In September 2015 I climbed Kilimanjaro. I’m finally getting around to writing about it, but it was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. I’ll write a longer post about my actual experience, but right now, I want to talk about my Kilimanjaro Packing List and what I think was essential for my climb.
I actually did a really great job at packing even though I didn’t start preparing until a week or so before getting on the plane to Africa. As my friend Holly would tell you, she was telling me what I needed the day before as I was staying at her house in DC before flying out. I was definitely not ready. But surprisingly I was. However, there were a few things I didn’t bring, or things I would have done a little differently and I’m going to tell you about that so when you decide to make the crazy trek to the top, hopefully you’ll be a little more prepared than me.
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- Hand Sanitizer: You’ll love it during the hikes. At the camps you’ll most likely get water for washing, but on the way, it’ll make you feel a tiny bit cleaner to get dirt and who-knows-what off your hands to eat or drink or just brush the sweat off your forehead.
- Small hand towel: quick dry is best
- Wet Wipes
- Toilet paper or tissues
- Solid deodorant: for armpits obviously
- Powder deodorant: Lush has a couple of these and I thought they were good for putting on clothes that I had warn for a few days and needed a little freshening. It was a little better than just spraying body spray.
- Lip balm
- Face wash bar
- Face lotion
- Hair brush
- Extra hair ties
- Dry shampoo– I don’t use this regularly, but it was great to use while I wasn’t washing my hair.
- iPod or phone-for summit night music was essential
- Extra batteries/ device charger– solar powered is great.
- No cotton, whatsoever, go for wicking fabrics- general rule of thumb
- 4 pairs of underwear
- 1 snow jacket with hood
- 2 pairs of pants (at least one that zips off to shorts if the whether gets really hot)
- 1 long sleeve shirt
- 1 light weight jacket– possibly a fleece
- 4 pairs of hiking socks (you’ll want to wear 2 pair the summit night, or a really thick pair if you found some)
- 1 waterproof jacket– like a shell raincoat
- 1 pair of light gloves
- 1 pair of snow gloves
- 2 pair of long underwear bottoms
- 2 sports bras
- 1 sunhat
- 1 warm beanie/ winter hat
- Sunglasses- make sure they’re polarized.
- Waterproof pants- use for summit night to keep out the wind, give a little extra warmth, and keep out any possible water from snow.
- Real Hiking boots– high ankle. Make sure you have enough toe room and they’re not tight.
- Slip on shoes for around camp, bathroom in the middle of the night, and just to give your feet a rest.
- Daypack– should be able to hold a camelback or bladder.
- 40L-60L duffel bag– needs to hold everything including your sleeping bag
- Water Bottle and Camelbak– in total you need 4 L of water on you at all times
- Sleeping Bag: Mine was rated for three seasons, down to 15 degrees F, but I was still freezing at night. I layered on so many clothes and shivered all night. While I didn’t die and was completely fine, at the time, waking up at 6 with very little sleep, toes frozen, ready to walk for another 8 hours, I bet it would have been really nice to have a warmer sleeping bag. If you can splurge for it. Definitely do.
- Trekking Poles- I didn’t use these until descent. They made it much easier. I never felt so old as on the decent when I thought my knees were broken forever. More on that later.
- Gaiters- some people swear by these but I didn’t even buy any, no one in my group bought them, and we got along just fine. Obviously if it had been wetter on the mountain they might have been good, they basically just keep most of your shoes and bottom half of your legs from getting muddy or dirty, but for me, it was just something else I would have had to pack for a small possibility of use.
- Headlamp- this is for getting around the camp at night while your hands are free- essential in the bathroom, and for summit night. It’ll be pitch black for most of the trek that night so you’ll need one.
- Poncho or bag cover– I just had a back cover for when it rained. I didn’t want a whole poncho, but you might prefer it.
- Anti-diarrheal- just in case. You really don’t want this on the mountain. Ugh, I can’t even imagine
- Notebook/ pens
- Snacks- granola bars, candy, energy bars- something small and handy between meals
- Ziplock bags- for trash and dirty laundry
- Cash for tipping guides- check with your company for rates/ suggested costs
- Gifts for Porters: I definitely didn’t bring enough. These guys go up and down the mountain so much and don’t earn nearly enough for their efforts. While the National Park take their well-being seriously, more seriously than many similar places around the world (and most companies take this even further), they’re still doing an extreme amount of work for the reward. And because they’re only doing it because you decided to embark on this crazy journey, it’s nice to give something back. Clothes, shoes, mountain gear you won’t use again are perfect for them. When you climb, you’ll be shocked to see the state of most of their clothes. If you can give them something to make their life easier, just do it. I should have brought more clothes for them.
- Something Sentimental: I’ll admit that it was a long week without talking to Steve. He was deployed at the time, so we were already really far away, I hadn’t seen him in months, and we had never gone that long without talking. In a way, his being gone made it easier not to talk to him. I mean, it’s not like I needed to talk to him about something at home, but at the same time, after hours of trekking, feeling exhausted, and just having things I wanted to share with him, it was difficult not to talk to my favorite human. He is such a fantastic human that the night before I started the climb, he wrote me an email for each day we wouldn’t talk. This will probably embarrass him, but they made such a huge difference to my morale while on the mountain. When he sent them, I opened them, saved them into my phone so I could access them without wifi or data, and I could read a new one every night before bed. I would have survived without them, but when lying in my sleeping bag at night, wondering if my sore legs were going to make it the next day, reading something funny from him, or hearing a story was so comforting.
You shouldn’t have to worry about:
Double check with your company but they should provide these things.
- Sleeping mat
Don’t even Bother Bringing:
- Shampoo and Conditioner- you won’t have any opportunity to use them
- Makeup-waste of space
- Bug Spray- bugs really aren’t an issue on the mountain, especially after the first day, so spray up before you leave the hotel, but leave the spray there in your extras.
What I should have done differently:
- Worn in my boots before the climb. I know, I know. That’s rule number 1. But I just didn’t have time. I bought my boots while I was home during a short break between being in Eastern Europe and Russia all summer, and hanging out in the Caribbean for a family vacation. I had other hiking shoes, but I didn’t have any real heavy-duty ones and those are essential for Kili. I should have worn them in, at least a little beforehand. I actually got really lucky in that I only got blisters on the 2nd to last and last days. By then I was just wanting to get back to my hotel so it didn’t bother me as much as it would have if on the first day my feet were bloody and painful. Still, my feet hurt so bad for a few days after and I could have avoided that.
- Brought purification tabs for water: the company I went with said they would sterilize the water. They did for drinking during lunch and dinner, but for our water bottles and pouches, they didn’t. A couple of times I borrowed tabs from the guys in my group, but because I’m me, I felt really bad asking them every single time we filled up water, so I didn’t. I ended up drinking a lot of water unpurified. And while I didn’t have any issues on the mountain- I didn’t even have an upset stomach, but once I got home after a week later, I felt like I was going to die. Maybe they weren’t connected, but they very well could have been. I possibly had Malaria during that sickness, seeing as I didn’t take any medication to prevent it, but, more on that later, and how much I apparently don’t value my health.
- Dark Fingernail Polish- I’d read somewhere online that I should wear dark nail polish so that the dirt under my fingernails wouldn’t show as much. For someone like me who can’t stand seeing dirt under my nails, I thought this was an ingenious idea. It would make me feel a little better while not showering for almost a week and I guess I would remain more stylish on the mountain. Well, guess what? I didn’t use a very long-lasting polish so by the end of day one it was already chipping. After a few days, I could see the dirt under my nails, as well as the unkempt look of chipping nail polish. It’s not like this made a huge impact on my trek, but it was just another step I took to prepare that I really didn’t need to.
- Not wearing a sunhat. I had one in my bag, but because it was so chilly for most of the trek, I didn’t notice how hot the sun was. I should have known, seeing as there was very little cloud cover- we were above most of the clouds, but I didn’t wear a hat, and I had a pretty consistent sunburn on my nose, cheeks, and forehead.
What I should have known:
- Descent is so much worse than Ascent: I had minimal pain going up, just a little soreness. Going down, I felt like my feet were going to fall off and my knees were 100 years old. Also, my shoes were slightly too tight, or I needed to lace them differently, because my toes slid to the front of my boots and I couldn’t feel them after a while, but were somehow still sore to the touch. I actually lost feeling in my big toe for about a month, and I was paranoid I had frostbite. I didn’t. I just needed better boots.
- Altitude Sickness is no joke: so yeah, I got sick. Not sick enough to not summit, but sick enough that I was puking for the last 6 hours of the ascent. Once we reached about 5,000 meters my stomach didn’t want to cooperate. I would stop every half hour or so, throwing up first the little breakfast I had, then water, then almost nothing. Sorry to be graphic, but even after everything had left my stomach I was still retching. One of the guides stayed with me while I did, and honestly, I wasn’t far behind the group. I would rest for a second and then catch up to them. It was pure willpower that got me up the mountain because there was nothing left in my body to help push me. I’m sharing this because I heard about some people with similar stories who, after one upset stomach, gave up. I wonder how horrible they felt a few weeks later when they wish they would have pushed themselves just a little bit more. So, don’t fret if you puke. Just rinse your mouth, picture the summit and how much you can brag after, and keep climbing.
I hope some of this info is helpful if you’ve already decided to make the climb, or it’s inspirational if you really want to make the trek. I would say it’s definitely worth it and something to be proud of accomplishing. Definitely go for it.