Layering – Lower Body

Similar to your upper body system, you should also have a layering system in mind for your lower body. However, unlike your upper body, you likely will not be adding or removing layers frequently within a day. While you absolutely want to take all the recommended layers outlined here, it is likely you may not be wearing all the layers all the time.

For the first and last days (as well as hanging out in the camp), you can simply wear some hiking pants. We really like the zip-off pants that can be found in outdoor stores as they are very comfortable and offer you flexibility to wear shorts on those first hot days (or on your final day when heading home). However, more thought should be put into your layering system you will use at higher elevations.

Your layering system should include:

  1. Underwear – Should be made of a moisture wicking fabric that does not have any cotton.
  2. Base Layer – Often called “Long Underwear”, this layer is quite thin and made of moisture wicking materials.
  3. Climbing Pants – Also called “Soft shell” pants. You’ll wear these most every day on the mountain.
  4. Hard Shell Pants – Waterproof pants that are used when (not if!) it starts to rain.

Underwear

You may find it humorous they we are actually making recommendations on your underwear (I think most people know what underwear is!). However, the key emphasis here is NO COTTON! You can read more about why cotton is not good for climbing, but suffice it to say, even your underwear should have zero cotton in it. Other materials like silk, rayon and bamboo are also on the ‘do not fly’ list. But you should be able to find good options made of polyester or nylon (or some kind of blend)

The style and type is completely up to you. However, if you’ve never worn non-cotton underwear, we do recommend you wear it prior to arriving in Tanzania. You might find that your normal style doesn’t work as well with ‘technical’ material and switch styles for your climbing underwear layer.

It is our belief that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on your underwear layer unless you really want to. Most basic clothing stores will have underwear specially made for sports, training or outdoors that promote their ‘wicking’ ability.

That being said, some high-end options include Patagonia boxer briefs or Smartwool Merino Wool underwear for men and Smartwool Merino underwear and Patagonia active briefs for women.

Base Layer

This layer is often referred to as “long underwear”. Any thin base layer that is not made from cotton will work well. If you plan on doing lots of mountaineering or snow skiing it is worth getting a higher end (more expensive) product. However if Kilimanjaro will likely be the only time you wear this layer, feel free to find your base layer at a discount clothing store. They will work just as well on the mountain (they just tend to wear out much quicker after multiple washes). As long as it is made from some good wicking material it should work well.

We recommend you get a light/thin base layer. Since your leg muscles will be working very hard, they tend to overheat and your legs can get very hot. Definitely avoid thicker fleece long underwear often used by hunters who sit in place in cold weather. You will be moving uphill, working hard and working up a sweat!

And, unlike your upper layers which are somewhat easy to add and remove throughout the day, you will rarely (if ever) find yourself adding or removing your base layer while hiking. In other words, whatever arrangement you decide that morning (either wearing your base layer or not) you are more or less stuck with that day. Other than your summit day (where you are all but guaranteed to experience very cold temperatures), it is generally better to be slightly cold than slightly warm. If your legs end up getting too cold while you hike, you can always add your hard shell layer if necessary.

Again, you are welcome to buy a less expensive base layer. However, some high-end options include Patagonia Capaline and Hot Chillys Pepper Skins.

Soft Shell Climbing Pants Layer

While basic hiking pants (like zip-offs that convert to shorts) may serve you well on the first couple of days, you will find that they do not offer enough protection for your legs as you get higher on the mountain. A good pair of soft shell pants will be highly welcomed when the weather gets colder. You will wear these pants nearly everyday on your hike. On colder days (like summit day), you may opt to wear this layer over your base layer (i.e. long underwear) and on warmer days you can wear only this layer (over just your underwear).

Your climbing pants will protect your legs from the cold wind and somewhat resist light rain (although in heavier rain, you’ll want to add your hard shell). The important part of this layer is that it needs to be good at wicking moisture away from your skin, since your legs will be working hard and likely sweating.

There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to soft shell pants. Just make sure they are made for the purpose of climbing/hiking. And make sure they fit you well (form fitting, but not too tight) both with your base layer and without. It is helpful if the pants have a short zipper on the bottom to accommodate larger boots. It may seem like it is not a big deal to have them bunch up above your boot, but this can get uncomfortable when you wear gaiters ((LINK)).

The pants will come in lots of different thickness options. In general, we recommend relatively thin (or medium) thickness and avoid pants that have a think insulation layer. In general, your decision on which pants to buy is less important than your upper layer decisions.

Some good options for men are Mountain Equipment Ibex Mountain pants or Mountain Hardwear Mount MacKenzie Soft-Shell Pants. For women, Mountain Hardwear Chockstone Alpine or Arc’teryx Sigma AR pants are good choices.

Hard Shell Pants Layer

It is not really a question of whether it will rain on Kilimanjaro while you are hiking, it is more of a matter of when and how hard! For this reason, you will want a pair of hard shell pants with you in your backpack at all times.

It should be noted that you will likely not need to wear these pants for a long time. We use the word “likely” because we have spoken with plenty of climbers that have experienced incredibly heavy rain for multiple days in a row. So you should plan for the worst case scenario, but in general you probably won’t need to wear these a lot on your journey.

You should never find yourself wearing these pants by themselves. They will always be put on over your soft shell climbing pants, so be sure to try them on accordingly. Also note that if you are wearing gaiters, your hard shell pants will simple hang over them. In general these pants have a more ‘plastic-like’ feel and aren’t meant to be form fitting. That said, you do not want them so baggy they are touching the ground.

One important tip is to try and find pants that have long zippers on the side. The zippers should cover at least ¾ of the pants and many will zip all the way off. This is important to have, since it will allow you to put on the pants while still in your boots.

Here is the scenario. You are hiking in your soft shell pants with your boots nicely laced and gaiters covering your boots because it is muddy and rocky. Suddenly, a big storm comes in and starts dumping on you and your group. You quickly grab your upper hard shell so you don’t get soaked from the waist up. Now you need to put on your hard shell pants. If you don’t have any zippers on them you will probably have to sit down, remove your gaiters, remove your muddy boots, slip on your hard shell pants (being super careful not to step on the soaking mud in your socks). Once you have them on, you’ll need to put your boots back on, lace them properly, pull up your hard shell pants so you can put your gaiters back on. All this while in a torrential downpour! Yes, someone people think “I’ll just leave my boots on and stick my legs through”. Well your boots are going to be pretty muddy with the heavy rain coming down, so that will get all over the inside of your hard shell pants and really make a mess of your soft shell pants that you’ll be wearing for the rest of the trip!

If (after reading this great article!) you opted to find pants with a full length (or near full length) zipper, you can keep on all of your clothes. You just need to put the pants around you and zip them up. You are still dry and ready to roll! Pro tip: when you try on various hard shell pants, actually try putting them on in the store. Some are easier than others. Most importantly, practice fully unzipping them and trying them on a few times at home. It can be a little tricky when everything is unzipped and you don’t want to be out in the rain figuring out how the zippers work.

If you see yourself doing lots of mountaineering beyond Kilimanjaro, it is worth going to an outdoor store that specializes in mountaineering clothes. You’ll want to get pants that can withstand some abuse as you may find them useful for glissading. However, you won’t be doing any glissading on Kilimanjaro, so even thinner, lighter materials are likely to be fine.

Some high-end options include REI Co-op Rainier Full-Zip Rain Pants for men and First Ascent Rainier Storm Shell pants for women.