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  • Writer's pictureBecca Jackson

Kilimanjaro, a foolproof guide | Tips to guarantee success!

Updated: Jun 10, 2023



In September 2019 we embarked on the most amazing adventure and successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro. If you are thinking of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro this blog will tell you everything you need to know about how to prepare for the challenge, what to pack and what to expect when on the mountain itself (at least I intended it too! If you have any other questions that I haven’t covered the answer for please do just reach out to us on our contact page and we will do our best to help 😊) If you want to read about our experience on the mountain you can read our journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

 

Table of contents

 

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1 - Choosing a tour company for Kili


Finding a reputable, reliable company to do the climb with was one of the hardest tasks. Not because there are none out there but because there are so many! We decided we wanted to use a Tanzanian company so that the local people would benefit from us climbing their mountain. It was also very important to us that we used a company who treated the guides and porters well, took safety seriously and had consistent positive reviews.


After much research we decided to go with Pristine Trails as they ticked all the boxes. They are a company based in Tanzania, run by a local man called Edward and his American wife, Kim. The company is a member of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP), a non-profit Tanzanian organisation who’s mission it is to improve working conditions of the porters working on the mountain, by advocating for fair wages and ethical treatment.


Kim deals with all the enquiries and she was fantastic. She responded to all of our emails within 24 hours and answered every one of our questions, putting our minds at ease.


2 - How much does it cost to climb Kilimanjaro?


The cost of climbing Kilimanjaro is quite expensive when you compare it to completing other famous hikes such as the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru or the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. The main reason is the huge team size you need to get you up there, as there are no facilities on the mountain so everything has to be transported up and down.


As mentioned above one phrase you are likely to come across is KPAP. This organisation is set up to allow a standard for porter welfare and so KPAP companies, quite rightly, will charge more so they can ensure a good wage for their staff. To give you an idea of costs we paid Pristine Trails $1,905 (per person) in 2019. Take into consideration we also did our safari with them so were able to secure a lower price for booking multiple adventures & we opted for a lower standard hotel in Moshi to bring the price down.


2.1 - How much to tip when climbing Kilimanjaro?

A massive uncertainty when we climbed Kilimanjaro was how much to tip the team. Tipping the team is of course optional, but realistically it is expected. The team size for climbing Kilimanjaro is a lot bigger than we originally expected, therefore the tip adds up to a sizeable amount. But believe me, if your team are anything like ours you will think they deserve every penny.

All prices to climb Kilimanjaro are normally quoted in USD & the expected tips will be quoted in the same way. As a general rule of thumb follow the below;


Lead guide $20-$25 per day

Assistant guide $15-$20 per day

Special porters (camp spot selector/ cook/ waiter/ toilet man/ water man) $10-$15

Porter $5-$10


To put that in perspective our team size was as follows for 7 of us;

1 lead guide (mid range $157.50)

2 assistant guides (mid range $245)

5 special porters (mid range $437.50)

22 porters (mid range $1,155)

The above amount would then be split by 7 so $285 per person as a ball park.


Pristine Trails Kilimanjaro porters & guides
Our whole Pristine Trails crew!

3 - Choosing a route up Kilimanjaro


There are multiple routes up the mountain so I would suggest reading the descriptions given by the tour companies and decided which you prefer the sound of. We chose the Machame route, which I believe is quite a popular route. We chose it based on the fact we wanted to camp rather than stay in huts and wanted to make sure the trek was over a good number of days (7-8 is best) for acclimatisation. Some companies offer a trek over as little as 5 days, but we didn’t want that and would not recommend it. Alternatively, there are some routes that include further acclimatisation days and take 10 days in total to complete if you have this length of time available.


4 - Kilimanjaro Kit List


Here is the kit list with a bit of a commentary around why the item is useful and what we bought.


We managed to get ourselves kitted out mostly between Go Outdoors and Millets alone, and you do not need to spend a fortune. We found the prices vary massively across brands and you could spend a massive amount on your kit, but it really isn’t needed. We mainly went for mid-range prices and bought what we felt comfortable in and had no issues at all on the trek. I will highlight where we splashed out a bit more and why we did it.


Another thing to note is that most tour companies offer a hiring service, you probably don’t want to rely on this as; a) it’s not always the cheapest option and b) the idea of wearing someone else’s clothes may not appeal to you; but it is a great option for some items of kit, such as sleeping bags (more on this later), and as a fall back plan if you forget something or at your kit-check the night before you start your trek, your guide feels you are missing something.


4.1 - Walking gear


You want them to be supportive around your ankle and have decent grip and Gore-Tex (i.e. waterproof) is advisable. The most important thing is that they are comfortable and well worn in.

Tip – wear your boots on the flight out. If the dreaded happens and your backpack doesn’t arrive with you, all the other kit, including clothes, can be hired but your trusty, well-fitting walking boots cannot be so easily replaced!


We took 4 pairs; 3 pairs of mid weight merino wool and 1 heavy weight merino wool pair for summit night. We wore each pair for 2 days. This might sound gross but trust me you won’t care; you all smell the same and you can’t fit 7 pairs in! Most of us found Bridgedale to be the best whilst Evie loves 1000 mile.


Trousers that you can zip the legs off to turn them into shorts are great. The first day, walking through the rain forest can be hot and humid and once the sun is up it can get pretty warm during the day so at least you have the option of shorts.


These are what you are going to want on summit night. We have had some Craghopper winter lined ones for years and they worked a treat for us. They are also slightly water resistant so will help keep you dry if caught in a shower (not in persistent rain).


To wear under your thick walking trousers on summit night. We had some lightweight merino wool thermals. Nothing too fancy as this is a product you could spend hundreds of pounds on. Ours were less than £50.


These are great if the weather is wet, they help keep out the wind and will act as an extra layer for warmth if needed on summit night. We were very lucky with the weather and never needed them for the rain. Evie and I wore ours on summit night but Dave and Stephen never wore them at all as the downside of waterproof trousers is that they can make you sweat and you can end up damp on the inside instead!


Tip – Remember you need to be able to move! Whilst doing research for our trip I had seen many people recommending that you wear 4 layers on your legs. Firstly, I have no idea how you would get all of them on, getting your fleece lined trousers over your thermals can be a struggle in itself! Secondly, if you did manage to get them all on, would you be able to physically walk?! And thirdly, your legs have quite a lot of major arteries running through them and in the words of an experienced mountaineer we were talking to, ‘they (your legs) can pretty much look after themselves, plus they are doing all the hard work!)


Not an essential but useful for the descent on summit night as they stop the scree getting in your boots. Also, if you are climbing in wet season (it wasn’t when we went) they will help keep your trousers and socks clean and dry.


This is something Dave splashed out on and has absolutely no regrets. He bought Icebreaker Marino boxers at £25 a pair. He insists they protected his package, keeping him chaff free and dry – sorry too much information!


I, however, went for a slightly cheaper option. I wasn’t going to bother getting anything special at all and was planning on sticking with my normal cotton knickers I found in Decathlon.


We both took enough underwear to have a clean pair each day but I suppose if you are running short of space you could always do the turning inside out trick!


Ladies, you are going to want something reasonably supportive & comfy. I took two sports bras.


We each took 4 short sleeved t-shirts, all lightweight, breathable material. Like the socks we wore these for 2 days at a time. Don’t worry, after it has aired overnight and you’ve had a wet wipe wash and a new application of deodorant, no-one will tell the difference 😉


Lightweight, breathable material. This can act as your base layer on summit night so I would suggest something like merino wool.


This can be short sleeved or long but again great to keep you warm on summit night.


We took one jumper and one zip up jumper jacket with a hood. A hood is great for a bit of extra warmth whilst sitting in camp in the afternoon and evening.


This was probably my favourite piece of kit. These jackets are wonderfully warm and comfy and I lived in mine each evening at camp and on summit night it was an absolute dream.


For obvious reasons…wind and rain. Not a lot of cheap options, you probably looking in excess of £100 if you want to get a Gore-Tex one.


Tip – Your top half is going to get colder than your legs on summit night and layering is the key to keeping warm. We were lucky and it only got down to -5 degrees on summit night for us, but it can get as cold as -25 degrees depending on the time of year, so this is something you need to check and consider. We wore our long-sleeved base layer, a thermal t-shirt on top of that, a fleece jumper, a duck down coat and a waterproof coat. I kept all my layers on until the summit, but Dave ended up taking one of his coats off only a couple of hours in. You will know whether you are generally a hot or cold person but take the layers as you can always take them off. Our guide told us a story about a girl on his previous trip who nearly didn’t make the summit as she refused to bring the layers recommended, adamant she didn’t need them, but then was far too cold on the night.


You are going to want a warm hat for summit night. I had a cheap Thinsulate hat that worked a treat for me but Dave (lacking hair!) had a more expensive Sealskinz hat.


As you are at altitude even the days that don’t seem that hot you can catch the sun on. It’s worth taking something lightweight to protect your head, especially if you are follicly-challenged like Dave!


Tip – Don’t have a hat with a bobble on top, you want to be able to put your hood(s) up as well. Also it’s a waste of space!


This is something we both splashed out on. I get very cold hands and I was really worried about this and I must admit that even wearing two layers of expensive gloves on summit night they were still cold, but they would have been much worse in cheap thin gloves. We invested in Sealskinz, again, both buying a thin pair that we could wear each day as needed that still enable you to use your hands (they even had a hand grips and were touchscreen friendly so you could still take a photo without having to get your hands out in the cold) approximately £30 a pair. And a very thick insulated, waterproof pair that you could either wear on their own or over the top of the other pair, approximately £50.


We both had a couple of neck buffs, one thin and one fleece to either keep your neck

warm or use as face covering to keep out the dust.


We took a comfy pair of joggers and a cotton t-shirt so if you wanted to change at camp you could, but we also slept in these.


We took a pair of trainers to slip on in the evening, bit easier than lacing yourself in and out of walking boots each time you want to nip to the loo or to the mess tent.

I was worried whilst packing that I wouldn’t have enough clothes, but we were absolutely fine. You soon get over the fact that you are not putting clean clothes on each day and on summit night you just layer it all up, you don’t need special summit night clothes as such.


4.2 - Packing for Kilimanjaro


We took large backpacks/soft duffel bags to carry all our gear for our 3 week trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar. We were going on safari and to the beach after the trek so we also took a smaller duffel bag to store all our none trek belongings whilst we were on the mountain.


Dave’s backpack is an Osprey 85 litre, he’s had it a number of years and bar a couple of broken zip tags it has served him very well. Osprey Aether Plus 85L . My usual Osprey backpack is only 65 litres so wasn’t going to be big enough for this trip. I bought a waterproof duffle from Decathlon.


On the mountain your porters carry your larger bags and they are waiting for you at camp each night but you need a smaller day pack to carry extra layers you may need throughout the day, waterproofs, snacks and water.


4.2.2 Daysack 30L+

Female daysack

The recommended size for a daysack for the mountain is at least 30L. I carried an Osprey Tempest 30 litre backpack it was extremely comfortable & have continued to use the same daysack ever since. My trusty daysack is on our current adventure in the America's too. It has a nice slot outside the main bag to slip a water bladder. Perfect to allow you to pack the bag & pop it in last minute which you will need to do on the mountain.

Men's daysack

Dave went with the men's equivalent & loves it just as much. As a general rule we go for Osprey, our main backpacks are Osprey too. Although they are a bit more expensive than others you get what you pay for! Osprey Talon 33 litre backpack. It also has the slot for carrying a water bladder.




4.3 - Other equipment


Sleeping bag

We hired ours from our trek company and they were fabulous. We did this for a couple of reasons; we didn’t want to carry a large item like this for the whole of our holiday and decent sleeping bags (which is absolutely what you need, this is not an item to scrimp on if you want to get a good night’s sleep on the mountain and trust me you will need it!) are pretty expensive to buy and we didn’t think we would get much use out of a 4 season sleeping bag after Kili. We just took our own sleeping bag liner to sleep inside it.


Head torch

Absolute must for summit night.


Camera

Don't go to one of the most beautiful places in the world & not take a picture or two for the memories!


Water bladder

You need to drink a lot of water on Kili to help with the altitude so these are great as you can easily sip whilst on the move. A guy in our team had two 1 litres bottles which he had to store in the side pockets of his bag and therefore took effort to remove and drink, and so as a result he didn’t drink nearly as much as he should and suffered because of it. We had 3 litre Osprey platypus’ and drank the lot each day whilst walking without even thinking about it.


A metal water bottle

For summit night. The only downside to a water bladder is that in extreme cold the tube can freeze blocking off your water supply. On summit night we had our platypuses filled with warm water but even so a few hours in they began to freeze. This is where your emergency litre comes in in your metal water bottle.


Book/puzzle book

For down time in the evening – in reality there isn’t a lot of sitting around time as you probably just want to sleep after dinner, but I did read my book a few evenings.


Pack of playing cards

For the evenings entertainment for you & your camp mates.


Diary/note pad & pen

If you want to keep a record of your experience.

Speaker

I bought this small blue tooth speaker off amazon for less than £15, it came with a carabiner clip so you can attach it to your belt or backpack and it was fab. Our team loved it and we played music the whole time. It was a god send on summit night!


External battery pack

To keep your phone/camera charged.

Tip – these have to travel in your hand luggage on the plane and cannot go in your checked luggage! We found this out at the last minute and had to spend about 15 mins, holding up the check-in queue, trying to locate them in our main bags! 🙄


Disposable Hand warmers

You can buy these from outdoor shops for about £1. They’re pretty hot and stay that way for quite a few hours. You can put them anywhere you want; inside gloves, on your back, in your socks, in your sleeping bag…..


Walking poles

This is something you can easily hire from your tour company. Or you can do what we did and buy cheap ones in the UK (about £15 a pair) and leave them with your tour company after your trek for the very grateful guides to use. We didn’t find them that useful in the UK, but we did use them on the mountain and would definitely recommend them.


Snacks

You are given plenty of food but only at meal times, so if you want a sugar boost whilst walking or you are a fussy eater and need some extra home comforts taking some snacks is a great idea. We took cereal bars & nuts which I was very grateful for some mornings when the altitude made me feel a bit queasy and I was struggling to face porridge for breakfast.

Tip – remember Tanzania is hot, sweets and chocolate will not travel well!


Squash

I was worried that water would taste funny as the porters treat it up the mountain so I took a tiny squeezy bottle of squash. As it happens the water tasted completely normal but the whole team enjoyed a squash treat every now and then, so it wasn’t wasted.


Energy gels/tablets

These are great if you need an energy boost, especially on the longer days or summit night.


Pee bottle & Shewee

We all took these as we had been told stories about how the Diamox makes you need to wee a lot more and there is nothing worse having to go wandering off to the toilet in the middle of the night in the freezing cold. Well, we slept like logs and never got up in the night to use them!! However, they don’t take up much room and so probably not a bad idea to take just in case.


Knee braces

If you’ve got dodgy knees the last day and a half downhill are a killer!


All the essentials!
All the essentials!

4.4 - Toiletries


This is more of a personal choice, but we took:

  • Hand gel

  • Deodorant

  • Small pot of moisturiser - the dust will make your hands and face dry & it comes in handy if you catch the sun

  • Miniature shampoo – absolutely not essential but we actually used a bowl of water to wash our hair at camp on day 3 and it was lovely!

  • Soap

  • Flannel/cloth to wash with

  • Wet wipes

  • Tooth brush & tooth paste

  • Sanitary products – the altitude can affect your natural cycle ladies, so best to be prepared

  • Toilet roll

  • Trek towel – small microfibre towel that will dry quickly


4.5 - Medicine/first aid kit

  • Altitude sickness tablets – We took Diamox. We will never know if it was the sole reason we didn’t suffer with the altitude but we didn’t, so I would say it is worth taking. There were no ill effects from the Diamox either. They say it is a diuretic but it’s hard to tell, as drinking 4 litres of water a day makes you wee a fair bit too!

  • Anti-Malaria tablets – We decided to take them as although mosquitos cannot live above a certain altitude, the town of Moshi is classed as a malaria zone and where we were going after the trek was too. We went for the more expensive Malarone (Malarone is the brand name, there are cheaper versions of the same drug but Malarone is the name people know), purely because we’ve taken them in the past and not had any side effects and you only have to take them a few days before and for a week after, which is less than the other options available.

  • Paracetamol

  • Ibuprofen

  • Sun cream

  • Mosquito repellent

  • Plasters/blister plasters

  • Couple of antiseptic wipes for cuts

  • Imodium & Dioralyte

  • Lipsalve

  • Tissues


5 - Altitude sickness


We were very lucky and none of us had any major altitude sickness symptoms. There were a few mild headaches and very mild nausea and a couple of mornings I had an upset stomach, but nothing an Imodium couldn’t sort out immediately.


We took Diamox and didn’t have any ill effects from the drug itself, so we would recommend it.

However, the most important thing to stave off altitude sickness is to drink lots & lots of water and make your assent very slowly. The guides will encourage you to drink 3-4 litres a day. Make sure you do this. If you have a water bladder it is easy to sip as you go along. We drank this much every day without fail. You will get used to the phrase ‘Pole, pole’ which is ‘slowly, slowly’ in Swahili. At first the speed feels ridiculous, but you are in no rush so you will soon learn to walk at that pace. One of our team mates decided he wasn’t going to do this and rushed ahead, this lead to a very severe headache and a nosebleed, not a great plan!


6 - Training & Fitness preparation for Kilimanjaro


It is hard to say how fit you need to be to tackle Kili. A lot of it is about determination and overcoming the mental challenge. However, the fitter you are the better.


We are lucky that we live very close to the Peak District and so it is easy for us to get out in the hills and walk. We started walking 9 months before our trip, less than 10k to begin with but slowly building our fitness levels up so we could complete over 30k in a day. We also did a couple of back to back day hikes as Kili would be the first time we had ever walked every day for 7 days straight. I’d say in the 3 months prior to our trip we were walking every weekend, not always 30k lengths but decent hill walks, training our leg muscles to keep going! We also did the Yorkshire 3 Peak challenge and climbed Snowdon and Scarfel Pike as practise mountain climbing. Walking also gives you time to test out your kit and make sure your boots are well worn in.



On Kili you will never complete walks anything like that kind of length, I think the furthest distance you cover in a single day is about 11k (not including summit night/day) but we used walking as a way to get fit and I think it was also a psychological thing, if we knew we could walk 30k, we had the confidence we could complete the physical challenges presented on Kili.


We also went to the gym or swimming 2-3 times a week and took on the dreadful stair master! If you haven’t tried it before, give it a go…it’s hell!!


I don’t know if this amount of training is necessary and I’m sure you can achieve the same fitness level in a shorter period of time as long as you work hard and you are dedicated. We did not find any of the days overly challenging or suffer from any aches or pains whilst on Kili (except coming downhill on day 6!) which meant we were able to enjoy it and take in our surroundings, without focusing on the physical challenge all the time.


Climbing Kili is just as much a psychological challenge as a physical one, so although I still think the fitter you are the better, I think the most important part of your training is building the confidence that you can do it in whatever way works best for you.


On the mountain itself our guides told us that if we took each day as it came, respected the mountain but approached each challenge it presented with confidence and self-belief, then we would reach that summit.


In terms of altitude training, we didn’t really do any! The highest mountain in the UK is only 1345m. We did borrow an altitude training mask but in reality we didn’t use much at all.


7 - Food on the mountain


I know a lot of people are worried about the food on the mountain, don’t be. It is yummy and plentiful and so damn impressive what treats the chef can cook up at 4000m! We were given a lot of carbs so expect porridge, toast and pancakes for breakfast and lots of rice and potatoes for lunch and dinner.


On day 4 our chef was an absolute hero and made fried chicken and chips! We honestly thought we had died and gone to heaven; it was so delicious!


Amazing lunch of chicken and chips
Amazing lunch of chicken and chips

8 - Camping equipment & toilet situation


I’ll admit we didn’t give this much thought before our trip and fell lucky but it could be worth checking out a few things with your tour company before you book.


We slept in twos in three man, all weather tents. They were brand new and we were told the company only uses the tents for two seasons before investing in new ones to keep them waterproof and warm. Looking around camp in the evenings you could see other companies definitely do not do this!


As I already mentioned, we chose to hire sleeping bags from our trek company and they were fabulous. We did this for a couple of reasons; we didn’t want to carry a large item like this for the whole of our holiday and decent sleeping bags (which is absolutely what you need, this is not an item to scrimp on if you want to get a good night’s sleep on the mountain & trust me you will need it!) are pretty expensive to buy and we didn’t think we would get much use out of a 4 season sleeping bag after Kili. We just took our own sleeping bag liner to sleep inside it in.


The company provided mats to sleep on, nothing special but a few inches to lift you off the hard ground and keep you warmer and dry.


Each tour group will have a mess tent that is set up for you each meal time and dinner is brought to you where you eat with your guides and other trekkers.


We had seen online that you could pay extra to hire a porta loo that would be carried up the mountain by one of the porters for your use at camp. We decided against this as it was $100 more and seemed a luxurious spend and decided we would just use the long drop toilets at each camp like everyone else. However, to our absolute delight, the first night we arrived at camp and were being shown around, we were shown our private toilet tent!! Apparently, this is something Pristine Trails include in the package now, they just hadn’t updated their website to reflect this. The toilet was for trekkers use only so it was just the 7 of us that could use the toilet and it was emptied and cleaned regularly by one of the porters (who received a generous tip off us at the end, because what a job!!) It was a god send as some of the ‘public toilets’ were extremely smelly!


9 - Key to success


I will be the first to acknowledge that we were so lucky with the weather on our trek; we had lovely sunny days, fairly mild nights (by Kili standards) and no rain at all, and I appreciate that had this been different, it would have made the challenge a lot harder. However, I absolutely believe the key to our success was listening to our guides and doing absolutely everything they said. They are the experts. They have been up and down that mountain hundreds of times. Kilimanjaro is in their blood and they know what they are talking about. So, when they tell you to walk slow, (‘pole, pole’) do it. When they tell you to eat…eat, even if you don’t have the appetite. When they tell you to sleep…sleep. When they tell you to drink 4 litres of water a day, bloody well do it! They are not telling you these things for fun, if you follow their guidance you will stand a much better chance of standing at that summit and enjoying the journey along the way.


The moment which made all the training worthwhile
The moment that made all the training worthwhile

We'd love to hear from you if you take on Kilimanjaro, to hear about how you found it too. Please drop a message in the comments at the bottom of the page. For answers to more questions, you may have about Kilimanjaro or maybe ones you haven't thought of yet.

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