Kilimanjaro Hike: Everything You Should Know and More

So you are preparing for your Kilimanjaro hike. You probably have lots of questions, right?

You’re in luck; this site is jam-packed with everything that you could possibly want to know about your Kilimanjaro hike.

This page, in particular, provides a good launch-pad to begin your research, and will help you navigate to key parts of this website for more detailed information.

The page itself is not exhaustive but does cover the main questions that people often have. We are continually adding to the page so if you have any burning questions that aren’t answered below, please leave a comment at the end and we will respond with a detailed answer on this page within 24 hours.

Quicklinks:

If you are not into browsing and want the convenience of having all this detailed information and more in one place then download our best-selling guide book – Mount Kilimanjaro: Trekkers Guide to the Summit

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Kilimanjaro Hike Length and Routes

There are six official routes on which one can complete a Mount Kilimanjaro hike. They are the Lemosho and Shira from the West, Machame and Umbwe from the South-west and South respectively, the Marangu from the South-east and the Rongai route from the North-east. The Mweka route is used for descent only.

There are of course subtle variances on these routes. For example, routes that approach from the West (Lemosho and Shira) and from the South West (Machame and Umbwe) typically use the Southern Circuit to traverse the Barranco Wall and begin a summit assault from the South via Barafu Camp and Stella Point.

However, an excellent, but longer variation on these routes uses the Northern Circuit which traverses around the North side of Mount Kilimanjaro and uses an Eastern summit assault passage via Gilman’s Point. Kilimanjaro hikes that use the Northern Circuit typically begin from the Lemosho start point and join the Northern Circuit on day three.

A much more technically challenging route, the Western Breach, uses a steep approach east of the Shira Plateau. Hikers on the Western Breach typically start on the Umbwe route before departing from Lava Tower to take a steep approach past Arrow’s Glacier and the Western Breach, before beginning their summit assault via Crater Camp.

The number of days on each of the six main routes and their respective variants obviously varies. Here are the Kilimanjaro hike lengths by days:

Lemosho Route – 6, 7, 8 day route variations – Ideal length for the average hiker on this route is 7 days. Lemosho has a great route altitude profile and high success rates. If you elect to take the Northern Circuit from day three you will usually lengthen your Kilimanjaro kike by 2 to 3 days for a total of 8 or 9 days on the mountain.

Shira Route – same as Lemosho, although this route has a much higher start point and therefore many trekkers struggle with acclimatization. Poor altitude route profile and low success rates

Machame Route – 6 or 7 day route variations, both route variations provide the best climb high, sleep low option on Mount Kilimanjaro. Good for acclimatization and high success rates. The 7 day is ideal although the six day is fine for fit trekkers with some experience of high altitude hiking

Umbwe Route – 5, 6 or 7 day route variations – one of the steepest and fastest ascents on Kilimanjaro and therefore not great for acclimatization unless one chooses the 6 or 7 day variations. If you elect to do the technically challenging Western Breach you will usually spend 6 days on the mountain

Marangu Route – 5 or 6 day route variations – the only route on Mount Kilimanjaro with hut accommodation for the entire hike duration. The 5 day has a very rapid ascent profile and poor acclimatization – success rates for the 5 day trek tend to be the lowest on the mountain. If you choose to do the Marangu we highly recommend the 6 day variations which includes a climb high, sleep low day up to Mawenzi Peak

Rongai Route – 6, 7 and 8 day route variations – the only route that starts on the Kenyan side of the Mountain. Much dryer and flatter route. Six day ascents are too rapid for adequate acclimatization. The seven day variation includes a small climb high, sleep low opportunity and is recommended

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Kilimanjaro hike distance

Kilimanjaro hike distance varies by route and the number days you choose to spend on the mountain.

Here are the various Kilimanjaro hike distances (note these are approximates only):

  • Lemosho Route: 67 kilometers (41.6 miles)
  • Shira Route: 66 kilometers (41 miles)
  • Machame Route: ~62 kilometers (38.5 miles)
  • Umbwe Route: ~51 kilometers (31.7 miles)
  • Marangu Route: ~70 kilometers (43.5 miles)
  • Rongai Route: ~72 kilometers (44.7 miles)

For more information on Kilimanjaro hike distances check out these Kilimanjaro route altitude and distance maps.

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Kilimanjaro hike elevation gain

Mount Kilimanjaro hike elevation gain also varies by route. The steepest route is the Umbwe via the Western Breach. The Rongai Route has the flattest profile although the summit assault passage from the East via Gilman’s Point is relatively steeper than the Southern Passage via Barafu Camp and Stella Point.

Most routes begin at around 1,600-2,000 meters above sea level (5,200-6,500 feet) and then climb in increments of 800-1,200 meters (2,600-3,900 feet) a day in elevation.

Summit night via the southern and eastern passage is the largest Kilimanjaro hike elevation gain.

From Barafu Camp (4,680 meters) in the south to Uhuru Peak (5,895 meters) the elevation gain is 1,215 meters (~4,000 feet)

From School Camp (4,800 meters) or Kibo Hut (4,700 meters) in the east to Uhuru Peak (5,895 meters) the elevation gain is ~1,100-1,200 meters respectively (~3,700-4,000 feet).

To see Mount Kilimanjaro hike elevation gain altitude profile maps for each route click here.

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Kilimanjaro hike difficulty

Like the Kilimanjaro length, distance and elevation gain, Mount Kilimanjaro hike difficulty varies by route.

But before we talk about routes it is important to put Mount Kilimanjaro’s hike difficulty within context. The hike itself is considered non-technical. This means that you do not need any technical climbing skills to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. In fact most people, regardless of age and physical fitness (within reason) can reach the summit of Kilimanjaro.

The thing that makes Mount Kilimanjaro a challenge is the altitude. Although the summit height is nowhere near the 7,000 and 8,000 meter behemoths in Asia, the route and summit assault passages on Kilimanjaro tend to be relatively rapid, as far as high altitude trekking goes.

For example, people who trek Everest Base Camp tend to take 10-12 days to reach EBC, which is 500 meters lower than the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. In contrast most trekkers on Kilimanjaro reach the summit in 5 or 6 days. The rapid ascent makes for challenging acclimatization conditions and means that many people suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness symptoms.

In terms of routes, some are easier than others. The most challenging passage is the Umbwe Route via the Western Breach and Crater Camp. The route is rapid, steep and involves scrambling. It is also a relatively dangerous route and has in the past been prone to rock-falls. One such incident killed three trekkers in 2006.

The second most challenging route, due to its very high start point, is Shira. Most people struggle on this route because they haven’t had enough time to acclimatize – some feel the effects of altitude from day 1.

The shorter variations of the Machame, Lemosho and Umbwe via the Southern Circuit are also challenging due to acclimatization pressures and the need to contend with the Barranco Wall (which is considered a scramble in climbing terms). The longer variations on these routes provide for adequate acclimatization and therefore make the hike difficulty that little bit easier.

The Rongai is also a tough route as the opportunity to climb high, sleep low is limited. Nonetheless the route tends to be flatter and the longer variation provides enough time for acclimatization.

The Marangu has a reputation as being the easiest route as trekkers get to stay in huts. But the reality is that the 5 day Marangu has the worst success rates as it provides very poor acclimatization. Many tourists are coerced into taking the 5 day Marangu as it is the cheapest route and sold as the easiest. The fact is that the route is the easiest for tour operators as the huts mean that the trekking crew can be smaller per climber and therefore they make more profit per trekker. Don’t be duped into taking a 5 day Marangu. If you are set on staying in huts then definitely take the 6 Marangu day trek.

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Kilimanjaro hike tour operators

There are many Kilimanjaro hike tour operators in Tanzania. It is important to recognize that not all Kilimanjaro hike tour operators are equal. The popularity of Mount Kilimanjaro hikes has grown exponentially over the past two decades. This has meant that more and more players have entered the market to offer tours to tourists. Many are not properly registered, don’t have the right gear for emergencies and have dubious payment schemes for their climbing crew.

The Tanzanian government and the Kilimanjaro National Parks Authority have tried to do a lot to iron out some of these issues, but there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. There are also two unionized organisations that represent guides’ and porters’ health and welfare – Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project and Mount Kilimanjaro Porter Society (MKPS). Nonetheless, guides and porters are still exploited by some fringe Kilimanjaro hike tour operators.

The market for Kilimanjaro hike tour operators therefore splits into three types:

Premium Western Run and Operated suppliers: These tour operators have great track-records, are leaders in high altitude trekking and have distinct policies in place to ensure the safety of their trekkers and the health and welfare of their trekking staff. All of this of course comes at a premium price.

Well established, locally run operators: These tour operators are equally good as the international players but are usually run by a local operator, which means costs are a little lower than western-operated firms. They do not tend to cut corners but may lack the gravitas that their premium counter-parts bring to the party. Also it is sometimes hard to distinguish between these well-run local operators and the third group.

Fly-by-night, local operators: These guys tend to have poor track records, some are not properly registered, and many are poorly equipped for high altitude trekking. They tend to be the cheapest, or if not the cheapest then everything is negotiable.

Our recommendation is to do your research before arriving in Kilimanjaro so that you know you are booked with a credible and reliable Kilimanjaro hike tour operator. Key things to look out for: 1. Are they a registered operator (ask for proof). 2. Are they members of one of the guide and porter NGOs and what are their policies towards their trekking staff.

If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. We are well connected with a number of brilliant ground operators whom we can put you in touch with. Check out our free recommendation service here.

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Kilimanjaro hike cost

Kilimanjaro hike cost varies based on a number of factors, not least on the previous point – which Kilimanjaro hike tour operator you decided to choose (i.e. premium vs. fly-by-night).

Should you decide to go with an all-inclusive tour operator (this includes park fees which are now around $900, a night before and after your climb in a hotel, airport transfers, food and climbing accessories on the mountain, and crew expenses), you should be budgeting about $1,700 on the bottom end and $2,800 on the top end for a 6 or 7-day trek. This of course increases if the number of days you choose is higher than 7-days – the more days the more expensive. There is a trade-off here as more days on the mountain increase your chances of summit success!

Additional expenses that you should budget for include visas ($50), vaccinations (you will need a Yellow Fever vaccination), Medications (especially if you choose to take Malaria pills or Diamox), equipment (this can be as much as $1,000 depending on how well equipped you want to be – note: you can also rent equipment – we suggest budgeting for $500 for gear).

You will also need money to pay for trekking crew tips which are standard on Kilimanjaro. Budget at least $250. See here for a full overview on Kilimanjaro tipping procedures.

Finally you will need to get yourself to Tanzania from wherever your origin is. Most people fly into Nairobi and then transfer to Kilimanjaro International Airport. There are direct flights to Kilimanjaro International Airport from Amsterdam. Either way we would budget at least $1,000 on flights.

As you can see, the Kilimanjaro hike cost is non-trivial. For a full overview on Kilimanjaro hike costs check out this article.

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Kilimanjaro hike training

Kilimanjaro hike training is an important part of one’s preparation for reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro. However, there is a misconception that you need to be super fit to trek Kilimanjaro. This is not true. In fact being too fit can be detrimental to your climb. Very fit trekkers tend to go quicker than their less fit counter-parts. Going fast is perhaps the worst thing you can do as the body needs time to adapt to altitude and acclimatize.

In general, the best Kilimanjaro hike training focuses on strengthening the cardio-vascular system through aerobic training exercises (i.e. exercises that are light-to-moderate in intensity like long-distance running, swimming and cycling). Lifting weights may help develop your physique, but it won’t help on Kilimanjaro.

Two to three months before departing for Kilimanjaro you should be doing a cardio-vascular exercise (running, cycling, swimming) at least 3 times a week for a period of 40 minutes to an hour at a time. As the date of your climb approaches you can up the time to an hour or an hour and twenty, but maintain the constant intensity.

In addition to the above Kilimanjaro hike training it is definitely worthwhile doing at least two mountain hikes of 5-6 hours in duration. This will give you a good sense of the average trekking day on Kilimanjaro as well as ensure that your boots are well worn in.

If you can, it would also be worthwhile trekking to altitude as well (upwards of 3,500 meters above sea level). This will give you an appreciation of how your body responds to high altitude.

Finally, trekking Kilimanjaro successfully is as much about the mental as it is the physical. On summit night you will need to dig deep to find the physical strength to continue and it will be your mental state that helps you find these reserves.

The best and most analogous mental Kilimanjaro hike training that you can do is long-distance running (a half or full marathon). The mental state of the last mile on a marathon is the same mental state that you will be challenged with on Kilimanjaro. Experiencing this state of mind at least once before hiking up towards Uhuru Peak is very beneficial.

For detailed information on Kilimanjaro hike training have a look at this article.

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Kilimanjaro hike gear list

A typical Kilimanjaro hike gear list consists of many things, but foremost is the Kilimanjaro clothing you decide to take with you.

In terms of clothing it is important to recognize that there are four distinct climate zones on Kilimanjaro. This means that you will experience various weather conditions, from tropical to glacial. The key principle to remember and which will help you bring the right Kilimanjaro clothing is layering.

There are three layers that you will need on Kilimanjaro:

  • Base layer: thermal and close-to-skin, high wicking top and bottom
  • Middle layer: fleece top and pants (optional)
  • Top layer: waterproof, wind-proof and super warm trousers and jacket

For detailed specifications and recommendations on each of these layers please see this article.

Other Kilimanjaro hike gear list requirements include:

Sleeping accessories like your sleeping bag, which needs to be very warm, and an optional thermal sleeping mat and inflatable pillow (recommendations on all Kilimanjaro sleeping bags here).

Kilimanjaro footwear, including your all-important hiking boots, trekking socks and thermal socks for summit night (recommendations on all Kilimanjaro footwear here).

Kilimanjaro headwear, including a sun-peak, beanie and balaclava, as well as a head-lamp for summit night (recommendations on all Kilimanjaro headwear here).

Kilimanjaro trekking poles which are very important for reducing the stress on your knees and ankle joints, and Kilimanjaro inner and outer gloves which prevent your hands from freezing on summit night.

In addition to the above there are also many accessories, like water bottles, duffle bags and daypacks, baby-wipes and duct-tape that you will need to check off on your Kilimanjaro hike gear list.

For a full overview on all Kilimanjaro kit list requirements see this article.

FAQ

Looking for more Kilimanjaro Hike information? Leave a comment below and we will respond within 24 hours (remember to check back)

Haven’t booked your Kilimanjaro hike yet and looking for the best and most affordable Kilimanjaro Tours – we recommend this Kilimanjaro tour operator.

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2 thoughts on “Kilimanjaro Hike: Everything You Should Know and More

  1. A friend and me would like to climb using the lemorso route. Probably an 8-day trek. I’m 68 years old and we are both in pretty good shape but will ramp up the exercise program prior to the start. I’m a little concerned about doing this at my age. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Lynn, Thanks for getting in touch! Super impressed that you are thinking of trekking Kili at the age of 68 – that’s amazing! My folks are both 68 and they would never consider anything of the sort. I’m not going to lie, it will be tough going at your age. Nonetheless there are many great success stories of people your age and older who have summitted Kili. The real concern for older generations is the impact on your joints, particularly during descent (which is rather rapid). Acclimitisation and AMS, regardless of age, is also always a concern. I think you are on the buzzer in terms of doing an 8 day trek. This will give you the best chance to acclimatize. I suggest the Lemosho Route as the summit assault passage is not as steep as the Rongai or Northern Circuit which both have 8 day options. To limit the impact on your knees I highly recommend using trekking poles. Apart from that, make sure that you do as many practice treks before departure, wear in your boots, and build up your mental stamina to push for the summit. Good luck and keep me posted. Mark

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