Buy, Borrow, and Skip- What you need to pack for Kilimanjaro

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Packing for Kilimanjaro was a process that took months.  I did tons of research, checking packing lists by various trekking company's suggestions, reading books, and talking to other people who have experienced Kilimanjaro.  Of course, there was about one million things I needed to back into a 90L duffle bag so I thought I would let you know the things that I found useful to have.  The girls on my trip also had a few tips on what they found useful.

If you think you will only use an item for this trip, your tour operator should be able to arrange hiring (renting) certain things.  Be sure to ask the price before you get the item and keep in mind that what you hire may not be to your Western standard.  It will probably be something that a toursit left or sold after their trip.

Essentials to pack
I used Osprey Eja 38*, a lightweight rucksack designed for a woman's body.  It was a little big for day-to-day climbing but perfect as a carry on as I needed to have all my essentials in case my bags got lost on the plane (two of the six in my group had luggage problems).  The essential features were water pouch compatible, pockets on lid flap for storing things, hip  and chest straps, and it only weight 1.13kg.  It also had straps on outside to hold my walking sticks while climbing Baronco Wall.  I also got an Osprey rain cover* kept my stuff dry.  The only pockets were in the lid, which meant that I needed Osprey Ultralight Packing Cubes* to keep organised.  I had one for my electronics, one for snacks, and another for toiletries.  I t would have been helpful if each cube was a different color to make it easier to pull out of the Eja in a hurry.  As an alternative, I tied a piece of colored ribbon on the zipper, which helped a bit.

My Camelpack pouch was essential.  Having the tube and mouthpiece made it so much easier to drink on the go.  I would say the thermal control kit is important too (although my tube froze on summit night anyways), along with a cap that keeps dirt out of the bite valve.

Hiking boots were a big concern for me.  With Achilles tendinitis, I am very picky about what I wear on my feet.  Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX hiking boots* were something I knew I would need to keep my feet warm and dry.  With heel lifts and loose laces, I was able to manage minimal Achilles pain.  I only wore the Quest boots on summit day.  The rest of the time, I wore my Salomon Womens Escambia GTX trail shoes which are a few seasons old.  At times they were a little slippery but they kept my feet dry.  Before I left, I treated them with Nikwax waterproofing to ensure my feet would stay dry.

Water purifying tablets were something I didn't bring, but luckily someone else did.  Although Eco-Climbing Africa's team boil the water, my stomach was still funny.  I have a pretty sensitive stomach no matter where in the world I am and some people experience problems at altitude too.  Purifying tablets are light and inexpensive, so I say have them on hand just in case you or someone else needs them.

Gaitors and hiking poles were the two things that were on every list.  The ones I used were Decathlon's Forclaz 50*.  I worn them every day and never got snow or rocks in my low top shoes.  You can wear with shorts or long pants.  And they were really helpful at keeping my long pants clean for inside tent too.

Wearing my gaitors to keep the snow out of my shoes.  I am also trying not to fall too. The snow was very slippery.
As I just mentioned, adjustable hiking poles were the other key item to pack.  A friend lent me their old Leki poles, similar to the Sherpa XL V.  The adjustable heights are key as many days there is a gradient to manage, both up and down.  By adjusting the height of the sticks, it makes ascending and descending much easier.  Our guides were really good at setting the poles to the correct height.

Head torch is probably number three on my list.  When we got back to camp, my head torch went straight into my pocket. Climbing in March meant early nights.  After dinner, it would be pitch black.out and therefore hard to get back to our tents.  The camp sites are uneven, full of rocks, and have tent poles and ropes everywhere. It would be a shame to get injured walking from one tent to another rather than make it to the top.  Unilite sent me a Sport H1 head torch* to try.  It offers 175 lumens, with 70m beam distance, red light, and various flashing patterns.  We put fresh batteries in all of our head toches just before we started climbing to the summit and it lasted the rest of the trip.

I went to Kilimanjaro in March, which is close to the start of rainy season.  My 25 liter dry bag was a bit of an overkill but a 5-10 liter bag for electronics and socks is a good idea.  My duffel bag was a 90 liter dry bag too but the porters put it in another bag when they carried it.  Their exterior bag was a bit worn through but this may depend on the company you travel with. Wet clean clothes and damp sleeping bags would really damper the trip, so try to find something that can resist some rain.

Hand sanitizer is a no brainer.  There isn't any water to wash your hands 95% of the time.  Be prepared.

In addition to your Camelback, bring a water bottle that doesn't leak to act as a hot water bottle.  I mistakenly brought my Hydroflask, which is so well insulated that it didn't keep me or my sleeping bag warm overnight. My tentmate was a godsend and lent me a plastic bottle to use at night.  I owe her big time.

Every day, no matter how cloudy it was outside my tent, I put on sunscreen as we were very close to the equator. Don't forget to apply it to your ears (I burned mine).

Pack several pairs of gloves in several different thicknesses.  They will get wet so it is good to have a few alternatives.  Although porters may not have gloves, I would suggest keeping your's until the end of the trip.  At the end of the trip, you can give any unwanted kit to the Kilimanjaro Porter's Assistance Project.  I picked up a few inexpensive pairs of gloves at Decathlon in the snow sports section that were great.

No matter what time of year, I would say a raincoat is an absolute must.  Climbing to the top of Kili takes you through several exosystems.  The weather on the mountain changes rapidly and you would hate to be caught out in a storm.  I found a raincoat more helpful than the poncho  got off Amazon because my poncho was long and I kept tripping on it while I was climbing.  Look for a jacket with pit zips to help regulate your body temperature.  I have needed a new raincoat for a while, so bought a Forclaz 400 from Decathlon.  I bought a size bigger to allow for layering on the mountain.

Wet wipes are handy for a quick "shower" in the tent.  Just be sure to get biodegradable ones and remember to pack some spare bags for your rubbish.  Everything you carry into the parks, you have to carry out..  I didn't use wipes much (other than armpits every morning) but my camp mates said they are a must.

Quick dry towel is really handy washing your face and hands at camp.  You don't have much time to leave it out to dry so a small size is the way to go.  I packed my Life Adventure towel, which is also treated with Polygiene to reduce the smell between washes.

Your phone won't be able to charge as there isn't any electricity on the mountain, nor can it capture the beauty of the surrounding landscape.  I brought my G-Eye900* active camera from Decathlon and meant to pack a small point and shoot but forgot it in the rush to get to the airport.  You will need to consider the size and weight of the camera you pack. If you have a choice, invest in a camera that is drop proof and water proof.  Or if you borrow one, learn how to use it before the trip.

I wore a scarf around my neck the while trip to help wipe sweat and snot away.  Alice, from Alice's Adventures on Earth, made us all of us some really cool ones with the trip logo on them.  I also slept in my lighter Buff polar balaclava because I was so cold.  My friend, Victoria, borrowed one of my balaclavas on summit day to stay warm. I started off with the Cross Tech buff but quickly took it off because I got warm.

This wasn't on my essentials list, but everyone else in my group said handwarmers!  I packed small ones that you can use while skiing while the girls brought body warmers.  Mine didn't keep me very warm but the others stuck them to their shirts during the day.

It rained so much that I couldn't wear my Nabaiji pool clogs* at camp for fear of my feet getting wet.  In addition, because I didn't wear proper hiking boots on a daily basis, my feet weren't too sore, tired, or heavy.  The others in my group had camp shoes they wore in the evenings so you might want to pack a pair.

As long as your head is covered to protect you from the sun, you should be ok a proper hat. I didn't wear my baseball hat too often while others wore a scarf, visor or brimmed hat.

My memory for details isn't the best so I wanted to make sure I wrote down what we did each day, aside from walk, in a journal before going to bed.  Proof is in the pudding as I went to bed rather than journal the night before summit day and I couldn't remember anything about what we did.  Carrying a small pad of weatherproof paper might be a good way to remember the crazy phrases you come up with on the trail.

My tentmate brought a small spiky ball.  When she showed it to me, I wish I has thought of that.  It is such a good idea to foam roll sore or achy muscles.  We didn't have much room to use it though as the tent was the only dry place we had to lay down.

If you have a camera or will be listening to music along the way, definitely bring one a solar charger.  There are not any plugs on the mountain.  Get one with a power bank if you can in chase it is cloudy for a few days.

Massai women with the solar charger I donated to them.
This will probably be controversial, but a pillow is something I would say is optional.  My tentmate had an inflatable one while I brought a £1 travel neck pillow which wasn't the best for actual sleeping.  Sleep is key so if you are a light sleeper, think about what you will sleep on.  Another option would be a pillowcase filled with clothes.

I spent £20 at my local Poundshop for various toiletries and supplies pictured below.  Most were things my tour company recomended that I never would have though off (baby powder which I never used, dry shampoo (never used), throat losanges (never used), antiseptic creme (never used), ultra lite pads (as an option for not changing underwear on a daily basis), and ear plugs (never used)).

We made a quick stop at a convenience store before we started the drive to the gate.  I was in the back corner of the van so didn't go in.  In the lead up to the climb, I had been mentally preparing myself not to have any Diet Coke for seven days.  But when the other came back with Red Bull, I changed my mind.  The lead guide was pretty upset when he found out we had Red Bull as caffiene can increase your heartrate which you don't want to happen at altitude.  We didn't drink it on summit day but we did have it on the way down the mountain.  I felt bad making the porters carry it the entire way and not drink it so we split it amongst the ladies.

If you have something to add to this list for buying, borrowing or leaving at home, please leave a comment below.  Knowledge is power.

Before you go
I am fundraising for a Moshi local primary school and a Maasai tribe.  Scroll to the bottom of my Kili summary post for more info on how to donate.

Items marked with a * were gifted to me to review.  All opinions are honest and my own.  Thanks to Osprey, Buff, Salomon, Decathlon, Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports, and Unilite for their generous support of my crazy adventure.

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