Typical Daily Routine on Kilimanjaro
When someone asks “what is it like to climb Kilimanjaro?” they typically hear about how it feels to be on the peak, or a general description of the overall trip like “it’s hard” or even “it’s not that hard”. While it is always good to get the opinions of others that have climbed the mountain, a better way understand what the trip is really like is to get an idea of what your daily schedule entails.
If you would like to see specific itineraries for each route, select a route below:
There are important differences to each route but, regardless of which route you take, you will be out on the mountain for many days as you slowly make progress up the mountain. So to best answer “what is it like to climb Kilimanjaro” a better way to learn about it is to ask the question “what will be my daily routine on Kilimanjaro?” Everyday will be approximately the same except the infamous (and also famous) summit day, which has some significant differences.
First things first, your porters and guides will be doing most of the work! Typical camping chores like packing down your tent, making food, doing dishes, fetching water, packing up gear and more are all done for you. If you’ve ever done multi-night backpacking, you will feel like you are in heaven! Perhaps even more amazing is the speed in which they do it and the speed in which they carry your gear to the next site. By the time you reach the next camp everything will “magically” be set up for you!
However, there are some tasks that you need to do yourself, so we’ll highlight those in the basic daily schedule. We also offer lots of tips for you while on your journey!
At approximately 6:30am, a porter will wake you up to start the day.
Hot drinks will be available immediately for you in the mess tent (which is highly welcomed by all coffee and tea drinkers!) The warm drinks not only help hydrate you, but will help warm your core if you are feeling cold. If you are getting higher up on the mountain, you will also be offered (and encouraged to drink) ginger tea because this has been found to help with some of the symptoms of altitude sickness (especially nausea).
There will also be a pan/bucket of clean, warm water for you to wash your face and hands. It’s a great way to not only stay clean, but also wake you up!
This is a good time to use the toilet and empty out your pee bottle from the night before if you used it.
You then need to decide which lower layers you plan on wearing. You might even have gotten some guidance on this the night before. If not, and you are unsure, ask your guide. Your big decision will be whether or not you add a base layer (eg “long underwear”) under your hiking pants. We say “big decision” because it’s near impossible to add or remove this layer once you’ve set out on your hike. The decision needs to be made based on the current conditions and how much elevation your hike includes that day. In general, it is better to error on the side of being a little too cold than being a little too hot.
Put on your upper base layer and add layers as you see fit at that time. Upper layers are much more forgiving because they are easy to put on and take off during your hike.
Pack your bags
Pack your bedding up by putting your sleeping back into your compression sack and strapping it down to make it as small as possible. Then place it into your duffel bag (the bag the porter will be carrying).
Figure out what clothing and items you want with you while you hike. Again, your guide will likely give you direction on this. We recommend ALWAYS taking your rain shell (jacket and pants) because you never know when the weather might change on Kilimanjaro. It never hurts to pack too many top layers in your pack (but clearly you wouldn’t likely need a big parka on Day 2). Be sure to remember all of your small items as well.
We recommend keeping a large trash bag as a waterproof liner in both the duffel bag as well as the daypack. So everything you pack in both bags is actually going in the trash bag that is in the duffel and daypack.
Once you’ve packed everything up, take your duffle out of the tent and put with the other climbers duffle bags (if it is raining, leave it by the door of the tent and the porter will get it and pack it). The only thing left in your tent should be your sleeping pad (which the porters provide and carry).
Breakfast and health check
Breakfast usually starts at 7am. And you will be delighted with it! It will likely start with fresh fruits, juice, more coffee/tea/ginger tea, a warm soup or perhaps cereal, then a main course of eggs, meat, toast or other delectable items. Eat up, since you will be hiking after this!
Sometime during breakfast, your guide will do a health check. This is generally a series of questions asking about how well you slept, how you are feeling, whether you have a headache, etc. These responses will be recorded twice each day. Be honest with your answers! Admitting to a slight headache is not going to send you back down the hill. Rather, it is helpful to the guide as he will notice patterns and can help with the symptoms throughout the trip. You will also be tested with a device that goes on your finger to record your pulse and blood oxygen levels. All of this data is highly valuable in recognizing how well you are tolerating the altitude.
You usually have about an hour between when breakfast starts and when you start hiking, so be sure to leave breakfast as soon as you eat to get yourself ready to hike. As hikers often say, it's okay to be the last to be ready to go. You just can't do it twice!
On most days, you’ll want to put on your gaiters over your hiking boots. This takes a little bit of time, so give yourself a few minutes to complete this task. And make sure you’ve tied the laces on your hiking boots sufficiently since the gaiters make it difficult to retie them. If you are using a solar panel to charge your battery pack, now is the time to attach it to your daypack.
Be sure to fill up your water bottles/bladder for the day’s journey. We also recommend doing some stretching to warm up your muscles and avoid any issues (this is especially important if your hike starts with a steep uphill climb.
Grab your hiking sticks and you’re ready to go! Follow all of your guides’ directions while hiking. At some point you will undoubtedly here them say “Pole, Pole!” frequently (“Pole” is Swahili for “Slowly”). You don’t want to move to quickly up the mountain or you will likely get Altitude Sickness which could ultimate result in sending you back down the mountain.
After about four hours of hiking, a hot lunch will be provided to you. This is quite a feat in its own right if you think about what the porters have done. During the time you finished breakfast and started hiking, they cleaned all the dishes, packed down all of the cooking gear, zoomed past you on the trail, set up the kitchen tent and mess tent and cooked you lunch! Service at its finest!
This lunch is not your typical “peanut butter sandwich on the trail” fare you might be used to during your own hikes. On the contrary, you will arrive at the site, be offered warm water to clean your face and hands and sit down to your table all setup with tablecloth and cutlery. Then you will be served a terrific lunch. This respite from the elements will be particularly welcomed if it has been raining during your hike!
After enjoying the delicious food, you will once again head out for the last part of your day hike. This section of hiking is usually a bit shorter than the first, to give you ample time at camp before it gets dark.
Arrive at camp
When you arrive at camp, you will be amazed and impressed that it is all set up for your arrival. The main camps all have a big sign that says the name of the camp, so it’s a great time to take a photo next to it (you might tell yourself you’ll do it in the morning, but no one ever remembers!).
Snacks will be available to you when you arrive (yes, you eat a lot on this mountain!) After sitting and replenishing with some snacks and juice, you can head back to your tent that already has your duffel bag ready and waiting. That will give you the chance change clothes and get some rest if you like.
We can pretty much guarantee that you will either be dry and dusty or soaking wet (if it rained). Kilimanjaro is famous for its volcanic dust (called “pumice”), which is fine enough for the wind to pick up and stick to any skin that is exposed (especially skin that has had lots of sunscreen applied to it). So now is a perfect time to clean up (or dry off). Your wet wipes will do wonders in removing dust and dirt from your skin. If you brought a camp towel, it will work wonders drying you off from the rain. If you have wet clothes, now is a good time to hang them in your tent (or outside in the sun if it has stopped raining).
If it rained, you might even have a wonderful porter come and help you dry off your daypack and the inside of your tent that you’ve gotten wet when you went inside.
Put on some comfortable clothes, fresh socks (hang your old ones to dry them and reduce odor) and switch to your far more comfortable trail shoes. Your feet will thank you! You may even have some time to lie down and rest for a while, so pull out your sleeping bag and pillow now. We recommend not sleeping long (or at all) because it may make falling asleep more difficult that night. But it is a great time to lay down and read, take notes on what you did and saw that day or go through your photos from the day and take out duplicates (which will save you from the arduous task of going through hundreds of duplicate photos when you return home!)
Pro tip: Put your headlamp in your pocket now before you leave your tent. That way you won’t be hunting around for it later when it gets dark.
On days where your camps are closer to each other, you may arrive at the camp a bit earlier than other days. This will leave you with some time before dinner to do some activities. Your guide may encourage you to do a brief walk. We strongly encourage you to do so. You likely will not need your bag (just a water bottle), your trail shoes will feel great to walk in and they usually have some interesting sites they will show you. The other reason for doing this is to go up a little more in altitude than your camp. This is to better help you adjust to the altitude and is part of the “climb high, sleep low” mantra that climbers follow to combat altitude sickness.
When you get back to camp from your short hike, be sure to put any clothes drying outside back into your tent before you head out for dinner.
Dinner and health check
Another pan of warm water will be made available to you and your team to wash up before dinner. Dinner is usually served around 6:00p. Your eating tent will be setup just like the other meals, but the dinner meal will outshine them all! You can look forward to a soup starter, a whole lot of fruit and vegetables, a main course and even dessert! Enjoy spending time relaxing and chatting with your group while enjoying some fantastic food. As you get higher and higher up on the mountain, you will find yourself not wanting to eat as much food. But you really do need to. And your guides and porters will be secretly watching how much you eat (it is a strong indication of how well you feel and how well your body is adapting to the elevation). So eat as much as you like and as much as you can!
You will do another health check during or soon after dinner. Keep in mind that this health check is performed after a long day of hiking (as opposed to the morning check which occurs after a long night of sleeping!). So if you are trying to recognize your trends, compare your evening health checks with previous evening health checks. Your pulse will likely be higher in the evening than in the morning and you may well feel more exhausted or headache prone. The important part is to compare tonight’s results to the previous nights results to see how you are trending. Your guide will be watching over all this, so you don’t really need to do anything.
Be sure to fill up on your water (or at least get one of your liter-sized bottles full of water filled) in case you get thirsty that night.
After dinner, you may well be tired enough to go to bed. But if not, you can see some amazing starry skies on a clear night. And if you come from the northern hemisphere, you might even catch some constellations that you can’t see above the equator. One such constellation is called the “Southern Cross” and only appears below the equator.
You will also notice that some of the constellations you recognize (like Orion) are sitting oddly in the sky because of your new vantage point on the earth. There is nothing quite like seeing the Milky Way in the pitch black and almost perfectly light-pollution free skies. It is a great way to wind down for the evening.
Pro tip: you can grab your chair from the eating tent and take it a hundred feet or so from the camp to get away from the camp lights. Just be sure to return it before going to bed.
You’ll likely head into your tent sometime between 8:30 pm and 10 pm along with your team.
Lots of climbers like to sleep in their lower base layer, which gives a little extra warmth. Now is the time to plug in your phone to your battery pack, which has been charging on your solar panel while you were hiking. Place your pee bottle (and pee funnel) near you as well as your water bottle (remember, you can tell the difference by feel if you’ve followed our advice). Place your headlamp somewhere handy in case you need it. And get some rest.