Despite being located just below the equator, Kilimanjaro can get very cold at its higher elevations. When you are hiking hard, you tend not to notice the cold since your body is producing so much heat, but as soon as you stop you will feel it. Furthermore, when your body fights to keep itself warm it will focus mostly on your core (chest, stomach) where your organs are. Extremities like your hands will get quite cold if unprotected.
To help protect your hands while hiking (when they need less protection) and while at rest (where they need more protection), we highly recommend bringing two pairs of gloves.
One pair of gloves should be quite thin. You will wear these while you are hiking. They are especially necessary during the last few days prior to your summit and even on summit day. Even though you are hiking hard and producing heat, the bare skin exposure will give you a cold sting especially if there is any wind present. This is exacerbated because you tend to sweat when working hard. Furthermore, you will likely be hiking with poles (also called “hiking sticks”) which doesn’t allow you to simply put your hands in your pockets to warm them up.
For your thin gloves, you can choose almost anything. Just make sure they are made of a synthetic material that can breathe and wick moisture from your hands. Oftentimes, people use “glove liners” that are usually meant to be worn together with a larger pair of gloves. But they can also work great by themselves as your thin gloves.
On unusually cold days (and definitely on your summit day), you will want a good pair of thick gloves that are waterproof. If you are a snow skier, you probably already have a pair of these. Gloves or mittens will work just fine. Just make sure they are a good solid pair of gloves meant for sub-freezing weather.
For thin gloves, you have several options. For high-end options, we like the Black Diamond Trekker Glove, and the Smartwool Liner Glove.
When you reach the artic region of Kilimanjaro, you will most certainly need much more protection for your hands. And you might even need the thicker pair of gloves on the lower regions if it is unusually cold or you encounter a rain/snow mix of precipitation. We highly recommend your thick pair of gloves be waterproof for just this reason.
On the plus side, unlike other mountaineering adventures, you will not need to do any rope tying or fiddling with harnesses or other climbing gear. You will only need to be able to hold your poles (very much like snow skiing). So you can choose any style you like including gloves, mittens, or even “half-mittens” that has recently entered the market. In general, mittens are warmer because they keep the body heat of your four fingers together. They also allow you to easily put a hand warmer in the mitten for additional warmth. You can choose a glove with a “gauntlet cuff” or without. It will not matter on Kilimanjaro (however the gauntlet style glove is much preferred for other mountain sports if you wish to use the gloves for other adventures).
You should ensure the glove is waterproof and we recommend the glove use a Gore-Tex (or similar) layer to achieve this because Gore-Tex breathes nicely while still maintaining its waterproof capabilities.
Again, if you already have waterproof gloves, by all means use them. If not, Marmot Expedition Mittens are a great value while Outdoor Research Alit Mittens are a higher end choice.