Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, one of the seven summit in the seven summit challenge and an accessible 5000+ peak. The trek is not technical and apart from a good physical condition, you can do it with the same gear you would use for overnight outings. We went there in September last year with the team and had a really great time.
Summiting Kilimanjaro is a human experience as much as a physical challenge. You will go up with a crew of locals and have the chance to connect a lot with them. We decided to go for the longer Lemosho route, 8 days, 7 nights. We summited on the 7th day at 5:45am. That last push is the only difficult part of the entire journey. Take your time, “pole pole” as they say.
I’ve compiled a list of what I feel is important to look at in terms of gear. We were happy with our choices but keep in mind that you should adapt this list to your particular needs.
Sleeping bag and liner
The night temperatures will depend on the season and the weather you get. We got very lucky by all records, not a single day of rain, blue skies most of the time. The lowest temperature I recorded inside the tent at night was -6°C. Our kit was comprised of a down sleeping bag rated -3°C comfort, the Cumulus Lite Line 300 and a warm liner, the Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme. Merino top and bottom base layers and a thick pair of socks did the trick for me.
Of course the sleeping bag is only half of the equation. I thanked the gear god everyday for Klymit’s Insulated Static V lite. It’s super comfy, light and insulates very well from the cold rocks. Don’t skimp on the mattress, the ground is very uneven and although our crew did a great job at clearing the area before setting up the tent, sleeping pad thickness is important. The ones we could rent with them were pretty thin and looked ineffective.
I’ve seen many list prefer a poncho-type rain protection instead of a classic hardshell jacket. My opinion is, go for a good shell, because you will need something light and windproof for summit day and a poncho will turn into a kite there. Or take both, if weight is not a criterion.
The Patagonia M10 or the Arc’teryx Alpha SV were perfectly suited for the conditions as would many from other brands. You want something light, with a good quality membrane and a good fit that will allow for multiple thick layers (summit day) but not catch too much wind. Technical hood is a must.
I brought an ultralight down jacket, the Rab Microlight Alpine. Perfect for most of the trek, slightly too thin for Stella Point and it’s -15C plus wind chill but I managed. One of my mates with an Arc’Teryx Cerium LT did not have any issues neither did a guy with a heavier Rab Electron. I was wearing five layers: merino short sleeves, merino long sleeves, merino fleece, down jacket, hardshell. I feel cold before other people in general. Apart from summit day, the rest of the trek went well with the Microlight Alpine, I would put it on when stopping or at camp and never felt cold.
The first couple of days are, if the weather holds, rather hot and I trekked wearing lightweight summer trousers. It is very dusty on the first trails and you often progress in clouds of the rich dark soil of the volcanic mountain. Some guide and porters use gaiters and shorts. If you go for trousers go for ones that have a tight fabric that will not let the dust through. Gaiters looked like a good idea to not carry dust inside the tent. Not mandatory, just a plus in my opinion.
At higher altitudes it is still very dusty but also colder and windier. After day four I started wearing a pair of softshell trousers instead for the added protection.
Longjohns are mandatory for summit night but I also wore mine some colder nights. I have a trusty pair of merino ones from Smartwool that did the job splendidly. I also packed 2 pairs of Smartwool Merino PHD socks, heavy for cold days and a couple of Icebreaker running socks for the start and at camp. Yes, you counted right, that’s less socks than days but if you rotate them well and let them breath outside it’s fine. You could really do this with a total of three pairs I think, one light, two heavies.
I had three pairs with me. A thin Merino liner, normal ones you would wear in the city (Northface Etip) and a heavy leather Black Diamond pair I use for snowboarding. I ended up using the TNF ones a few times during the trek and all three on summit night. You could also pack some hand warmers for emergencies but please, do not throw them away on the trail. It is littered with used ones people discarded on their way up, a real shame on what should be a pristine mountain.
Most if not all outfitters will get someone of the crew to carry a bag with your camp stuff so you only need a day pack. Keep in mind you need 3L of water with you. Because conditions on Kili change rapidly you should also have at all times a rain jacket, insulation layer and snacks (among other personal things). My 34L Osprey Exos, or the Osprey Talon 33L were great but probably not necessary. You could probably get away with a smaller 25-30L bag.
The terrain is dusty rocky trails for most days and a long scree-covered slope to get to the summit. High boots work great for the dust, the potential rain, the hard rocks and the scree. I generally favor low ankle trail runners but this time I was glad I had high ones. I honestly can’t picture anything better than the Salomon Quest 3D GTX or comparable model from the brand (they have like 10 different models that all look the same). Great grip, super light and very resistant. Obviously, break them in a few months before the trek. Maybe the new Innov8 Roclite 325 GTX, if we had the chance to test a pair (wink wink).
Seriously, poles. The way down on the scree is just a nightmare without poles. Plus you will go down a lot of the last two days and you will be glad to have them. We tried a pair of Black Diamond Trail Back and the Leki Corklite Antishock I reviewed before. Both worked great. You don’t need anything fancy, just robust ones.
- long/short sleeves base layers
- spare batteries
- pocket knife
- energy bars
- travel towel
- hygiene kit
- waterproof storage bags
- pack cover