Preparing for the trek to the African continent’s highest point is a long process. Once you’ve selected a trekking company, paid the deposits, booked your flights, received all your vaccinations, convinced your parents (and yourself) that you will not die, and trained up so many hills that your butt looks the best it has since that time you took up weightlifting in college, packing hardly seems like a big task. While your trekking company will send you an extensive list of what to bring, this post includes those items plus things that I wish had been in my bag. While the list is long, always keep in mind that lighter is better, for your sake and that of your porters. No one wants to be the jerk with the super heavy pack!
Regardless of the route that you choose (there are six) and amount of days that you take (I chose eight), making your way to the Uhuru Peak at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro will be one of the most difficult, and ultimately rewarding experiences of your life.
You Recommend What? Four Random Things to Bring With You
Dark Fingernail Polish – Some of you may read this and think that I’m totally prissy, but I promise that this was a sentiment echoed by many women on the mountain. Despite your best efforts, it is impossible to keep the dirt from under your nails. The solution to keep from being completely grossed out: a few coats of dark fingernail polish. You can leave the bottle at the hotel with the rest of your belongings, but you’ll be glad that your hands don’t look like those of a mechanic by day three.
Panty Liners – We should all strive to leave a small “footprint” on the mountain and not contribute to the existing trash problem. Toilet paper is the eyesore of the trek, as hikers seem to use it with abandon and then… abandon it; sometimes even on the actual trail. While there are times that you absolutely must use (and leave) toilet paper, panty liners can help to minimize the need for toilet paper in most scenarios. You will be peeing a lot, due to your water intake and Diamox use, and instead of using (and leaving) TP, drip-dry as best you can and then a panty liner will help with the rest. You can replace the liner once you’re done hiking for the day, and you will dispose of one liner in the shared chemical toilet versus 5+ little piles of TP along the trail.
Something Sentimental – By the time you make it to Uhuru Peak you will be physically exhausted and possibly delirious. It’s an emotional experience and I recommend bringing something sentimental to take a photo of (or share a personal moment with) at the top. I brought a small amount of my grandfather’s ashes and spread them as the sun rose. Our friend Emma brought her county’s flag (from Ireland) and held it proudly in front of the sign while my friend Erin had a small figurine that her grandmother had asked her to take to the top just before she passed. It was quite special.
Gifts For Your Porters – You will get to know (and love) the group of 20-25 men who help you to get to the top. They carry your bags, filter your water, set up your tents, clap and sing for you upon return to camp each day — they’re amazing! While you will also tip in cash (see suggested amount below), I wish that I had thought to bring them something small from home. My dad is a college basketball coach, and 25 team t-shirts would have been easy to get a hold of and deliver. Most of the porters are using very worn gear and clothing, so you could ask your friends to donate their out-of-season mountain stuff and hand it out on day one. A gift of any size will help to say “THANK YOU.”
Remaining Packing List
General rule: No cotton on the mountain. Go for wicking fabrics for all clothing and undergarments.
4 pairs of underwear
1 snow jacket w/hood*
2 pairs of pants (at least one pair that zips off to shorts)
1 long sleeve shirt
1 light weight jacket (fleece pullover or similar)
1 waterproof jacket (shell)
4 pairs of wool socks
1 pair of light gloves (use most mornings)
1 pair of serious snow gloves (for summit night)
2 pairs of long underwear bottoms (for sleeping and summit night)
2 sports bras
1 hat with bill or brim
1 seriously warm head beanie
Waterproof pants* (I only used these on summit night, for protection against the wind)
Slip-on shoes with decent grip (You will be glad you have these for late-night trips to the bathroom)
Daypack backpack (Approx. 20L and designed for use with a Camelbak bladder; use it to carry your camera, water, rain gear, sunscreen, snacks, etc.)
40-60L backpack or duffel bag (holds all personal items plus sleeping bag and sleeping mat)
Stuff sacks for clothing (makes packing and unpacking each day much less frustrating)
Water bottle (Nalgene or similar)
Camelbak bladder (at least 3 liters)
Sleeping bag rated to 10 degrees Fahrenheit*
Gaiters* (I wish I could wear these every day—so convenient)
Headlamp* (Plus extra batteries)
Large rain poncho (this can cover both you and your daypack in the event of a downpour)
Diamox (Prevents altitude sickness)
Cipro and anti-diarrheal (Just in case)
Ibuprofen or Tylenol (Treats mild cases of altitude sickness)
Birth control and/or tampons (I am a huge advocate for the Mirena implant if travelling long-term; removes the need to carry tampons or pills)
Roll of toilet paper
Unscented, biodegradable wet wipes
Anti-bacterial hand sanitizer
Lip balm (w/ SPF)
Face wash bar
Extra hair ties
Large and small bandages and moleskin (For blisters, cuts, scrapes)
Small, quick-drying hand towel (for washing your face)
Snacks (Almond butter packets, candy, etc.)
Ziplock bags for trash and dirty laundry
Small detergent packets for washing underwear and socks
Clothes pins for hanging up wet laundry
$250-$300 in USD for tipping guides, chefs, and porters at the end of the trek
Trekking Company Will Supply
All meals (which are surprisingly delicious)
* Item can be rented from trekking company. However, I would recommend that you bring your own jacket and sleeping bag as the ones that I rented were quite old and had faulty zippers.
What You Don’t Need
Shampoo + Conditioner – You won’t use it
Bug spray – Bugs are only a factor on the first night, and you will be completely covered
Anti-malarial medication – Again, you will only see mosquitoes on the first night
Contacts – Glasses are definitely recommended, as your hands will be perpetually dirty and the air is dry and dusty
If you get cold at night (which you will), use your heavy jacket as an extra blanket on top of your sleeping bag instead of wearing it. Trust me, it will make a big difference.
Practice replacing your headlamp batteries before summit night, as you don’t want to get caught in the dark, fumbling around with tiny screws.
Create a “Summit Night” iPod playlist ahead of time, making sure that it’s at least 8-hours long and will get you to the top! Keep your iPod deep in a breast pocket so it doesn’t freeze.
Try to time your trek so that you summit on or near a full moon. The amount of light makes a huge difference, and you may not even need a headlamp. Some companies charge more for the luxury. Climb Kili does not, and I must say that they were awesome overall!
About the Author: Ali Biggs quit her full-time job in 2011 in order to explore the world and pet as many animals as possible. So far she has hiked through the Bolivian jungle with a puma, stalked lions in Kruger National Park, and adopted a street dog from Thailand. She chronicles her experiences volunteering with animals around the world through stories and photographs on her blog, Off She Goes, and on Facebook. And yes, she always carries hand sanitizer.
*All photos, except for title photo, are by Ali Biggs.
Book a Viator Tour Before You Go
7-Days Mount Kilimanjaro Trekking Via Machame Route From Arusha – $2,340.00*
The itinerary below describes the six night/seven day Kilimanjaro climb on the Machame route. To shorten it to six days you skip the night in the Karanga Valley and instead walk straight from the Barranco Huts to the Barafu Huts in one day. Theoretically you could also extend the trek to increase your summit chances, but if you can afford a longer trek then the Shira or Lemosho route are better options. They share the same scenic path for the last four days to the summit, but offer real wilderness and solitude on the first couple of days.
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