Essential equipment for climbing kilimanjaro
Equipment you can’t do without on Kilimanjaro
Sleeping bag On Kilimanjaro, the warmer the sleeping bag the better. A three-season bag is probably the most practical, offering a compromise between warmth and cost. A two-season plus thermal fleecy liner, the latter available in camping shops back at home for about £20-30/US$30-45, is another solution.
Sleeping mat On Kilimanjaro a sleeping mat is essential if camping but unnecessary if you’re following the Marangu Route, when you’ll be sleeping in huts. Trekking agencies usually supply sleeping mats – ask them before you buy one yourself.
Water bottles/Platypus Hoser system We recommend you carry at least three litres of water per day. Make sure your bottles are thermally protected or they will freeze on the summit.
Regular army-style water bottles are fine, though these days many trekkers prefer the new Platypus Hoser-style systems, or CamelBaks, a kind of soft, plastic bladder with a long tube from which you can drink as you walk along. They have a number of advantages over regular bottles in that they save you fiddling about with bottle tops and you can keep your hands in your pockets while you drink – great on the freezing night-time walk to the summit.
But while they encourage you to drink regularly, which is good for dealing with the altitude, they also discourage you from taking a break, which is bad. What’s more, these systems usually freeze up on the way to the summit, especially the hose and mouthpiece. One way to avoid this – or at least delay it – is to blow back into the tube after you have taken a drink to prevent water from collecting in the tube and freezing. (One reader suggested adding diarolyte which also helps to delay freezing.) So if you are going to bring one of these with you, make sure it’s fully insulated – and don’t forget to take frequent breaks!
Water purifiers/filter Water purifiers are also essential on Kilimanjaro, unless you intend to hire an extra porter or two to transport your drinking water up from the start. While you can get your cooking crew to boil you some water at the end of every mealtime, you’ll still find purifiers and/or a filter essential on Kilimanjaro if you’re going to drink the recommended four-five litres every day, for which you’ll have to collect water from the mountain streams.
Of the two, purifying tablets, such as iodine, are more effective, as they kill everything in the water, though they taste awful. A cordial will help to mask this taste; you can buy packets of powdered flavouring in the local supermarkets. Filters are less effective and more expensive, though the water they produce tastes much better.
There’s now a third option, the Steripen, which kills waterborne microbes by using ultraviolet light. The pen is simple to use. Simply hold the pen in a litre of water for 30 seconds and….that’s it. I’ve seen one of these in action on the mountain and I have to say I found it a very impressive bit of kit. My only quibble was that you can use it on only one litre of water at a time, so it can be awkward if you have, for example, a three-litre bottle.
Torch On Kilimanjaro a head-torch, if you have one and don’t find it uncomfortable, is far more practical than a handheld one, allowing you to keep both hands free; on the last night up the slopes of Kibo to the summit this advantage is pretty much essential, enabling you to keep your hands in your pockets for warmth.
Sunscreen A high-factor sunscreen (35-40) is essential on Kilimanjaro.
Towel The argument here is over which sort of towel to bring to Kilimanjaro. Many trekers just bring one enormous beach towel, because they plan to visit Zanzibar after the trek and don’t see the point of packing two towels.
At the other extreme there are the tiny so-called ‘travel towels’, a sort of chamois-cloth affair sold in camping shops and airport lounges the world over. Some people swear by these things, but others usually end up swearing at them, finding that they have all the absorbency of your average block of obsidian stone. Nevertheless, I grudgingly admit that these travel towels do have their uses on Kilimanjaro, where opportunities to wash anything other than your face and hands are minimal. You can dry your towel by attaching it to the outside of your rucksack with clothes-pegs.
Sunglasses Sunglasses on Kilimanjaro are very, very necessary for the morning after you’ve reached the summit, when the early morning light on Kibo can be really painful and damaging. If you’re climbing via the Glacier Route or are going to spend some time on the summit, they could be essential on Kilimanjaro for preventing snow-blindness.
Glasses/contact lenses For those who need them, of course. Contact lenses are fine but super-expensive ones should be avoided on the final assault to the summit as there’s a risk that when the strong cold wind blows across the saddle on assault night the lenses can dry and go brittle very quickly and fall out of the eye. I suggest affordable disposable lenses be worn but that spare glasses be carried, especially during the assault on the summit. Obviously you’ll need to be extra careful to keep your hands super clean and dry when putting them in.
Money for tipping For a rough guide as to how much you should take, see the guidebook and the Tipping your Kilimanjaro crew webpage — then add a few dollars, just in case.
Toothbrush and toothpaste Ensure your dental checks are up-to-date; if there is one thing more painful than climbing to the summit of Kilimanjaro, it’s climbing to the summit of Kilimanjaro with toothache.
Carry everything in a waterproof bag or case, and keep at least the emergency stuff in your daypack – where hopefully it will lie undisturbed for the trek’s duration.