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Photo courtesy of Ram Mountaineering

June/July 2011

Assisting the

Kilimanjaro tripper

With an estimated 22 000 climbers attempting to conquer this inactive stratovolcano (the lava typically cools and hardens before spreading too far) each year and none of the routes requiring any mountaineering skills, specialised equipment or even previous climbing experience, an outdoor retailer in Southern Africa can expect to be approached by customers seeking advice on what gear to take on this adventure. Nelle du Toit spoke to Kilimanjaro summiteers to find out what gear, and more importantly the features of the specific gear, they recommend for a safe trip

As the highest mountain in Africa and the fourth highest mountain of the Seven Summits, Kilimanjaro has become the most famous and therefore arguably the most aspirational mountain to summit on the African continent.

Situated right beneath the equator on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro is influenced by the pattern of the Doldrums, an area renowned for its erratic weather patterns alternating between stagnant calms and violent thunderstorms. An adventure company specialising in Kilimanjaro trips will provide a tent, food and water and the aspirant Kili summiteer will have to invest in personal gear such as clothing, footwear, luggage and other personal equipment. A porter will carry a duffel bag with overnight and camp gear, but each tripper carries his or her own gear for the day.

In terms of packing suitable clothing a customer should be advised to keep in mind the differing climatic zones they will encounter on a trip to the Tanzanian peak.


The lower slopes of the mountain, between 790 — 1 800 meters, experience tropical conditions and the area higher up, between 1 800 — 2 800 meters, has the highest rainfall — up to 198 cm per year — and the high level of moisture results in a dense rain forest and mist belt. “Zip-off trousers, a lightweight moisture management t-shirt and waterproof pants and jacket is generally recommended for the tropical rainforest area,” says Nick Bennett, marketing manager for K-Way.

Moisture management clothing does not have to be synthetic. “Merino wool clothing doesn’t smell so you can wear it for more than a day without killing your team mates, it handles both hot and cold conditions and it wicks moisture so it keeps you dry, which is very important higher up in the cold,” advises Eric Riemann of Adventure Inc.

The moorland zone, between 2 800 and 4 000 meters, is covered with heather and bright flowers and Theuns Botha of First Ascent advises that the hiker wear clothing that is highly UV resistant once they leave the rainforest, as there is not much protection against the sun higher up. “In these situations,” he adds, “woven trek gear works very well.”

Harsh conditions prevail in the alpine desert between 4 000 — 5 000 meters. According to the semi-desert region receives less than 25 cm of rain annually and temperatures range from the mid 40ºC to below freezing at night. Here clothing with an inbuilt moisture management system, is breathable to prevent chafing and provide some protection against the sun (lightweight long sleeve clothing and hats that keep sun off the neck and face) helps to keep the tripper comfortable.

The summit zone, above 5 000 meters is an icy wasteland and it is here where the glaciers can be found. It has been widely documented that the glaciers of Kilimanjaro have been melting due to rising temperatures.

“For summit night I would wear a base layer, thermal underwear, an insulation fleece, a soft shell jacket and waterproof pants and jacket,” advises Matt Tibenham of Drifters Xtreme Sports.

A Kili tripper will use the same waterproof, windproof and breathable shell jacket for the duration of the hike. “The difference on summit night comes in the layers that they will need to wear beneath this jacket, which should feature waterproof zips, an adjustable hood with a reinforced lip, and adjustable hems and cuffs,” adds Bennett.

Down jackets are not great to wear on summit day but they are a great comfort to wear after activity. “A down-feathered waistcoat, however, allows arms to be breathable and provides much needed warmth to the upper body during activity,” says Simon Larsen of Ram Mountaineering.

“When trekking up a mountain at night, like one would do for summit day, you typically get katabatic wind that blows cold air straight into your face. Take at least 2 Buffs, one polar and one original, which can be used to sleep in and cut out the wind on exposed extremities like your nose,” advises Riemann.

A tripper will need thin fleece gloves and thicker thermal gloves as well. The same approach can be applied to socks by using thin liners with thicker wool socks — hiking boots should, however, provide added insulation.

“I would suggest investing in gloves rated to -15ºC whether it be a combination of thin and thick gloves or only thick gloves,” suggests Larsen. Some gloves have pockets for hand warmers that could add warmth during the freezing summit day.


Although Kilimanjaro has high glaziers and icy conditions close to the summit, mountaineering shoes with crampons are not necessary and experts recommend investing in a waterproof boot.

“A tripper will need good quality waterproof hiking boots that won’t break down. Rather advise them to spend money on boots and go for a decent pair,” suggests John Fontyn of Eiger Equipment.

“I would recommend customers steer clear of trail running shoes to approach the mountain as they lacks ankle support, upper support, ground support and often lack adequate waterproof qualities needed for Kilimanjaro,” says Tibenham.

“A shoe with multi-directional tread on the sole and brass eyelets for the laces are great for Kili,” adds Bennett.

The customer should spend time breaking boots in before the trip. “You could use a pair of hiking/trail running shoes for the first and last day or two of the trip when the weather is good,” suggests John Black, the Terra Firma product developer who has done 8 trips to Mount Kilimanjaro so far.

“But they would require the warmth, support and waterproofness of a proper hiking boot higher up the mountain or in the case of bad weather. I would also suggest taking a pair of trainers to wear around camp at night. Always advise them to wear summit boots on the plane, so that if their luggage goes missing, the customer will still have their boots and it lightens the checked in luggage. Ideally, also suggest gaiters to keep mud, water and stones out of the boots,” adds Black.

But shoes are not the only equipment that can chafe and requires time spent breaking it in.

Day pack backpack

“A lot of backpacks can chafe at first, but some backpacks do not require a walk-in period which could make the experience that much better,” explains Riemann.

“A 30-35L backpack is ideal,” advises Black. Comfort is more important than aesthetics as the customer will have to carry it. “Ideally you’ll want a built in splash/rain cover for when it snows, rains or drizzles but the customer should still pack their valuable and dry products in plastic/dry bags inside the daypack. Look out for packs that are hydration system compatible, and has enough handy pockets/compartments for loose bits and pieces.”

A customer would want to keep their camera, spare batteries, multi-tool, sunscreen, clothes for the day (fleece, soft shell, waterproof pants and jacket), high altitude pills, medical supplies, water purifiers, a technical scarf/buff, gloves, a survival bag, hand warmers, headlamp/torches, high energy snacks, water (Black advises an absolute minimum of 2L in the pack, 4L in total a day) and powdered mixes, lip balm, beanie and a sun hat in their day pack on their back. All other equipment should be kept in the 80-120L durable and lockable duffel bag, carried by porters.

“At the beginning of each day, the climber will need to pack their daypack with gear for the worst weather imaginable, as they will not have access to their other gear until the next camp,” advises Bennett.

Expedition duffel bag

A Kili tripper will typically keep warm and clean clothes, a down jacket, toiletries (preferably biodegradable), hand warmers, a sleeping bag, self-inflating mat, pillow, snacks for later on, extra shoes/trainers, their entertainment and any other gear they will need on the mountain but not while climbing, in the duffel or expedition bag.

Fontyn warns against taking a duffel bag that is too big. “If it is too hard to carry damage can occur.” Most operators limit the load that the porters carry to 12-14kg so advise customers not to over-pack and not to take gear that porters will have to carry up and down the mountain unnecessarily.

Experts advise to waterproof all equipment inside the duffel bag with either plastic bags or dry bags. The bags also help to organise gear into easily accessible compartments. “While portaging content can get wet and once you get above 3 000m the ground will most likely freeze, which will turn to mud/water in the morning so keeping equipment dry is very important,” says Riemann. “A lockable zip is also a must,” says Bennett, “as porters won’t go out of their way to keep equipment dry and safe.”

“Another option is to make use of a lockable transit system that can be used to lock equipment on the plane trip to Tanzania/Kenya as well,” says Larsen.

Sleeping systems

“For a sleeping bag to keep someone comfortable on Kilimanjaro it would have to have a minimum rating of -15ºC, however, they may never use this warm sleeping bag again especially if the customer mainly camps in SA,” says Tibenham. “We would recommend a -8ºC sleeping bag with a 3 to 8 degree thermal liner. A down sleeping bag, usually more expensive, will add a higher warmth to weight ratio, but will take longer to dry.”

"The advantage of down sleeping bags are that they can be packed into smaller and lighter size and weight than their hollow fibre counterparts and they are more durable — a down feathered bag could last you up to 20 years whereas a hollow-fibre sleeping bag could last you only 5 years,” says Larsen.

“A sleeping bag liner helps, as it reduces the number of times the sleeping bag will need to be washed thereby increasing the lifespan of the down bag,” he adds.

Furthermore, self-inflating mattresses add extra comfort when sleeping on hard surfaces and provide extra insulation from the cold that seeps in from the ground. A pillow is not always necessary, as a down jacket can be used as a cushion, but if the customer is used to the comfort of a cushion, advise a lightweight option. Ground covers are also great to provide extra waterproofing and protection.

“I would suggest taking along a survival bag,” says Larsen. “A survival bag is literally a plastic bag the size of your body that you can climb into if you are stuck in a snow storm and far away from help. It can also double up as a ground cover when not used for an emergency.”

Water and food

Porters fetch water in large Jerry cans every day and boil it for the group. Each person should consume a minimum of 4L and up to 7L of water/liquid a day. “We normally recommend taking a 2-3L water bladder and two 1L water bottles in the backpack, as it is the easiest way to carry 4L on your back. People tend to drink water more frequently when they use a hydration system and water bottles are easier to use when mixing hydration/electrolyte mixtures and purifying water,” says Tibenham.

“One of the side effects of using high altitude pills is that you urinate more than usual and drinking lots of electrolyte mixes would help replenish lost nutrients,” he adds. Getting sick is a real threat on a mountain where there are limited resources. “I’d advise anyone to carry wet wipes or any form of hand sanitizer with them to keep their hands clean and help prevent diarrhoea,” says Botha.

Although porters normally do a great job of purifying water, there could be a rush to supply safe drinking water when there is a large group and it could be under-boiled. “The last thing you would want is diarrhoea on your summit day so we would recommend using extra water purification, one that can be easily used with water holders,” says Tibenham.

Although a pedantic climber might prefer to take his/her own water purification system it is not necessarily a must-have.

As one tends to lose your appetite while on the mountain, Tibenham suggests taking highly enjoyable snacks. “Energy bars run the risk of hardening into lollipops in freezing temperatures ­­— Snacker bars, peanuts & raisins, biltong and fruit work better.”

When temperatures drop it is difficult to keep things from freezing. “When sleeping, keep the water bottle and food on the inside of the down sleeping bag and when hiking in freezing temperatures keep the food and water bottle inside the jacket,” advises Botha. A reported trick of the mountain is to keep the hydration pack bladder underneath the jacket and run the bladder’s pipe through the sleeve of the jacket. The mouth of the pipe is then easily accessible through the cuff of the jacket.

Other essential equipment

Trekking poles are a must have as they offer better support when going up slippery ski slopes. “Ski slopes are so slippery it is easy to slip one step backward for every two steps forward, during these conditions trekking poles become extensions of the arms,” says Tibenham.

Although a customer would be better assured knowing that equipment is suited for extreme conditions, the reality is that accidents do happen and even the best tested products could break. “I would suggest packing a roll of duct tape as I have used it often to repair jackets, bags, pants etc,” advises Black.

Luxuries can include electronics like an ipod player if the customer can’t go without music and snow rated watches that can record GPS points, altitude and distance.

“One thing to keep in mind is that at high altitudes batteries discharge quicker and backup batteries should be taken along for all battery operated devices like cameras etc.,” says Larsen.

Many rated indulgences, in the form of food or drinks, as top in terms of creature comforts. “A coffee press that fits snugly to the size of a cup is a great luxury to have on the mountain,” says Tibenham.

After months of fitness, equipment and psychological preparation the smallest product designed with the tripper’s comfort in mind can make a massive difference. Larsen advises on taking something like an easy chair, a lightweight floor seat with a backrest that folds up, which is great for reading a book during resting time at camp etc. Remind customers to take personal entertainment, in the form of a book or playing cards etc to pass the time at camp.

“Advise them to take something interesting/meaningful or fun for their summit photo,” recommends Riemann, “it typically becomes the number one visual reminder of the event in the future. It’s like a R25K photo so I’d suggest to customers to make it count.”

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