There are a zillion blogs and books and posts on how to prepare for and climb Kilimanjaro. I’ll try not to repeat what a lot of them said but here’s a list of things I DIDN’T read and wish I’d had.

DSCF1184This is an extremely long post so here’s the list of some topics discussed:

Gear to bring and not bring

The Toilet Situation

How to deal with Hygiene

Group Climb vs Private Climb

The Hiking Experience (How to train for the climb)

Food to bring and not bring

How to eat on the mountain

The Underwear Dilemma


Extra gear to bring



The list provided by the tour operator:

Definitely take JUST those items. You really don’t need anything else, except a few extra creature comforts for being in a developed country. I’ll list those at the end.

The Water Bladder/Camelbak:

I’m a pretty experienced hiker here in the Pacific Northwest and NO ONE I know out here hikes with a bladder. (Mountain biking – that’s a different story). We all carry Nalgenes or water bottles and drink when we stop to rest, about every hour or 1,000 feet. Our general thoughts are that the bladders leak, they are hard to refill and they get bacteria easily. I thought I’d just be able to take out my water bottle and drink when we’d stop.

What I DIDN’T account for is the fact that you need to be drinking – nay, SIPPING – throughout the ENTIRE day and at a minimum of 4 liters (4 Naglenes) a day. I realized this literally within the first 10 minutes on our first day of hiking and thought, “Oh crap. I should have brought the bladder. NOW I get it.”

We hiked at such a slow pace, especially in the beginning, that stopping to rest wasn’t really necessary, and dealing with bottles was a pain. I wound up hooking mine to my backpack’s hipbelt with a carabiner for seven days and would walk and sip. It wasn’t ideal but it worked.

SO: BRING THE CAMELBAK. (But bring two water bottles for refills and to drink out of at camp, because who wants to lug around a bladder while at camp?).



Again, Pacific Northwest. Rains 9 months out of the year. We are experts in rain gear. Just bring Gortex rain pants and rain jacket, right?

Nope. I used them once in Africa and immediately realized I didn’t need them.

The poncho that the tour operators STRONGLY recommend?

I used it every afternoon. Because rain/fog/mist came through every afternoon.

It was lightweight, easy to throw on, covered me and my pack and kept me warm. Plus the guides and climbers helped us put them on and take them off and just stuffed them in an outside backpack pocket when we were done with them. It never rained hard enough to warrant hassling with pants and the jacket.

BRING THE PONCHO. Actually, RENT THEIR ponchos. They’ll be of better and tougher quality than the $10 plastic wrap you buy at Target.


The Ski Jacket and Ski Pants:

Again, something I don’t normally wear in the mountains (unless I’m at a ski resort). But I bought an old one from Goodwill (with the intention of leaving it behind for the porters) and glad I had it. Brought a pair of old snow pants my mom had gotten me years ago, and they were perfect with two pairs of long underwear underneath.

I had brought my mountain summit kit anyway (lots of long underwear, softshells, overstuffed puffy and rain shell) but could have gotten away with just a smaller puffy under the ski jacket and no rain shell.


The Private Toilet:

Pay the extra money to rent it.

With as much relieving you’ll be doing because of a) the Diamox (altitude meds) that causes you to pee hourly and b) the 4 liters of water you’re drinking daily, it is WONDERFUL to have a little private tent with which to do your business. Especially in the middle of the night.

(If you wind up getting travelers/food runs, it’s a good place to be miserable too.)

Oh, and you’ll read everywhere about bringing a pee bottle because you won’t want to get out of the tent to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Didn’t use mine once, just got out of the tent 1-2x a night to use the toilet (which was placed quite close to our tents). And a pee bottle is literally just an empty plastic Gatorade/wide mouth plastic beverage bottle. (Don’t go to REI asking for one, they’ll try not to laugh at you and then tell you they don’t carry them. And no, I did not do this.)

The toilet tent also provided a nice space where you could stand up and give yourself a baby wipe shower daily, which made a huge difference in hygiene (which I talk about below).




Honestly, I did not sweat all that much, and didn’t really smell because of it. Nor did my tentmates or other climbers really smell either.

In the end, it was more just a layer of grime and dirty hair, mainly because of the fine dust on the mountain.

A small bucket of hot water was provided every afternoon after our day’s hike, which was nice for washing hands, cleaning nails and rinsing the face. Baby wipe shower daily helped too. Fingernail clippers, filing board and nail brush were a must. I used my friend’s dry shampoo on my hair every other day and that made a difference in how I felt (I have a ton of long thick hair). However, on the last day when I used it, my friend laughed and said, “Nah, your hair still looks dirty.” I just laughed and braided it back into the pigtails I’d been wearing all week.

However, because deodorant is not part of African culture, you will get a whiff of BO from guides and porters. It’s a little off-putting at first but after Day 2, you get used to it and it just becomes a part of the experience.


Group Climb Vs. Private Climb

It depends on how social you like to be. Are you with a group of your friends, or you’re an introvert who doesn’t like a big crowd? Go the private climb route.

We were a group of 3 climbers. If we had to do it over again, we’d join a bigger group. Mainly because we were very social people who like to meet new people when traveling but we were also of varying hiking strengths. While we all hiked at the same pace for the majority of the trip (the pace set by the guides), on summit night, it made a difference in terms of hiking strength. We could have sectioned off with folks similar to our hiking strengths, setting us up for a happy and successful summit.


Hiking Experience

No, Kilimanjaro is not a technical climb. You do not need ropes or harnesses to climb. It is essentially one long slog up a hill. The general advice for training is to be able to hike 8 miles a day.

The bigger things you’ll be dealing with is the physiological (altitude) and psychological (mental) aspect of climbing.

How you approach these two things can literally make or break your experience.

The altitude is something your guides will help you with – twice-a-day medical checks, taking your Diamox, eating right and drinking enough water.

You also just have to suck up to the fact that you likely will have some nausea, headaches, diarrhea or a combination (your guides will tell you this too). Thankfully I only had a nagging headache above 15,000 feet and taking baby aspirin typically took care of it (so I could take it regularly throughout the day, instead of larger doses 1-2x a day – another pro tip). Nausea was taken care of by slowly sucking on ginger chews and drinking water.

The mental aspect is something that comes with experience. It cannot be taught. There are two points on the climb where this definitely is a factor.

Barranco Wall:

From a distance, it looks intimidating as hell. It looks like ropes are needed. However, as you approach the bottom of the wall, you see it is just a trail, just like the one you’ve been hiking on the past few days. The only difference is that there’s exposure on your right, and you’re fighting for space on the narrow trail with 500 other people (mainly the porters who are busting ahead of you to set up camp at the next site, each carrying a duffle on their shoulders and a pack on their backs).

If you enjoy rock climbing, or even just scrambling, this will be the most fun part of the entire multi-day experience. Hands down. Better than the summit.

If you haven’t had any rock climbing experience, get your ass to a climbing gym a few times during your training (like when the weather is crap). It will make a world of difference when you are faced with scrambling on route. Even just getting a feel for how to grab a rock hold (and Kili rock is blissfully SOLID!) will give you more confidence than if you’ve never touched a rock (or plastic rock) hold in your life.

Summit Night:

This is a little harder to train for, unless you decide to get up in the middle of the night and go for a six-hour hike around your neighborhood. Or you’ve climbed Rainier, Whitney, Denali, etc.

If you have done an alpine summit before, you know what to expect – it sucks but the sunrise and summit are totally worth it.

If you’ve never done an alpine summit before, it sucks, but the sunrise and summit are totally worth it.

Logistics: You go to bed at 6 or 7 p.m., nap until 11 p.m., and start hiking at midnight. Your porters and guides carry emergency equipment, and maybe your pack if they see you are struggling. Or you just flat out ask them to do it.

Mentally: It requires digging deep into a place you never knew you had to get the gumption and wherewithal and energy to literally put one foot in front of the other until sunrise.

Between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. is the worst. It’s when you want to stop, take a nap, or go back to camp and sleep.

You cannot do that (unless you are having an actual medical emergency and it is vital that you go back down). The sun WILL rise in an hour. The wind WILL stop blowing. The air WILL warm up again.

And, suddenly, the sky starts to lighten. You’re renewed a little bit with energy. You’re still tired, but the worst is almost over. Getting to Stella Point/First Peak (the false summit) is your goal because that is literally the hardest/steepest part of the climb. After that, the walk to the actual summit is just a 45-minute gentle hill climb.


Eating and Snacks:

We were told we would be fed well but we had NO idea what that meant.

As a result, we each brought a TON of snacks, even more so than what we bring on a regular training hike for 8 miles.

That was so unnecessary.

Here’s the meal breakdown:

Condiments such as Nutella, peanut butter, honey and creamer were available, plus tea, coffee and hot chocolate were provided at every meal.

TIP: Bring ginger tea to help with nausea. Also, if you mix coffee, hot chocolate and powdered milk/creamer, you have a Mountain Mocha! (Pro tip: Beth!)

Breakfast: Porridge/Oatmeal, omelets, fruit, fried bread, toast, pancakes, banana toast sandwiches.

TIP: If you do not like soupy oatmeal like me, bring instant oatmeal packets to mix in (another pro tip I read). We also added teaspoons of peanut butter and chopped up apples (leftover from lunches or snacks they gave us the day before) – THAT made a HUGE difference, since I hate oatmeal in general.

Lunch: Sometimes a soup, but mainly sandwiches, fruit, fried bread

Dinner: A soup or stew, bread, a protein, fruit, vegetables, sometimes dessert.

I really appreciated how they paid attention to our nutritional needs throughout the trip. The experience that stood out the most to me was dinner the night before the Barranco Wall climb, which is the most strenuous part of the entire trip. We were fed pasta and sauce and bread. Basically, they were carbo-loading us, which was EXTREMELY APPRECIATED for our energy levels the next day. It was similar daily through the summit night.

One of our climbers was a vegetarian, and had special soups made for her. After a day or two, the other carnivore and myself asked the cooks to make each meal vegetarian for all of us. Shereen and I found we had no desire for the protein they gave us (overly cooked pieces of pork or chicken) and we just wanted all the carbs and veggies instead (which is for good reason that I explain below).

Honestly, after every meal, we were stuffed and couldn’t even finish the food most of the time. We didn’t feel bad about it though because the porters would finish it off after we were done.

So, what happened with all those snacks we brought?

We each ate probably only 1-2 bars a day, or a bag or two of Cheez-its or peanut butter crackers. Chocolate too. That was it. I was full on water and from our meals each day.

At the end of the trip, we wound up giving the porters and guides a bursting gallon-sized bag of our snacks, which they GREATLY appreciated!

TIP: KEEP EATING AS YOU GAIN ELEVATION. Your appetite will diminish over time, but in order to keep your energy levels up, you need to keep eating, even if you don’t want to.

TIP: Focus more on carbs and soups as you get higher on the mountain. Fat and protein tend to upset the stomach, causing a lot of unwanted gastric side affects (diarrhea, nausea). I stuck with this eating plan (Pro tip: Ken!) and it worked out fine.

TIP: FART. A LOT. In front of your friends and strangers. Just do it. One of the climbers has been a friend of mine for 20 years and we’d never farted in front of each other until about 14,000 feet in Africa. Just do it. Then sigh with relief. Then giggle. Then keep on keepin’ on.

TIP: Hard candies. They are GREAT for summit night – they help take your mind off the climbing at night, the nausea you feel, the desire to want to go back down or to sit on a rock and fall asleep. They’re easy to share with others. Ginger chews from Trader Joes were a LIFE SAVER for the nausea. I also brought Jolly Ranchers, Werthers and Dove Chocolates.


The Underwear Dilemma:

Do you take one for each day and throw out each pair? Or only a few and line them with liners daily? Turn them inside out to double their use?

Your choice. I wound up thinking I’d do the first, but then sorta did the second. Basically, I changed every other day. Again, you don’t work up a stink and sweat, so they didn’t feel terribly awful. The liners helped.




Great for summit night to take your mind off the climb. Also during long stretches of hikes to take your mind off the pace, or if you’re feeling particularly bad.

Solar Chargers & Battery Chargers for Phones/Cameras:

I borrowed a Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar charger from a friend. Mainly because my phone was old and the battery drained quickly, so I didn’t trust big battery packs.

Concept: The solar panels charged the external battery pack during the day, which I’d use at night to charge my phone. However, because there is no service on the mountain (and who wants to be plugged in anyway?), I kept my phone on airplane mode the whole time and just used it as a camera. I barely got below 70% each day and could have gotten away with a big battery pack, like what Beth brought (a 20,000hz battery bank). She never used up the juice in her battery pack. I would have gone with that option.

Phone Camera vs. Fancy Camera:

I brought both but never pulled out the fancy camera after the first day (I borrowed a friend’s Fuji XT-2). You’re so tired and focused on moving, eating, drinking, peeing and sleeping, the last thing you want to do is fidget with a fancy camera to try and capture the perfect sunset or sunrise photos (because they really are wonderfully dramatic!). But my Samsung phone honestly did a great job and I don’t regret not using the fancy camera.

Save the fancy camera for the safari (and DEFINITELY rent the BIG lens for it!).

Medical/First Aid:

Guides have a First Aid kit and oxygen but here are a few things I’m glad we tucked into our packs:

Tums: Beth and Shereen had upset stomachs, so they shared my bag of Tums/antacids all week.

Pepto-Bismol: Chewables! I wound up having a small bout of travelers diarrhea at the end of the climb and at our hotel on the last day in Africa. Beth gave me a few of these and they immediately fixed everything.

Baby Aspirin: I picked up baby aspirin by mistake instead of regular, but I’m glad I did. My nagging headache from 15,000 feet to the summit was low grade and I kept it in check by popping a few every four hours or so. With Advil/Aleve/Tylenol/Regular Aspirin, you would only be able to take a dosage every 6-12 hours, which I suppose is fine, but it was nice to have a low dosage option and eat them like candy with no adverse side effects.

Ginger Chews: For nausea. We each brought different kinds of ginger chews and we all wound up liking these the best:

They weren’t too spicy or sweet (especially, if you don’t like ginger like me). They were hard as rocks but this was good because you could just suck on them for a long time. They were a lifesaver on summit night.

Ginger Tea: Also nausea. Great to have with meals, especially at higher elevations.

Buffs/Sun Protection/Hat/Glasses combos: The sun doesn’t seem that strong there since the warmth felt mild, but we knew it was definitely strong since we were close to the equator.

Beth was especially prone to sunburn, so she did a combo of wearing a buff, my glacier glasses (which were darker than her glacier glasses) and a hat with a protective layer that covered her neck and part of her face. I had a safari hat with a huge wide brim, which I actually regret bringing because the back of it hit my pack all the time, and wish I’d brought just a ball cap. She would use the safari hat occasionally though because of the brim. Overall, she and I wound up swapping hats and sunglasses based on her needs, and it was nice to have a variety of options.

I wound up wearing a buff the whole time around my neck to help with sun protection, or if it got chilly. And on summit night, I wore two when I realized I forgot my balaclava. It felt protective and was breathable at the same time (can’t say the same for Gortex).

And that is pretty much it for unsolicited advice on how to climb Kilimanjaro.

Also, did we summit? Yes, my friend and I summited. It was not without some challenges with our porters and guides, but we did summit. That is all.