‘What kit / gear do I need to climb Kilimanjaro?’

Following on from last weeks blog, ‘How fit do you have to be to climb Kilimanjaro’ I thought we’d cover another popular question ‘What kit do I need to climb Kilimanjaro?’.

mountain gearThe most common comment we hear is “but the guy in the shop said I needed……”. So what do you actually need? Well, usually a lot less than a sales man will tell you and for most people they’ll already own most of it.

There is nothing worse than being on the side of a mountain, wet, freezing, tired, grumpy and wondering why you paid some of your hard earned for the experience! But of course if you have good kit, you’re warm, dry and comfortable, then the world is a better place!

Of course you need to consider what you actually need, but first consider what you already have and how you personally react to extremes of hot and cold. Consider the environments you will visit, the time of year and the expected weather. Factor in how your kit will be carried and remember you’re climbing Kilimanjaro, not Everest!

View of the QueueAA Kilimanjaro (2)                            Everest                                                         Kilimanjaro

First things first, check out a Kilimanjaro kit list. When it comes to extremes in terms of cold, wind, rain or snow then your layers and layering is key! Good layering will allow you flexibility in terms of balancing your temperature; all trekking requires this however at altitude it’s even more important as overheating = sweating = additional fluid loss / dehydration. The idea of layers is that you can adjust your temperature and protection level to changing weather / climate. This can be done by removing or adding a layer, or simply undoing a zip whilst walking and doing it up again when you stop. There are a few layers to consider.

The outer layer is key to keeping you dry and windproof. Think about when you will wear this layer – it’s likely to be at all levels on the mountain (as it can rain at the top or bottom) so a normal waterproof coat / trousers are needed and not thick snowboarding gear as it could be 25C and raining in Moshi! Check out what outer gear you have already and check they are still waterproof. If so, good, tick them off the list and chuck them in the ‘to go’ pile. If not, and this goes for all higher priced kit, consider whether you would like to:

a) buy new (is this a one off climb? Will you get good use out of the investment?)
b) buy second hand (online auctions etc)
c) borrow from a mate
d) or hire from the likes of Expedition Kit Hire.

Next is your cosy layer, which will keep you warm! Now you may be climbing a mountain in Africa – but it‘s still freezing and normally sub zero up top. Add in some wind and snow or hail and you need to be cosy! You don’t need to spend a fortune on these layers and the majority of people will already own all of these layers. Start off with a thermal top and long johns, some trek trousers, a short sleeved t-shirt and a long sleeved one on top. Then a thin fleece with a thicker one on top and that should be adequate for most people. You may need one other mid layer when relaxing around camp if you’re not in the tents. If you really feel the cold then you may want to buy, borrow or hire a down jacket however most people don’t need this on Kilimanjaro. The coldest you’ll be is before you start walking on summit morning. The rest of the time you’ll be around camp, walking lower down were it’s warmer and when you start walking towards the summit you’ll want to remove some layers, open zips and regulate your temperature.

The summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest point in all of Africa and one of the seven-summits.

The summit of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest point in all of Africa and one of the seven-summits.

The final and again a critical area to consider are your extremities. A well fitted fleece hat, a scarf, thin liner gloves and thicker outer gloves, good warm trekking socks, well broken in boots, sun glasses and finally some sun cream will ensure you can continue to regulate your heat and remain comfortable in your surroundings. Do remember at altitude, just like on a plane, your feet swell. Generally boots should be a half size too big.

The pitfalls to avoid are:

  • Don’t overspend on unnecessary gear – trust the kit list not the sales man.
  • Don’t take something ‘just in case’, think about your gear, talk with your trek organiser if you have any questions and take just what you need.
  • Take a good strong duffle or pack for your gear to go in and ensure everything is in dry-bags or garden refuse sacks.
  • Bags go missing on flights more often than you think! Wear your boots on the flight and put your waterproofs in your hand luggage along with essential medicines and other items not easily replaced. Mid layers are cheaper and easier to replace.
  • Make use of all birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas etc!
  • Finally pick a really grim day at home and go test your gear! Better to do it when you can return to a cosy home and an electric kettle!

How fit do I need to be to climb Kilimanjaro?

This is the most commonly asked question I’ve received in the last fourteen years of organising Adventure Alternative climbs of Kilimanjaro. And the answer – well it depends more on your approach to the climb as a whole, rather than just your fitness.

Glacier kiliIMG_1884

A long standing client of Adventure Alternative has done numerous triathlons, marathons, duathlons, ultra marathons and any other thon that you can think of, yet he felt climbing Kilimanjaro was one of his toughest achievements to date! Saying that, another client, who again has been on many different trips with us, found it challenging, tough at times but very achievable and rewarding. And her training? Well she’s a working mum of two who escapes for a few hours at the weekend and once or twice during the week when she’d hit the hills with a light pack, go for a jog or jump in the pool for a few lengths. So it isn’t just physical fitness that gets you to the top.

My advice is to prepare as much as you can within the possibilities of your lifestyle and don’t let worry or stress enter that regime! You don’t need a hardcore training schedule and for most people some lifestyle changes such as escaping to the countryside, beach or hills at the weekend or even walking to work will be a great step in the right direction. You really don’t need to be a super fit, highly tuned athlete but you should work on stamina, general well being and be comfortable with living outdoors for prolonged periods of time.

AA Kilimanjaro (2)IMG_1662

Rather than asking how fit do I need to be to climb Kilimanjaro it would be better to ask ‘How should I prepare for climbing Kili?’ That’s a better and more holistic approach to summiting the roof of Africa. You can’t train for altitude, well not on UK or Irish hills, but you can work on all other aspects of the climb. Read up and learn about the route, weather and living conditions on (for example) the Machame Route, then how you can best prepare in terms of health and altitude on Kilimanjaro, also look at kit and the right gear for the climb: Kilimanjaro kit list and of course consider your training for Kilimanjaro!

KathKilimanClimb 143

Remember climbing Kilimanjaro is a holiday, an adventure and not a forced march! The secret of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is to go slow, enjoy the scenery, drink well, eat well and sleep well – it’s better than any exercise or diet book! A regular, consistent and slow pace will ensure proper acclimatisation and in terms of training; well it should include regular hill walking with a small pack of around 10 kgs, or regular visits to the gym for the final two months before departure. Work on strengthening calf and thigh muscles and exercise your cardio-vascular stamina on a step machine or cross trainer. If you do all of the above you’ll be well prepared mentally and physically for a climb of Kilimanjaro.