Climbing Kilimanjaro: Tips, Gear Recommendations, and What to Expect

Tips and gear recommendations if you're going to climb Kilimanjaro for the first time. Includes suggestions for choosing a guide, mountain etiquette, and what to expect.

Here are some of the lessons I learned for next time I climb Kilimanjaro, along with some tips and gear recommendations. I’m by no means a hardcore mountain climber, although I’ve spent a good bit of time backpacking, camping, and traveling on all seven continents. But there are things about altitude and Mount Kilimanjaro specifically that were new to me, and the tips and suggestions below are from the perspective of someone on a steep learning curve. If in doubt, of course, go with what your guide says.

Climbing Kilimanjaro isn’t hard-core technical climbing like an ascent of Everest. You won’t be scaling any cliffs with ropes, and you don’t need crampons, ice picks, or oxygen tanks. But it is still a serious climb. Routes that cross the Western Breach will involve some scrambling and risk. You’ll be out in the elements, with little protection from rain, storms, wind, or snow. And the risk of altitude sickness should be taken very seriously indeed. If you’ve been at high altitude before, you’ll have an advantage in that you’ll know how your body responds. If not, you’re going to find out pretty quickly how well your body deals with having a lot less oxygen to work with.

Some hikers looking out over the clouds at Lava Tower (15,215 feet). [license topic=”Kilimanjaro”]

Kilimanjaro Tips / Choosing a Route to Climb Kilimanjaro

There are half a dozen or so established routes to climb Kilimanjaro, and there are variants of each of those. The shortest routes are 5-6 days. The longest standard ones are 7-9 days. Your guide company will have recommendations for you. We did the 8-day Lemosho Route via Western Breach and Crater Camp, and I was very impressed with it. I especially liked the changing scenery and that we had time actually to enjoy it rather than just enduring a daily chore. If I climb Kilimanjaro again, this would be my first choice for the route. Here’s a useful overview of the options.

A shorter route is not necessarily a better route. Some are more scenic than others. Some are more crowded than others. Some are more challenging than others. And some are better for acclimatization to altitude.

Kilimanjaro Tips / Choosing a Guide to Climb Kilimanjaro

There are hundreds of companies in Arusha and Moshi offering climbs of Kilimanjaro. Some handle the climb themselves; others act as intermediary agents. Most offer package deals with wildlife safaris.

We went with Serengeti Pride, and I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending them. You can learn more about them here. (I have no ties to the company other than being a very satisfied and impressed customer.) There are cheaper options, and there are more expensive “luxury” options. But we found that Serengeti Pride did things right.

I get none of the credit for choosing Serengeti Pride–another member of our group did that–but if I ever climb the mountain again, there’s no question that they’ll be the first company I’ll call. They were excellent in answering our many questions before the trip, and being a small company, we got plenty of personal service. Once we got on the mountain, their gear was well maintained and suitable for the conditions (you don’t want worn-out tents being shredded in an unexpected gale, for example, or tents that don’t help keep the warmth in or the rain out). Their porters were, without exception, friendly, professional, and very capable. The company takes pride in treating its porters well–they’re Partners For Responsible Travel with KPAP-Kilimanjaro Porter Assistance Project. They always took safety very seriously indeed, and up on the mountain that doesn’t just mean not falling down. Things like camp hygiene, food hygiene, and keeping the day’s distances manageable and sensibly paced all fall under that. And, most importantly, they were very attentive to how people were feeling the effects of altitude.

But it was our guides that really stood out, our tour leader Lema and our guide Agger. They were superb in every way and took everything in stride. And on top of that, they were fun and interesting people to spend eight days with, even when we weren’t always feeling at our best. (Again, I have no affiliation with Serengeti Pride other than being an impressed customer.)

But whichever company you go with, ask lots of questions before you get there.

And if you’re aiming for the budget end, bear in mind that there are some significant fixed costs. Before you even start factoring in food, paying the porters and guides, and any company overhead costs, there’s a National Park entrance fee of $60 per person per day and a $50 per night camping fee (or hut fee, depending on the route). Multiply that by the number of days for your climb, and it adds up. There are only so many ways that the remaining costs can be trimmed, so ask what they are so you can decide if those things are important to you.

When choosing a Kilimanjaro guide company, ask if they participate in the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project and the IMEC Partnership for Responsible Travel to help ensure fair pay and improve working conditions for Kilimanjaro’s porters. If they don’t, consider choosing a company that does.

Travel insurance is a good idea when heading to Kilimanjaro. Because I travel quite a bit, I buy annual coverage. But the more common option is to buy it for the duration of a specific trip. I use Squaremouth to compare a whole bunch of different options and find the best fit for what I need and the best deal.

An aerial view I took out the plane window when leaving Arusha. [license topic=”Kilimanjaro”]

Kilimanjaro Tips / Books & Films

You don’t need it for directions or trail maps–your guides will have you covered–but I found Alexander Stewart’s Kilimanjaro: A Complete Trekker’s Guide good for a sense of what comes next on each trail and for reference on the plants, geology, and history. It’s about pocket-sized and comes in a handy plastic cover.

I found the 2002 Imax film Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa to be useful for a sense of what to expect, what the landscape was like, and what climbers were wearing for the conditions. It was apparently filmed in several stages and not on a single climb, but still…

Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Heidi Albertsen (Actor)

Ernest Hemingway’s famous short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is a classic. Hemingway visited Africa and went on safari (the shooting kind), but he never climbed the mountain.

If you pass through Arusha, this is where the 1993 agreement to end the Rwandan Civil War was negotiated and agreed.

One of our guides.

Gear Tips for Climbing Kilimanjaro

Your guide company should give you a detailed list of recommended gear for climbing Kilimanjaro. They should provide the basics like tents. They should also have some gear available to rent, like walking poles, sleep pads, sleeping bags, and perhaps some cold weather clothing.

There aren’t a lot of options for buying gear in Arusha or Moshi, and there’s nothing you can do about it once you’re on the mountain, so it’s a lot easier, not to mention much cheaper, to gear up fully before you leave home.

For clothing, layers are the key. At the bottom of the mountain, it can be shorts and t-shirt weather–you’re at the equator, after all. At the top it can be very, very cold–at Crater Camp, the water in our water bottles froze solid overnight inside our tents. So the clothes you take should be suitable for the equator and the Arctic and everything in between.

Here are a few things that stood out for me that weren’t necessarily self-evident. Check with your expedition company for a full list of what to take.

Good quality hiking boots

You don’t need alpine mountaineering boots, but you do need good quality, supportive, waterproof hiking boots. Over the years I’ve used both these Asolo TPS 520 GV boots and these Zamberlan Vioz GT boots and have found both to be superb. A couple of others in our group got the Asolos on my recommendation and found them to be a great choice. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth every cent–you don’t want to be caught out on the mountain with flimsy boots–and because they’re dark leather they also work well as versatile travel boots. They also last for years of regular use. And make sure you break them in properly before your trip–blisters can become a serious problem on the mountain.

Gaiters

I hadn’t really used gaiters much before and expected them to be mainly for snow, rain, and mud. But we used them all day every day. On the lower levels, there’s a heavy dust that gets into everything (you won’t get it out from under your fingernails until after you get back). Once you get higher, it’s replaced by a course volcanic grit. Both will cause discomfort and problems if you get it in your boots. The gaiters were great at keeping it out. There are high-end versions available that are lined with Gore-Tex (like these from Outdoor Research) and more basic and less expensive options (like these). Your guide company might have some available to borrow or rent.

Hat

A hat is essential. You’ll be outside all day every day. As you get higher, the atmosphere gets thinner and lets through more UV rays. And some malaria medications make your skin more susceptible to sunburn. Of all the things you’ll be dealing with on the climb, a bad case of painful sunburn is completely avoidable.

No, you don’t need a fancy one, but if you’re looking to invest in a really good hat, I’m a big fan of Tilley hats. They’re incredibly durable, comfortable, and handle whatever the weather throws at you. My favorite is this one. There’s a reason they have such loyal customers and rave reviews.

Sunglasses

It gets glary up there. There can also be a lot of dust blowing around. Make sure they are rated for full UV protection. Take a spare pair, because inevitably you’ll drop, break, or scratch a pair on the volcanic gravel.

Sunscreen

There’s not a lot between you and the sun once you get above the clouds. Don’t let the cold air fool you–the sun’s rays are harsh. Some of the malaria medications also have a side-effect of making your skin more susceptible to sunburn.

Bandana

A bandana comes in handy in all sorts of useful ways. It can shield your neck from the sun, help keep a cold wind off, keep dust out if the wind’s blowing it around, or if you make it damp it can help keep you cool.

Hand Warmers / Toe Warmers / Body Warmers

I rarely use chemical warmers, but I appreciated having them at Crater Camp when I put one in the foot of my sleeping bag to keep my feet warm. I did the same trick sleeping on the ice in Antarctica. I also used toe and hand warmers on the very early morning crossing of the Western Breach. Don’t take too many, though–they’re heavy, and they create more trash that you need to pack out.

Headlamps

We used these a lot. It gets dark pretty early on the mountain–12-hour days mean 12-hour nights–and the campsites are often amongst fields of rocks which are very easy to trip on in the dark. I like the ones with a red light option because they can help preserve night vision. That came in very handy while trying to take photos at night. The headlamps were also great in the tents–putting on several layers of warm clothing often takes two hands. Make sure to take spare batteries.

Tent Light

A small, collapsible lantern came in very handy in the tent for dressing or reading, or writing, especially since there’s quite a bit of night. It’s light, collapsible, and hooks on any loop or struts in the tent ceiling. Again, take spare batteries.

Trekking poles

For nearly the entire way the ground will be uneven. Altitude can make you dizzy. Throw in a bunch of steep sections and you have a bad mix. Walking poles were great for balance. As with most outdoor gear, there’s a big range of options. You don’t need fancy, but you want ones that are strong yet light, that collapse for when you’re not using them, and with joints that won’t lock up at the first sign of grit or ice. An all-terrain foot will be more useful than ones for ice or snow. Your guide company might have trekking poles available to borrow or rent, so it’s worth asking ahead of time.

Packing cubes

Compartmentalizing my gear into smaller segments (like these Eagle Creek packing cubes) saved a lot of time fishing around in my duffel bag in the dark when all I wanted to do was collapse into my sleeping bag. Large Ziploc bags will also work well and have the added benefit of keeping water out (or in, as the case may be).

Duffel bag

Any gear you’re not wearing or carrying in your daypack will go in a duffel bag and be carried by a porter. You want something that is soft (i.e., no wheels). The large duffel from REI was perfect and cost-effective–the XL was too big.

If you want something a bit heavier-duty, I’ve used the North Face Base Camp Duffels for quite a while and found them to be very good general travel duffels that can take a beating. They also have straps that let you wear it backpack-style.

Take a few contractor bags to line your duffel bag and keep things dry.

Pillow

This is something you can certainly get by without by just scrunching up some clothes, but I found that sleep was hard enough at altitude that anything that made things just that little more comfortable was very welcome. It’s a small luxury, but one that serves a purpose. They’re light and scrunch down small. They also help keep your head up off the frozen ground. And they come in handy as a travel pillow on long flights.

Water bottles

You’ll want at least two to carry with you during the day, but take a third. It’ll come in handy. Nalgene wide-mouth bottles work well–the narrow-mouth version is harder to use with the expedition water filters and can freeze up in the cold at the top of the mountain. Mark them with tape or marker in some way to personalize them, so they don’t all get mixed up when the porters take them each morning to refill them. Take a spare carabiner clip to attach the bottle to the outside of your daypack while on the trail.

Hand sanitizer

Camp hygiene is something you’ll want to keep vigilant about–a travel bug while climbing will make things pretty miserable. Take several small bottles of hand sanitizer so you can keep some in your pockets or day pack. I also find individual packs of hand sanitizer wipes to be very handy to keep in pockets and day packs, especially with all the dust your hands will inevitably get caked in, and always take them with me when I travel. You just have to make sure to pack out the trash, of course.

Ziploc bags

Keep a few small Ziploc bags in your daypack for trash like candy wrappers, used sanitizer wipes, etc. This is a national park, after all. There’s nothing more disappointing and unnecessary than coming across litter on the trail.

Journal

If you’re looking to record your own journal of your climb, Rite in the Rain notebooks and pens are good for all-weather, even in the wet. They’ll make sure you don’t come back with an unreadable smudge. You can get handy kits like this or get the notebooks and pens individually. These are a staple of my backpack whenever I travel.

I also like the Rocketbooks. Their approach is a bit different–they’re closer to “smart” notebooks that serve as a bridge to old-fashioned analog and digital–but because they’re erasable and reusable you only need to carry a small light one with you. With a smartphone, you can then automate digital backup of your notes.

Our cooks in their mobile kitchen.

Kilimanjaro Tips / Food & Drink

Meals at camp should be provided, so be sure to let your guide company know about any dietary requirements in advance. There are some things that are up to you, especially for when you’re on the move during the day.

Treating drinking water

Even if your guides provide a camp water filter, it’s recommended that you treat your drinking water as well. It becomes a chore you’ll get sick of, but it’s better than getting sick on the mountain. You can use the traditional iodine drops, which have a long record of effectiveness but add a taste that some people find unpleasant. I used these Aquamira treatment drops, which are much simpler and essentially tasteless. There are also similar tablet versions. Sometimes the cooks might also have some spare boiled water (which also works great as a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag). Of course, if you’re particularly sensitive to drinking water issues, check with your doctor first on what they recommend. Some people swear by the UV sterilizers while others prefer chemical or filter methods, for example. LifeStraw was only just starting to release their filters when I climbed, but they’ve since incorporated them into water bottles like this one that might also be a good option (although the narrow straw will probably freeze up at the top of the mountain).

Water taste

Dehydration compounds the problems of altitude, so you’ll have to be constantly vigilant about staying hydrated. But drinking treated water all day every day can get a bit old. These soluble tablets are a good way to mix up the taste a bit. They’re cheap, simple to use on the trail, and refreshing. The result is a bit like Gatorade without the sugar. There are a bunch of different flavors–some taste better than others, and some have caffeine, so be sure to check the label. They’re not essential by any means, but they are a small, light, and inexpensive luxury that might actually encourage you to stay better hydrated.

Snacks

Sooner or later, the altitude will probably make you lose your appetite. At the same time, the higher you get, the more energy you need. So not eating enough becomes a problem. By about day 4, I was really having to consciously make myself eat, and by the time we reached Crater Camp I really couldn’t eat much at all. So take something you can snack on that you’ll like no matter what. For me, it was KIND fruit and nut bars and Cadbury chocolate bars (you’re guaranteed to lose weight on the climb, regardless).

Choose something that’s easy to eat on the go, easy to stash in a pocket, doesn’t crumble into a million pieces, doesn’t create trash, and doesn’t freeze solid in very cold temperatures (many sports energy bars freeze solid and become too hard to eat), and something that’s not so salty that it’s going to make you even more dehydrated.

At the summit. [license topic=”Kilimanjaro”]

Kilimanjaro Tips / Health, Medications, and Hygiene

“Climbing Kilimanjaro is a dream for many who visit Africa. However, a large number of travelers are ill-prepared, ascend too quickly, and consequently fail to summit. With due preparation and more reasonable ascent rates, climbing “Kili” is an aspiration that can be successfully and safely accomplished by many.” Centers for Disease Control

Climbing Kilimanjaro potentially involves a wide range of health-related issues. Check with your doctor about whether it’s something that you should be doing.

Some medications can affect you differently at altitude, so check with your doctor about specific medications well in advance of your trip. And inform your guide in advance of any health issues they should be aware of.

And take some time to read through the CDC recommendations for Kilimanjaro.

Altitude medications

Altitude sickness, or acute mountain sickness (AMS), can be very serious indeed, and it’s something to talk to your doctor about ahead of time.

There are some medications that can help reduce the effects of altitude on the body, and it’s worth talking to your doctor about them. One of the most common is Acetazolamide (Diamox), which is designed to help your body acclimatize to the altitude. But as with most medications, there are side effects and potential interactions. One of the annoying side effects is that it’s a diuretic–getting up out of cozy sleeping bag multiple times in the middle of the night in sub-freezing temperatures and strong winds isn’t a lot of fun.

Malaria medications

There mostly aren’t mosquitoes on the mountain–certainly not up high–but there are mosquitoes in the places you’ll have to pass through to get to Kilimanjaro and once you get down. And because you have to take most malaria medications for a few days before they start being effective (and continue for at least several days after), in practice, you’ll probably be taking malaria medications even on the mountain where there aren’t any mosquitoes.

Some malaria medications make your skin more susceptible to sunburn, which can be a problem in the thinner air of the mountain. So be extra careful to also take extra precautions against the sun. Some of them can also lead to insomnia, dizziness, unusually vivid dreams, and other issues. Check with your doctor about which malaria medication he or she recommends for you.

Yellow fever vaccinations

Technically, you shouldn’t need to provide proof of yellow fever vaccination to enter Tanzania. But that technicality probably won’t get you far at the border. When we arrived at Arusha’s airport, they were checking everyone’s yellow card before they let us proceed to the immigration desk. If you didn’t have one they made you get a shot there and then (and pay in cash on the spot). Arguing your case isn’t going to do much good. And the CDC recommends that the vaccination be given at least 10 days before potential exposure, so getting it upon arrival isn’t ideal. So your best bet is just to take care of it in advance (at least 10 days beforehand) and not have to worry about it (remember to take your yellow card with you, though!).

Not every doctor or pharmacy might have the yellow fever vaccine on hand, so it’s worth checking in advance. In many major cities in the US there are specialized travel clinics that are more likely to keep it on hand. The CDC has put together a handy searchable directory to find yellow fever vaccination clinics.

Everyday basics

We found we didn’t take enough of things like basic cold medicines and painkillers. Several of us got congested at night even without having a cold, so decongestants came in handy. Some of our group had issues with diarrhea at various times on the way, so take Imodium or something similar as a first precaution and ask your doctor if they’d recommend taking along something prescription-strength. Tums and Pepto-Bismol tablets (Bismuth subsalicylate) also came in handy. Even if you manage to avoid all of that and stay perfectly healthy the entire time, you might make things more comfortable for someone else in your group who forgot to bring them.

Hand Sanitizer

Always keep some on you and use it frequently. Camp hygiene is very important to a successful climb.

Heading down from the summit (Kibo Summit / Uhuru Peak). [license topic=”Kilimanjaro”]

Common Questions About Climbing Kilimanjaro

How far do you walk?

That depends on which route you take. The Umbwe route is the shortest distance (it’s also the least popular) at about 33 miles (53 km). The Northern Circuit is the longest, at about 61 miles (98 km). The Lemosho Route, which is the one we took, is about 44 miles (70 km). Here’s a useful summary.

That’s spread over several days, of course. Some days you’ll walk long distances. Other days you’ll walk shorter distances.

How far up do you climb?

If you make it to the summit, it’s 19,341 feet. But you don’t start and finish at sea level. Depending on which gate you might enter at (which is determined by the route you’re taking), you might start at 7,000 or 8,000 feet. The Mweka Gate, where you finish, is at 6,500 feet. And you won’t be going up constantly. There’ll be times you’re going up and down as you go across ridges. If you take a route that crosses the Shira Plateau, you’ll have a long section that’s flat.

What is the best route to climb Kilimanjaro?

There’s no right answer to this. Each has its own positives and negatives. Some are better for acclimatization. Others are more scenic. Some are quicker. And some are more challenging (like the ones that include the Western Breach). One of the expedition companies has put together this handy overview.

Can you camp at the summit?

No. But on some routes, like the Lemosho route, there is sometimes the option of camping just below the summit at Crater Camp. It’s cold, but there are two benefits. One is that you’ll have the opportunity to see the actual crater rim. The other is that it makes Summit Day more manageable because you’re not setting off at midnight and climbing all morning.

How long do you stay at the summit?

Not long. Long enough to take some photos and admire the view. Going up seems positively leisurely compared to the very long and fast descent. Once we got to the summit, we had another 9 hours or so walking downhill to do that day.

Does everyone make it to the summit?

No. It’s hard to know exactly how many people make it and how many turn back before the summit because the expedition companies have a vested interest in not trumpeting the failures. Some companies tout such-and-such percentage success rate, but there’s no real way to know how accurate that is. The most common reason for not making it has to do with the ramifications of altitude, so the longer trips with more time for acclimatization are often regarded as having higher success rates.

How do you avoid altitude sickness?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution other than descending. Here’s an interesting article about how hard it can be to treat. It’s definitely something that’s worth talking to your doctor about ahead of time.

It affects everyone differently–and some, much less than others–but there are some things that you can do to reduce the effects. Ascending slowly to let your body acclimatize is the most reliable way. Medications can help. Being fit can help. Staying hydrated helps. Avoiding alcohol is also recommended, although that’s pretty easy on Kilimanjaro when everything has to be carried up.

There are also things that will make it worse, including ascending too quickly, becoming dehydrated, and not eating.

But the risk of altitude sickness is definitely something to be taken seriously because it can become far more than simply a headache. In short, talk to your doctor.

How fit do you need to be?

That’s a hard one to answer. In general, the fitter you are the more you’ll probably be able to enjoy being there rather than focusing on how lousy you feel. You should certainly be able to walk for several hours at a time with a full daypack across uneven terrain. And you’ll need to be able to get up again the next day and do it all over again. Altitude will make it all a lot harder. Any niggling knee, hip, ankle, or foot injuries are likely to be put to the test, with limited options for doing anything about them. But you also don’t need to be in marathon-ready shape–I certainly wasn’t, and when I arrived in Tanzania I still had a chronic Achilles injury that made it touch and go as to whether I was even going to begin the climb (thankfully, some advance planning in consultation with my doctor meant that I ended up completing the climb without breaking down or being carried out).

Talk to your guide well in advance about what they recommend. Some groups will move at a different pace, and some routes are better suited to easing into it. You can also ask whether they have an extra porter that can help with your daypack (probably for a modest extra fee).

But common sense suggest that if you can start training for it a few months in advance, it can only help your chances of success and help you enjoy the adventure more.

Do you have to carry your own pack?

Generally, no. You’ll carry a day pack with clothes, water, snack, your camera, and anything else you need during the day. Your porters will lug the rest of your stuff for you and it’ll be waiting for you when you reach camp. But there are some groups where the climbers prefer to carry their own packs, so it’s worth checking with your guide.

Do we have to use porters?

Generally, yes. Unless you make special arrangements for a custom trip, all expeditions rely on porters. There can be 3 to 5 porters for every climber. They’re not just carrying your stuff–they’re carrying food, tents, stoves, and supplies for the whole expedition. And because there’s nowhere to pick up supplies along the way, they have to start out with everything that will be needed until the last night. Sometimes they’re even carrying water when there’s no fresh water supply near camp.

We were pretty surprised when we turned up to see so many porters for only a small group of climbers. But if you’re feeling guilty about it, remember that this is the way they earn their livelihood. Spots on an expedition can be coveted.

We were in awe of our porters and cooks. Whenever we were feeling sorry for ourselves and exhausted, just seeing how agile and positive they were carrying all that heavy stuff put things in perspective.

You’ll end up interacting more with some porters than others–they have their own organizational hierarchy and specific jobs to do–and we really enjoyed getting to know them. And being greeted at camp by your porters singing the Kilimanjaro song at the end of a day’s climbing is one of life’s real treats.

There are some obvious things you can do to show your appreciation. Treat them with respect. Listen to them when they offer advice on where to step or to watch out for something (more than likely they’ve climbed Kilimanjaro dozens or hundreds of times). Don’t undermine the group leader’s and guide’s authority–there’s a good reason for the hierarchy amongst them. Tip well at the end of the trip. If a particular porter has been especially helpful, give them an additional tip separately. And if you have any clothes or gear that you don’t plan to use again but is still in good condition, feel free to donate it.

There are strict rules on how much each porter is allowed to carry, and porters’ packs are weighed before setting off. But some companies treat their porters better than others. When choosing a Kilimanjaro guide company, ask if they participate in the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project and the IMEC Partnership for Responsible Travel to help ensure fair pay and improve working conditions for Kilimanjaro’s porters. If they don’t, consider choosing a company that does. And while you’re on the mountain, here are some more ideas for helping to ensure that porters are treated properly.

Do you need to do an acclimatization climb?

No, but you can. Some companies offer climbs of Kilimanjaro’s slightly smaller neighbor, Mount Meru, as a way to warm up for Kilimanjaro. Although it’s not as high (14,977 feet / 4,565 meters), climbing Mount Meru is considered more difficult in some respects. It’s still considered an active volcano, although it hasn’t erupted since 1910. I personally have no interest in climbing Meru before Kilimanjaro, but it’s an option that’s available if you’re so inclined.

Of course, any climbing and hiking experience you can do closer to home, even if it’s not at high elevations, can only help.

Do you need to use oxygen tanks?

No. I saw precisely one person using oxygen near the summit. If you need to resort to oxygen, it’s probably an indication that you need to rethink your plan and consult medical advice.

Are there age limits?

Signs at the gate say that children under 10 are not allowed, but that coincides with common sense. It’s not suitable for young kids, but there are teenagers who do the climb (it all depends on the individual, of course). I’ve since met a gentleman who climbed it when he was 85 (he was 90 when I met him; he’d just made his way solo from Australia to Norway and was joining us for a trip to the High Arctic–amazing guy).

The age range of climbers you’ll see along the way is mostly from 20s through 60s.

When is the best time of year to climb Kilimanjaro?

Like most places near the equator, Kilimanjaro doesn’t really experience the usual temperature and daylight fluctuations that we normally think of with seasons. Instead, its year is divided into rainy and dry seasons. While it’s technically possible to climb year-round, most companies limit their climbs to the dry season. January, February, and September are considered prime time. June, July, and August are considered good but can be a little cooler.

Can you climb Kilimanjaro year-round?

Sort of. The two rainy seasons are from around mid-March to early-June and from November to early December. Some companies might be willing to take experienced climbers during that period, but it’s definitely a niche offering. Not only can it be less pleasant, but it can also be more dangerous.

How big are the climbing groups?

The size of the groups varies a lot. Some groups might only have 4 or 5 climbers. Others might have dozens. The ratio of climbers to porters can be anything from 1:3 to 1:5. So a single expedition might involve over a hundred people counting climbers, guides, and porters.

Doesn’t that make things crowded?

It can. Some camps on the most popular routes can get very crowded indeed. Part of the reason some of your porters will be rushing off ahead in the morning is to claim the best spots for your camp that night.

But on some of the less-traveled routes, you might come across very few people at all. It was one of the things we appreciated about the Lemosho Route–not only was it scenic and good for acclimatization, but we came across very few other people along the way. But on the way down we came through camps that were packed to the gills, with tents crammed into every available spot of ground.

Are private groups an option?

Yes. Nearly all the expedition companies offer that option. You might have to pay an extra supplement, or you might have to rustle up a minimum number of people. It varies from company to company.

How much does it cost?

Cost varies widely by company and route. The park fees make up a significant portion of the cost, so there’s a limit to how low the overall price can go. If you’re going for the budget end, be sure to ask where costs are being cut and whether those are important to you. One hopes that no company ever compromises on safety, but you should make sure that they’re not taking any dangerous shortcuts. And you want your porters to be compensated fairly.

Some budget companies offer spots under USD$2,000. An average seems to fall somewhere around the $2,500 to $3,400 range. There are also companies that aim for the higher end and add luxuries (relatively speaking) that cost significantly more.

The price typically includes all your park fees, meals, tents, guides, and porters. They might include things like sleeping bags, but it varies. They don’t usually include tips, personal clothes and gear, or getting to and from Arusha or Moshi.

Be sure to ask lots of questions about what you’re getting for your money before you commit to a particular company and don’t be afraid to comparison shop.

Many companies offer package deals that include safari tours before or after your climb.

Are there showers?

No. Take plenty of wet wipes and hand sanitizer. That first hot shower when you get to the end feels pretty darn good.

What about answering the call of nature?

There are rudimentary outhouse latrines at most camps. Although latrine sounds fancier than reality–they’re a hole in the ground with basic wooden walls for some privacy. Here’s an example (as well as one that shows what can happen in strong winds). Some companies bring along a private, portable latrine. There’s no running water.

What happens if it rains / storms / snows / blows?

You’ll get wet. There’s not much in the way of cover on the mountain. Once you get above the tree line, you’re pretty much exposed for the rest of the way. Your guide should be well aware of any dangerous weather and take appropriate precautions, but otherwise, you just have to take it as it comes. Your guide company should have expedition tents in good working condition, and you should take a full set of wet weather gear as well as cold weather gear.

Will I see lions? What about wildlife?

You probably won’t come across many animals. You might see some Colobus Monkeys in the rainforest at the lower elevations, and up higher you’ll probably see some White Necked Ravens. But that’s probably about it.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to see something more exotic. Skeletons of some large animals have been found surprisingly far up beyond the tree line–probably attracted by the saltiness of the soil–but it’s rare to run into them.

If you want to be sure to see wildlife, take a few days before or after your climb to go on safari at one of the excellent national parks nearby.

As you pass through the different elevation bands, you’ll see very distinct changes in the plants, from jungle at the bottom to something that looks more like the surface of Mars at the top.

Do cell phones work on the mountain?

Much of the time, no, but you will probably come across the occasional spot where you can get a signal. Your guides will know where. Unless you bring an external battery pack or portable solar charger (like this one), there’s nowhere to charge the battery.

Do GPS trackers work on the mountain?

Yes. But plan ahead for ways to keep it charged.

Is camping the only option?

On some routes, yes, but on other routes, there are rudimentary dormitory huts at some camps.

Will we have campfires?

No. Open fires are no longer allowed in the National Park. Your cooks will be using propane.

What do you do at night?

Because it’s right next to the equator, you’re basically going to have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night-time every day, year round.

You’ll mostly be walking during the day. On some mornings, especially on Summit Day, you might start very, very early and walk through the early morning hours to reach the summit around sunrise. But generally, you have the nights to yourself.

You’re going to be tired, and you’ll probably have a very early start in the morning. You’ll appreciate getting an early night in that nice warm sleeping bag. Take a book to read or a journal to write in (but not too many books–they’re heavy!). Take some cards. Join in a card game with the porters. Take some photos. Chat with your fellow climbers in the mess tent. Or just admire the millions of stars in the Milky Way. But mostly you’ll want to try to get some sleep.

Should I tip? If so, how much?

Yes, it’s very much recommended. The porters and the guides work very hard to make sure you’re safe and comfortable. How much is up to you, but a general guideline is something like $20-$35 per client per day for the mountain crew (that’s the porters, cook, local guides, etc). That will be pooled and divided among the crew. For the group leader, $120 or so per participant for the trip is a good ballpark. If a porter has been especially helpful to you on the climb, perhaps by carrying your day pack or some other service, feel free to give him something extra aside from the mountain crew’s pooled tip (you can give it to them directly on the last morning). Of course, these are simply suggestions. This is all usually handled on the final morning. And any gear you no longer need will likely be gratefully received as well.

US dollars or Tanzanian Shillings are preferred. If using US dollars, smaller, clean bills are best–local banks and exchanges might not accept marked or damaged notes.

Here are some more detailed recommendations on tipping Kilimanjaro’s porters.

Can I buy [fill in the blank] on the mountain?

No. There are no stores or vending machines. If you forget something, your only shot is to hope that someone else in your group has spare.

Does it get cold?

Yes, especially at Crater Camp. You’ll be on or next to glacier, after all. We didn’t measure exactly how cold it got, but our full Nalgene water bottles froze solid during the night–inside our tents.

Layers are key.

Do I get a medal if I make it?

No, but you do get a certificate.

Is it hard?

Yeah, it is. But it’s certainly doable, obviously. Some people find it easier than others, but there’s a good chance you’re going to spend some of the time pretty uncomfortable, exhausted, and sore. But even at my most exhausted, there was never a moment that I wished I wasn’t there. You’ll hear the porters and guides say pole, pole a lot. It’s the unofficial motto of Kilimanjaro. It means “slowly, slowly” in Swahili. You won’t realize how profound it is until a few days into your climb.

What’s the hardest part?

For me, it was the altitude. For others in our group, it was the toll the descent took on their knees. Others came down with a bug that made for a few unpleasant days. One person had a serious altitude sickness scare. But everyone in our group made it safely to the summit and back and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The professionalism and experience of our guides and porters are largely to thank for that.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely! It’s an amazing experience. Take a look at the photos in my climb diary if you need convincing.

Climbing Kilimanjaro

This is part of a climb diary I put together with photos from each day on the Lemosho Route. You can find the other posts below.

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