When considering Kilimanjaro, I definitely had reservations. I have arthritis and a few other physical issues, I’m only modestly physically fit and maybe most concerning of all, I live in Wisconsin, and like a lot of areas in the world, the landscape is relatively flat here so it’s hard to simulate the hiking conditions trekkers will face on Kili. But I did the trek anyway (a customized 6-day Rongai trek with Mawenzi Tarn Hut), and I summited Kilimanjaro! While I found the mountain to be a challenge, it was not the overwhelming one I had feared. With a little planning and research, I think most physically-OK travelers with an adventurous spirit & a commitment to success can summit the peak. Here are some suggestions (in no particular order) regarding things that helped me reach the top of Africa – I hope they help you too!
Note: We always recommend that a traveler obtains direct medical advice from his or her own personal physician before they go on any adventure. The suggestions in this post are only that, just suggestions, and they do not replace professional medical guidance. They also do they constitute any kind of guarantee for summit success. We just hope these suggestions help as one small but helpful part of the planning & summiting process!
Train before you go. In Wisconsin, it can be hard to find anywhere with any significant elevation gains to prepare you for Kilimanjaro, but I made a point to go outside and walk every day for 6 weeks before I left. I found places with some elevation gain. In Wisconsin, they included Devil’s Lake State Park, certain trails at Governor Dodge State Park, like the Pine Bluff trail, among other places, like Owen Conservancy, right here in Madison, and parts of the Ice Age Trail nearby. Just about every state has a few places like these. I’d repeat hikes that gave me some solid ups and downs. I’d walk upstairs instead of taking the elevator, etc., etc. Previous blog posts have covered this (training for Kilimanjaro >>) in much greater detail and this idea is nothing new, but I can vouch 100% that this pre-trip effort made a huge difference.
Have a good daypack. Any old duffel bag or large backpack will do for your portaged gear, but for the daypack you carry yourself, be sure to have one that fits you, and ideally has several little features like a strong chest strap, a decent padded hip belt, easily accessible pockets for Nalgene bottles and multiple zippered enclosures to organize different gear. I bought and used a 32 liter Osprey Skarab 32 EX with 2.5 liter water reservoir. Note: like with training, we’ve covered what to bring before (e.g. in this blog post, What to bring on Kilimanjaro >>, and our excellent Kilimanjaro Packing List >>) so these are just some truly notable items that helped me.
Ibuprofen. I brought some ibuprofen for relief of minor aches and pains but found it particularly useful for easing headaches at high altitude, especially summit day.
Hand warmers. I brought 2 pairs of Yaktrax hand warmers, though I only used one on summit morning. I also brought a pair of toe warmers that I didn’t use. As long as you keep your feet moving that helps keep the toes warm. But having the toe warmers handy as a back up plan gave me a psychological boost.
Diamox. Per my travel doctor’s recommendations, I took about a third of the maximum dosage daily starting on my first day of trekking and up to summit day. My route, the Rongai, is a very good trek for acclimatization so I’ll never know if the Diamox really helped or not but with the lower dosage I didn’t see the negatives and my nausea was slight. Some people report bad nausea and while I don’t know for sure, I think the Diamox helped with that. My oxygen levels (through Oximeter readings from my guide) were good throughout the trek.
Drink lots of water. I brought 2 Nalgene bottles and the water reservoir in the daypack. I found this worked very well and felt like I always had plenty of water. The waiter on my mountain team always sprinted into action on every request I made morning or night for more drinking water.
A good pair of mid-weight waterproof boots. I hiked Kilimanjaro in Vasque Talus Trek Ultradry boots. These were really reasonably priced (about $150) and the break-in time was maybe a month, but they were very comfortable from almost the beginning. Be sure you have room in the front of your boot on downhills – it pays off to be patient, test out different pairs, and find the right boot and size for you.
Thick high quality hiking socks. These can be surprisingly expensive, at $25-30/pair. I brought along two really good new pairs of thick hiking socks (Smartwool heavy trekking socks) to go along with my older socks, saving one fresh new pair for summit day.
A good quality rain jacket. Like the rest of your gear, this doesn’t have to be top-shelf or Mt. Everest quality. Just something that is good quality. I brought along a Marmot Minimalist Shell and it worked wonders on my November trek. The first three days were constant rain and I was comfortable the entire way.
A bottle of liquid bandage. I brought special bandages for blisters but I never needed them, since I used the liquid bandage to coat hot spots each night with 1 or 2 coatings. I never developed blisters. Most of my medical kit was unused in fact but just having certain things along, like Ace bandages, made me feel more comfortable pushing my limits.
Drink mix for water. I used Propel, grape flavor, but any of them would do (Emergen-C, etc.). If you have any unused packets left over at the end you can give them to the porters.
Stretching multiple times a day. I would do about 10 minutes of good leg and back stretching each morning and that really helped my joints. I’d also do a little stretching on the trail and when we reached camp, really whenever needed. Learn and try various stretches before you go if you aren’t an practiced runner or stretching expert, or take some yoga and learn a few good poses from the instructors.
Fitover sunglasses. I have high prescription eyeglasses and a problem with my eyes that means I can’t use contacts. So I brought 2 pairs of polarized fitover sunglasses with 100% UVA/UVB protection, one for daily use and the other as a back up in case they were scratched. there is sharp volcanic grit everywhere that can easily scratch glasses, be alert. Also, if you are like me with a high prescription, bring a second back up pair of eyeglasses.
Hand sanitizer. Your hands will get dirty on the mountain. I brought 2 small travel bottles and used almost all of both on the 6 day trek. I also brought a small package of wet wipes.
A big bag of peanut M&M’s. Indispensable. But bringing any of your favorite snacks, a little for each day, is a good idea.
Bring a good (paperback) book. Indispensable. I brought the 400 page Ready Player One by Earnest Cline and read the whole book during the 6-days. I also brought a small journal to doodle in and jot down notes and observations.
Request/reserve a second sleeping mat. One mat is fine but 2 will almost feel like a nominal bed.
Request/reserve a folding chair with a back. We include a folding stool on all of our treks but requesting a chair with a back is a good way to go for extra lounge-ability.
Purify water. Bring water purification tablets or a steripen or reserve our Katadyn filter for your group. While our mountain staff always boils water for your use, at the highest altitudes, sometimes reaching a rolling boil can be a challenge making an extra level of purification a reasonable idea. Note: one easy way to get all of the last 3 items is to reserve our Luxury Kilimanjaro package add-on >>, a package of special features that you can reserve for any trek with us.
You can also look over our page full of Kilimanjaro trekking advice >> from our past travelers for more ideas. But the best possible advice I can give is be sure to reserve your Kilimanjaro trek with a caring, reputable, professional outfitter like Adventures Within Reach. We may not be the least expensive company, but we are not the most expensive either. We take great pride in treating mountain guides and porters equitably, making sure you get good, safe food to eat on the mountain, and that you have excellent mountain staff to care for you on your trip and high-quality gear for the trek. Climbing Kilimanjaro may sound like hard work, but it actually felt more like a phenomenal vacation to me, one of the best I’ve ever had!