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Kilimanjaro Climbing Tips: 101 Tips for a Successful Kilimanjaro Summit

Mount Kilimanjaro Summit Sign

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is likely to be one of the toughest challenges (both mentally and physically) that you undertake in your lifetime. Preparing for the hike requires months of preparation and planning, physical training, and a lot of saving—so you want to make sure you make it to the top.

I summited Kilimanjaro successfully on my first try, and these are all things that I wish I had known before my climbing trip. Although I’m an experienced hiker, I hadn’t done my hiking at altitude, or hikes longer than a day trip. Fortunately, Kilimanjaro’s climbing difficulty level is not that high, and you don’t need extensive experience to climb Kilimanjaro (but you do need to train).

Here are 101 tips for a successful Kilimanjaro summit, written by someone who has climbed Kilimanjaro and made it all the way to Uhuru Peak. 

Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness Tips

  1. Go pole, pole. Walking slowly is the best way to make sure that you avoid altitude sickness and summit. Make sure you’re familiar with the symptoms of altitude sickness, which include headache, nausea, dizziness and fatigue.
  1. Take Diamox before you start your hike. Get your doctor’s advice, but mine had me start my Diamox the day before I started my trek. A few people on my climb wanted to go without Diamox and started out without it, and almost didn’t make it. 
  1. Do a trial run of Diamox before your trip. Ask your doctor to give you a few extra days worth of Diamox and take it at home for a day or two so you know what the side effects feel like (and to make sure you don’t have a bad reaction to it.)
  1. If you have a coffee habit, detox before your trip. If you’re used to drinking multiple cups of strong coffee each day, the instant coffee they serve with meals on Kilimanjaro isn’t going to cut it, and you’ll get splitting caffeine withdrawal headaches. Wean yourself off of the caffeine before your trip so you don’t mistake caffeine withdrawal headaches for altitude sickness. Caffeine is also dehydrating, so it’s best to avoid it during your climb anyway.
  1. Drink 4-5 liters of water per day. 
  1. Start hydrating even before your Kilimanjaro climb starts (at least two days in advance). 
  1. Take Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is clinically proven to help prevent altitude sickness
  2. Rest as much as possible. Even if you can’t sleep, lying in your tent with your eyes closed can help.
  3. Don’t use supplemental oxygen on your Kilimanjaro climb. It can delay or stop the acclimatization process. 

Tips for a Successful Kilimanjaro Summit

Kilimanjaro Summit Tips
  1. Bring a small “bed bag” that you can stuff in your sleeping bag every night. This should contain your electronics and batteries (to keep them warm, otherwise they will die in the cold temperatures overnight), toilet paper, hand sanitizers, and your headlamp. In case you need to get up in the middle of the night, you’ll have everything you need within easy reach. I used this small waterproof toiletry bag as my bed bag and found it was a good size. 
  1. Ask to have your water bottle filled up with hot water every night and use it as a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag to stay warm. Just make sure the lid is on super tightly, as a leak and wet sleeping bag would be disastrous. Most companies recommend bringing a wide-mouth Nalgene water bottle as they can withstand boiling water. This is the one I used on my climb.
  1. Book your trip for the best time of the year to climb Kilimanjaro, December to mid-March and mid-June to the end of October. These are the driest months. Hiking in the rain would be utterly miserable and lessen your chances of a successful summit.
  1. Break in your boots well ahead of your trip.
  1. The best way to train for a Kilimanjaro climb is by hiking outside. If you don’t have mountains near you, the next best way to train is by walking on a treadmill with a high incline, wearing your hiking boots and a weighted backpack. 
  1. Get used to walking for hours at a time to prepare your body for the trip. Being used to moving for extended periods will really help you on the mountain.
  1. Your Kilimanjaro climb should not be the first time you wear or use any of your gear. Test it all out before your trip. 
  1. Pack small treats, like your favorite candy or snacks to entice yourself into eating. Meals are hearty on Kilimanjaro, but most people lose their appetites due to the high altitude. 
  1. Choose the best route. The Lemosho and Northern Circuit routes have the highest success rate. I did the Lemosho route which was long enough that I avoided altitude sickness. The longer you can spend at a lower elevation on the mountain, the better. 
  1. Advise your tour company of any food allergies or aversions well in advance. Once the climb has started, it’s not like they can run to a grocery store to get something else for you if you can’t eat what’s served.

Kilimanjaro Travel Tips

  1. Make sure you have the correct visa to get into Tanzania. You can apply online and receive an e-visa if you’re coming from the United States, but make sure you check the specific requirements for your country well in advance. 
  1. Plan your flights to arrive in Arusha (the closest airport to Kilimanjaro) at least three days in advance of your climb if possible. This will give you a buffer in case of any delays, and allow you to acclimatize to the time zone. It will also give any lost luggage a chance to catch up with you before you start your trek.

Tips on Kilimanjaro Tipping

  1. Your tour company will likely have very clear guidance on how much you should tip porters on Kilimanjaro. Our company recommended $470 per person.
  2. Bring small bills (as small as $1 and $5). On our tour, we had over 30 porters supporting us, and there was no way to get change to divide the tips evenly.
  3. Leave behind any hiking gear that you can spare, as the porters desperately need good shoes and outerwear. However, this should not replace a cash tip. 
  4. Be prepared for a somewhat awkward Kilimanjaro tipping ceremony where all the gratuities are distributed in public at the end of your hike.

Kilimanjaro Packing Tips

Kilimanjaro summit
  1. Avoid checking a bag on your flight to Kilimanjaro. There are not a lot of shops in Arusha to buy good quality hiking gear, and you don’t want to have to break in clothes or shoes on your climb.
  1. Put an Apple AirTag in your bag so you can track your luggage in case the airline loses it.
  1. Wear your hiking boots on the plane. It may be uncomfortable, but not as much as wearing a brand-new pair of boots on a week-long hike would be if your luggage gets lost. 
  1. Use packing cubes. You’ll have to put all your stuff for the hike into one big duffel bag to make it easier for the porters to carry up the mountain. Packing cubes keep everything organized and easy to find. I had one cube for pants, one for toiletries, one for electronics, etc. Opt for waterproof ones for extra protection in case of rain. I used these by Eagle Creek which feature compression (and helped me fit in more stuff), waterproof, and machine washable (so I could reuse them after a very dirty trip.)
  1. Bring antibiotics. My doctor gave me a prescription antibiotic to bring with me in case I got traveler’s stomach in Tanzania, and it was a literal lifesaver after I got food poisoning. 
  1. Pack zip-off pants. I was freezing cold on summit night, but then when the sun came out and we started our descent, I was sweating and miserably hot. The thought of taking off my boots to take off my (many layers) of pants was too much at that point, so I stayed overheated for the four-hour descent. Do yourself a favor and pack zip-off windproof pants that are easy to remove on the way down without taking off your boots.
  1. Pack ziplock bags to stash your used tissues and toilet paper, along with a non-see-through brown paper bag to put the ziplock bags in. Kilimanjaro is beautiful, and it was incredibly sad to see how many people littered the mountain with used toilet paper. Be a decent human and pack out your trash. Tanzania does forbid bringing in plastic bags, but no one ever checked our luggage. 
  1. Pack earplugs. Kilimanjaro camps are noisy at night with people constantly unizpping tents and walking about. The wind can get really noisy as well. I find foam earplugs uncomfortable, but I used these silicone ones by Loop and they blocked out sound well without being annoying while sleeping. They also came with a carrying case that helped keep them clean on the climb.
  1. Check the weight limit for the bag the porters will carry and weigh your completely packed bag before you leave to make sure it complies. All bags are weighed at the start of the trek and the national park is strict about weight limits. I recommend getting a duffle bag that’s at the top of the size you’re allowed to bring, so you have more room to pack and don’t have to fight trying to shove everything inside each day.
  1. Pack your bag well before your flight so that you know everything will fit. 
  1. Use a waterproof duffle bag lined with a trash bag to ensure your stuff stays dry in case of rain. 
  1. Pack a clean pair of socks and underwear for each day. Other layers you can re-wear, but not those. 
  1. Bring a large variety of snacks as the food on Kilimanjaro can get monotonous. 
  1. Pack multiple battery packs as they can die quickly in the cold. On my trip, many people complained that their solar chargers didn’t work, so I wouldn’t bother with one. I brought two of these portable chargers and only ended up using one. I kept my phone in airplane mode and made sure to keep it warm, and it stayed relatively charged.
  1. Pack “camp clothes” that you change into once you’re done hiking for the day, so you have a relatively clean outfit to sleep in each night. My camp outfit was fleece-lined leggings, a long-sleeved merino wool shirt, a half-zip fleece pullover, and fuzzy slipper socks that were heaven after a long day.
  1. Bring dry shampoo. I brought this one by Briogeo which was nice because it was a powder and not an aerosol, which is better for travel and cold temperatures. Plus, it smelled great!
  1. Pack nail clippers and clip your toenails short before summit night, too long nails will be painful on the descent. 
  1. Pack a variety of layers to be prepared for any type of weather from sun to snow..
  1. Bring waterproof pants, jacket, and a hat with a brim that will keep rain off your face.
  1. Choose clothing made from merino wool, which is temperature-regulating and resists odors. 
  1. Bring bags or packing cubes to separate dirty clothes from clean ones.
  1. Pack a small bag to use as a trash can in your tent. 
  1. Pack a first-aid kit with over-the-counter medications for every possible condition (upset stomach, headache, cold, sore throat, etc.) and blister bandaids. 
  1. Pack camp shoes to change into after you’re done hiking for the day. Opt for slip-ons as they will be easy to put on and off when you need to leave your tent. I used these insulated booties which were warm, comfortable, lightweight, and folded flat for easy packing. Don’t forget to pack a plastic bag or shoe bag to keep your camp shoes from getting everything else in your bag muddy or dusty. 
  1. Arrange to rent hiking poles from your tour operator (or pack them in your checked bag as they are not allowed in carry-on baggage on flights.)
  2. Make sure the sleeping bag you bring or rent is rated for negative temperatures. 
  3. Don’t forget to bring a pillow. I used this one from Sea to Summit which was a good size, yet deflated to be very small. 
  4. Bring a portable rain poncho that can cover you and your daypack in case it rains. I brought this one which was great quality and packed down into a tiny stuff sack.
  5. Use a daypack that’s large enough to carry snacks, two bottles of water, and all your layers. I recommend one that’s around 30 or 35L and lightweight. I used Osprey’s Eja 38L backpack which is really lightweight and it worked perfectly.
  6. Pack an emergency bathroom bottle in case the weather gets too dangerous to leave your tent for the toilet tent (and a ziplock to store the bottle in if you end up using it).
  7. Bring lots of baby wipes and wet wipes to help stay clean.
  8. Pack a moisturizing lip mask as the air is very dry on Kilimanjaro and lips will get chapped. This intensive lip repair mask from Eos saved my lips.
  9. Bring heavy-duty hand cream and face lotion
  10. Pack a Kindle that’s preloaded with lots of books. You’ll have a lot of downtime in your tent each day. 
  11. Rent or pack a sleeping mat that goes under your sleeping bag and provides padding and protection from the cold. 

Tips for Staying Healthy on Kilimanjaro

  1. Pack a small quick-drying towel and washcloth. Many Kilimanjaro climbing companies will provide a small bowl of warm water to each hiker twice a day. 
  2. Bring camping soap so you can wash your hands with the water provided. This tiny pack of individual sheets of soap was more than enough for my trip.
  3. Use hand sanitizer after going to the bathroom and before every meal.
  4. Pack single-serving packets of electrolyte powder and drink one bottle of electrolytes every day to help keep hydrated. Bring different flavors so you don’t get sick of one type of electrolyte. I used this variety pack from Ultima and it tasted great and didn’t upset my stomach.
  5. Wear sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses daily as the sun is stronger at higher elevations. Sunburns, especially on the scalp and backs of hands are common on Kilimanjaro. 
  6. Stick to a vegetarian diet during the climb. There’s no way to keep food refrigerated on Kilimanjaro, and although many people do eat meat, if you want to have a better chance of avoiding food positioning, becoming a temporary vegetarian is the way to go.
  7. Use a cover for the bite valve of your Camelback if you are using one, otherwise it will get dirty quickly on dusty Kilimanjaro. 
  8. Take a daily multivitamin. 
  9. Use a nail brush to keep your nails clean.
  10. Take a probiotic every day (but start it before your trip so you can make sure it doesn’t disagree with you.)
  11. Wear a Buff to help filter out dust and dirt while hiking on windy days. 

Kilimanjaro Summit Night Tips

Frozen water bottles and backpacks on Kilimanjaro

Frozen water bottle and backpack on Kilimanjaro.

  1. The normal hiking adage, “Be bold, start cold” does NOT apply on Kilimanjaro. Our guide told us on summit night that if we weren’t sweating when we started off, we would be too cold as the night went on. It gets so cold towards the summit of Kilimanjaro that your hands will be too frozen to adjust layers. Plus, most guides will only give a group five minutes at every rest stop, which isn’t enough time to drink water, snack, and put on more layers—so pile everything on at the start.
  1. Don’t psych yourself out. I read so many blogs before my Kilimanjaro tip that said that summit night was the worst thing ever. I didn’t read a single positive experience of summit night, so I was terrified that I would be super sick and miserable the whole time. Fortunately, I was fine! I was freezing cold but other than that it was less physically demanding than many hikes I’ve done and I didn’t have negative effects from the altitude. 
  1. Give up control to your guide. When you summit Kilimanjaro, you do it in the dark. All you can do is follow in the footsteps of the person in front of you. You stop when your guide says to, and you go where they go. Accept that you are not in charge on summit night.
  1. Tighten your boots for the descent, otherwise, you’re going to lose a toenail and be in a world of hurt. 
  1. Take as much time as you can at the top. Guides will rush you down as they don’t want you spending too much time in that high of an altitude, but this is the moment you worked so hard for. Find a quiet spot at the summit, put your camera down, and soak it all in. 
  1. Bring an insulated water bottle. I had read tips that you could put a sock over your Nalgene water bottle to keep it from freezing on summit night. I tried this and my water bottle froze solid within the first hour. All other hacks I had read (like blowing back into Camelbacks) didn’t work for the other hikers I saw either. If you want to have drinkable water, you’re going to have to pack a little bit of extra weight and bring an insulated water bottle. This one is pretty lightweight while still being insulated. 
  1. Pack snacks that won’t freeze. I packed stroopwaffles for summit night and they froze solid. Chocolates and gummy candies will also freeze quickly, and the wrappers are hard to open when your fingers feel like they have frostbite. Energy gels are a good choice as they are digestible, don’t require a lot of time or effort to eat, and won’t freeze unless the temperature gets super low. Just make sure to try them out before your Kilimanjaro trip as some energy gels upset some peoples’ stomachs. 
  1. Keep your phone and portable charger in the inside pocket of your jacket pocket on summit night. Electronics die quickly in cold temperatures and you don’t want to reach the summit and not be able to snap a photo as proof. 
  1. Wear liner gloves layered under the thickest pair of mittens you own.
  1. Put hand warmers in before you start your hike on summit night. It will be too cold to open and activate hand warmers as you get higher. 
  1. Use insole footwarmers, but test them out with your hiking boots before your trip to make sure they don’t irritate you while walking. 
  2. Pack bodywarmers that stick to your lower back for additional warmth.
  3. Don’t be too proud to let the guides take your backpack if you’re really struggling. 
  4. Keep your snacks easily accessible (in an outer jacket pocket).
  5. Don’t stop and rest for too long or too often or you will get cold. 
  6. Wear a buff or balaclava to protect your face from the cold. Choose one made from a thin, quick-drying material as it will get wet as you breathe through it. 
  7. Keep looking at the sky—as soon as I saw the sky start to get pink, I knew that the sun was coming up and that I was going to make it.
  8. Have a motivating mantra that you can repeat to yourself (or song to sing in your head) to keep yourself going.  

Tips for Picking a Kilimanjaro Tour Operator

  1. Choose a tour that offers a private toilet tent for your group. Bathrooms are few and far between on Kilimanjaro, and the public ones are just holes in the ground (and smell unbelievably terrible). 
  1. Opt for a company that is a member of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assitance Project (KPAP), which sets guidelines to make sure porters are treated fairly. 
  1. Look for a ratio of two porters to one hiker.
  1. Don’t waste your money on tour companies that promise to bring a shower on Kilimanjaro. It’s so cold on the mountain that getting out of the shower would be pretty miserable. 
  1. Check that entrance fees and permits for Mount Kilimanjaro National Park are included in the trip price, as they can add on hundreds of dollars.
  1. Read reviews for the tour company on Google, TripAdvisor, the Better Business Bureau, and Reddit and make sure to read all the one-star reviews carefully.
  1. Make sure the guides in your group will carry emergency oxygen.
  1. Pick a group that stays in a good hotel the night before and after the climb. It’s essential that you’re well-rested before you start, and you’ll want a hotel that has hot showers and comfortable beds when you come off the mountain.
  2. Consider opting for a group tour rather than a private tour. I found it super motivating to have fellow climbers to talk to and it helped pass the time. 

Travel Insurance Tips for Climbing Kilimanjaro

  1. Travel insurance is required for most tour operators to climb Kilimanjaro. Make sure you have a policy that covers climbing at an altitude above 19,000 feet. We went with World Nomads for our Kilimanjaro climbing insurance—read our full review here.
  1. Save the emergency phone number for your travel insurance policy and your insurance policy number offline, so you can access it if needed while on the mountain.
  1. Make sure your travel insurance policy covers helicopter evacuation, which is the only way off of Kilimanjaro at certain points.

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