Plan your climb

These pages are intended to provide you with the information you need to plan and complete a successful ascent of Kilimanjaro. They consider everything from kit through choice of route and climb operator. Read on for an overview of the key points along with links to more detailed pages found elsewhere on this site.

Why Kili?

Camping conditions are austere and the thin air causes altitude sickness. Kilimanjaro also hurls some atrocious weather your way, so what’s the appeal? In just a few days trekkers climb from the equator to the Arctic: through tropical rain forest, Alpine meadows, moorland, desert uplands, to snow and ice. You can trace the grand process of evolution in reverse: from the animals of the forest to the first stirrings of bacterial life on the summit.

The mountain inspires a good level of physical and mental strength, but climbing Kili can benefit the Tanzanians, as well as yourself. The people are courteous, helpful and incredibly friendly and Kilimanjaro is an integral part of their tourism industry, creating jobs, and generating much needed foreign revenue.

Tanzania’s equatorial location is easily reached by international flights and the challenge can be incorporated into a broader itinerary. ‘Next door’ is the famous northern safari circuit comprising Manyara, Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Tarangire. The sandy beaches of Tanzania’s coastline and offshore islands like Zanzibar and Pemba barely an hour away – a pleasant coda to a tough climb!

Pre-climb preparations

Preparation and how you organise your climb will be critical to the success of the venture.

Getting fit before you climb is of course key. A basic training programme should include simple core fitness routines inside and outside of the gym, with an emphasis on hill training.

But preparing for your climb also means investing in the right kit and equipment, and carefully considering the route you use to climb and the operator you choose to climb with.

Kit
Climbing Kilimanjaro requires a substantial investment in kit. A good tour operator will provide the tents and cooking equipment, but you’ll need to provide just about everything else. Conditions vary, so pack for all weathers. Among the essentials, you will need:

•    A large waterproof kitbag or rucksack (60-90L)
•    A waterproof daypack (30-40L)
•    A good four-season sleeping bag plus fleece liner, offering comfort rating to –10c.
•    A quality sleeping mat. Bags and mats can be hired in advance through good tour operators.
•    Sturdy walking boots with ankle support. Wear these in before your trip.
•    Waterproof windbreaker and trousers.
•    A down or ski jacket for summit night is essential. These can be hired locally.
•    Thermal underwear.
•    Thermal balaclava or insulated hat.
•    Insulated gloves/mittens and thermal inner gloves.
•    Sunhat, sun cream protection and sunglasses.
•    Insect repellent and malaria tablets.
•    Water purification tablets.
•    Telescopic walking poles with rubber tips are highly recommended

For a detailed kit list, along with information on equipment hire and price guidelines, see our comprehensive Kilimanjaro kit guide.

Choosing an operator
There are hundreds of operators, local and international, offering Kilimanjaro climbs, and the quality of service they offer can vary dramatically. Your choice of operator will have a real influence on the success of your climb.

With the number of Kilimanjaro operators there are to consider, knowing what to ask any given operator before you commit to climbing with them is most important. You should question them on their costs, their choice of route, their emergency procedures, the quality of the guides that they employ and the wages that they pay them. See our guidelines on choosing a Kilimanjaro operator.

Climbing for charity
As Kilimanjaro represents such an obvious challenge, it is no surprise that many people want to conquer it for a worthy cause. Our climbing for charity pages provide information on charity challenge events that allow you to part-fund your climb through fundraising.

You can also read about the charities we work with in East Africa, such as Community Projects Africa (CPA).

Choosing a route
Kilimanjaro offers a bewildering range of routes such as Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Rongai. Lesser known routes include the North Flank and the Circuit Climb. If you are considering taking up the challenge, then give some careful thought to the trail that best suits you. The routes vary widely, offering different degrees of difficulty and varied landscapes. Some are busy and commercial or you can go off-the-beaten track for a more peaceful experience.

For convenience we can divide the routes into two loosely named zones: East & North, and South & West.

From the East & North you can trek up via Marangu or Rongai. Both of these routes use Marangu for descent.

From the South & West you can trek up Machame, Umbwe, Lemosho, and Shira. These approach routes mostly converge on the high trail known as Barafu, which takes you from the southern circuit up to Stella Point. Barafu itself is not a complete route from base to summit, but rather a section of higher trail that is shared by several of the main routes. Exceptions to the use of Barafu would be the Western Breach and North Face ascents. All the South & West approach routes use Mweka Route for their descent. This is mandatory.

Read our Kilimanjaro’s routes overview, in which we detail the relative advantages of each.

When to climb
Just as your choice of route and operator has a significant influence on the success or not of your climb, so too does the time of year you choose to climb.

Kilimanjaro experiences dramatic seasonal shifts in its climate. But thankfully these shifts are fairly regular and consistent. There’s no single best time to climb, but certain seasons offer advantages over others. Our Kilimanjaro season chart provides a brief overview.

On the climb

Staying safe

Staying healthy and safe is crucial for a successful climb. Our mountain safety pages detail the risks (and perceived risks) involved in a high altitude climb like Kilimanjaro.

Besides the traveler’s usual complaints, like sunburn and stomach upsets, the main problem on Kilimanjaro is the altitude. Healthy people may travel rapidly to 11,480ft above sea level but can develop symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) after arrival. Those with respiratory cardiac problems may experience symptoms lower down. Virtually all climbers will experience some of the following symptoms: headache, disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness and lassitude and vomiting. AMS can affect the climber’s ability to make sound decisions.

Our acclimatisation guide outlines the risks of altitude sickness and the preventative measures you can take to counter them.

Environment
Kilimanjaro National Park is a World Heritage Site. Tourism is central to the Tanzanian economy, but can affect the environment. KINAPA guidelines on environmental protection should be respected. Listen to your guides and follow their route. Going off the beaten track could damage sensitive soil and vegetation.

Provided your climb operator is competent, your support team should remove all waste, especially glass and tin, which is to be carried out of the area and disposed of responsibly. The regulations now stipulate the use of gas cookers instead of camp fires, to preserve natural wood resources. Leave camps clean, even if it means picking up other people’s rubbish. Smokers should collect matches and cigarette butts and dispose of them properly at camp. Cigarette butts are a fire risk, take years to decompose and can harm wildlife.

Your crew should erect a toilet tent at camp and collect and burn paper waste. Ask your guide what to do with the rubbish when you are out trekking. Toilet paper is unsightly and takes ages to break down.