12 Things I Wish I Knew Before Climbing Kilimanjaro

You undoubtedly learn a lot of things during your climb of Kilimanjaro. After your climb, you might realize there are a few things you should have done differently to make yourself stronger or more prepared.

This guide will cover some of the most important things climbers said they wish they knew before Climbing Kilimanjaro.


1. Bring Layers and Prepare for the Cold

Many people underestimate how cold it can really get on the mountain since it’s located on the equator. The best thing you can do is bring as many layers as possible. If you happen to feel warm, it’s easy to shed layers.

If you are too cold though and didn’t bring enough layers, there are not a lot of options.

All your clothes should be dry wick so they don’t stick to your body. Ideally, your outer layers need to be waterproof. Being cold and wet at the same time is an easy way to get sick and not be able to summit. Read more about what to pack for Kilimanjaro

2. The Kilimanjaro Summit Day Is the Hardest

While you will climb long hours every day, the summit day is the hardest. Just as you are starting to get used to the long climbing days, the summit day approaches and you have an even longer climbing day.

On the day of the summit, you have to wake up around midnight so that you can hopefully reach the peak before sunrise. At this point, you are climbing through the Highland Dessert and Artic Tundra climate zones where the air is very thin and cold.

Just keep walking and take each step at a time. Don’t forget to let your Kilimanjaro guides know if you feel sick or if you need to take a break.

3. Choose Your Route Wisely

There are several routes up the mountain and some are more difficult than others. By choosing a longer route, you have more time to adjust to the altitude. This is why routes like the 8-day Lemosho and 9-day Northern Circuit have higher success rates.

Many people are not aware of all the different route choices to the summit but the route you choose can really make or break your climb.

If you have done high-altitude climbing before or are very physically fit, you can try one of the shorter routes like the 6-day Marangu route option.

4. Watch Out For Altitude Sickness

Your guide should check your oxygen levels and lungs twice a day so they can monitor you for altitude sickness. However, you also need to know the signs and symptoms so you can take care of yourself and let a guide know.

Some people choose to take Diamox which can help with headaches and shortness of breath. This medication needs to be obtained from your home country at the discretion of a doctor.

If you experience any of the following, make sure to let your head guide know immediately:

  • Dizziness
  • Feeling overtired or fatigued
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Trouble sleeping

Some of these signs can just be from high levels of physical activity but other times they can be signs that you are developing altitude sickness.

5. You Might Find It Hard to Sleep

Even though you spend the whole day climbing, you might find it hard to sleep at the end of each day. This is because the reduced oxygen at the higher altitudes makes it hard to sleep well.

It’s normal to feel restless or to wake up several times during the night. You might also have very weird dreams which keep you awake.

Just try the best you can to get some good sleep and don’t let the lack of sleep deter you from summiting Kilimanjaro.

Even though poor sleep happens on the mountain, you should avoid taking sleeping pills. They can suppress the respiratory system and make it harder for your lungs to receive oxygen while on the mountain.

If you already take sleeping pills, you should let your doctor know you plan to climb Kilimanjaro and seek their advice. You should also let your guide know about any medicines you are taking.

6. Bring Lotion and Lip Balm

The wind and weather conditions on the mountain can make your skin extremely dry especially if you are already prone to having cracked or peeling skin. The weather can even make your lips swollen and cracked, so wearing lip balm is a must.

Make sure any lip balm or lotion you use has SPF in it. Apply it as often as you can to avoid damage to your lips.

While most of your body will be well protected by the weather, you want to make sure you moisturize all exposed skin such as the hands and face.

7. Get Ready to Drink Water and Pee All the Time

Your guides will encourage you to drink water all day long even if you might not feel thirsty. Staying hydrated makes climbing easier and it can also prevent altitude sickness so drinking enough water is key while on the mountain.

With all the extra water drinking, you might find yourself needing to pee much more often than normal. While climbing, you can stop to pee in a hidden area. At the camps, there are public toilet facilities. Our company also provides a private portable toilet that is much cleaner than the public ones.

Don’t hold your pee in though until you reach the camp every night. It’s perfectly normal to have to stop along the way and pee behind a rock or bush.

If you’re a woman, you might want to consider bringing a pee bottle. This allows you to pee standing up so you can just unzip your pants and pee into the bottle rather than having to pull down your trousers and pee squatting.

This really helps on very cold days as pulling down your entire trousers in the cold can be miserable.

Make sure you use the toilet tent right before bed so you hopefully don’t have to get out of your sleeping bag in the middle of the night to pee.

8. It’s Normal to Feel “Different” While High Up On the Mountain

Many people report that they feel “off” on summit day and maybe the day before as they get higher and higher up on the mountain. This is normal and not usually a cause for concern, but it’s something to be aware of so you can mentally prepare yourself.

Just make sure you know the difference between feeling a little “off” and suffering from altitude sickness. If you aren’t sure, let the guides know how you feel and they can determine better what might be happening.

Climbing and walking at high altitudes can make you feel exhausted very easily so even small tasks like going to the bathroom can take a lot of energy out of you. This is why it’s pretty normal to feel tired and out of it as you get to the higher altitudes.

9. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

At higher altitudes, your body is working harder even if you are just walking at a slow pace. This is why we recommend all climbers take on a slow and steady pace. Getting to the summit is not a race.

Even if you are at the back of the group every day, don’t feel bad! You are doing yourself a favor by going slow and letting your body adjust to the changing conditions.

10. The Right Gear Makes a Difference

The quote “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes” really applies while on the mountain. Climbers who have the right gear including thermal layers, waterproof down jackets, and thermal sleeping bags, report a much better experience while climbing compared to those who didn’t pack well.

Waterproof hiking boots are also a must. Ideally, they are already broken in and you have worn them a few times so you know if they are a good fit for you or not.

Some of this equipment can be pricey, which is why most companies give you the option of renting gear so you can still have all the proper items without breaking your wallet. Read our recommended Kilimanjaro packing List

11. Your Morale Matters

Climbing Kilimanjaro is not all physical. There is a huge mental component as well. As you get higher in altitude, it can be hard to keep up the energy and mentality you had at the beginning of the climb.

By keeping your morale high and keeping yourself mentally well, your chance of summiting is much higher.

This is one of the reasons why it’s important to sing, laugh, and dance on the mountain. Many crews will spend the mornings and walking hours singing with you so the entire group is able to keep their morale high.

By climbing with friends or joining a group, you might also find it easier to be supported since there are others experiencing the same things as you.

Many people travel and climb solo and then meet friends on the climb so feel free to sign up alone and join a larger group!

12. The Climb is Easier Than Most People Think, But Training is Still a Must

Kilimanjaro is called a “walk-up mountain” which means getting to the summit is one long hike with no technical climbing experience required. This means it’s much easier to reach the summit than people think.

You don’t have to be an experienced hiker or mountaineer to reach the top of Kilimanjaro. You do, however, need to prepare and train.

Even though there is no technical climbing, you still have to be prepared to walk for 5-10 hours a day and even more on the summit night. Preparing and training can ensure you are better prepared for the climb and that you have a very high chance of summiting.

Training your body is just as important as training your mind. Many people find yoga and meditation to be very helpful in getting your mind prepared for the climb.


The Bottom Line

Climbing Kilimanjaro is an amazing experience that you will never forget. By doing a lot of research and seeing what others wish they would have known before the climb, you can get a better idea of how to prepare for this amazing journey.