How to Prepare for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

How to Prepare for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

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Welcome to Part 1 of the mini series on climbing Kilimanjaro. The guest blogger in this case is Vikki Allan. I’m excited to say that Vikki achieved a Guinness World Record after her successful climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro. This mini series will detail what you need in order to climb it, the preparation she went through and the climb itself. To read more from the guest blogger then you can find her on Twitter here: @vikkimallan. I’ll now pass you over to Vikki…

Where to start… on the 22nd May 2017 I was asked if I would be available to referee a match at some point in June and it would be slightly different… After initially agreeing very sceptically I found out that I would be travelling to Tanzania on 15th June to be an Assistant Referee on a world record breaking match on top of Kilimanjaro!!

The reason for this match was to raise awareness of gender inequality within sports. What better way to do this than climb Kilimanjaro and break a record that had never been done before? I was super excited but also wondering how on earth I was going to climb a mountain with only three weeks training and also not being able to actually train to my full potential due to prior engagements!

So I thought I would write a few blogs on how to prepare for climbing Kilimanjaro, how the trek up Kilimanjaro is and how to spend my very limited two days seeing Tanzania!

You can read my Diary blogs here: Days 1-4, Days 5-8, Days 9-12
Click here to read the next How to Prepare for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro blog: Part 2
Preparing for the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro! (Full equipment list at the bottom)

Now I am not the most avid of hill/mountain climbers so I was starting from scratch equipment wise and training wise! Being a football referee I have my fitness from this but I knew that climbing a mountain would be slightly different.

I had my list of equipment to buy and three weeks to get training in. The second I got off the phone the first thing that I did was try to find suitable walking boots. If you are going to spend any money on this trip this is where to spend it. I spent the majority of my time travelling to Tanzania and in Tanzania in these boots. They NEED to be comfy!

Decent, Comfy Boots!

The boots do vary from low to high prices but I didn’t really want sore feet up the mountain so was prepared to spend a bit on this item. I went straight to my local Tiso and asked for help. They were great and made sure that I tried on plenty of boots. I think we were there for around 1 hr and I tried on about 10 different pairs of boots! They were telling me what I needed to watch for with the boots: ankle support, good grip, tough material, etc. Considering I was about to climb a mountain in Africa they had to do the job for all climates.

Out of all the boots I tried on I think I actually ended up with the second cheapest pair. This wasn’t to do with price at all but just how they suited my foot. I do recommend trying on as many pairs as possible to make this judgement rather than on price. Once you have purchased your boots I really do recommend getting into them straight away and just walking around your house to get used to them. I wore mine to walk to work and everything. I never got a single blister on my feet while up the mountain and I definitely think this helped!

Vikki Training

Vikki Training in Sunny Scotland

Training

Next up I was straight into training. I didn’t have any proper walking attire yet but thankfully for once in Scotland the weather was being kind and my first walk was on one of the hottest days of the year in Scotland! Fantastic!

I definitely recommend more than three weeks training and definitely more than I even got into those three weeks. As mentioned I already had prior engagements which meant I couldn’t get to any Munros or mountains in Scotland. The majority of my training was on the Pentlands just outside of Edinburgh. This became my playground for the next 3 weeks! I have to add special thanks to my boyfriend, Dad and my refereeing friend Fiona for their support over these three weeks. They definitely helped me to get the training in! While climbing the mountain the guides said they usually recommend a year to train at a gentle pace but could be done in a few months. So one of these approaches is probably what I would recommend.

I tried to get as many different terrains in as possible and levels of elevation. I have to admit the highest I got to in my training though was around 500m… only slightly different to the mountain I was about to climb which stood at 5,895m! On the mountain there are paths but of course you do go off trail and well so be prepared for rocky under footing. This was the best training that I could get in but I definitely recommend trying to get in as many different walks as possible!

Top tip: When training take it slow, no need to rush your walks.

One of the best things you can do on your hike is walk slow, this allows you to acclimatise. Most people fail on their walks as they go for a slightly cheaper and shorter walk up the mountain. This is fine but means you really need to adjust quickly. Take your time walking and take in the views! There is no need to rush and if it helps your success rate for reaching the top all the better!

During these three weeks I also had a very extensive shopping list to buy. When I wasn’t climbing hills, I was either in work or spending my lunches in Cotswold outdoor, Tiso and Go outdoors! I have listed my full list of clothing I purchased below but I have mentioned a few tips on what and where to purchase items, especially for those who are starting from scratch.

Do not buy cotton! Buy Merino Wool!

One of the first things I was told was do not buy any cotton items for the trip. Cotton keeps the heat in and makes you sweat more. It can become really uncomfortable to wear so try avoiding it at all costs! Do buy Merino Wool everything if you can. It can be slightly more expensive; however it allows your clothing to breathe still and also is antibacterial. This allows the clothing to (sort of) clean itself. I have to admit by the end of the trip I thought my clothes would absolutely stink, however you wouldn’t have guessed I had been in them for nearly 9 days!

Cotswold Outdoor

This was great for general items such as walking trousers, base layers for walking and also merino wool socks! They seem to always have a sale on which was great and allowed me to get great brand names for a lot cheaper than I was expecting.

Do not underestimate the cold – Especially at night!
Glaciers at the top of Kilimanjaro

Glaciers at the top of Kilimanjaro, remember to wrap up

One thing which was mentioned to me prior to leaving was that by the last few nights climbing up the mountain you are so cold you don’t want to take any layers off each day. I took it seriously but not seriously enough, even the consideration of having to change my underwear everyday was horrible thinking that I was going to freeze!

At night though take as many layers as possible; one of the coldest nights of my life has to be that first night up the mountain when I didn’t layer up enough to sleep. By the end of the week I was putting a pair of socks on then putting feet warmers at the bottom of another pair of socks and putting these over to keep me warm. Do not underestimate how cold it can be!

Layers are your friend and these don’t need to be overly expensive. I bought one or two pricey base layers but the rest were just tops on top of tops. A lot of these I just purchased from Decathlon and Cotswolds. While the more expensive items I searched online for – under armour etc.

Chargers

I have to admit I was quite looking forward to no phone signal, however still wanted to make sure if I wanted to check that there was still battery. Also I took my Go Pro with me on the trip so wanted to make sure my batteries remained charged. I had no idea what to look for so took a couple light weight different options with me. I took one solar charger which had a battery built in. This lasted about 3-4 days with me just charging it while I was walking during the day as well. It definitely was a great purchase and I will use in future again.

Others brought solar chargers that didn’t have batteries so it meant that the item had to be plugged in while using it. They said it was good but I liked to have the option of it charging in the tent with me. I also bought some cheap/light rechargeable batteries from Amazon as well. All in all I think I spent about £70 on chargers but it was worth it to make sure my Go Pro lasted the trip. It was also nice halfway up the mountain when I got a second of signal to phone home to my Mum and Boyfriend to let them know I was okay. It was definitely a little push that I needed half way up…. More on that later!

Bags – For Porters to carry and your own!

The travel company you go with will give you a limit for the larger bag you take up the mountain. This is because the porters will carry this for you, possibly along with two or three others items. As I went up in such a large group my weight limit was 8kg. This is low I believe as it is usually about 15kg. However, I will stress they are very strict about this rule so do ensure you stick to this as much as possible. On our trip people had to leave items at the bottom of the mountain that they wouldn’t be able to take up so pack smartly.

Bag Carrying Porters

Remember to keep your bag weight down!

I very smartly or stupidly looking back took stuff out my main bag but moved it into my rucksack that I carried. This ended up being extremely heavy once I added water and started travelling up the mountain. When I wasn’t feeling great the guides weren’t too happy that it was so heavy. Once you are up the mountain though they don’t weigh your main bag again so I did transfer some stuff over but remember this isn’t fair on your porter. The only point I started to do this was when I started to wear more layers so the bag was lighter.

Top Tip: Remember to train, before you leave, with a heavy bag pack. I put lots of bottles of water into my bag pack to try simulate the weight and once I got my proper back pack I filled my water bladder to simulate this even more.

When purchasing both of your bags please remember to take the weight limits into consideration. I really struggled with the 8kg, I did get there in the end but this took several repacking’s of my bags. My larger holdall bag was actually 2kg on its own; this meant I was really down to 6kg. By the time you add all the “essential” items I was up to about 15-16kg… I was in big trouble!! Also although my rucksack was actually an okay weight by the time I filled it, it was very heavy. Just keep this in mind when buying both of your bags.

Water Bladders

I purchased my water bladder from Decathlon; it was very cheap and did the job perfectly. I had an argument with myself though when purchasing: do I go for the large bladder or slightly smaller? In hindsight I would probably go for the smaller bladder as it took a lot of room up in my bag and it was also very heavy by the end. I was only half filling it so my bag was lighter when I had to carry my warmer gear. I’d recommend a 2L bag that you can fill up.

On the summit night climbing to the top most people’s bladders freeze especially the drinking tube. Here’s a very important tip: buy a thermal tube to try keep this warm, it might not work as it is so cold but I do recommend as I ended up with no water on a 5 hour hike… It is recommended that you drink at least 3 litres of water a day, the more the better though! This helps with the altitude sickness but doesn’t help when you pair it with Diamox as this makes you need the bathroom loads! However, I’d rather climb without getting ill than the minor inconvenience of needing to find another rock!

Also something to consider taking for your water is electrolytes, these help your body to retain the water rather than just going to the bathroom constantly! I added one or two to my water bladder every day. They aren’t essential but if they helped in any way I am all for them if you have space in your bag. They are really cheap to buy and also small you can get a pack for about £2 or £3.

How to Prepare for Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

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KILIMANJARO PACKING LIST
Clothing

– 2 synthetic shirts, long sleeve
– 2 synthetic t-shirts
– 2 pairs of synthetic hiking shorts
– 1 pair of synthetic trekking pants
– 1 pair of warmer hiking pants
– 1 or 2 pairs of fleece long underwear/ trousers
– 1 pair of leg gaiters
– 1 pair of socks per trekking day, with at least 2 pairs of lighter (synthetic) socks and 3 pairs of heavy wool/synthetic blend
– 1 pair of underwear per day
– 1 warm fleece jacket
– 1 goretex rain/wind shell
– 1 pair of goretex rain/wind pants
– 1 poncho
– 1 fleece sweater
– 1 pair of fleece glove liners.
– 1 pair of cold weather gloves or mittens
– 1 pair of light windproof gloves
– 1 warm hat
– 1 sun hat
– 1 balaclava
– 1 pair trekking boots (medium weight, waterproof)
– 1 pair UV-blocking sunglasses with side-gussets

Other Equipment

– 1 soft (no hard frame or wheels) duffel bag (porters will carry)
– 1 daypack
– Plastic bags of different sizes (to protect clothes against rain)
– 1 warm mountain sleeping bag (0 degree rated (F))
– 2 trekking poles – highly recommended
– 1 head lamp (with extra batteries and light bulb)
– 3 One-liter water bottles, or substitute with hydration pack
– Sun block. We suggest the highest possible SPF rating
– 2 bandanas (for dust)

First Aid Kit

Your first-aid kit should include the following:

-Blister bandages /mole-skin
-Small bandages (band-aids)
-Elasticised support bandage (ace-wrap)
-Safety pins
-Small pair of scissors

Medicines in your first aid kit should be discussed with your physician, and should include addressing the following:
-Analgesics (pain killers); Acetaminophen (ie. Tylenol), Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Vidocin*
-Anti-Allergy; Hydrocortizone (ointment), Diphenhydramine hydrochloride (oral anti-histamine)(ie: Sudafed); Epinephrine*
-Antibiotics; Bacitracin (ointment), Erythromycin*, Ciprofloxacin hydrochloride* (Cipro)
-Antacids; Bismuth sabsalicylate (ie. Pepto-Bismol)
-Anti-Diarrhea; Loperamide hydrochloride (ie. Immodium), Tinidazole*
-Anti-Emetics (anti-vomiting); Prochlorperazine*, Promethazine*
-Anti-Vertigo (anti-motion sickness); Meclizine*, Scopolamine*
-Altitude illness medicine ; Acetazolamide* (diamox), Dexamethazone*, Nifedipine*
-Sterile eye drops
-Anti-malarial prophylaxis medicine*

* Prescription medicines

Rough Prices for Equipment
ITEM WEIGHT PRICE
RAIN GEAR
Goretex Pant Shell, with full side zips 0.5kg 1lb2oz $55
Goretex Jacket Shell 0.5kg 1lb2oz $45
Rain poncho 0.25kg 4oz $12
 
WARM BODY LAYERS
Goose-down insulated jacket 0.5kg 1lb2oz $40
Fleece jacket (full zip) 0.5kg 1lb2oz $30
Fleece trousers 0.5kg 1lb2oz $25
Lightweight fleece sweater 0.35kg 12oz $20
Long sleeve synthetic base-layer shirt 0.25kg 9oz $12
 
ACCESSORIES
Daypack (approx. 2,000 cu.in.) 2kg 4lb7oz $35
Soft-sided Duffel bag 1.5kg 3lb 3oz $30
Gaiters 0.25kg 9oz $20 (pair)
Telescopic trekking poles 0.75kg 1lb11oz $18 (pair) / $12 single
Insulated mountain gloves/mittens 0.3kg 11oz $18
Head Lamp (without AAA batteries) 0.2kg 7oz $12
Fleece gloves 0.2kg 7oz $10
Balaclava 0.1kg 4oz $10
Fleece hat 0.1kg 4oz $10
Nalgene1-litre drinking water bottle 0.25kg 9oz $10
       
 
SLEEPING GEAR
Zero degree rated (F) mummy sleeping      
Bag (with fleece liner included) 2-3kg 4lbs 6oz +
Fleece bag liner only 0.5kg 1lb2oz $12
Inflatable full length (72”) sleeping pad 0.75kg 1lb11oz $25
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17 Comments

  1. lvuorenvirta
    January 30, 2018 / 9:02 pm

    You’re amazing for taking this journey on, Vikki! All of the advice sounds spot-on, although I wouldn’t know from experience since I only walk around cities. 😉

  2. yogawinetravel
    January 31, 2018 / 8:33 am

    This is an incredibly practical and helpful guide for anyone planning on climbing Kili! The advice is spot on and I wouldn’t have known about wool versus cotton or adding electrolytes to water. Great tips, Vikki!

    • February 8, 2018 / 8:14 am

      Thanks! The wool one I picked up while going to all the different shops looking for stuff and it was definitely a life saver! I couldn’t believe how “okay” all the clothes were after!

  3. January 31, 2018 / 1:29 pm

    Although I’ll probably never have use of this list since I don’t see myself climbing the Kilimanjaro, I’m very impressed by the nice, light writing and the thoroughly put together lists. Great work! I wish you lots of fun on your upcoming adventures – and hope you’ll keep up your excellent writing!

  4. February 1, 2018 / 8:49 pm

    Fantastic practical list. I am hoping to do Kilimanjaro soon as I am a hiker and would totally agree with your list and post. Great way to prepare for an amazing hike.

    • February 8, 2018 / 8:16 am

      Thanks!! Look out for my next blog on my actual trek up Kili I’m sure there will be a nugget or two in there you maybe haven’t thought of! There were plenty I hadn’t haha!

  5. Flavio
    February 2, 2018 / 12:26 am

    Thank you for sharing this really well made list. I wish I was that organized and prepared when planning my trips. I’ve hiked in Patagonia recently and I struggled a lot, specially with my boots, so I wish I had seen your tips before as I never thought getting used to them beforehand would make such a difference. Well done for the climb! 🙂

    • February 8, 2018 / 8:17 am

      Thanks for your comment! Definitely I am so glad I managed to wear them as much as possible before and couldn’t believe I had zero blisters! I am about to start wearing them again for my next trip so fingers crossed for the same result!

  6. February 2, 2018 / 2:12 pm

    Such helpful tips for preparations of major climbs like this. I also find walking slowly during hikes. It makes the experience more fun and the lesser the strain and stress you are putting to your body..

    That’s such an amazing feat btw! Congratulations to Vikki on the Guinness World Record!I’m no seasoned hiker (just the occasional hikes for me) so I honestly admire women who persist and are adventurous…

    • February 8, 2018 / 9:06 am

      Thanks! Yes and also gives you time to actually take in what’s around you! Lets be honest not every day you get to climb Kilimanjaro ha!

      Thank you was absolutely amazing and glad it raises some awareness of gender inequality!

  7. February 3, 2018 / 4:17 pm

    We are hiking Machu Picchu in June and will reference this again for sure. We are training right now to get used to everything. We will also have porters and have to have a certain weight. Reading this makes me even more excited now. great tips.

    • February 8, 2018 / 9:07 am

      Very jealous that is definitely on my list of places to go!! Hopefully some of these tips will help you, enjoy your trip!

  8. February 3, 2018 / 11:07 pm

    Wow!!! That’s one very extensive post.That packing list is just perfect!
    Thanks for that tip about Merino wool.

  9. February 5, 2018 / 12:02 pm

    Thinking of Tanzania and Africa, the stereotype of sandy deserts instantaneously comes to mind. The photograph of the icy and snowy grounds really smashes that to pieces! Must be really cold up there 🙂

    • February 8, 2018 / 9:11 am

      I’ll be honest I thought the same before going! It wasn’t until I read somewhere about going through something like 4 different Eco Systems that I suddenly realised hang on it isn’t all sunshine and sand!? I explain a bit more about the different things you see in one of my next blogs about the actual trek but the bottom of the mountain is basically rainforest, middle mountain is sand and rocks the top is rocks and snow/ice!! Very cool journey!

  10. February 7, 2018 / 8:05 pm

    I have never thought how serious logistic is needed to organise and climb a mountain such as Kilimanjaro. Great tips about merino wool, should use that more in daily life too.

    • February 8, 2018 / 9:12 am

      Definitely I didn’t realise until I started wear it how much more comfortable merino wool is to cotton!

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