Since I published my article on the life lessons I learnt while climbing Kilimanjaro, I have received many requests for tips on how to prepare for Kilimanjaro. Here are below some advice that I hope will help travellers like me succeed and reach the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Culminating at 5,895m, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak of Africa. Despite the high altitude, the climate allows hikers to reach the summit without any technical knowledge required. Although reaching the summit brings some significant challenges, it is an incredible hike that is feasible for almost anyone. Still, it should not be underestimated: you need to prepare for Kilimanjaro.
This article focuses on your personal preparation to reach your goal. But before going on, I’d like to add a few words about the importance of choosing the right company to take you up there. And not just for your safety. If you realise during your hike that your porters are mistreated, it could ruin your pleasure and your adventure. Check out these porter treatment guidelines during your trip preparation.
1. Plan to take your time to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro
From what I’ve read and what I’ve been told, altitude sickness is the most common reason not to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. As you go higher, your body may not react well to the altitude. Unfortunately, altitude sickness can be compared to motion or seasickness: it can happen randomly to anyone, and there is no treatment for it. But the big difference is that with altitude sickness when you reach a certain level of illness, you must go down as it can become life-threatening.
If you cannot fix altitude sickness except by going back down, there are still a few things you can do to prevent it as you prepare for Kilimanjaro. The one I highly recommend is to take your time to do the climb. Take the longest route (Machame). Add an extra day. Walk slowly as per your guide’s recommendations. By giving your body more time to acclimate and minimising your efforts, you will reduce the risk of being sick.
Read this article for more tips on how to adjust to high altitude; they are useful things to know to prepare for Kilimanjaro.
2. Talk to your doctor about how to prepare for Kilimanjaro
Your usual doctor knows your history and your potential risks; he or she always has good advice tailored to your condition.
Let your doctor know you want to prepare for Kilimanjaro. He may even offer you some medication – natural or not – to lower down the risk of altitude sickness. The ones I heard about had no real proven effects, and they have side effects, so be aware of the possible risks before making your decision to take the pills. It can be a good idea to try a sample before being in Africa to test how your body reacts to them. Again, a good doctor will tell you all you need to know about these medical options.
There are risks associated with climbing Kilimanjaro. Most travel insurance won’t cover you for such an experience. Make sure you double-check if you are covered at an altitude of 5,895m! WorldNomads* may have the solution for you.
3. Have the right equipment for the hike
If you’re cold or wet all day and/or all night or if your shoes hurt, your experience on Kilimanjaro won’t be fun at all, and the tiredness will put you at risk. Having the right equipment can be key to your success. It will support you both physically and mentally. Make sure you try it to know how it works and avoid bad surprises.
Check out this packing list for Mt Kilimanjaro. I have detailed all the must-have equipment, as well as the nice-to-have and the useless stuff.
4. Be mentally prepared for Kilimanjaro
A good mental stamina is fundamental to achieving something challenging like reaching the top of Kilimanjaro.
To fight the sickness, the climate or the physical pain, you will need a strong mental. For some people, the climb to the summit is easy all the way – but it’s not often the case. You can only hope everything will be easy. And you have to prepare to be strong, out of your comfort zone and sometimes fighting pain for hours. I never considered it could be easy so I was prepared for difficulties. I am sure this helped me to fight them when they happened.
We linked our climb to the challenge of raising funds and awareness for breast cancer. I thought about that during the hard moments; it made me mentally stronger. What is my ephemera difficulty compared to people fighting cancer? How could I find it hard to be realising a dream, compared to people fighting for their life?
It is hard to feel lucky while having the strongest migraine ever, but I thought it was important to keep in mind being there was my choice, I could end it now if I wanted to, and I was making a dream come true.
Find opportunities to build up your mental resistance as you prepare for Kilimanjaro.
You may want to build up mental resistance with a few challenging trips at home that push you close to your limits. Of course, I am not talking about having pain on purpose. But overnight hiking is excellent to prepare physically for climbing Kilimanjaro, and you could also learn from the experience from a mental point of view. With the distance and the fatigue building up, the hike can feel very different.
The climate can be a challenge too. We may choose to stay indoors when it’s raining and pick a beautiful day to go hiking. We’d rather book a lovely cottage with a fireplace than go camping when it’s below 10ºC. But on a multi-day hike in the mountains, you don’t have the choice. You have to carry on walking despite the weather. So test yourself (and your equipment!) and go out when it’s not comfortable. You may learn a few things about embracing the discomfort that will help you reach the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro.
You may be interested in learning more about techniques that can help you push yourself and increase your pain tolerance. The idea is not to put your body in danger by ignoring the signs of altitude sickness or a bad injury. I’m thinking here of painful things that do not put you in danger but can mentally put you down as they persist, and finally affect your mental. Knowing breathing exercises, positive self-talk and mindfulness meditation could help you better deal with the difficulties when climbing Kilimanjaro.
5. Be physically prepared for Kilimanjaro
You don’t have to be fit to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro but, of course, it helps. Gaining excellent endurance and prepared muscles are what you need to focus on when you prepare for Kilimanjaro. You must be able to walk up (and down) for hours. For several days in a row. Sometimes with only a little sleep.
It does not matter how quickly you can do it. Reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro is a marathon, not a sprint. Of course, if you are fit and able to finish the day early, the time you have to rest is beneficial. But don’t focus on speed when you prepare for Kilimanjaro: focus on endurance and muscle strength and recovery.
You may want to prepare for Kilimanjaro by hiking in altitude.
If you have the opportunity to create conditions that are close to those that you will face during your Kilimanjaro climb, that’s brilliant.
For us, living in Australia didn’t offer many options to test our bodies with the altitude. Australia’s highest summit, Mount Kosciuszko, is at 2,228m which is not even half of Mount Kilimanjaro and maybe day 2 of the hike. And it was too far away from Brisbane anyway.
We could have gone to exercise in an altitude chamber but, mainly because of the price but also because it’s not fun, we chose not to. So we forgot about the altitude factor and hiked the few mounts we have around Brisbane instead.
Although it wasn’t in altitude, going up and down the hills was an excellent way to develop muscles and endurance and prepare for our Kilimanjaro adventure.
If you’re keen, you can hike with a heavy backpack to even strengthen your muscles more. Our overnight hiking expedition was an excellent exercise as we had to carry all the equipment, food and water. Note you won’t have to carry a heavy bag on Kilimanjaro – local porters will do that job for you. Still, you will recover more easily if you have strong muscles that are used to exercising. We also chose to do some long walks, sometimes with overnight camping, to get used to walking for extended hours.
It’s also important that you learn about recovery and how to treat your body after the efforts, so you feel fresher the next day. If you aren’t sportive, you will want to learn about the importance of staying hydrated and stretching.
An excellent way to prepare physically for climbing Kilimanjaro is to think of your body when you plan the trip.
The less tired it is, the higher are your chances of dealing well with the efforts and the altitude. Is it a good idea to start the climb being jet-lagged after a long flight? Are you doing all you can to avoid food intoxication? Will you have a good night sleep before leaving for the climb?
Have you climbed Kilimanjaro? What are your tips on how to prepare for Kilimanjaro? Leave a comment below!
Where is Mount Kilimanjaro?
Mount Kilimanjaro is in the north of Tanzania, close to the border with Kenya.
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