If things go well, I will trekking in Tanzania soon – hiking up Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. I am excited about the upcoming hike as I am doing it with Trekking for Kids, with whom I hiked in Romania in the summer of 2012. Our hike will help a local orphanage with capital improvements to the infrastructure and, therefore, improve the standard of living for the children who live there.
I do have certain anxiety about how well prepared I will be in terms of level of fitness and about how altitude may affect me. But for everything else, research and planning has helped me ensure I have everything else I need for the hike! Here are the seven items you will not see me without (should you see me!) while I hike “Kili”…
The things that will keep me warm
One of the most important things to know about Kilimanjaro is that you go through five (5) distinct climate zones as you pursue this mountain. This means you need to be prepared for the range of climate conditions across these 5 zones. Pack for cold and pack for warm. Of course, as the hike goes higher, I am told to expect VERY cold temperatures. The challenge with this, for me, will be getting out of the sleeping bags in the cold mornings!!
Of course, using layers is how I will handle the variations in temperatures that I will go through during the hike. Let me share my three most important items to stay warm:
#1 - My outermost layer is a hardshell exterior (see below for picture) to provide me protection from the wind and from water. The Arcteryx piece I chose is of top quality and its design is perfect for the conditions of the hike, especially its versatility as it can serve in warmer and colder temperatures as a barrier to water. It uses Gore-Tex and delivers a very lightweight piece – important as I will want to go as light as possible! Some features that I liked about this model were the under-arm zippers in case extra ventilation is needed, and the hoodie. Mine is orange, for the record.
#2 – For the second layer from the outside, I needed to choose something to keep me warm and, again, be light enough (begin to see a pattern?!). I chose an REI Revelcloud jacket which can also serve as a barrier to water for times when I may not want to wear the outer layer. At higher altitude, I will use both. It can help withstand winds of up to 50 mph! This particular jacket uses Primaloft, a synthetic material that emulates down but is not bulky and able to be compacted into the little bag it comes with. Also, its design eliminates shoulder seams which will help with range of motion, especially good since I will likely be wearing multiple layers and too many seams can become an annoyance. (I cannot find the item any more in the REI website; likely a new model is being rolled out – I bought mine at a great discount sale! Below I share a link to what seems to be a similar item for this layer.) I have to admit that I have been wearing this jacket when the weather has gotten cold as the material is very soft and it just feels good.
After trying several layers on, it became clear the outer ones described above should be a size larger than I would normally wear if not putting on several layers. At colder times, I will be wearing two under layers: a smart wool one and then perhaps a thinner one next to my skin (helping withdraw moisture from my skin). I will likely not wear as many layers on my legs as I do on my torso. Hiking pants with a thin layer (like long johns) under them should suffice. Says he…
#3 – After discussing clothing, let me share how everyone stays warm at night. <Sleeping bag enters the stage left of center> Instead of buying a sub-zero-rated sleeping bag that I may not use too often, I chose to go for one rated for zero degree (that I may get to re-use in other hikes that do not go as high and cold) and get a liner with something akin to thermonuclear for its rating. (Do some reading on the ratings ahead of time so you know how to read the sleeping bag specs.) I also wanted to make sure I used something that would pack relatively light.
The shape of the sleeping bag matters a good bit – something that had not occurred to me prior to researching the matter. But it makes perfect sense that at very cold settings, you want to maximize heat retention. Models whose width tapers down as it moves from head to feet are the best – they are called “mummy”-shaped as that is what they look like. The less air inside, the less cold inside when you get it in that will need your body heat to warm up. Therefore, more heat stays with you. (That thermodynamics course in college is paying off – finally!) This sleeping bag’s 2-way zippers will also make the job of closing and opening it up easier – nice feature!
My knee’s best friends – hiking poles!
#4 - I have learned that hiking poles are my knees’ BFFs. They help with stability but, more importantly, they have a mission of protecting my knees from too much wear-and-tear, especially while descending. I decided to take advantage of a sale to get a great pair that have anti-shock features. I am sure people will have different opinions but hikers that I know well (and trust) said they would be worth the extra expense. The weight of the poles is also something to consider so an aluminum shaft was perfect.
After deciding on the anti-shock and the weight, the next consideration was the grip or handle. This is a matter of personal preference. I chose a round cork top (that unscrews to also serve as a camera mount!) with a long foam cover under the top for the different grip I will want. The locking mechanism can matter – some are easier to lock. The ones I got use twist-lock for ease of adjusting since I will be wearing gloves a good bit. Oh, and I bought rubber tips to use. I share both the one I ended up getting and another I considered. The one I got from REI. What sold me on the REI one was the handle.
Big priority – stay hydrated!
#5 - Hydration will be key to my well-being during this hike (pretty much true of any hike). Carrying a bottle and dealing with pulling it out when I want to drink is a little bit of a nuisance. This will especially be true on this hike when I may be wearing gloves a lot. A camelbak is perfect as it allows easy access to water at any point without having to stop or slow down. Additionally, I have learned that I drink water on a more frequent basis by sipping because it is easy with a camelbak tube versus gulping water more spaced out whenever I decide to pull a water bottle out. Sipping has another added benefit: because I don’t take in water in bigger gulps, I need fewer nature stops – who’s with me??
My camelbak bag is inserted into my backpack (designed for this). I may be buy something to protect the tube coming out of the backpack to prevent it from freezing when it is very cold. Of course, making sure I have safe-to-drink water is a big priority. Steripen or something similar will be crucial so consider it item #5.5!
Oh, and someone suggested a hot water bottle that you fill in with hot water before zipping up the sleeping bag to help keep you warm AND to have non-freezing cold water when you wake up to drink! Now, does that go in this section or on the first section about keeping warm??
Finally, show me the way…
#6 - No, my final item is not my boots but that’s not because they are not important. Please be sure to find comfortable boots, that are water resistant, and then be very sure to break them in through practice hikes!! Blisters are your worst enemy. Back to #6… my headlight. The ascent to Kili’s summit starts around midnight so this will be an essential item to go up. Why does it start at this weird hour? Because you want to be up there to see the first morning light!! However, this headlamp will also be important so I can see at nighttime before I head to “bed” and in case I wake up in the middle of the night and need to relieve myself, something I hope I don’t have to do often!
OK, one more thing (I did say 7 in the title…)
#7 - Duct tape. Duct tape can serve MANY purposes. If anything breaks, you can likely fix it. But also, should you start developing blisters, apply some small strips of duct tape to protect the spot and prevent a full-blown blister. They are THE last thing a hiker needs!
Well, a few more things…
I hope this has been a helpful list. There are many other things to consider as you prep for a hike like this and I would be remiss if I don’t list some here just to be sure: a backpack that feels comfortable (and that has both waist and chest front straps), sunblock, chapstick, snacks, wipies (!), underwear that takes moisture away from your skin, sunglasses, warm hat, gloves, ear plugs (because you never know who may be sleeping next to you!), a hot water bottle (will feel nice inside that sleeping bag!), and finally: a camera for all the great shots you will want to take!
Bottom line: do your research and be prepared – it will make the experience much more memorable! Stay tuned for my updates from my hike of Kilimanjaro!