6 top tips for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Making it all the way to the top of Kilimanjaro and standing on the roof of Africa is quite an accomplishment. Here are our 6 top tips for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

From muddy forest to a dry rocky landscape littered with cacti and eventually the snow capped peak of Uhuru, Mount Kilimanjaro is as exotic and adventurous as the name sounds. But many have failed along the way, making the trek several times before being able to tick it off their bucket list.

1. The more the merrier

No matter which Kilimanjaro route you choose, we suggest booking a group tour. Not only is it more fun to share the experience with family, friends or colleagues, but it also acts as a support base for when the trail seems impossible to complete.

2. Choose a route to suit your fitness

When choosing a route, remember that they all lead to the same place - Uhuru Peak, 5,895 meters above sea level. This is not a race! Keep your fitness level in mind when choosing a route. Preferences such as time to completion, sleeping arrangements and budget will impact which route you take. Some routes have better views than others and some will have less foot-traffic on it.

3. Gear up with the essentials

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro doesn't require a lot of technical or specialized mountain climbing gear. It’s not Mount Everest! There's no need to spend a fortune on new gear, but there are a few essential items.

What you need to bring with you:

  • comfortable pants, shirts, underwear
  • fleece jacket
  • hiking boots with ankle support
  • headlamp
  • thermal underwear (extra layers needed for summit day)
  • hat and beanie (one for sun protection, another for warmth)
  • Sleeping bag – the warmer, the better. Try to get a down sleeping bag as they compress easily when not in use and loft up to trap more warm air.
  • Waterproof pants and jacket. Cold + Wet = Misery, or worse, hypothermia.
  • Trekking poles – help you carry some of the weight and reduces stress on your hips, knees and ankles.
  • Gaiters - particularly if you expect snow in and around the peak. If you are trekking in dry season, they may not be necessary but are always good for keeping small stones and sand out of your shoes.

4. Respect the altitude

No matter which route you take, you will find yourself gaining a significant amount of elevation in a short period of time. Everyone's body reacts differently to altitude. Some people are more susceptible to altitude sickness than others. Here are some tips to help your body cope with the quick rise in altitude.

Drink water. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! You should drink a minimum of 3 litres of water per day. Guides and porters will all tell you: water is the single best altitude sickness prevention medicine for your body.

Slowly, Slowly. Pace yourself. Like we said before, this is not a race. This is the key mantra for all climbers. Every guide and porter will remind you of this from the moment you begin the climb. When you move slowly, you conserve energy and allow your body adequate time to adjust to the changes in elevation.

Sleep and eat. Eat as much as you can at lower altitudes as you will most likely have a loss of appetite at higher altitude. For sleep, consider bringing 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).

5. Mind over matter

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro obviously demands a lot physically, with summit day feeling especially brutal. But, more than that, it challenges you mentally, with fear being its weapon of choice. The main fears are altitude anxiety, not summiting and the fear of being the last one at the back of the group.

When the mountain starts to whisper in your ear and altitude sickness begins to hit, try to calm yourself by focusing on 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.

6. Enjoy the experience

Everyone wants to reach the summit, but Mount Kilimanjaro is more than just getting to the top. Look around as you climb and take in the sights. Take a break and look back to reflect on how far you've come, this will boost your spirit for the next session. Your position above the clouds is something to be savoured.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a journey like no other. Enjoy it!

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