So you want to climb Kilimanjaro? A guide to packing & training
“If it’s not raining, it’s not training,” Dan from Ultimate Training Days told us, as our sodden group of six watched the endless spring drizzle fall upon our newly erected tents. This would be the first of what we would come to call “Dan-isms” during our two-day training weekend in the Brecon Beacons.
Our mission was to learn all we could about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, which is a 7-day journey on foot in extreme conditions. In August, twenty people who are raising £10k each for Borne, led by rugby legend, Will Greenwood, will be climbing the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. All of us have our own reasons for doing it. Some of us will make it. Some of us might not. But as Dan says you can help your chances by adhering to the 7 Ps: “Prior planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance.”
In this post, I’ll share with you all the sage advice given to us by Dan and Sig (his trusty sidekick), so that you can be as prepared as possible.
Do I need to train?
I’ve read posts on tour company websites that say that you don’t really need to train to climb Kilimanjaro. After one weekend where I spent a grand total of 8 hours walking, I can tell you categorically that you do need to train. I already do a lot of running, but Dan says that the best training you can do for Kili is walking, plain and simple. Change your routine so that you can add more walking into your schedule, even if it means just getting off the tube a few stops early and covering the rest on foot.
Also, try to add squats, core exercises and arm exercises to your routine. Every bit of added strength helps. Continue to train up to about 2 weeks before the journey, at which time you should taper off.
What should I bring?
Dan gave us great advice that will ultimately save us from splashing out on equipment we don’t need. If you aren’t going to use it, don’t bring it.
You’ll need two bags: 1) a day bag with about a 33 litre capacity with a main compartment, two side compartments, and a flap with a zipped pocked and 2) a big bag with about a 90-110 litre capacity that will be carried by porters up the mountain for you. This does not have to be a proper backpack, which can cost a lot of money. A simple green army bag from the army surplus store would do the trick and will set you back about £40.
An assortment of dry bags
Dry bags are waterproof sacks that keep your kit dry. Buy them in a range of sizes and colours, so that you can easily categorise your belongings (clothing in the red, toiletries in blue, etc.). These are essential. There is nothing worse than getting into a wet sleeping bag after a hard day of trekking.
THINGS TO PACK IN YOUR BIG BAG
In Dry Bag 1: Sleepware
- Sleeping bag: This is one of the things you should spend money on. That being said, one of Dan’s Top Tips was to buy a 3-season bag, which is less bulky and less pricey than a 4-season one, and then buy a cheap 1-season bag. Put the 1-season bag into the 3-season bag and voila – you are toasty warm.
- Thermarest Air Mattress: This is to put between you and the cold, hard ground. Another top tip from Dan – don’t spend £90 on the top tier Thermarest like this muppet did. A Thermarest is a Thermarest at any price.
- Inflatable pillow, if you want
In Dry Bag 2: Clothing
This bag contains all the clothing that you won’t need during the day.
- 3 pairs of trousers (not jeans): These should be lightweight walking trousers. Don’t bother with the kind that zip off at the knee because you’ll want your legs protected at all times.
- 3 t-shirts: These will form your base layer and should be made of a fabric that wicks moisture off of your skin. I will be using my running tops.
- 1 fleece (a second fleece will be in your day bag)
- 1 down jacket: Perfect for those chilly nights after a long day of hiking. Also good for sleeping in if you are cold.
- 3-4 pairs of Knickers: Boys, Dan says to wear briefs, not boxer briefs, as the extra fabric will chafe your inner thigh. You’ve been warned.
- Sports bras (3)
- Socks: 7-8 pairs thick hiking socks, 7-8 cheap cotton thin socks. Wear a thin pair underneath your thick hiking socks to help reduce blisters.
- Extra hat and gloves: Karimoor does a nice pair that are rubberised on the outside and fleece on the inside (http://store.karrimor.com/karrimor-thermal-gloves-ladies-904385?colcode=90438503)
- Light trainers to change into at the end of the day
- Black rubble bag for laundry
In Dry Bag 3: Electronics & Grub
- Spare head torch (with batteries backwards in case it accidentally gets turned on in bag) plus a small compact lantern and a wind-up torch
- Extra food: Don’t assume you’ll always be full-up from what the porters serve you. You might get hungry in between meals, so have a stash of chocolate, high energy bars, nuts & raisins (make your own trail mix), and also full dinners in a bag that you can buy from Go Outdoors (http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/search/go?view=grid&w=adventure+food)
- A spare spork
- Spare batteries
- Phone chargers (portable)
In Dry Bag 4: Toiletries
- Moisturiser: Ladies, if you are worried about uneven skin tone, get tinted moisturizer, but other than that, Dan says to leave the make-up at home. Sorry.
- Deodorant: Do NOT bring any aerosols and the ball ones tend to get destroyed
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Dove soap: The reason Dan specified Dove is because it is cleansing and moisturizing.
- Shampoo: You probably won’t have the opportunity to do a full shampoo on the mountain, but if you are worried about your hair, try bringing a powder shampoo. I suggest the Lush No Drought product not just because it’s been highly rated, but also because, unlike other dry shampoos, it doesn’t come in an aerosol can.
- Spare tampons and towels
- Spare eyeglasses and contact lenses (Dan says it’s a better idea to wear glasses on the mountain as your eyes might get dry the further up you go. I’m going to chance it).
- Sponge for washing yourself
In Dry Bag 5: First Aid items
You should carry spare First Aid items in both of your bags.
- Rehydration salts
- Malaria tablets, if you are taking them (recommended)
- Compeed for blisters in a range of sizes
- Baby wipes
- Zinc Oxide tape (also for blisters)
- Earplugs (altitude may turn your tentmate into a snorer!)
- Any other pharmaceuticals you might be taking
In Dry Bag 6: The Fun Bag
In the evenings, you’ll want activities to do, as you’ll have spare time. You may want some or all of the following:
- Deck of cards
- Travel games
- iPad (although it will be hard to keep this charged)
- Notebook and Pencil (NOT a pen, which could break and leak = nightmare)
THINGS TO PACK IN YOUR DAY BAG
This is the bag that you’ll carry with you everyday. Remember that you won’t have access to your big bag between camps, as your porters will be taking it off up the mountain while you eat your breakfast.
- Waterproof jacket at top (NOT in waterproof bag) as you will take in and out often. I suggest getting a waterproof bag with zip vents under the arms, as I struggled with my body temperature during our Brecon walk, but this is not essential. And then, underneath the jacket, in the order of top to bottom:
In Dry Sack 1:
- Hat and gloves
- Fleece (mid-range thickness)
- First aid kit
- Ladies’ items: Apparently, mountains can make us menstruate and heavily, so bring supplies
- Sun hat
- Sun lotion (definitely use 50 at the top of the mountain!)
In Dry Sack 2:
- Paracord from eBay (this is great to use as a washing line or as spare shoe laces)
- Little box with spare batteries, matches, and anything else you want to keep in there
- Head torch (stored with batteries backwards)
In Dry Sack 3:
- Waterproof trousers in a baggie (fold down small)
- Spare warm t-shirt
- Spare base layer light t-shirt (my running shirt)
- Spare pants
- Spare socks
- Spare gloves (3rd pair)
Side pouch 1:
Water! You will need between 3-4 litres of this per day. Buy refillable bottles that are easy to drink from. If you want to use bladders, then buy Camelbacks. They are the best on the market and cheap ones often break (you don’t want to get your bag soaking wet).
Side pouch 2
Spare grub (salted nuts etc)
At the top in the zipped flap
- Swiss Army knife
- Small waterproof bag with your wallet, passport, phone, small waterproof bag with wallet, passport and phone etc and money
- Sunglasses (cheap ones as they are likely to get broken)
What do I do with my camera?
This wasn’t specifically covered, but I am going to have another dry bag in my daypack to carry spare batteries and cards. I’m going to experiment over the next few months with carrying my camera in a belt pack. I’ll be taking the Hasselblad LUNAR with me, as I want a camera that is lightweight, but that still has interchangeable lenses and takes great photos. I would suggest that you do not bring a heavy camera and lenses as they will really add to the weight you are carrying.
What should I be wearing on a daily basis?
Starting at the top and working our way down:
- Snood (good for keeping neck warm and easily removable)
- Base layer t-shirt
- Long sleeved cotton shirt
- Fleece (mid-thickness)
- Waterproof jacket
- Trouser (running tights and walking trousers are a good combo. Not thermals as you want all clothing that is next to your skin to wick off the moisture).
- Socks (1 thick, 1 thin)
- Boots (this training weekend made me realize that I need new boots for the walk as my feet were in pain at the end of Sunday. One hiker had Meindl boots, which are apparently AMAZING and have won all sorts of awards. I’m going to be getting a pair).
Should I use walking poles?
Walking poles are a very personal choice, but they are especially useful on the way down the mountain.
TOP TIP 1: Preparing for departure
This was one of Dan’s top tips for living up to the 7 Ps: two weeks before you are leaving for your trip, pack your bag. Every night until you leave, sit in a dark room with your bag and unpack and repack it until you know where everything is.
TOP TIP 2: At the end of each day on the mountain
Go straight to your tent and change into some clean clothes. Take your feet out of your socks and give them a good airing.
TOP TIP 3: Be aware of “Altitude Attitude”
Altitude can make people tetchy. You’ll be tired. You’ll be achy. And your tent mate will probably piss you off at least once. Just be aware of it and don’t take it personally if someone isn’t jolly all the time.
TOP TIP 4: “Hugs are not for mugs”
Remember that up the mountain, there is no room for machismo. This kind of physical challenge can make people emotional. There is a lot of time to think and a lot of time to miss loved ones at home. If someone seems to be spending too much time alone, try to bring him or her back into the fold. Hug and hug often.
Thank you again to Dan and Sig from Ultimate Training Days. I highly recommend doing one of their events, even if it’s not for training for a specific trek like climbing Kilimanjaro. UTD does all the training days on behalf of Charity Challenge, which is the company that is taking us up the mountain (they also took Chris Moyles, Gary Barlow and Cheryl Cole up for Sports Relief a few years ago).
After the weekend, I am feeling much more ready and prepared, although there is still plenty of work to do before I feel fighting fit for the climb. Wish me luck!
All photos in this post were taken on the Hasselblad LUNAR camera.