What to wear on Kilimanjaro?
What to wear on a Mount Kilimanjaro Trek is probably the question we get asked most and there is, of course, a kit list for climbing Kilimanjaro on our website. However, it doesn’t tell you ‘When to Wear it’ which is the second most asked question.
The answer is, however, a tad vague, as it totally depends on the weather on Kilimanjaro. To give you an example last week I was on Kilimanjaro with a team of 12 people and the night before summit at Karanga Valley it was well below zero with 3 inches of ice in the water bucket by morning, yet fast-forward 24hrs and we’re at 5500m heading to the summit at 5895m and conditions are quite pleasant with no wind, yes it was a bit cold but nowhere near the temperature we felt at Karanga. Fast forward another 24hrs and it’s different again! Therefore the key and most important factor when it comes to ‘what to wear when climbing Kilimanjaro’ is that your gear has to be adaptable!
Sort out your gear before going on the mountain! Don't forget your bag!
People often expect that they’ll wear a certain type or a certain number of layers at a certain point / place / altitude on Kilimanjaro but the reality is that you could get terrible weather on day one, and warm pleasant conditions for the rest of the climb. Or you could get harsh conditions throughout, or sunshine and light winds! Therefore we design our Kilimanjaro kit list to cover you for all that the mountain can throw at you. The most important factor for you is to prepare for each day as it comes and be adaptable based on the conditions around you and the opinion of your guide at the time.
So is there a rough guide to what you would wear on a day by day basis on Kilimanjaro? Well yes you could suggest the following, however always expect the unexpected and as all boy scouts know, ‘always be prepared’!
Days 1 and 7 on the Machame or Rongai route (or 8 if you are on the Lemosho route): Generally you can expect some moisture as you travel up or down through the forest. This can be in the form of rain, cloud, mist or humidity. Generally, it’s reasonably warm and sometimes you may not want to put on waterproofs due to the heat so quite often an umbrella is a handy thing to have. The trail is pretty good with well laid out paths, so gaiters aren’t really necessary but can be handy if you’re prone to having the odd slip, especially on the descent. Poles can also be handy for the same reason. Generally, people will wear a trek shirt / top and shorts or trek trousers. There is no need for thermals or warm gear to walk in however a fleece should always be in your day pack for stops or delays.
Dress to suit the conditions.
Days 2 and 3 – mostly people will walk in a trek shirt, trousers, sun hat and shades. For these and in fact all days, always have a fleece and waterproof trousers and jacket in your day bag.
Days 4 and 5 are the same really as days 2 and 3 but with a definite need to pull on a fleece / hat when you stop, and if it’s windy walk in your waterproof jacket (this will reduce wind chill). You should also add a mid layer to your day bag which you may need to walk in. It’s likely that you will now want to wear thermals in the evenings or whilst sleeping so it’s worth having these packed close or in your sleeping bag.
Layering is key and gives you versatility.
What to wear on Kilimanjaro - Summit Day
This is when you’re ‘likely’ to want all your main layers, but do gauge the weather and conditions. If it is very cold you will want to have your base (thermal) layer on top and bottom. On top of your leggings you could wear 2 thin pairs of trousers or one thicker pair and a pair of waterproof trousers as your outer layer. Similarly, on top you will want a number of thinner mid-layers (long sleeve t-shirts / trek shirts, mid layer fleeces) and a thick fleece and waterproof on top for that or alternatively a down or synthetic fill jacket. Then on your extremities gloves (inner and outer pair), balaclava if windy, warm hat / scarf and of course thick, warm, clean socks and your boots. Gaiters can also add heat. Some people also take hand warmers and if very cold don’t forget to wiggle your toes as you walk to keep the blood pumping!
Zips help regulate your temperature
Manage Your Climate!
The key to what to wear on Kilimanjaro is to manage your 'own' climate based on how 'you' feel and what the conditions around you are doing – everyone is different. You’ll find that as you walk (on any day of the trek) that you’ll warm up with exercise so it’s important that you regulate your temperature so that you’re not too hot or too cold. The best way to do this is firstly ensure that you have on the right number of layers for the conditions. If not add or remove a layer so that you’re comfortable. When you walk you’ll get warm, so unzip your jacket and mid layer and let air circulate. Then when you stop for a break pull the zips up and keep the heat in. This is particularly important if it’s windy or if you’re in an exposed location.
Each night you’ll be briefed by your guide so that you can have the right gear ready for the next day and if you’re not sure, make sure you ask. It’s really easy to regulate your clothing to ensure you’re not too hot, nor too cold as long as you have what you need in your day bag.
That’s it, that’s the secret to what to wear! There are no hard and fast rules, just make sure you have what’s on the kit list and that’ll give you the flexibility to be adaptable to the conditions and most importantly dry and comfortable.
Always ask the Guides for help and advice!