Joining the ranks of those who have successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro is an incredible feat. It’s a physical undertaking like no other which requires plenty of preparation.
Mount Kilimanjaro stands at 5,895 meters and is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. It’s also the world’s most walkable and climbable mountain – hence it’s popularity.
But no matter how physically prepared you are for a Kilimanjaro trek, there are a number of factors which can affect your journey. Being prepared is the only route to success.
So, if you’re planning on climbing Kilimanjaro in the near future, here are 7 tips on how to adequately plan for the trek of a lifetime…
Top Tips on Climbing Kilimanjaro
A really big deciding factor in the success and overall enjoyment of your Kilimanjaro trek lies in the tour operator you choose.
Estimates show that only 65% of climbers reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. This is largely due to the tour operators and the route they have chosen, as well as their trek planning, of course.
You cannot climb Kilimanjaro without a guide. So finding the right tour operator with the know-how, support, knowledge, and equipment for summiting Kilimanjaro is paramount.
It’s also important to note that you will pass through five distinct climatic zones during your Kilimanjaro hike. These range from rainforest to alpine desert to glacial conditions.
This is why making it to the Roof of Africa requires preparation, training and strong will of mind.
1. Budget for your Trek
You may already be aware of this if you have been planning on hiking Mount Kilimanjaro for some time, but it’s not a cheap endeavor.
Generally, your entire journey could cost anywhere from $2,400 – $5,000 per person. This amount should include your flights, camping, accommodations, food, mountain guides and porters, park fees and transport.
If you have found a tour operator deal which seems too good to be true, the general rule-of-thumb is that it is. One thing you shouldn’t skimp on is the quality of your tour operator and the services they offer.
Paying a little extra for you a high-quality, experienced and knowledgeable tour operator is the difference between summiting Kilimanjaro and not.
During your trek, you need good sleep, nourishment, physical support, emergency support, emotional support and good acclimatization knowledge. Your tour operator should be able to provide you will all of the above.
2. Time Your Trip Correctly
While you can climb Kilimanjaro all year round, it’s generally not recommended to do so in the wet months of April, May, and November.
Some of the best months for a Kilimanjaro trek fall from January – March where the weather is cooler and the routes are far less crowded.
The second climbing season falls over June – October which tends to coincide with the summer holidays for those living in the northern hemisphere.
The days are warm and pleasant, however, the mountain is much busier during this time.
Warm, thermal clothing is still required for the evening and at the summit of the mountain which remains arctic-cold year-round.
No matter the time of year you choose to climb Kilimanjaro, you are most likely to encounter snow and freezing temperatures closer to the summit.
If you are choosing to hike during peak season (June – October) you will need to book your trip well in advance – at least a minimum of 6 months.
3. Choose the Best Route for Your Capabilities
When it comes to the number of routes ascending Mount Kilimanjaro, climbers are truly spoiled for choice. In total, there are 7 different routes to choose from, all ranging in difficulty, scenery, route popularity and length.
This being said, choosing the correct route for your capabilities is, ultimately, the deciding factor in whether you’ll summit the mountain or not.
The length of your Kilimanjaro hike depends on your chosen route, but generally, the shortest routes take 5 days, while to longest takes up to 10 days.
The routes with the highest success rate of summiting the mountain are the ones which are slower, ascending at a more gradual rate.
Acclimatization on Kilimanjaro is an extremely vital part of your trek, without it you will most likely not make the summit of the mountain.
No matter how fit you are, how much you have trained and prepared for you Kilimanjaro trek, acclimatization can affect anyone – even pro athletes.
It’s best to choose a slower route, which allows for proper acclimatization in order to successfully hit your goal – the summit. Some of the most popular routes include the Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, and Northern Circuit for the highest success rates.
4. Be Selective in What You Pack
One of your most important factors when embarking on any multi-day trek is the amount you pack and have to carry on your back.
Being highly selective in the gear you pack is vital to the success of your trek. However, your tour operator should supply each climber with their own porter who is only permitted to carry 33lbs (15kgs) of your belongings.
Anything over and above that, you will need to carry yourself. It’s recommended that you carry no more than 20lbs of your own gear and snacks each day.
Lost luggage is a reality in Africa, so it’s a smart idea to pack your most important hiking gear in your carry-on luggage.
This includes your hiking boots, a waterproof jacket, fleece and thermal layers, toiletries, medications, snacks and travel documents.
When it comes to hydration, this is yet another vital part of your Kilimanjaro trek. Plastic water bottles are a no-go in the park, therefore a 3-liter water bladder, camel pack of Nalgene bottles are ideal.
5. Train for your Trek
Climbing Kilimanjaro is no walk in the park. It’s tough and no matter how fit you are, acclimatization can really set you back.
In fact, this is one of the main reasons many people fail to make it to the summit.
Being aerobically fit for your trek is important, but so is having strong, conditioned legs which can withstand uphill and downhill strain for extended periods.
A fit and strong body will ultimately help you to function better with less oxygen as you ascend the mountain. While this will also help to withstand the stress of consecutive days of strenuous exercise.
This being said, overly strenuous training regimes are actually unnecessary to prepare for your hike. All you really need to do is hike, as much and as often as you can.
Day hiking which involves uphill and downhill training is ideal, but if you don’t have access to hiking trails, you can hit the gym and train there. The stair master machine is another perfect form of training.
Ideally, you should begin training for your Kilimanjaro trek at least two months before your hike. If you are completely new to hiking, remember to begin with shorter hikes at a slower pace.
As your fitness increases, increase your hike length and pace to build-up your endurance. Try to train approximately 3 times a week for an hour session at a time.
If you can incorporate day hikes into your training, aim for hikes which are 4-6 hours in length while carrying a 20lb backpack.
Important tip: train in the hiking boots you intend to climb in so as to ‘break them in’ and allow your feet to become accustomed to the shoes.
6. Get the Right Gear for your Trek
Climbing Kilimanjaro without the right gear could spell disaster. It’s basically the difference between enjoying your trek and hating it.
Don’t make the mistake of skimping on buying high-quality trekking gear. It’s worth the money and will stand you in good stead on a freezing mountain with strong, glacial winds.
Some of the most important climbing gear to invest in is a high-quality all-weather-proof jacket which is fully lined.
Down jackets are expensive but worth every penny and highly recommended for a Kilimanjaro trek. Invest in good quality hiking boots with proper grip and ankle support.
Don’t forget to purchase a number of thermal layers, made from fleece materials, not cotton, a four-season sleeping bag, thermal gloves, thermal socks and head protection.
Some other important gear includes a headlamp, with enough replaceable batteries, collapsible trekking poles, a 30-liter daypack and a 3-liter water bladder or camel pack.
7. Get an Adequate Medical Check-Up
This is another vital step to ensure you are trek-ready and have your health on your side in order to reach the coveted summit.
Before you leave for your trip, make sure to book an appointment with your doctor for a full medical check-up.
Ask if you are in good enough health to make it through the hike, with regards to your age, fitness level, and any pre-existing conditions.
If you take any chronic medications, make sure that you have these prescriptions filled and you remember to pack those medications with you.
Remember to check whether these medications can affect your acclimatization.
If you have any chronic conditions such as respiratory issues, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, head trauma injuries or seizure disorders your doctor may advise against climbing.
Before you climb many tour operators also require that you meet minimum fitness requirements. This includes having a resting heart rate of at least 100 beats per minute.
Along with this mandatory medical check-up, you may also be required to have several vaccinations before your travels to East Africa.
Some of these may include Hepatitis A and B shots, as well as a yellow fever vaccine. You will probably also have to carry a prescription medication to protect you against malaria.
Looking for a Tour Operator for Your Kilimanjaro Trek?
Earthlife Expeditions offers unforgettable climbing and safari packages for those who are considering climbing Kilimanjaro.
We also offer post-Kilimanjaro trek tours where you can unwind and take in the beauty of African regions such as the Serengeti or the tropical island of Zanzibar.
Get in touch with Earthlife Expeditions to book a tour of a lifetime!