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How to prepare for a Kilimanjaro trek

Taking on Africa's highest summit is no easy feat; check out our ultimate guide to hiking the world's highest freestanding mountain and volcano, Mount Kilimanjaro, to maximise your chances of success and get the most from your experience.


Train for hiking on Mount Kilimanjaro

Making sure you're physically fit for Kilimanjaro will make the whole experience more enjoyable. Good cardiovascular health will give you stronger lungs, so regular runs, bike rides or gym classes in the months prior to your trek will really help. It's also good to use strength training to prepare, so using weights and doing core exercises such as planks, squats and lunges will strengthen your legs for hiking.

The best way to prepare for the trek itself  is through plenty of long walks. Doing regular 4-6 hour walks in the boots you'll be wearing (to avoid blisters when you're on Kilimanjaro) and with your backpack filled with the snacks you'll eat on the mountain; this will help you to get used to the time on your feet and which foods you prefer to eat while hiking. In the few months before your climb you should aim to do one of these walks at least every two to three weeks; more if you can fit them in.

Make sure you pack for every weather

Wearing the right clothes while hiking will make it much more comfortable for you. The most important things are your boots - make sure you're used to these and have worn them in before trekking Kilimanjaro. During the 5,895m climb you'll take in five distinct climate zones: from thick humid rainforest at the bottom to the arid desert-like landscape of the central zone, before arctic conditions at the top. Believe it or not, Kilimanjaro has a glacier and is snow-capped, despite being just three degrees south of the equator!

For the last night's climb to the summit you'll need warm gloves (ideally liner gloves under ski gloves), a hat, buff, and thermal clothing. Once the sun rises it will get slightly warmer, so layers are crucial in helping you regulate your temperature. You'll also need a head-torch. A decent down jacket is really useful, both for summit night and post-trek relaxation at higher altitude, and of course waterproof/windproof trousers and jacket are essential as the weather can change at any point while hiking. Read our blog on what to pack for a walking holiday.

Know what to carry with you on Kilimanjaro

Aside from carrying waterproofs while you're walking, it's also a good idea to take plenty of water. The Water-to-Go filtration bottles are great for hiking because you don't need to use chlorine tablets - simply fill and go. Take additional traditional water bottles to fill them up from throughout the trekking day. 

Snacks are another essential - the cook and crew create some incredible carb-rich meals while on the trek which are great fuel - but eating little and often while walking will really help. Great snacks for fast energy include cereal bars, energy bars, energy gels (similar to those used by cyclists) and fast energy sweets. Bring these with you to Tanzania and carry only what you need each day with you and have top-ups in your kit bag which will be carried by the porters.

Our top tip is to separate your items into dry bags  so you can find everything you need quickly and protect it further from the elements (plastic bags are now banned in Tanzania so don't use them to separate items). It's best to keep weight to a minimum but a basic first aid kit, your camera (or phone), a power bank (as there will be no power points on Kilimanjaro), spare socks (trust us on this!) and spare batteries are all good essentials.

Find out the best time to climb

Our trips run from June through to October and from the end of December to February to avoid the main rainy seasons; however it can still rain at any time on Kilimanjaro, and at the higher altitudes this may fall as snow. It's generally warmest in January and February and driest between August and October. The Rongai route is the driest route on Kilimanjaro, as little rainfall hits the northern side of the mountain.
Quite often trekkers will take the night sky into consideration when choosing their trip. If you trek during a full moon you have the best chance for a well-lit path to the top (weather permitting); our departure dates for the Rongai trek have been aligned with the full moon, meaning that on clear days you’ll enjoy superior visibility. Note that during the full moon the stars will be dimmer, so for those looking for spectacular stars, climbing during a new moon will give you an incredible night-sky but less light.

As the world's highest free-standing mountain, this will be one of the few places on Earth to see the night sky so clearly without obstacles on the horizon. Check out the additional information section on the Kilimanjaro - Lemosho Trek trip page and on the Kilimanjaro - Rongai Trek trip page for the best departure dates.

Prepare mentally for altitude

People that have climbed Kilimanjaro will tell you that the majority of walking is on decent terrain and not too steep. However the trek to the summit is undoubtedly the hardest - much of the terrain underfoot is scree (although it is frozen for the ascent, which helps - this is part of the reason the trek is done at night) and visibility is low until the sun rises, but the toughest part is the altitude.

Most people won't have the time or resource to prepare for altitude with another high altitude trek or spending time in an altitude simulator. So it's reassuring to know that the trekking days and camp sites on Explore's Lemosho Route trip have been carefully planned in consultation with Dr Jeremy Windsor, a high altitude medicine specialist. You'll ascend the mountain slowly and acclimatise well, giving you the best possible chance of summit success. All our trek leaders are trained in high altitude first aid and know the signs to look out for when Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) may become more serious. In addition, all trek teams carry oxygen canisters and a portable hyberbaric (pressure) bag on the mountain for emergency use. The main trick is to take your time, go slowly and listen to your body - the guides will remind you to go "Pole, pole", meaning "slowly, slowly" in Swahili - wise words and the key to reaching the summit. Check out more challenging grade walking tours.

Reward yourself with a decent rest

Once you're down from the mountain, our hotel has all the modern amenities you'll be longing for after a week without running water. It even has a pool so pack your things for a refreshing dip after the climb! If you don't want to return straight to regular life after the hike and need more downtime; Tanzania is perfectly placed to make the most of what this corner of the world has to offer.

If you want to spend a couple of days relaxing on the beach after a week's hike, we have a three-day Zanzibar extension. Or tick a second must-do off the bucketlist and visit one of the magnificent national parks of Tanzania, a wildlife mecca by any account. We offer a safari extension to our Kilimanjaro climb, taking in Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara - home to the Big 5 and an epic way to finish off your trip-of-a-lifetime.


Trek Mount Kilimanjaro

If climbing Kilimanjaro sounds like just the challenge for you, check out our popular Lemosho Trek and lesser-known Rongai Trek.
View all Kilimanjaro tours