Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is quite the experience – an achievable one for most people with some training and mental readiness for the effort. But climbing to the “roof of Africa” is also an operational endeavor! Lots of planning for the clothing and other items that are needed, balancing need, cost, and weight. The following picture sort of gives you a visual of the amount of stuff involved in the trek!
I have written before about what to bring as far as clothing if you are climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro but I also want to share the other items that you ought to bring along. In no particular order, here are the top 14 items that were important for me in my hike.
1. Sleeping bag
Get a good one. One that keeps you warm. Remember that some of them work best when you wear the least amount of clothing. I know. It seems counter-intuitive. But it is true. Zero (Fahrenheit) -rated is recommended. If not, get a liner with extra warmth. But the best is just a good sleeping bag as the liner would be just one-more-thing to get into and out of… The mummy style works best. You want that tapered shape instead of a rectangular one – the rectangular one has more space for air inside that will need to be warmed and that heat comes from you body. The tapered one is better in that regard.
Oh, wipies, thou art so versatile! Whether it is cleaning yourself after a day of hiking or cleaning yourself after nature calls – or just to wipe your hands after eating, these little suckers are quite helpful. Take some. Take a good amount.
3. Pee bottle
“Huh??,” you may say. That’s what I said too. But, stay open-minded. Picture this: middle of the night, you zipped into your zero/sub-zero rated sleeping bag, in a tent, with two pairs of zippers in your way to go outside, you with little clothing on, outside freezing cold, you needing to put on clothes, shoes too, stumbling to find the headlamp so you don’t stumble outside OR, middle of the night, you zipped into your zero/sub-zero rated sleeping bag, stumbling to find the bottle (i.e., the pee bottle), then trying to carefully point/aim. Done. Yea, I thought so. Pee bottle. A tip: Get a wide mouth bottle (improves the odds of filling it not your tent). Another tip: Make sure it seals tight so, when it tips over as you move in your sleep, it will not fill your tent. Final tip: Make it big enough. Do not underestimate how much pee comes out in one “go” plus you may go more than once per night. Any questions?
4. Headlamp (with plenty of batteries)
The headlamp will be key on summit night as you start the hike up to the summit at midnight. You will need to watch your step even if you go with a full moon. Additionally, at camp at night and in your tent, you will make use of the headlamp. Make sure you bring extra batteries and save those for summit night. An extra little light bulb may be good but if the one you have is new, you may not need it (I didn’t).
5. Pain killer
While my personal preference is to deal with the pain without the need of meds, this approach is suspended when I am trying to climb a 19,340 ft mountain, you know? I was not sure how my knees would perform nor what other pains may arise during this week long adventure. I only used them on the descent (not at the start while going down the scree field but after leaving base camp). It is EXTREMELY rocky in this part of the mountain and I could feel my knees were going to have issues. I took 2 preventive Advils and repeated once later during the descent and then with dinner that night. Whether because of my preventive measures or not, I had only very slight soreness on my knees.
I was leery of using Ambien at altitude not knowing what effects, if any, it could have on me (other than making me fall asleep). I had them more for the flight and my first night in-country not for the hike. But our lead guide said it was OK and maybe even a good idea to take half an Ambien to take the edge off and be able to fall asleep in the evenings since rest was so important during the hike. So I did and it all worked great.
7. Hiking poles (two of them!)
Yes, this hike will be a lot easier with two, not one, poles. Poles give you impulse as you climb over a big step and also you can push off with them as you move forward. However, they shine in the descent: my knees would have been pulp (more than they were) if I had not had these poles to soften the impact when stepping down over rocks. Can’t recommend using them enough (even if you are “tough” – everyone has them) – and if you can score the ones with shock absorbers, even better!
Do try them out somewhere as the grip will be important. I liked the foam grip and cork handle as it would feel better if my hands got sweaty either way I held it. I could unscrew the handle to use it as a camera mount (though I did not use that feature during this hike). Also, make sure they are adjustable: when you go up, you may want them shorter than when you are going down when you may want them longer! There are hiking poles at every price point so just check them out in person, ask questions, and then pick! Or even better, borrow them from someone you know
8. Duct tape
You never know what you will need this for and therein the beauty of duct tape: it fixes anything. OK, I exaggerate. Most anything. I roll it on a pencil as taking the roll itself is bulky. You can use it to fix a broken backpack or to nip a budding blister before it becomes a nightmare. You choose the color!
9. A camera!
OK, this may be obvious. I was trying to keep the weight down in my “carry-on” during the hike but I clearly needed a camera. How would I otherwise take magnificent pictures?? I did make a good decision to get a high quality pocket camera instead of my regular bulky camera. Good call – I got plenty of great photos but without too much bulk/weight. The views and the moments are worth the camera weight!
10. Quick dry towel
While you are not showering for the duration of the hike, you will be brushing your teeth and, likely, your porters will have warm water ready for you when arrive at camp to wash your hands, face, etc. The quick dry part is likely self-explanatory (when you leave a camp, you don’t return to not a lot of time for the towel to dry out).
11. Pad for the sleeping bag
The ground you will be sleeping on is often hard and cold. In fact, at a couple of places it was even rocky. The little pad the hike organizers provide for you to lay your sleeping bag on is rather thin and will not do a good enough job to add cushion or protection from the soil. I took with me an inflatable pad that made my sleep more comfortable – and that is priceless. A fellow hiker was going to let me use her pump but I ended up having no problem blowing up the pad even at higher altitudes (good job, my lungs). I got to practice my forced breathing by blowing up the pad so it was good all-around! (I did HATE every morning deflating it and folding it up…)
You may want to bring something to write on as you will have a lot of time at camp after a day’s hike and you may have things from the day to jot down so you don’t forget. I wrote down start/end times, hours walked, and even what I ate. I also took notes on funny things or things I experienced – not quite a diary, just quick notes. On the topic of a lot of time at night, you may want to bring anything else that may amuse you (cards, Sudoku sheets, etc.) but don’t add too much weight to your bag!
13. Water purification method
Water is boiled at camp but that is only for cooking. It takes too long to boil water at altitude and your porters will not be able to boil water for you to drink. You will need to bring your own purification solution of which there are several options (purification tablets, ultraviolet radiation, etc.). The tablets, such as iodine tablets, are lighter to carry but you have to wait before the water is ready to drink and the iodine causes an odd taste. SteriPENs are a portable ultraviolet radiation option that is quick and easy. I had brought the tablets but others had SteriPENs in the group and I quickly realized how much better the SteriPEN approach was. They all offered the rest of the group their SteriPENs so I traded using one of the hiker’s SteriPEN for sterilizing her water bottles in return – a win win! Just know they can be temperamental and be sure to bring enough batteries!
14. But the most important item…
Hopefully, this list has been helpful so far – if you have any questions on the above items or any other, feel free to leave a comment and I will get back to you. While the list is not all-inclusive, it is the list of the items I most appreciated having with me. However, the most important item I brought along was… a photo of my family. This photo went with me to the summit which meant they went up Kilimanjaro too, with me…
Want to read how the hike went? Start on Day 1
The items recommended are recommended for their key features, not because I have an opinion on whether they are the best in their class!