8 Insider Tips to Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro

"Pole, pole."

You'll hear these words as soon as you arrive to the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. In Swahili, it means "slowly, slowly" and it has been adopted as a motto by the porters and guides helping hikers reach the top. It might be the most important piece of advice, too. A slow, gradual ascent up the mountain gives climbers the best chance at success. (Choose the route that's best for you.) 

According to Kilimanjaro National Park, about 60,000 people from around the world attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It's estimated that 66 percent reach the top to Uhuru Peak at 5,895m. Here are some tips you may not hear, but should know, to ensure your success in reaching the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

1. Go with a group.

My sister and I signed up for an open group climb (as opposed to a private climb) meaning that we would be hiking up the mountain with a group selected by the tour company. This can greatly reduce the cost (the more people in your group, the lower the price), but more importantly, company is nice to have while hiking Kilimanjaro. We got lucky and were grouped with a friendly 29-year-old guy from California. You'll also have plenty of opportunities to meet other hikers from around the world as you make your way up, especially at the camps. It isn't hard to find like-minded, chill, friendly people on the mountain. 

 We chose an open group climb and traveled up Kilimanjaro with Yichao. Traveling in a group was fun, but I would suggest sticking to small groups. Three was ideal. 

We chose an open group climb and traveled up Kilimanjaro with Yichao. Traveling in a group was fun, but I would suggest sticking to small groups. Three was ideal. 

2. Pack a lot of socks. 

Pack at least four pair of smart wool socks (which I admit isn't a lot, but is more than I packed). Save one pair for summit night. Cold feet should not be on your list of worries. Be nice to your feet and take your hiking boots off when you reach the camps at the end of each day. Bring sandals that are easy to slip on and off while wearing socks (like Birkenstocks or Tevas). 

For a complete packing guide, have no fear, go here

3. Ask a lot of questions.

Your guides are there to help. One of our guides, Prosper, told us he climbed the mountain about 400 times. He has a 100 percent success rate, too—every single time he brought someone up Kilimanjaro, they made it to the top. So, we knew we were in good hands.

We asked Prosper a lot of questions and his expertise made us feel more prepared and safe on our trip. He told us what to put in our day packs, how to pack it, how to layer our clothes, how much water to drink and the conditions we would expect on the mountain. We also asked a lot of questions about Tanzanian culture and stories from the mountain. Our assistant guide, Kash, and one of our porters, Joseph were eager to teach us about their culture and give Swahili lessons, too. Even if you don't have time to explore Moshi or the surrounding regions of Tanzania after the climb, there are many opportunities for cultural exchange while traveling with your guides and porters on the mountain. 

 Prosper and me at Karanga camp at 3,900m. Kili made a quick appearance and then went back to hiding behind the clouds. 

Prosper and me at Karanga camp at 3,900m. Kili made a quick appearance and then went back to hiding behind the clouds. 

4. Bring a very small pack up on summit day.

Summit night is tough. We left camp at 11:30 p.m. It was snowing and very cold. The climb is steep. Packing light is key and will make this leg of the journey much more bearable.

You don't need to bring much up the mountain on summit night. Water in the most important, but it is recommended to bring some snacks and sunglasses for when the sun eventually rises. I filled my 3L Camelbak bladder with water and regretted it because my pack was very heavy, making it difficult to make the steep climb. If it is possible, bring 1L and re-fill once you get back to camp. (I'd suggest bringing a hydration pack if you have one and shove snacks and sunglasses in your pockets). 

If using a reusable water bottle, pack that upside down (so the water on the bottom freezes first and you can still drink the water on the top) and insulate it inside your pack with clothes. If using a Camelbak bladder, your water will freeze in the tube. So it is helpful to bring the water bottle so that you can transfer water from the bladder to drink. 

 Packing a Camelbak bladder makes it easier to drink the suggested 3L of water every day.

Packing a Camelbak bladder makes it easier to drink the suggested 3L of water every day.

5. Test out your gear before starting to climb.

Layers, layers, layers! They are key to packing for Kilimanjaro since you will pass through five different climate zones before reaching Uhuru Peak. But you still need to be able to move with all of them on. (I felt like the Abominable Snowman in my four layers of pants and five layers of shirts/jackets on summit night). Try on your clothes to make sure you can move with your layers before starting your climb.

It's also a good idea to break into your hiking boots before arriving at the base of the mountain. Though the amount of hours hiked per day will vary depending on the route you choose, expect to hike anywhere from four to twelve hours a day (we hiked twelve hours on summit night and this was the longest day). 

Make sure your batteries are charged. Test them in your headlamp (you will need this for late night pee trips and summit night). Pack extra batteries, just in case. 

6. Be in shape.

Being in your best physical shape for Mount Kilimanjaro can only help you in your attempt to reach the top. That being said, don't freak out if you're not. People of all shapes, sizes, and athletic abilities are successful in reaching the top of Africa's highest mountain. Training for the climb before you arrive in Tanzania will make your climb more enjoyable. But climbing Kilimanjaro is ultimately a test of mental strength. Believe in yourself! 

20180213041653_IMG_2777.JPG

7. Travel with a company that partners with the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project. 

The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, or KPAP, is a local nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the fair and ethical treatment of porters and crew on Kilimanjaro. As partners of KPAP, the company we traveled with, Gladys Adventure, follow strict standards to make sure the porters are treated fairly. 

Porters are the backbone of the trek. Without them, no one would make it to the top. Many porters can be ill-equipped, poorly paid, and experience unethical working conditions. KPAP works to improve the porters' conditions by lending mountain clothes to porters free of charge, advocating for fair wages and ethical treatment by all Kilimanjaro companies, and provide educational opportunities to the mountain crew.

At each camp, there is a weighing station for the porters to weight the gear they will take up the mountain. While porters are limited to 20kg on their backs, they will typically carry heavy tents or bags on their heads. Partners of KPAP make sure their porters are following these weight guidelines to ensure decent working conditions. We are glad we chose a company that respects porters.

Also, have fun with your porters! We had a great group of porters with us and they were great company to have. 

8. If going on a safari, take at least half-a-day's break after your climb.

We arrived in Moshi around 10 a.m. after finishing our climb. By noon, we were in a Land Rover headed to Tarangerie National Park for our safari. We were tired. If your schedule allows it, take time to relax in your hotel for at least half a day. Take a long, hot shower. Treat yourself to ice cream. You will deserve it. 

 My sister, Molly and me at 'Hippo Lake' in Ngorogoro Crater. We drank coffee and ate breakfast while watching a dozen hippos, that seem to have disappeared for this photo, chill in the lake. 

My sister, Molly and me at 'Hippo Lake' in Ngorogoro Crater. We drank coffee and ate breakfast while watching a dozen hippos, that seem to have disappeared for this photo, chill in the lake. 

Safari njema! Safe travels and good luck! 

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.