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10 Things You Need to Know Before You Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

To climb Mount Kilimanjaro is a once in a lifetime opportunity. People travel from all over the world to stand on top of the Roof of Africa. Being properly prepared to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is the key to a successful summit attempt. In this article we discuss the 10 things you need to know before you climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

No.10 Fitness to climb Mount Kilimanjaro

There is a common misconception that you need to be super fit to be able to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. This is simply not true. In fact many fit people struggle to reach the summit because they exert themselves too much during the early stages of the trek and therefore don’t give themselves enough time to acclimatize during the ascent.

Of course having a good level of health and fitness is important for anyone wanting to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but you don’t need to be an experienced marathon runner!

On Kilimanjaro you will be trekking approx. 5-7 hours a day (summit day being a lot longer). Preparing for these treks through practice hikes in your home country is a great way to build up your fitness level. If you don’t have time to do practice hikes our recommendation is to do basic cardiovascular exercises at the gym, such as running and cycling. This article gives detailed advice on training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

No. 9 Climbing Skills on Kilimanjaro

To Climb Mount Kilimanjaro does not actually require any climbing skills. In fact, Kilimanjaro is just one big hike.

On the Machame, Lemosho, Shira and Umbwe Route there is one section called the Barranco Wall that requires very basic bouldering skills. No preparation is required for this section of the hike though.

No. 8 Kilimanjaro Kit Requirements

We cannot stress enough the importance of having the right equipment to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

The hike covers four climatic zones and therefore layering of clothes is key to staying warm and comfortable as you ascend. A base thermal layer, mid fleece layer and outer jacket is a must.

The right gloves and hiking boots are also critical.

Many hikers use trekking poles which are helpful for balance and take the pressure off your knees, especially when you descend.

The list of kit requirements is fairly lengthy. We recommend reading our detailed Kilimanjaro Packing List here.

No. 7 Kilimanjaro Routes

There are seven routes from which one can climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Machame, Umbwe and Marangu routes approach the summit from the South. The Rongai route which starts from the North East is dryer than the other routes and therefore a little less scenic. Because it is slightly out of the way the route is never overcrowded.

Some people start their climb from the East using the Lemosho and Shira route. Both are very scenic and beautiful.

The newest route is the Northern Circuit, which is also the longest route. The Northern Circuit provides lots of opportunity to acclimatize and hence success rates are high on this route.

Here is a complete overview on Kilimanjaro Routes.

No. 6 Kilimanjaro Weather – When to book your climb?

There are two rainy seasons on Kilimanjaro – March through to end of May and November through to February. The south is wetter than the northern slopes, making the Rongai route a favourite during the rainy months.

Typically rain is less prevalent above 3,000m, which means you are only likely to experience rain on Day 1. You may however experience snow and sleet on the upper reaches of the mountain

Here is an article on the best time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

No. 5 Acclimitization on Kilimanjaro

Given enough time the body adapts to changes in altitude. Some people experience worse altitude sickness symptoms than others.

There is no correlation between susceptibility to altitude sickness and factors of gender, age, fitness ect.

To prepare for altitude it is important that you understand the symptoms associated with Acute Mountain Sickness. We highly recommend reading our article on acclimatisation which goes into much more detail on acute mountain sickness and the medications you can take to help prevent the onset of AMS.

The three key things to remember are:

1. Go slowly at all times, even on the lower reaches of the mountain

Do not exert yourself. You will hear the porters and guides say “Pole Pole”. This means ‘slow slow’ in Swahili. Make sure you listen and go slow

2. Drink load of fluids

Dehydration is a key cause of Acute Mountain Sickness. The more fluids you can drink the better. Daily recommended intake is 3 litres of water. You can add an energy supplement to the water to make it taste better and always remember to add purification tablets.

3. Climb high, sleep low

Climbing high, sleeping low allows your body to experience altitude for a short period before descending to sleep. On Kilimanjaro it is highly recommended to have an acclimatization day. Typically this happens on day 3 where you climb high (approx. 4,600m and sleep low approx. 3,900m)

You may also decide to take Diamox, which is a medication that helps prevent the onset of AMS. Here is a detailed article on Diamox.

4. Kilimanjaro Food

Eating well on Kilimanjaro is key to your success – you’ll need the energy on summit night. Food is carried and prepared by your guiding team. Typically breakfast consists of tea / coffee, bread with spreads, porridge, sausage and eggs. Lunch usually includes soup, bread, a cooked stew or sandwiches. Dinner is similar to lunch.

Taking adequate snacks is important. Energy bars are a great idea. Plan to eat 3 a day.

One of the main symptoms of AMS is nausea and loss of appetite. If you experience these symptoms you must remember to try eat something to ensure that you have some energy reserves you can draw on during the summit. Eating a few biscuits helps!

3. Water on Kilimanjaro

Water is critical on the mountain.

On day one you will be given 2-3 litres from your guide. During the climb porters will be collecting water to replenish supplies.

You should aim to drink at least 3 litres of water a day. Dehydration is a key cause of AMS so make sure you remain hydrated. You can add an energy supplement to your water to make it more palatable.

You must add water purification tablets to your water.

No.2 Kilimanjaro Guides and Porters

climb-mount-kilimanjaro-portersThe Kilimanjaro guides and porters are your greatest asset on the mountain. Most guides and porters are locals who speak Swahili. Guides usually have a good command of English.

Typically every climbing group has at least 1 guide, and each climber has three porters. Porters carry all gear, tents, cooking supplies and water. You will learn to respect these guys by the end of day one on your climb. – each porter carries approx. 20kg of kit on their back!!

To find out more about guides and porters including standard tipping rates, check out this article.

No. 1 Determination

Getting to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro has a lot to do with determination. There will likely be a point during the summit attempt where you might feel like giving up – typically around Stella Point or Gilman’s Point. You might be feeling awfully sick and exhausted. At that lowest point it is important that you remain determined to get to the top – one step at a time!

Of course your determination must not supersede your health. Monitor AMS symptoms closely. Your guide will be monitoring you. It is important that you listen to your body and others in your group if they say that you need to descend.

Being prepared is key to success on Kilimanjaro.

Final note

Haven’t booked your Kilimanjaro hike yet and looking for the best and most affordable Kilimanjaro Tours – click here for recommendations.

You can find a complete Kilimanjaro kit list on this page.

P.S. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below and we will respond within 24 hours.

Recommended Gear for your Kili Adventure

This little Oximeter device comes in handy on Kili. Essentially an oximeter gives you a spot read of oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Although the device does not predict the onset of AMS, it does give you a good sense of how your body is responding to changes in altitude. A useful gadget to have on your trek

About the Author Mark Whitman

Hi, I'm Mark! Welcome to Climb Kilimanjaro Guide - the Web's No.1 Trekking Guide to Mount Kilimanjaro. This site is your one stop shop for everything Kilimanjaro. To date over 2 million people have visited ClimbKilimanjaroGuide.com, many of which have gone on to summit Kili! I hope you find all the answers you are looking for, but if you have any questions don't hesitate to drop a comment below! Happy Trekking!

Leave a Comment:

31 comments
stuart plant says April 26, 2015

Climb high sleep low is not medically proven and for AMS walk slow is best and rest. Also 3 porters to 1 climber, sorry but that is poor advice and ripping tourists off. U can hike the mountain with a guide only or 1 porter and do your own water collection and put your own tent up. Also fresh food dinners ha ha, no real climber does that. Use dried foods weigh less and easily got rid off.

Reply
    Mark Whitman says April 27, 2015

    Hi Stuart, thanks for your comment. You make valid points for people who are serious trekkers / mountaineers, who aim to tackle Kili using an alpine mountain style of climbing (or trekking in the case of Kili). We admire this type of climbing and would encourage anyone with the right level of experience to tackle Kili using lightweight and limited support methods. However, I would hazard a guess that this group account for about 2-5% of people who climb Kili every year. The other 95% of trekkers on the mountain (~30,000 people) often have limited trekking experience – for some Kili is their first experience of long-distance hiking and certainly their first experience of high altitude. Many people have in fact never camped before, let alone setup tents and cooked in the backcountry. For this group of people (i.e. the majority of trekkers on the mountain), full support teams are absolutely necessary.
    In terms of AMS, our recommendations here are based on the most up to date research available (year 2014/15): https://www.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/acclimatization-kilimanjaro/

    Reply
    bob says November 12, 2015

    Is it 100% necessary to have a guide/porter? If you have a wealth of backpacking experience and even some climbing, must you hire a guide? Are there regulations that require it?

    Reply
      Mark Whitman says November 13, 2015

      Hi Bob, yes, you need to take a registered guide in order to get onto Mount Kilimanjaro.

      Reply
    terence robinson says April 18, 2016

    I climbed kili many years ago but turned around very close to the top i was all alone and realized if anything went wrong there would b no one to help me. I would love to go again if i flew to arusha could i find a group or guide on spec to take me up,
    Ps i had no special training and didnt wear any special clothing the only time it got cold was just before the final climb, other than that everything was just one long trek.

    Reply
Jennifer Salton says October 5, 2015

I’m a 63 year old woman and I have a wish to climb Kilimanjaro by the time I turn 65. I need to be put in touch with someone who can advise me on what is required of me to achive this goal. I live in Gauteng South Africa so some one here would be idea. Thanks Jennifer

Reply
    Mark Whitman says October 5, 2015

    Hi Jennifer,

    That’s great news! We’re not in touch with anyone in SA who can help, but you should be able to find loads of useful information on our site. Failing that I recommend Henry Stedman’s book. The good news is that many people in there sixties climb Kilimanjaro successfully every year!

    All the best!

    Reply
    Molay says November 8, 2015

    Hi Jeniffer,
    I’m a Kilimanjaro mountain guide for 16 years now! Is not a big deal,what you need to do is to stay healthy and little exercise to keep you fit,like jogging and long walks. No technical skills required! On the mountain the pace you required to use is slowly,slowly pace. The fit persons climbs more easy,uses less oxygen per unit of work done and is more energy efficient. Imprve you Cardiovascular (CV) fitness by exercising in your taget zone at least 20 minutes several times a week. Dancing,cycling,swimming,treadmill,or climb small hill to prepare your leg muscles from the rough terrain or climbing lose screen. You will need extra day on the mountain for more acclimatize.
    Thanks,
    Molay

    Reply
    Rowena says August 19, 2017

    Did you do it Jennifer?

    Reply
bob says November 13, 2015

Are there regulations in place requiring a party to be accompanied by a guide? IF not How necessary is it to have one, especially if you have a wealth of backpacking experience?

Reply
    Mark Whitman says November 13, 2015

    Hi Bob, Yes, all trekkers on Mount Kilimanjaro need to be accompanied by a registered guide. As most treks are full camping expeditions it is also useful to have a porter or two to help carry gear, food, supplies. All the best!

    Reply
Lisa says December 28, 2015

Is it possible to hire a registered guide for an independent hiker rather than go on a tour group?

Reply
    Mark Whitman says December 28, 2015

    Hi Lisa, it is possible to hire an independent and registered guide, but unless you plan to carry most of the gear yourself you will also need a small support crew of porters. Many tour operators can arrange a private 1-person trek but these can be quite costly as all costs will be borne by you. Group treks are affordable as costs are spread among the group. Hope this helps!

    Reply
Stephen says February 25, 2016

Hi can you tell me please what happens to people in the group that cannot continue for whatever reason & how common is it that this happens ? I don’t like using tracking pole’s would this be a major problem on killi thanks

Reply
    Mark Whitman says March 1, 2016

    Hi Stephen, it really depends on your tour operator. Generally, if someone can’t continue due to altitude sickness, then a guide will assist them off the mountain and the rest of the group will continue. It is therefore important to check with your tour operator that they have a high guide to client ratio. The cheaper operators cut corners here as the more guides and assistant guides, the more expensive the trip. But ultimately you pay for what you get and I would make sure that your tour operator has explicit safety descent procedures and a high guide to client ration. In terms of trekking poles, these are not mandatory. Many people, including myself, find them very useful on the descent. All the best!

    Reply
Pat Maharaj says July 2, 2016

Hi.
My concern. I’m climbing Kili in 6 weeks time and have all these questions about the summit night. How do I carry a insulated water bottle, two others bottles with water…a hand torch and still have my hands on my trekking poles.

Reply
    Mark Whitman says July 3, 2016

    Hi Pat, you shouldn’t bring a handtouch, you need a head torch! Your water bottles can be kept in your daypack / or if you using a hydration bladder this will be sitting in the back of our daypack. Your hands should therefore be free to hold your trekking poles. Hope this helps!

    Reply
Natalie rogers says September 18, 2016

Really strange question, what is it best to sleep in clothing wise?

Reply
    Mark Whitman says September 19, 2016

    Hi Natalie, lower down the mountain you might get away with sleeping in your underwear / thermals. As you get higher up and particularly on summit night you might want to wear most of your clothing that you will be wearing on the summit push. Hope this helps.

    Reply
Alex D says November 22, 2016

Hello! I’m currently trying to book a trip to climb Kilimanjaro, and our travel agent is suggesting that we should wait 3-4 days after landing in Tanzania before we start the climb.

It’s for my honeymoon, so I was hoping to rest for a day after flying in and start climbing directly after, which would give us 3-4 days at the end of the climb for the safari. How long after you land did you start your climb? Do you have a recommended resting day period for people to follow before they start climbing?

Thanks so much!!

Reply
    Mark Whitman says November 23, 2016

    Hi Alex, most people arrive the day before their climb and start their trek the following day (for example, arrive the 7th, start trek on the 8th). If your flight arrives in the late evening or early morning (i.e. Turkish Airline flights to Kilimanjaro), then you may want to take a extra before the climb to rest, but you certainly don’t need 3-4 days rest before climbing. Some people do 3-4 days of safari before their climb, but I would suggest you keep the safari for after the climb. I also recommend using our tour operator recommendation service, where I can put you in touch with the best on-the-ground operator. Their support staff in the UK are super helpful and I know that they have organised many honeymoons before. See: http://treks.climbkilimanjaroguide.com/

    Reply
Emma says December 30, 2016

Hi there, if you are travelling alone to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, is it possible to join a group

Reply
    Mark Whitman says December 31, 2016

    Yeah, did course. Contact my partner, Kandoo Adventures! They are amazing!

    Reply
Lucy says January 4, 2017

Hi there, I was wondering if there was an age restriction on climbing the mountain? I have a very fit and able 16 year old. Would they be able to climb (with me and my partner) or do you have to be 18?

Reply
    Mark Whitman says January 8, 2017

    Hi Lucy, the minimum age to climb Kilimanjaro is 12, so your 16 year old child will be able to join you!

    Reply
Nanuka says January 31, 2017

Hi I just decided to climb Kilimanjaro as couple of my friends are doing so.
I am 27 and consider myself fit, as I go to the gym about 3 times as week and dance 2 times a week. But I do not have much hiking experience.
I have little bit more than a moth before the trip, do you think that is enough time to prepare for the? And what are the best ways to do so in such short time?

Reply
Amelia says February 26, 2017

Hi I found your guide to be very useful! I just have a few questions that I hope you could answe for me please. I’m 21 years old, I have no previous hiking/climbing experience, but I am healthy, fit, go gym etc. I’ve been interested in doing this for a while but I’d be doing it on my own if I do decide to go ahead… So I was just wondering is it possible to join a group? And are there often people who have come solo and by themselves who end up joining groups? I’m more nervous about whom I’ll be doing it with as a lone female than how I’ll do it haha. Any information would be very useful, thank you

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Betty says March 18, 2017

Do you think a fitness program like Fit For Trips would be a good way to prepare for the trek?

Reply
    Mark Whitman says March 20, 2017

    Hi Betty, I haven’t heard of Fit For Trips, but just checked out their site and I’m sure their fitness regime would provide good training for Kilimanjaro. All the best!

    Reply
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