Things I wish I had known about hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kili

Kilimanjaro Summit

No matter how much you prepare for any hike, there are always surprises. Mountains like to throw as many kinks in your plan as possible just to see you melt down into a hot mess.
Kilimanjaro was no exception. You don’t think about how tiring it is to hike 6-8 hours day while sitting at your desk. I trained a lot, but nothing can prepare you for the long days and altitude. Needless to say, there were a lot of f-bombs and a few days of crying on the side of the mountain due to exhaustion.
While I was in camp I made a list of things I thought might be useful to the next hiker (and yes, I included TMI because you need to know this).


Pick a good hiking boot!

  •  Have a morning routine and mantra that will help you get into the zone for the day. It was the difference between a successful day and a total melt down. Listen to your favorite play list while you have coffee, read a daily motivational passage, or anything else that calms you.
  • O.M.G., the dust. No one told us about the moon dust.  It should have been a “no shit” moment since we were going during the dry season, but for some reason it didn’t register that we would be dealing with a powdery substance that sticks every inch of the body. Literally. There aren’t enough body wipes or tissues in all the world to get rid of it. Channel your inner toddler and embrace it.
  • Experiment with body wipes before you leave. You will not shower for 7-10 days and need a durable and effective cleaning solution. Go for a long run and then use a body wipe. That will give you an idea of what to expect day after day.
  • Blow your nose constantly. Because the dust was thick, it clogged my sinuses resulting in a horrible sinus infection. My sinuses were so infected I had nosebleeds for 2 weeks.
  • Take more cold/sinus meds than you think you will need. Someone in your group will need it. A very kind hiking partner gave me her meds after I gave all of mine to my husband. Thank you Shelby!
  • Take ALL the ibuprofen. ALL of it. You’ll need it.
  • Take a camp pillow and earplugs. Your tents will be tied down next to each other the higher you get on the mountain. Camps are also very loud with crews working day and night for all the hikers. A pillow and earplugs makes sleeping a little more likely.

    mountain sunrise

    Sunrise on the way to the summit

  • Take care of your feet. Wash them every morning and night and trim your nails if needed.  I applied blister blocker salve and bandages every day. It made all the difference. I wish I had thought to bring peppermint foot lotion for the evening.
  • Don’t bother taking a book. You won’t read it. The schedule is very tight and I was too exhausted to open a book. I should have saved the weight.
  • Eat all the things at every meal. I ate even when I thought I was going to be sick and I still lost 10 lbs. on the trip. This is not the time to diet!
  • Even if you stop drinking liquid early in the evening, you will still be up several times a night if you are taking Diamox. Don’t try to hold it, just go. The body diverts energy from keeping you warm so it is better if you get up. I saw the Milky Way for the very first time in my life while up at 3 a.m.
  • Ladies, I would suggest a go girl. It makes “visiting the monkeys” a lot easier when all the privacy you will get on the mountain is a small group of rocks if you are lucky. And you will pee constantly if you are taking Diamox. Get over it.
  • Taking Diamox is a personal decision. I had tingling in my fingers and numbness in my toes while taking it. The numbness in my toes did not go away for about a month, but I think that was due to the strenuous activity vs. medication.
  • Take eye drops (if you have dry eyes), ginger candy, and anti-nausea meds. They were a life saver. Altitude can be a bitch if you live at sea level.
  • Hat and SUNSCREEN. Enough said.
  • Hire a personal porter if possible. We had several people in our group that did and it would have saved us a lot of energy to have someone helping to carry our backpacks or water. You don’t realize how heavy 5 liters of water can be over 7-10 days.
  • Bring pole gloves. Your hands will sweat and get blisters. You can also use blister blocker on your hands.
  • Take half the clothes you think you will need. I ended up wearing the same things. However, bring at least three pair of pants (they get very dirty) and enough sock liners, underwear and bras for every day. You will sweat through everything you wear.
  • Have a pair of warm socks and a clean sweater reserved just for sleeping. It is hard to sleep in dirty clothes.
  • Bring something special for summit day that you can associate with the memory of Kilimanjaro. I forgot to bring a trinket from home, but fortunately, my sweet husband brought along a camel figurine (which I collect). Now I have a story to go with the gift that was at the highest point in Africa!
  • Say thank you every day to the hikers, leaders, and support staff. They make sure you are safe and successful.


Summit day!

Hopefully, this info will help you prepare for a successful hike and a trip of a lifetime! If anyone else has brought items on a hiking trip that they couldn’t live without I’d love to know as I’m preparing for a hike in Peru next year!