On Kilimanjaro you will be trekking through a few very different climatic zones.
Weather can range from warm and tropical at the base of the mountain to freezing on the summit.
In this guide you'll learn exactly what clothing you need to hike Kilimanjaro without freezing.
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To ensure that you remain perfectly comfortable when hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, it is critical that you understand the concept of layering with your Kilimanjaro Clothing.
Being able to layer up and layer down as the weather changes is important.
Layering only works if each layer supports the wicking process (allowing moisture to pass from one layer to the next). Layers should therefore hug the skin (i.e. not be too tight, but equally not too loose) and consist of wickable fabric.
Cotton should be avoided as it is hydrophilic, meaning that moisture struggles to pass through and therefore the wicking process stops.
Here are the layers of Kilimanjaro clothing that you need to take with you.
For the ladies bring two pairs of sports bras.
Base Layers (Top and Bottom)
As you approach the upper reaches of the mountain you will need to wear a lightweight base layer (or next-to-skin layer) over your underwear. You will not need to wear this layer for the first few days on the mountain (unless it's very cold). On summit night this is arguably the most important layer as it is the one that comes in contact with your skin.
I recommend these men's base layers and women's base layers. I specifically like Smartwool or Icebreaker Base Layers, both make products from 100% merino wool. Their products are super comfortable, great quality and provide incredible moisture control.
If you are allergic to wool then Patagonia Capilene base layers are great synthetic alternatives.
For treks less than 8 days, one pair of top and bottom base layers should be sufficient. For treks over 8 days you should get at least 2 pairs to avoid smelling terrible by the end of the hike. You won’t use this layer everyday, but will need it during the cold nights and on summit night.
In terms of trekking shirts we recommend 4 x short sleeve shirts and 2 x long sleeve shirts. Ideal fabric is a breathable, lightweight and quick-drying polyester, merino or nylon. Make sure that your shirts are not cotton.
You will also need to bring 1-2 x pairs of hiking trousers – 1 is fine for a 7 day trek, an additional pair is ideal for treks greater than 7 days. If you like wearing shorts then 1 pair of trekking shorts is worth bringing as well.
Fleece Insulation Layer
For the colder stretches on the hike and for summit night you should bring one mid-weight fleece jacket or parka top. This is your second layer, or insulation layer, and should be used in your layering system over your base layer, or indeed as a standalone that you wear over your trekking shirt when temperatures start to drop. They also come in great use at night when it can get very cold out.
Fleeces that use Polartec materials are great. Typically Polartec fleeces come in 100s, 200s or 300s. The 100s are a little light and 300’s too heavy. Two-hundreds provide great warmth and comfort, and are perfect for hiking Kilimanjaro.
A nice feature to look out for in your fleece jacket is a hoody. This can double as an instant balaclava.
Core Insulated Jacket or Third Layer
This is a critical piece of kit for Kilimanjaro. It can get very cold on summit of Kilimanjaro (see temperatures on Kilimanjaro's summit).
You want to ensure you have a warm, insulated jacket. This sits over your base and fleece layer to keep your core extra warm.
Choosing an insulated jacket
Here are the key factors to consider when selecting an appropriate insulated jacket.
Weight and warmth: The weight of a winter jacket can vary from super light (less than 450 grams) to super heavy (more than 1kg). The lightest winter jackets use a down fill and can weigh as little as 200 grams. Down provides the greatest weight-to-warmth ratio. Generally, the lightest jackets (down or synthetic) provide the least warmth and are therefore ideal for moderately cold environments, but not freezing alpine or high altitude environments. Heavy jackets (down and synthetic) are generally the warmest type of jacket but can be cumbersome to transport and trek in. We suggest a mid-weight winter jacket (~500-700 grams) for Kilimanjaro.
Waterproofing: Despite the dominance of down jackets in terms of weight and warmth, they do have a major flaw – as they are much more susceptible to moisture. When down jackets get wet they lose their loft and insulation capacities. This is not to say that a light downpour or even all day snow is going to destroy the insulating qualities of your down jacket, but in similar conditions or very wet conditions, a synthetic jacket will perform better. The key thing to look for, therefore, is a jacket (down or synthetic) that has an outer fabric that has a high water-resistant capacity. Pertex Shield fabric is the best for down jackets and nylon is great on synthetic jackets.
Versatility: Unless you plan to use your jacket for a particular activity after Kilimanjaro (e.g. ice climbing, snowboarding) we suggest going for a jacket that provides as much versatility as possible (i.e. can be used for many different activities in as many different environments).
Hard Shell or Wind Jacket
Clothing Not Recommended for Kilimanjaro
You should not bring:
- Jeans for obvious reasons – they absorb many time their weight in water, are difficult to trek in, take a long time to dry out, rapidly transfer heat from the body, must we continue …)
- Cotton. Wearing cotton shirts on the lower reaches is fine but in general we would avoid cotton all together. It absorbs moisture and blocks breathability
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