My 21 Tips For Climbing Kilimanjaro (Read These First!)

Tristan Balme 21 Tips to climb kilimanjaro a photo from the summit looking back

I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2019. And, while I was reasonably fit, I was also totally disorganized.

I didn’t book in advance (whoops!), and spent 4 days talking to what seemed like every operator in Tanzania trying to get on a tour – ASAP.

In that time I met some kick-ass locals and got a good insight into how to how the Kilimanjaro tour industry works – the good, the bad and the ugly!

In this article, I share my 21 tips for tackling Kili, and my mistakes so you don’t make the same ones. Keep reading!

Table of Contents

My 21 Key Tips For climbing Kilimanjaro

Here are my top tips for making your trip up Kili a success; from planning and packing, to how to tackle the mountain itself:

  1. Start training well in advance to build up your stamina and fitness levels.
  2. Choose the best time of year to climb Kilimanjaro
  3. Book Well In Advance With A Reputable Tour Operator
  4. Chose The Right Route
  5. Pack good quality, warm and waterproof clothing
  6. Invest in good-quality hiking boots
  7. Bring a good quality sleeping bag and pad
  8. Train with a weighted backpack
  9. Use trekking poles
  10. Pack light and only bring essential items

1. Start training well in advance to build up your stamina and fitness levels.

If you think you can go for a couple of jogs around the block and then tackle Kili – you’re wrong

It’s important to start training well in advance in order to build up your stamina and fitness levels.

The climb can be quite strenuous, and the altitude is a killer, so being in good physical shape is crucial.

I began preparing for the climb several months ahead of time, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of my workouts. I also made sure to do a lot of hiking and walking uphill to simulate the conditions I would experience on the mountain. By the time I set foot on Kilimanjaro, I felt confident in my abilities and knew that I was physically ready for the challenge ahead.

2. Choose the best time of year to climb Kilimanjaro – the dry season (June to October and December to February) is ideal.

Choosing the best time of year to climb Kilimanjaro is crucial for a successful summit. From my personal experience, I can say that the dry season, which runs from June to October and December to February, is the ideal time to climb. During this time, there is less rain and the skies are clearer, providing stunning views of the mountain. Additionally, the dry season coincides with peak climbing season, which means there are more opportunities to connect with other climbers and share the experience. According to National Geographic, the success rate for climbers during the dry season is around 85%, compared to around 50% during the rainy season.

3. Book Well In Advance With A Reputable Tour Operator

This is what i didn’t do.

Anyone who knows me, knows I HATE booking – anything.

But I can tell you now this doesn’t fly in Tanzania.

Tours book months in advance.

And, more importantly, most tours are booked exclusively, which means you can’t just add yourself to a booking the night before (I thought you could).

If you want a stress-free trip, book in advance before you leave with a good tour operator. In this article, I share my recommendations for the best operators.

4. Choose The Right Route:

I often get asked which route is the best to take. The truth is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer – the best route for you depends on a variety of factors, including your fitness level, hiking experience, and personal preferences.

In my opinion, the Lemosho route is the best route for most people as it allows enough time for acclimatization and boasts a success rate of 85-90%. It’s incredibly scenic, starting in the rainforest to the west of the Uhuru peak which may explain why it’s quickly becoming the most popular route on the mountain.

Read More: I’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help you choose the best route for your Kilimanjaro hike.

Tristan Balme trail of porters making their way up kilimanjaro

5. Pack good quality, warm and waterproof clothing, as temperatures can drop below freezing and rain is common.

When climbing Kilimanjaro, it’s important to pack warm and waterproof clothing, as temperatures can drop below freezing and rain is common. From my personal experience, I can attest to the fact that the weather on the mountain can be unpredictable, and it’s better to be prepared for all types of conditions. According to Climbing Kilimanjaro, it’s recommended to bring clothing that can be layered, as well as a waterproof jacket, pants, and gloves. Having the right gear can make all the difference and ensure your comfort and safety during the climb.

6. Invest in good quality hiking boots with ankle support.

A good quality pair of hiking boots is crucial when climbing Kilimanjaro. I learned this from personal experience when I climbed the mountain.

The terrain can be rough and uneven, and having proper ankle support can prevent injuries and make the climb more comfortable.

  • Most of the hike is scree or scoria that’s unstable under foot
  • There’s a lot of rock
  • There’s snow and ice at the top
  • There’s also mud at the bottom!

I recommend the Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX hiking boots for their sturdy construction and waterproof technology. These boots kept my feet dry and supported throughout the climb, and I didn’t experience any blisters or discomfort. Overall, investing in a good pair of hiking boots is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a successful and comfortable climb up Kilimanjaro.

7. Bring a good quality sleeping bag and pad for a comfortable night’s rest.

Having a good quality sleeping bag and pad is essential for getting a comfortable night’s rest when climbing Kilimanjaro. During my climb, I brought a sleeping bag and pad that were rated for the temperatures I would be experiencing on the mountain. This ensured that I stayed warm and comfortable throughout the night, even when temperatures dropped below freezing. Additionally, having a good quality sleeping pad can help cushion your body from the rough and uneven terrain.

8. Train with a weighted backpack to prepare for carrying your own gear during the climb.

Training with a weighted backpack is a great way to prepare for carrying your own gear during the climb up Kilimanjaro. Before my climb, I made sure to do a lot of hiking and walking with a weighted backpack to simulate the conditions I would experience on the mountain. This helped me build up my strength and endurance, and made the climb much easier and more comfortable.

9. Use trekking poles to help maintain your balance and reduce the strain on your knees.

Using trekking poles is a great way to maintain balance and reduce the strain on your knees when climbing Kilimanjaro. I didn’t take poles but kinda wish i did.

  • Poles provide good stability in the loose scoria
  • Poles keep you safe when walking on the ice at the summit.

I wore crampons at the summit rather than poles, but many other just had poles and were totally fine.

I personally recommend the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles, which have a comfortable grip and a shock-absorbing system that helps reduce impact on your joints. They are also adjustable in length, making them versatile for different terrain. Investing in a good pair of trekking poles can make a big difference in your comfort and safety during the climb. You can purchase the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock Trekking Poles on Amazon.

10. Pack light and only bring essential items to avoid carrying unnecessary weight.

Packing light and only bringing essential items is crucial when climbing Kilimanjaro. During my climb, I made sure to only bring the gear and supplies that I absolutely needed, leaving behind any unnecessary weight. This made the climb much easier and more comfortable, as I wasn’t carrying any extra weight that I didn’t need to. Additionally, packing light can help reduce the strain on your body and prevent injuries.

10. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol.

Staying hydrated is crucial when climbing Kilimanjaro. Drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol can help you avoid altitude sickness and keep your body functioning properly. According to REI Co-op, the recommended amount of water intake is 3-4 liters per day. During my climb, I made sure to constantly sip on water and refill my hydration bladder or water bottle whenever I had the chance. I also avoided drinking alcohol, which can be dehydrating and worsen altitude sickness symptoms. By staying properly hydrated, I was able to maintain my energy levels and avoid any major health issues during the climb.

11. Eat a healthy and balanced diet to maintain your energy levels during the climb.

Maintaining your energy levels during the climb is crucial to a successful summit of Kilimanjaro. One way to do this is by eating a healthy and balanced diet. During my own climb, I made sure to pack plenty of high-energy snacks like nuts and energy bars, as well as foods that were easy to digest like fruit and vegetables. It’s also important to make sure you’re getting enough protein, which can be found in foods like beans, nuts, and lean meats. Additionally, staying hydrated is key to maintaining your energy levels, so make sure to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol. By eating a healthy and balanced diet, you can ensure that your body has the fuel it needs to keep going throughout the climb.

13. Pace yourself and take regular breaks to avoid exhaustion and altitude sickness.

When climbing Kilimanjaro, it’s important to pace yourself and take regular breaks to avoid exhaustion and altitude sickness. During my climb, I made sure to take short breaks every hour or so to catch my breath and rest. I also made sure to listen to my body and slow down or stop if I was feeling overly tired or sick. By pacing myself and taking breaks, I was able to conserve my energy and avoid any major health issues during the climb.

14. Take Diamox or other altitude sickness medication as recommended by your doctor.

Taking altitude sickness medication like Diamox can be helpful when climbing Kilimanjaro. Before my climb, I consulted with my doctor and was prescribed Diamox to help prevent altitude sickness. I made sure to take the medication as directed and didn’t experience any major symptoms during the climb. However, it’s important to remember that medication is not a substitute for proper acclimatization and pacing yourself.

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15. Take care of your feet by changing into clean, dry socks and airing out your boots at every opportunity.

Taking care of your feet is essential when climbing Kilimanjaro. During my climb, I made sure to change into clean, dry socks and air out my boots at every opportunity. This helped prevent blisters and other foot injuries, and made the climb much more comfortable. Additionally, it’s important to wear comfortable and well-fitting boots that provide proper support and protection.

Tristan Balme the importance of having clean socks when climbing kilimanjaro

16. Familiarize yourself with the route and what each day involves.

Familiarizing yourself with the route and landmarks is crucial when climbing Kilimanjaro. Before my climb, I made sure to study the route and familiarize myself with the landmarks and key points. This helped me navigate the terrain more easily and avoid getting lost. Additionally, having a good quality map and compass can be helpful for navigation.

17. Bring a good-quality headlamp or flashlight.

When you summit Kili, you’ll do so in the dark!

You’ll leave any time between 1 am and 3 am, to try to hit the top for sunrise. But, this means you’ll be walking in the dark so make sure you pack a good quality headtorch.

You’ll also find this handy for navigating the campsites at night and essential for going to the toilet (where you need your hands free!)

I’ve always used Black Diamond headlamps while hiking and on Kilimanjaro, it held up great.

18. Make Friends Along The Way

Using a portable toilet system or following Leave No Trace principles is important for minimizing the impact on the environment when climbing Kilimanjaro. During my climb, I made sure to use a portable toilet system and pack out any waste that I produced. Additionally, I made sure to follow Leave No Trace principles by avoiding disturbing any natural surroundings or wildlife.

19. Stay positive and motivated by setting small goals and celebrating each milestone.

Staying positive and motivated is essential when climbing Kilimanjaro. During my climb, I made sure to set small goals and celebrate each milestone along the way. This helped me stay focused and motivated, even when the climb was difficult or tiring. Additionally, having a positive attitude and a sense of humor can be helpful for staying motivated and enjoying the experience.

Tristan Balme Sitting on a rock half way up kilimanjaro

20. Take time to appreciate the stunning views and natural beauty of the mountain.

This is what it’s all about, right?

Taking time to appreciate the stunning views and natural beauty of the mountain is essential when climbing Kilimanjaro. During my climb, I made sure to take breaks and enjoy the scenery whenever I could. This helped me stay motivated and inspired, and made the climb much more enjoyable overall.

Tristan Balme Admiring The View From On Top Of Mount Kilimanjaro

21. Finally, remember to respect the local culture and customs of the area, and leave the mountain as you found it for future climbers to enjoy.

Respecting the local culture and customs of the area is one of the most important things to keep in mind when climbing Kilimanjaro. During my own climb, I was struck by the beauty and uniqueness of the local culture, and I made sure to show my appreciation by following their customs and respecting their way of life. I also made a conscious effort to leave the mountain as I found it, taking care not to disturb any of the natural surroundings or wildlife. By doing so, I felt like I was not only respecting the local culture, but also contributing to the preservation of this incredible natural wonder for future generations to enjoy.

Conclusion

I hiked the 8-day Lemosho Route and had an absolute blast! Even though I didn’t book in advance, and had a mad few days getting organized in Moshi, once i went on the mountain the awesome local staff made this into the trip of a lifetime.

Hopefully, these tips help you out too.

Are you planning to climb? Or have you just come back? Let me know in the comments below how you found it!

Kilimanjaro Travel Planning Cheatsheet

 

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Tanzania?

100% YES! — Tanzania has now introduceed “free” healthcare but it’s only for citizens! Tourists need travel insurance in case anything happens on your visit. Also be aware many policies won't cover high altitude hiking as it's a high risk activity!

(that's right, check the t&c's on your complimentary credit card insurance

I highly recommend World Nomads as you can get specific add-ons for high altitude hiking UP TO 6000m (Which most travel insurance companies don't offer!)

🎫 Do I need a visa for Tanzania?

Probably not — Tanzania now provide a visa on arrival (VoA) for most western countires which allows you stay for up to 90 days. However, some other countries do need a pre-approved eVisa (check here!). VoAs cost $50 USD for a single entry - Note, US Citizens are required to get a Multi-Entry visa which costs $100 USD. (View visa prices here)

If transiting through Kenya (a lot of people fly via Nairobi), you'll need a Kenyan visa too. Visa's cost $20 for a 3 day transit visa and $50 for a toursit visa

(By the way, on both my interactions with the imigration officers in kenya they tried to scam me, so know what your obliged to pay and BRING THE EXACT CASH for the visa!)

💉Do I need any vaccinations for Tanzania?

YES! Make sure you are up-to-date with all your vaccines. Common travel vaccines include Hep A/B + Typhoid, and Diphtheria + Tetanus.

A yellow fever vaccination isn't a requirment to visit Kilimanjaro but is for neighbouring areas in East Africa. In reality, you will might not be allowed back into your home country on your return (I was asked for proof of vaccination upon returning to Australia) so getting this jab prior made for good peace of mind. 

Rabies is an issue in Tanzania but the vaccine is expensive and ineffective as a preventative measure (it only lasts a few years and you'll need to get them again if you require treatment). If bitten by a stray dog seek immediate medical attention!

As always, talk to your GP or specialised travel doctor a few weeks BEFORE you leave.

🏩 What’s the best Kilimanjaro Tour operators?

Your only realy two options here are Kumano Travel and Booking.com. Its a complicated process so I wrote this guide here on the best kumano kodo accomodation options

If you don't want to figure it all out (it's meant to be a holiday after all) you can book a package tour. Here are my recommendations for both guided and self-guided.

🚌 What's the public transport like in Tanzania?

There is a good basic network of local and inter-city busses in Tanzania and travel this way is very cheap. Domestic flight are also very affordable and a far more comfortable option. Checkout Busbora for booking bus tickets online.

📲 How do I get internet/data/wifi in Tanzania and on the mountain?

This one needs a whole nother article, but the short version is prepaid SIM cards are cheap and availible to tourists and locals alike (You don't need a pricey tourst SIM!)

Your cheapest option is buying a physical sim card on the street corner once landed and getting the shop assistant to help you set it up. I went with Vodacom and had generally good coverage, even up on Kili!

Another option if you're visiting other African countries is the Nomad eSIM. This is a little more expensive but gives you connectivity across 14 neighbouring African Countries!

✈️ What’s the best site to buy flights to Tanzania?

For finding cheap flights, I recommend Skyscanner. Once you find the flight you're looking for, I'd then suggest booking directly with the carrier (even if it costs a few $$ more than with one of the agreggators/agencies).

💧Can you drink the water in Tanzania?

Safest not to — tap water in Tanzania may be OK (the locals drink it) but is generally untreated and not reccommended for tourists. Purchase bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing.

🏔️💧Can you drink the water on Mount Kilimanjaro?

Yes — Your tour company with ensure the water provided to you is safe to drink by either carrying in bottled water, or by treating stream water with purification tablets or by boiling it. If you want to drink water from the rivers and streams you generally can but should do so at your own risk. ALWAYS follow best practice and drink from fast flowing water as far up stream as possible. I'd also recommend a Brita Water Bottle for rehydrating on the trail safely. 

 

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