Fortunately, you will not need an exorbitant amount of equipment for Kilimanjaro. Unlike the other Seven Summits, you will not need mountaineering gear like an ice axe, crampons, harness, etc. And your guides will provide most of your basic camping gear like tents, sleeping pads, etc. However, there are still several items you need (and other optional items that we include here for you to consider).
- Sleeping Bag (15 F or lower) – This is critical piece of gear that will make a big contribution to you being able to sleep comfortably on the mountain.
- Stuff Sacks (optional) – Very thin bags that help you organize the items in your duffel bag.
- Compression Sack (optional) – This is an optional stuff sack that allows you to compress your sleeping bag down to a very small size.
- Pillow (optional) – You will likely want a pillow to sleep on. You can either take a small camping pillow or you can ‘create’ one using spare clothing.
- Trekking poles – These are quite important to have on your 30+ mile climb on Kilimanjaro.
- Duffel Bag (55-95L) – This is the bag you will pack that your porter will carry from camp to camp.
- Daypack (30-38L) – This is the backpack you will wear as you hike from camp to camp.
- Battery Pack and charging cables (optional) – This is a power cell that you can use to recharge your camera or phone while on your journey.
- Solar Panel (optional) – This can be used to charger your battery pack on sunny days.
- Microspikes (optional) – These strap to your boots to give you extra traction on the snow.
A sleeping bag is one of your most important pieces of gear! Since you will be spending several nights on the mountain and will be going higher and higher each day, you will definitely want to be comfortable while you are sleeping. High altitudes are already known for causing people to sleep poorly (even when they are at a comfortable temperature). So you’ll want to combat this by being as comfortable as possible.
First, make sure you bring a sleeping bag (not just blankets!). A sleeping bag is designed to trap the heat of your body in a way that blankets cannot do. And on those cold nights when you are near the Arctic region, you will definitely need a properly designed sleeping bag to keep you warm. It is important that you select a sleeping bag that rated at 15 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. It is preferred that you look for a sleeping bag that is intended for backpacking use (as opposed to car camping use). These bags are significantly lighter and will take up far less space in your duffel bag (remember you only get one duffel bag for your porter to carry and it can only be 33 pounds.
Sleeping bags made for backpacking generally come in 2 basic shapes: Mummy or Semi-rectangular. A mummy bag is broader at the shoulders, but gets narrower towards the feet . This reduces the extra weight on the half of the bag and also tends to keep your feet warmer because it traps the heat more efficiently. However, because the bag is more form fitting, some people find these bags to be restricting. You don’t typically roll over inside the bag, you tend to roll over along with the bag.
A newer style is called the semi-rectagular bag or “barrel” bag or “modified mummy” bag. This option is a good compromise for people who want a little more room in their sleeping bag but still want to keep it light enough for backpacking. Be sure to try out both styles in the store and see which you prefer the most.
You will also need to choose the type of insulation the bag is made from. There are really only two types: down insulation and synthetic insulation. There are key benefits to either choice and either will typically work well on Kilimanjaro as long as the rating is for 15 F or lower.
Down insulation is a great option in that it is very lightweight and compresses down to a very small size. While down does not insulate as well when it is wet, you will be packing your sleeping bag securely in your duffel bag which will be covered in a water resistant shell for the porter to carry. So there is little to no chance of it being soaked from the rain. Older down sleeping bags would sometimes suffer in damp environments allowing the down to soak in moisture if you spend multiple days in the rain. However, most down now is treated with a water-resistant treatment to minimize this issue. All else held equal, down generally outperforms other materials in cold, dry weather. NOTE: if you are concerned about the ethical treatment of ducks and geese, you should look for manufacturers that label their bags with RDS (Responsible Down Standard) or TDS (global Traceable Down Standard). You can learn more about the Animal Welfare and Outdoor Gear.
The other type of insulation is synthetic. A big advantage to synthetic is its lower price. It is generally slightly heavier than down that has the same temperature rating. However, the weight differential will be minimal (you might notice it while backpacking, buy your porter probably will not!). It is generally better it very wet conditions because it will still insulate even when wet. It will also dry faster than down in case it does get wet. The gap between down and synthetic has been reduced in recent years as manufacturers have started to make major improvements to synthetic materials.
Your best bet for finding the perfect sleeping bag is to go to a store and actually lay down in some of them. Comfort is key. Some higher end options include the North Face Inferno 0 and the Marmot Trestles 0.
These are super thin bags that you can use to help organize your things inside your duffel bag. They are sometimes called “ditty sacks”. They can be very handy for organizing your clothing items (and perhaps reserving one for your dirty clothes to keep them separate from your clean clothes). We’ve seen people use simple mesh bags and even thin laundry bags that are used to put delicate items (like silk) into before putting into a washing machine.
Some stuff sacks are waterproof. We only recommend using them if you have items that absolutely can’t get wet (like camera gear). But for regular items (like clothes) they are not needed. Additionally, they often are hard to close without trapping air in them, which makes them hard to condense and put in your duffel without wasting space.
PRO TIP: A mesh stuff sack filled with clean clothing makes for an excellent pillow. In fact some manufactures have caught on to this and actually make stuff stacks with soft fleece lining for just this purpose.
A compression sack is a type of “Stuff Sack”. However, it has an added feature that allows you to tighten several straps on it and compress the contents to a surprisingly small size. We recommend getting a compression sack specifically for your sleeping bag. You will be surprised at how small you can condense your sleeping bag, which will give you lots of room in your duffel bag.
Your guiding company will provide you with the proper sleeping pad in your tent. However, you must supply both your sleeping bag and a pillow if you want to use one. You can certainly choose to bring a small pillow (provided it fits into your duffel bag) or you can even find small pillows specifically made for backpacking. Some of them are just small pads with a cover/case on them while others allow you to blow them up making them thicker to sleep on (but still pack down easily).
However, we have a few suggestions we’ve learned from years of backpacking and sleeping out in the backcountry.
- Use your parka. Your parka, when properly folded, can make an excellent pillow (and you most certainly won’t be sleeping with it). Here is how you fold it. First, zip up your parka all the way to the top. Then fold both sides (arms) in towards the middle. Then roll it up from the bottom and tuck it into the hood of the parka. You can even pull the strings on the hood to cinch it down and ensure the jacket doesn’t roll out of the hood. You can place this bundle inside your sleeping bag just under your head and it will stay in place all night long.
- Use a stuff sack. Another option is to use a thin stuff sack and put your parka into it. You can also use clean clothes to fill it (we do NOT recommend using dirty clothes!). You can place this bundle into the head of your sleeping bag under your head and it will stay in place. Don’t use a waterproof stuff sack, because the nylon sack will slip and slide against your nylon sleeping bag.
Trekking poles (or “Hiking Poles” or “Hiking Sticks”) are a must on Kilimanjaro. On flat, even terrain they are a nice-to-have. On rockier, less even terrain they are great-to-have. But on snow, they are an absolute must-have. And they will most certainly reduce some of the wear and tear on your knees for the long (and fast) descent off the mountain. Some studies have shown that using trekking poles can reduce between 25-40% of the impact force on your knees while traveling downhill.
In general, if you do not planning on doing very much hiking or mountaineering after Kilimanjaro, you can likely opt for a relatively inexpensive pair of poles ($20-30 for a set). But if you plan on doing any type of hiking outdoors, we highly recommend you get a good pair of hiking poles that will give you years of service. It’s also important to know how to properly use them.
Hiking poles come in 3 basic designs: (1) three section telescoping, (2) folding and (3) combination of both. Most hiking poles you see are the telescoping kind. These have an adjustment buckle that allows you to adjust the pole to just about any length. This is quite useful in that you can adjust them properly for uphill travel (where they should be shorter) vs. downhill travel (where they should be slightly longer). The only disadvantage to this type of pole is that it can only condense down to about 2 feet (60 cm). However, this is generally small enough to attach to a pack or even stash like an ice ax if you need to use both hands.
Folding hiking sticks are a relatively new type that has come out in recent years. They are generally lighter and can pack down much smaller than telescoping models. Because of their ability to pack down, they are much easier to stow on the inside of your pack or even on the outside in the small pocket generally used for water bottles. However, the big disadvantage is that they are not adjustable in length. So you will want to purchase a length that is good for you on flat land and will suffice on uphill and downhill sections of your hike.
Given this limitation, cleaver manufacturers have created a hybrid design that allows the pole to fold up (thereby packing down much smaller for stowing) but also allow some adjustment on the top section. While the amount you can lengthen or shorten the hybrid design isn’t as much as you could on the telescoping design, it will allow for 6 to 8 inches of length adjustment which is more than enough while on the trail. They are slightly heavier than the foldable models, but their ability to compact for stowing along with the ability to adjust length makes it our very favorite style type.
The poles are generally made of either aluminum or carbon fiber. Aluminum is more common and generally much less expensive. But they are also heavier which, after carrying and using for 8 hours, is somewhat noticeable. The downside of aluminum is that they tend to bend. If you have the telescoping kind of pole, this will prevent them from collapsing fully and may be quite awkward to store on your pack due to the extra length. Carbon fiber is noticeably lighter, but more expensive. In extreme falls or abuse, carbon fiber has been known to snap (where aluminum only bends), but this is somewhere rare.
If you select an adjustable pole, be sure to avoid poles that twist in order to lock them in place. These used to be quite common, but are less common today for good reason. They almost always would end up wearing out which would leave the user with an untrustworthy pole that they could not confidently put their weight on. A pole that accidently collapses is an annoyance at best, but it could cause injury in a worst case scenario. We have seen people attempting to cross a stream and lean onto their pole for balance and the pole collapsed and they fell into the rocky stream. Not fun.
You can avoid this by selecting poles with lever-locking system. You just flip the lever up to adjust the pole then lock it back down to tighten it. If you do find that your pole slips when applying weight to it, there is a small screw (usually with an Allen head) that you can tighten slightly to fix the problem. The lever may be made of aluminum or plastic. Generally aluminum is better quality, but plastic ones also work well.
You will have two bags with you on Mount Kilimanjaro. One large duffel bag and one wearable hiking “daypack”. Think of your large duffel bag as your “check-in” bag like you have on a plane. You will not see it nor will you be able to access it during the day. This bag will “magically” be taken to the next camp for you by a porter and it will be sitting and waiting for you when you get to your next camp. Conversely, your daypack is like your “carry on” bag on a plane. You will carry it yourself and it should have all of the things you will need while you hike to your next camp.
One important thing to know is that your duffel bag should be just that. It should NOT be a big backpacking pack (with shoulder straps and pockets, etc.). Instead it should just be a simple duffel bag with handles and a long zipper to access the contents inside. While you shouldn’t opt for something flimsy that is likely to rip, you also do not need to spend the money for a very high-end duffel bag. Here is why:
Any time your porter carries your duffel bag, it will first be placed into a container that is tarp-like and ties together on one end. This protective cover is very tough and meant to withstand all of the scrapes on rocks and on the ground while in travel. It will also repel most all of the rain that hits it (though some moisture might leak in from the side that is tied together).
Because some of the rain might penetrate the outer case, you can either opt for a waterproof duffel (which are heavier and more expensive) or you can get a regular duffel and place all of your items in a large black trash bag inside your duffel.
Most importantly you should know that Kilimanjaro porters are only allowed to carry a load of 33 pounds (15 kg). So your total duffel bag weight cannot exceed 33 pounds. So while you may opt for a larger duffle bag, you likely won’t be able to fill it a lot because it will get too heavy.
Just about any large duffel bag between 55-95L will do. But if you opt for a higher end bag, we highly recommend the Patagonia Black Hole 55L or 70L or the Northface Basecamp Duffel (Medium or Large). These bags do include optional shoulder straps, which will not be used by your porter, but they can be handy while you are in the airport or traveling in Moshi or other destination in Africa.
If you are reading this, it is pretty likely you have done some hiking before. And if that is true, it is also pretty likely that you have at least one backpack you take with you on your day hikes. This type of small pack is referred to as a “daypack” (as opposed to a larger multi-night backpack meant to carry 40+ pounds).
Because this pack is acting as your “carry-on” pack and you will have no access to your larger duffel bag each day, it needs to be large enough to carry all of the necessary items for the day. In particular, the pack needs to be large enough to carry everything you need on your summit day. Remember, your summit day will be a long day (likely 14-18 hours!) AND you will need to have every layer of clothing you brought on the trip. So, be sure you select a daypack that is large enough to work for your summit day. If that is true, then it will easily work for all other days.
Because of the summit day requirement, you will need to look at larger daypacks in the range of 30 to 38L. Sometimes these are referred to as “overnight” packs because they could be used for an overnight trek for minimalist backpackers.
If you already have a relatively large daypack, great use it! However, if you need to purchase one, we definitely have some advice that we’ve learned over the years that may be of value.
- Water bottle pockets – If you like to use a water bladder (i.e. Camelback), this is probably not as important. But if not, we STRONGLY recommend making sure the water bottle pocket on your backpack is easily accessible and securely holds a 32 oz. (2L) Nalgene water bottle. When you try on your pack in the store grab a Nalgene bottle and see how easy you can slide it into the water bottle pocket while the pack is on. It is incredibly annoying to have to remove your pack to get your water bottle or have to keep picking up your water bottle when if falls from you pack. It can also cause you to take fewer drinks, which increases your risk of dehydration on the mountain.
- Straps for poles – Most packs of this size will have a way to conveniently hold your hiking poles if you decide not to use them (perhaps if the terrain requires using your hands and feet). This setup is likely created for ice axe storage, but will generally hold your hiking poles very well. Be sure to test them out though. We’ve seen some packs that only hold the poles at the bottom part of the pack, leaving your poles to wobble a lot from side to side as you hike.
- Waist strap – Because this is a larger sized daypack, it should have a waist strap of some kind. Since you will likely only have 15 pounds or so, the strap does not need to be too sophisticated. But it is nice to have the strap there for your day-long journey as it will remove some of the weight from your shoulders and shift it to your hips.
- Mesh outside pocket – This is a handy feature on many packs that allow you to quickly stuff a layer in the pack without having to zip it open. This is a great feature because you will find yourself adding and removing a layer quite a bit (based on how hard the hiking is and the changing temperature) and the mesh pocket will save some time.
A battery pack (sometimes known as a “power brick”) is a relatively small battery that you can charge before you leave and use to recharge your phones and other devices while on Kilimanjaro. It generally has one or more USB ports that allow you plug in your charging cable for your iPhone, Android or other portable device. So don’t forget to bring the appropriate cables!
The important factor to consider here is the size/weight and the capacity. Because you will be gone so many days, we recommend either getting a battery pack with a lot of charging capacity (which generally costs more) or get a smaller capacity battery and also include a solar panel to charge the battery pack.
The capacity of the battery is generally displayed in mash (milliamp hours) and the higher the value, the more times you will be able to charge your phone without recharging the battery. HOWEVER, please check with your airline carriers and find out what the largest battery you take on the plane is and whether it must be in your carry-on or in your checked luggage. The FAA prohibits any batteries larger than 26,800mAh from going aboard a plane. However certain airline carriers may be more restrictive.
If you plan on using your phone as your main camera, this will be a critical item for you to take on your journey, otherwise you will only have photos from the first few days of your trek!
You should determine whether you want to bring a solar panel as part of your battery decision. As stated, if you bring a relatively small battery pack that only allows you to recharge your phone one or two times, you should bring a solar panel to try and recharge your battery pack. However if you get the largest battery pack you can carry on your plane, you might be able to recharge your phone 10 or more times (which should be plenty even on the longest routes on Kilimanjaro).
One thing to note: If you have power that people can use, you are everybody’s friend! Guests that climb with us that have a big battery and solar panel to charge it become very popular with the other guests and even with the guides and porters. And the porters are incredibly appreciative of being able to charge their devices. So having a solar panel and battery pack is a great way to help people out on the mountain.
While some solar panel units have better technology than others, you should know that, in general, the larger the surface area of the panel the more sunrays it will catch and the better it will work. We see guests with tiny solar panels (about the size of a typical phone), and they just don’t do well charging up a battery pack. Conversely, the units that fold out into multiple sections have lots of surface area and charge batteries quite well.
Another important factor is that, on most days, you will be hiking during the sunniest part of the day. So you really need to bring that solar panel with you and affix it to your backpack to soak up the sun. If you put it in your duffel bag, by the time you get to camp and get your solar panel out, you may only have an hour or 2 of sun left (and it won’t be that nice direct sun that really works well with solar panels). So be sure to figure out a way to strap your solar panel to your backpack before coming to Tanzania.
So why not just charge your phone directly from your solar panel? Well, as stated, you’ll be using your solar panel while you hike. This is also when you’ll want to be taking pictures with your phone! So your best strategy is to use the solar panel to charge your battery pack while you hike. Then, plug your phone into your battery pack at night to charge the phone. Then rinse and repeat each day!
Some solar panels have an integrated battery on them, which also works nicely for this reason. Most importantly, try out your system at home while you are doing your physical training hikes. Then you can make sure everything works and you have the right cables and (importantly) your method of strapping your solar panel to your pack works on your long exercise hikes out in the field.
Microspikes are small steel spikes (teeth) that can be affixed to the bottom of your boot with a rubber strap to give you noticeably better traction when walking on snow. They work incredibly well and are quite small and light to carry.
In most cases, you would only use these on the last half of your summit day. They are not critical as long as you have your hiking poles. However, if you are prone to slipping and falling or are nervous walking on icy snow, these are a game changer. Once you strap them on, you are able to walk very confidently in the snow.
If you can afford them, they are a good item to take. In many groups, almost everyone does just fine with hiking poles only but there are often one or two people struggling on the icy sections of snow. I’ve seen kind guests offer up their microspikes to those people and it really makes their day! Even offering up just one set for one foot offers so much more confident footing it can change the game for someone.
Our favorite brand is MICROspikes but there are others such as YaxTrax that are similar.