails will be filthy and dust will manage to embed itself into every wrinkle or line in your hands and face. It will be impossible to get your hands clean without something to scrub them with.
Lots of dust will also get up your nose, which you will want to blow out so bring plenty of tissues.
A few nappy bags were useful as temporary rubbish bags for used toilet paper or in the tents at night.
25. Pantyliners (if you’re a woman only obviously)
I was taking the pill and still bled a bit on summit night – I have no idea why how it happens but I’m glad that I was warned about it.
26. Nurofen Gel
I could hardly move after we summitted, so some sort of pain relief gel for muscle aches may have been useful.
27. Immodium and electrolyte replacers
A couple of people in our group had diarrhoea and vomited a lot. It can happen to anyone so make sure you take plenty of drugs with you.
28. Anti-bacterial Gel and Hand Moisturiser
We had no running water for the duration of our trek, so make sure you bring hand sanitiser.
Anti-bacterial gels dry out your skin, as will the cold weather, so take some moisturiser with you.
29. Nail scissors
My boyfriend forgot to cut his toe nails before the trek and ended up with a couple of badly bruised black toe nails which took months to come off. Not attractive. Take a nail scissors with you just in case.
30. Pain killers
You’ll need these if you get dehydrated or have mild headaches from altitude sickness. I popped a couple on summit night in anticipation of any issues and didn’t experience any pain, (or managed to distract myself from feeling any).
31. US Dollars
Take plenty of dollars. Your company should give you guidelines on how much tip your porters and guides will be expecting.
Make sure to factor the tip into your trip budget, and include the higher end of the scale as a minimum.
Whatever your tour company recommends – take more.
Walking up Kili is a humbling experience. There were 6 of us supported by 3 guides and 21 porters, many of which only got paid a few dollars a day to do back breaking work – often with no break in between climbs. (Porters are generally freelancers who do seasonal work). We gave a bit extra to our porters but would have given much more if we had the USD with us.
Good wrap around sunglasses will help minimise glare on the top of the mountain and dust on the way down.
I find it hard to get to sleep at the best of times, and usually need to read to switch off. You are already under a lot of stress, so take a kindle with you if you have the same problem.
Always useful, even if you decide that you are too tired to play.
35. Snacks for the summit
We went completely over board where this was concerned….. AWC supply some chocolate bars so you don’t need many more. I also found that eating chocolate made me more thirsty, so I only tended to eat when I was really hungry.
36. Hand warmers
These are really useful on summit night. They can also be used as mini hot water bottles.
Individually wrapped sweets are great for sharing and starting conversations.
38. Ear plugs
The last thing you will want is not to be able to sleep because of a nearby snorer. The kitchen staff generally start early and can be quite loud in the mornings too.
39. Mosquito repellent
Bring this for the lower slopes, especially if you’re waking in summer.
40. Positive Mental Attitude
Last but not least, a positive mental attitude is the most crucial thing you will need to bring with you. Your attitude will have a tremendous effect on your performance. Lots of people get overwhelmed by what they have to accomplish. I found that looking up and seeing all the ground I had left to cover freaked me out. I was stressed about pacing myself and ended up feeling nauseous and throwing up all over the place on the second day – before we had even got to altitude.
To get round it I concentrated on taking one step at a time. I also stopped thinking about how I was on Africa’s highest mountain and tried to trick myself into feeling that I was walking up a mountain in the UK to reduce the pressure. I think it worked.
Convince yourself that you are going to make it. Any lingering doubts when you are that high can easily manifest into issues.
I also found that distracting myself with happy thoughts whenever I felt nauseous helped make the sick feeling go away, whereas dwelling or getting upset about things made me feel worse.
In many ways Kili is far more of a mental challenge than it is physical. You have to have the stamina, but you also have to be able to mentally push yourself through any barriers such as tiredness or feelings of weakness – which anyone can do.