Do I Really Need All that Gear to Climb Kilimanjaro?

Outdoor Clothing 1
The gear lists for climbing Kilimanjaro are quite extensive (and expensive). People often wonder if one really needs all of that to climb Kilimanjaro. Well, the answer is yes and no.

YES – BRING EVERYTHING ON THE GEAR LIST.

Why Yes? Because Mount Kilimanjaro is a really tall mountain. The very top of the mountain falls under the “Extreme Altitude” category and is in the Arctic ecosystem. So you have to be ready for very, very cold conditions, including high winds, snow, hail, sleet, and rain. Under these kinds of weather, if you don’t stay dry and warm, you can die of hypothermia.

To combat this, you need waterproof items – jacket, pants, gloves, boots. You also need warm items – fleece, down, and multiple layers.  Typical temperatures are like 0 to 20F. But, it could be -20F! And you could be hiking for maybe eight hours. Trust me, it can be so cold that you actually do not want to rest because it is more miserable to sit down than to keep climbing (although that is miserable too). You need to have the right clothing in case you run into the worst conditions.

NO – THE GEAR LISTS ARE OVERKILL.

Another side of me says, no you don’t need all that stuff. Why? Look at what the guides and porters wear. Guides are pretty well equipped with the staple items. They have waterproof tops and adequate layers of warm clothing. But they don’t usually have waterproof shoes/boots and some don’t even carry gloves. I suspect that many don’t have waterproof pants. The porters have less. They try to make due with carrying as little of their own things as possible given that they carry the load for the team as well. Granted, the porters do not go to the summit so they do not regularly experience the worst weather that Kilimanjaro has to offer. The bottom line is, if the crews aren’t fully equipped, it also follows that we don’t absolutely need everything that most kit lists bado cams say we do (though its probably a good idea).

Secondly, because Kilimanjaro is a supported climb, if you run into trouble the staff will help you. It sounds bad, but it is true. If you are cold, a guide would give you their clothing – whether it be their gloves, hat, gaiters, jacket, etc. They feel it is their responsibility to get you to the top even if they have to sacrifice their comfort to do so. And if it ever got really bad, you can just descend quickly, in a day. So the price to pay for not having the right clothing is a missed summit, but you won’t come back with missing fingers or toes, or left to freeze on the mountain.

WHAT TO DO – THE BOTTOM LINE

Let’s be practical here.

You can certainly make due by having less numbers of something. For example, on my trips I wear one pair of underwear, one pair of pants, and one tee shirt for the ENTIRE time. I take two pairs of socks just in case one gets wet or if I have to double up. I don’t take gaiters, trekking poles, wet wipes or snacks. I am able to do this because I have enough experience on mountains to know what I can get away with. If you don’t, it’s best to just stick with the list.

You paid a lot of money to climb Kilimanjaro so you should do it right. Assemble the right kit. If you don’t want to buy it, fine. You can borrow from friends, or rent from the local shops in Arusha or Moshi, or from your operator if they stock anything (usually they have sleeping bags, sleeping pads and warm puffy coats). It’s better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it.