Gear for Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro – Clothing

ilivetotravel in Shira Camp in Kilimanjaro OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Special request:  After reading the article, would you share with me via the comments what you found most helpful about it?  Just trying to learn what helps the most for future writeups.  Thanks!

Planning my hike of Kilimanjaro and the subsequent safari was not an easy task.  Good research was key.  That research took many forms:  talking to people who have hiked Kili, reading blogs or websites about hiking, talking to the great folks at REI, and the list and advice given to me by the trek organizer (Trekking for Kids).  In the end, I still had many decisions to make on what felt could be important things.

So, this post is geared (sic) to those contemplating climbing Kilimanjaro to reach its peak:  Uhuru Peak, an adventure that requires both cold and hot weather gear.  I will attempt, as an amateur, to share over a couple of posts what made it to my packing list and how it helped.  This post will focus on clothing.  If you are reading this and planning a similar trek, please feel free to leave any questions as comments and I will reply and try to help.  In addition, should you have other suggested items or even better suggestions than mine, please share!

Before I get on to that, a few key items:

  • I did a safari after the hike so I include in the list things for that very different experience.
  • Kili has multiple climate zones ranging from hot to extreme cold.
  • I am not laying out all the options possible, especially in clothing, but will share what all the advice led me to.
  • I did write about my 7 top items to take on this hike.  It was a high-level view of the question but hopefully this will get more details!

Clothing – Lower Body

From the bottom up:

  • Hiking boots – Get good ones and do your practice hikes with them so you break them in well.  Otherwise you may suffer more during the hike, including dreadful blisters.  Some folks went for shoes that were more like hiking shoes but I like the safety of the ankle support since I am bound to get sloppy and then twist my ankle when tired.  The following are some boots that read well from the product descriptions (mine were REI waterproof hiking boots from a long-time ago so no image at Amazon for them!) – study these and keep in mind that waterproof and comfort reign supreme in terms of choosing one.

  • Gaiters – These help keep mud and scree from doing a number on you.  You will need them at summit for sure and probably on the first day if it has rained recently (it had not for us so I did not use them that day).
  • Socks – Socks for the hike and the safari were very different types.  For the latter, you may not need to be told what to get.  But for the former, remember to use a liner to wick moisture from the feet and then woolen socks over them.  For summiting or the colder days, you need very thick woolen socks.  I was still a little cold in my feet even with the sturdiest of these.
  • Pants – A rainproof outer shell was a must to avoid getting soaked.  However, it does not need to keep you warm (I used under layers to handle the cold).  The outer shell is about rain and, also, wind.  I got a hard shell (you can get a soft shell instead if you want).  When I was not using the outer shell (which was most of the time), I used hiking pants as my exterior layer.  Zip-off (convertible) hiking pants are great for quick adaptability if it gets too hot during the day but also because I could save carrying pairs of shorts for the safari later 🙂  The following are sample hard shell pants – showing you a range but a key feature that I like are the long side zippers to facilitate quick putting-them-on (the Eddie Bauer ones have it).  The STORMTECH ones have gaiters.  Read through all the details of each – bottom line:  wind-proof and water-proof! On the convertible hiking pants shown, they both look basic but basic is fine with me. Mine were the basic REI ones and they worked well enough for me! (NOTE:  When it says “My Picks” below and in other sections, that is text I cannot change.  I show these as illustrative items not as my picks per se.)

  • Base layer for the legs – Base layers (long leggings) made from merino wool (the best) will be important to keep me warm.  This layer, given the material, will also keep odors from building up which makes them re-usable for more than one day (saving the load of what needs to be carried by the porters and taken in my luggage on the trip to/from Africa).  You can use polypropylene for this layer but I hear merino wool just performs better.  On summit day, you may need two layers of base layer.  I wore two under the hiking pants and then the hard shell on the outside.  I was consistently told before the trip that silk is about the best material to help retain warmth next to the skin.  I was surprised when I heard that.  I just happened to have this pair of silk leggings but, once on Tanzania, our lead guide told me to use the two merino layers I had instead of the silk pair and one merino pair.  It worked well enough for me on summit night!
  • Shorts for safari – I wore shorts during the safari (the zip-off hiking pants and an extra pair) but I also did wear my full hiking pants to better protect me from the sun (and bugs, I suppose).  Of course, shorts will also be things you wear in the evening or when exploring towns.

Clothing – Upper Body

  • Base layer– The upper body layering approach is much like the lower body’s.  I used base layers for the colder days – again merino wool.  Usually one but two on summit night!
  • Mid layer – I got a merino wool mid-layer to have for the evenings at camps lower than base camp. On summit night, this jacket would serve as the mid layer between the skin-hugging base layers and the outer layers I will mention next. Of the ones I show below, the Tasc one is interesting as it mixes their signature bamboo fabric with merino wool; I am a fan of their regular bamboo fabric shirts so I am curious how this one would work. The Icebreaker one has the power of one of the best-known and valued brands in terms of quality of the merino wool. Normally that means a higher price point but this one seems quite reasonable. The SmartWool brand, in my short years of serious hiking, has proven to be a good and reliable one; so theirs is worth reading more about when selecting a mid layer top. Finally, the Duofold is mainly polyester and only 11% wool. I include it as a caution that when you search and include the term “wool,” you need to make sure you read the product details as it may not be truly all or mostly wool!

  • Outer layers – For lower altitudes, a regular long sleeve CoolMax shirt.  If needed, a base layer under it.  I had a hard shell for rain and wind.  I also had a synthetic down jacket which was great because it was very compact when packed.  I could use it in the evenings while at camp on cold nights and, of course, on summit night.  To summarize for summit night:  two merino wool base layers, the merino wool light jacket, the hard shell (for wind, not rain), and the synthetic down jacket – which I was not wearing at the beginning of the ascent but which I wore during breaks and once it got too cold even while moving.
  • Shirts for safari – I had quick-dry short sleeve shirts that also had side vents – very comfortable in warm weather and preventing odors from building up…
  • Head- and neck- gear –  I used different items to cover my head from the cold and from the sun – both very important.  A typical sun hat to protect against the sun (with a rim) was a very good idea.  A skull cap was one of the items I used in cold weather.  In very windy or in rainy conditions, the hood from the hard shell helped a good deal.  I also had a buff which I used when the skull cap seemed like a little much.  In fact, the buff served many purposes, like loosely hanging around my neck to avoid burning up when in the sun.  I also used it to cover my mouth and nose when it got dusty on the trail or in the safari.  Finally, I brought a balaclava for summit night.  It would offer lots of protection with only a small space open to look out.  I could also just use it around my neck (would keep it warmer than the buff would).  So quite a few options!
  • Outer gloves –  You are going to want some extreme gloves! The gloves should be waterproof because you don’t want gloves getting wet where it is cold! And some good heavy duty insulation (e.g., PrimaLoft). You will still need liners underneath (you would think an extreme glove would be enough…).  My fingertips were still a little cold on summit night even with the liners! But that eventually passed as I entered “the zone” (read how summit night unfolded!)  You also need to decide on the type: mitt or separate-fingers. For that outer layer of gloves, I chose mitt. Plus: less “surface” exposed to the outside, so keeps more warmth around your fingers. Minus: Lower usability of your fingers since they cannot move independently. However, my rationale for mitts was that most of the time, I would be holding hiking poles in my hands during the ascent and for that, the mitt grip worked. Once I wanted to reach for tissues or take a photo, yes, I would have to take the mitts off but that was not a big deal. Even fingered style gloves may have been too thick for some of these motions.
  • Liners – I only used the extreme gloves summit night but the liners I used a lot on the days and evenings prior to summit night.  Maybe bring two pairs of liners of different thicknesses, or one pair of liners and one pair of lighter gloves.  The Grabber hand warmer thingies that generate some heat can be helpful though they do not always seem to generate the same level of heat at high altitude.  Nevertheless, any heat helps so you may want to bring some.

Clothing – sleep time

OK, do I really think you need help with this?  No and yes.  No, because sleep wear is such a personal comfort thing.  But yes because part of it is slightly counter-intuitive.  When you are sleeping in the super-cold weather sleeping bag at night at the higher altitudes and on colder nights, the less you wear, THE BETTER.  No, no, nothing kinky about that statement.  Simply the interior of the super-cold weather sleeping bag will make you feel your own body heat warming you as it leaves your body.  So the more clothing you wear, the less your body heat will work with the sleeping bag to keep you warm.  Other than that, keep the jackets, pants, etc. close to the sleeping bag because when you wake up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself (and, trust me, you WILL if you are taking Diamox), you will need to put those on because you will not be able to go outside in your “sleepwear”!

ilivetotravel Shira Camp with Mt. Kilimanjaro Olympus camera

A happy if tired hiker by his tent and the roof of Africa!  Wearing the merino wool mid layer and the synthetic down jacket.

Can I help you any more?

So, this is the run-down of the clothing for a hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  These are the things I got and used on the hike (and on the subsequent safari) and they served me very well.  Others may have different opinions or additional suggestions and I hope they will share those here.  Finally, I hope if you were not considering hiking Kili or were uncertain, check out my other posts on the topic (which I list below) and know that it is fairly attainable with good training and preparation!


Day 1 of the hike

Day 2 of the hike

Day 3 of the hike

Day 4 of the hike

Day 5 of the hike

Day 6 of the hike (summit night!)

Day 7 of the hike (going down!)

The Machame Route

7 Items you won’t see me without on Kili

An Austin Tweetup

I never thought I’d be part of something called a “tweetup” but last Friday I found myself traveling to Austin, TX to take part in one… How did I get there?  Well, I often participate in Twitter on travel chats and through that eventually connected with three 3 people that I enjoyed “chatting” with via Twitter.  The idea came up that maybe we should meet up at some point.  Since the 3 of them had Texas connections and 2 of them lived there, we decided to plan a weekend in Austin, TX.  Since I have good friends there, I figured I could see my new friends and my old friends in one weekend.

Getting There

Getting there was challenging as I wanted to stick to my main airline and there are no direct flights.  Also, as I had been traveling a lot recently, I wanted to make sure I could make a stop at home before continuing to travel after the trip to Austin.  No worries, a little fingerwork yielded a good itinerary at a reasonable price even if with a very tight connection in Memphis on my way to Austin (54mins).  The connection was perfectly fine but then the flight to Austin got delayed 1.5 hrs which pretty much killed joining folks that night.

One Sick Puppy

Unfortunately, I was starting to get sick when I flew to Austin and that got worse over the weekend.  I missed the evening tweetup events and that was a real bummer.  But Saturday I did get to be with these new friends, now not just “online friends” and we got to explore a little bit of Austin.

Austin in One Day

The day started with breakfast at one of the food truck parking lots on 1st St.  A taco place and a doughnut one were the choices on the one we settled on – and I was keen on getting a big ole loaded donut!  The donut took a good bit to be prepared but it was loaded with fried bananas, cream and the donut itself.  MAJOR sugar overload!

We decided to walk around that part of town and then proceeded to South Congress to walk around the shops.  People were out and about that day!  It felt like maybe this was the first spring day after a long winter but this was mid-January.  Eventually we made it to Allen Boots.  I wsan’t looking for a pair of boots but did see a belt I really liked and since most of my belts are run-of-the-mill boring, I went for it.  What a great way to add Texas to my “wardrobe” without it having to be a t-shirt!

We decided it was a good enough time to head out to Driftwood, TX to eat some BBQ at Salt Lick (  (After returning home from the trip, I saw the place featured in a Top Chef Texas episode.)  The place is massive and even has a winery.  While we waited 45 mins for our table, we sampled wines which were pretty good.  I especially liked their Brut.  The place is chop-chop, meaning, all business.  They serve you very fast and they don’t seem to want people lingering at the table (based on a posted sign).  But they were very friendly so no complaints here.  Based on the amount of people wanting to eat there, I am glad people didn’t linger before WE were seated!  The foot was great – I had the brisket and sausage and I can say, hands down, the sausage were far better.  They had a slight sweet taste that I enjoyed.

After Salt Lick (and a group picture in the parking lot), we drove back into town to walk around the Capitol grounds and take various pictures.  At that point, I started feeling the cold getting worse so I was not able to linger much and continue on for drinks and dinner which means I missed out on more fun with the group and on checking out the Four Seasons where 2 of them were staying.  I got some meds at the hotel store and basically slept through the evening, night and a good bit of the morning before my local friends picked me up around 11.

Tweetup: Thumbs Up or Down?

Not sure how other “tweetups” go but this group was a phenomenal group of folks!  The folks were in real life as I had thought they were from our Twitter chats.  I hope their blogs about the tweetup do the weekend better justice (especially since they can talk about the happy hours and dinners that I missed) and I can’t wait to read them!

I am very glad I went for it and I look forward to another one of these with these folks and perhaps other Twitter friends we have met over the last year through our travel chats.

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