Food / Snacks for Kilimanjaro
For anyone that has been backpacking and has withstood the often unappetizing dehydrated food packets that are commonplace, we can’t overstate how fantastic the prepared food if you hire a reputable guide. Your guide will prepare you with 3 large, hot meals that are chock full of macronutrients including protein, carbs and fat. They will even provide small snacks like popcorn, cookies and chips while on the go.
That being said, you should bring some snack foods and other small items that will keep you going while you are hiking between camps. You should aim to bring a maximum of 1-2 snacks per day. Any more than that will not be used because of all the food that the guide will be giving you.
Here are some of our favorites:
- Protein Bars – These are standard fare for most hikers. They offer a significant amount of calories in a small, lightweight bar. But they do get monotonous over time, so you might want to plan for about every other day.
- Beef jerky or other meat snack – These can offer a nice hit of protein and will be a welcome change from energy bars and the snacks your guide will provide.
- Salty Snacks – Trail mix, nuts or pretzels can be good salty snacks to replenish not just sodium but also electrolytes like magnesium, potassium and calcium that are found in salt.
- Sweet snacks – M&Ms, dried fruit, chocolate bars, etc. These can boost your sugar level and is especially effective in the afternoon hours after hiking all day when your glucose levels start to plunge.
- Sugary snacks – Handy to keep close by while hiking for some quick sugar. These are often sold as super high sugar snacks and often have caffeine in them. You will find such items as enhanced jelly beans (“sport beans”), energy chews and other specially made items for runners, cyclists and other activities. One of our favorite alternatives is to mix some Sour Patch kids with Swedish fish in small packets. They make great energy boosters and are tolerated easily when the effects of altitude kick in.
Like on other mountains, you should attempt to eat something at almost every break (even if it just 100-200 calories). This keeps your metabolism going. This will get harder and harder as you climb to high altitudes particularly above 15,000 feet. But try to keep the habit of eating every time.
One addition tip: Take some extra snacks from your home country for your porters and guides. Bite size candy bars (like the ones you give out for Halloween) are terrific. Porters do not get to enjoy common candy bars from Western world very often, and they very much appreciate them. You can easily toss some to porters as a small boost of friendship throughout the trek. It’s a great way to make friends!
Your guide will supply you with fresh clean drinking water every morning and every evening for you to take on your daily hike. We recommend taking some electrolyte enhancements to add to your water. You can either add it to the water you drink during the hike, or to the water you drink that evening to help you recover. These drink mixes will help you replenish the electrolytes (calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium) and you’ve lost while exercising. And they also help break the monotony of drinking plain water all of the time. We recommend powdered supplements to reduce the weight of the item. Gatorade packets, Nuun brand and GU Hydration tablets are all great offerings that are available.
You may or may not be familiar with these. They are often used by long distance runners who feel like they are about to “hit the wall”. This expression (also called “bonking out”) can occur when you’ve pushed your body beyond what it feels like it can handle. Your whole body feels like it can no longer move and even taking a breath can feel like a chore. This can particularly happen when you add high altitude into the mix. Hopefully, you won’t experience this on Kilimanjaro, but in case you do we recommend taking 2 “energy goo” packets. The packets contain only sugar and caffeine without any protein, fats or fiber so that the body can easily digest and process the sugar and caffeine. Moreover, it is in a gel form, because when you’ve bonked out, it is very difficult to get yourself to eat anything. Just one gel packet taken with a good amount of water can often get you past ‘the wall’.
If this occurs to you, we can almost guarantee it will be on summit day (your very hardest day of the climb).
Foods to Avoid
You will want to strive for typical hiking/backpacking foods that are relatively light and easy to pack. Avoid anything that may spoil (fresh fruit, bread) or anything heavy. You should not need to bring any liquid drinks at all (the guides will eve provide juice and milk each day!)
Furthermore, perhaps it goes without saying, don't bring any food you don't really like. As you move up higher and higher in elevation, your appetite will decrease significantly. And, to make matters worse, you will be needing more and more calories both from the hiking you will be doing and also because it takes more effort for your body to function. Even breathing at higher elevations burns more calories than it does at lower elevations. Consequently, any foods that you don't love, you simply won't eat. So, even if you've been trying to get yourself to eat some particularly healthy food that you don't really enjoy, don't force yourself to eat it on the mountain. Now is the time to splurge and eat all the foods you really love (with zero guilt since you will burn off every calorie!)
As tempting as it may be, do not bring alcohol. It is forbidden in the park; and this is for good reason. Alcohol will dehydrate you in an environment that is already prone to cause dehydration. More importantly, it inhibits your body’s ability to adjust to high altitudes, which can be extremely problematic. Remember that the #1 reason people do not reach the summit of Kilimanjaro is due to altitude sickness. So it is much better to avoid alcohol, reach the summit and enjoy a nice drink when you get back down to celebrate!