Ask any climber what he or she is most concerned with when climbing Kilimanjaro and the majority of the time the answer is the summit attempt. While every other night on the mountain is spent sleeping in tents, this night is spent making the final ascent to Uhuru Point. The trek to the top is a grueling 4,000 feet climb which normally takes 6 to 8 hours. This is a significant amount of time to endure potentially subzero temperatures and strong winds while hiking slowly.
What do I wear to keep warm on the summit of Kilimanjaro?
Most people are comfortable wearing four layers on top and three layers on bottom. You should already have all of the required items from our complete gear list. From those items, here is what we recommend you wear and/or carry in your day pack during the summit bid.
On the head:
1. Knit Hat, for warmth
2. Balaclava or Buff (recommended)
3. Head lamp
TIP: Hooded jackets are preferred because they block the wind from the sides and back. Have the hood on along with your knit hat and balaclava or buff.
On the hands:
4. Gloves, light, or
5. Gloves, warm (waterproof recommended)
On the upper body:
6. 1 or 2 Long Sleeve Shirts, moisture-wicking fabric
7. Soft Jacket, fleece or soft-shell
8. Waterproof Jacket, breathable with hood
9. Insulated Jacket, synthetic or down
TIP: If it is a particularly cold night, double up on the base layer.
TIP: The insulated jacket probably will not be needed while you are hiking. However, you will likely want it to put on during rest breaks to prevent from getting cold when you are not moving (note: put the insulated OVER your waterproof jacket so you do not have to keep removing and putting on your waterproof jacket).
On the lower body:
10. Underwear, moisture-wicking fabric
11. Long Underwear, moisture-wicking fabric
12. Hiking Pants
13. Waterproof Pants, breathable (side zipper recommended)
14. Fleece Pants
TIP: You will likely not need to wear the long underwear, hiking pants, waterproof pants, and fleece pants all at the same time. We suggest wearing the long underwear, hiking pants, and waterproof pants, while carrying the fleece pants in your day pack just in case.
On the feet:
15. 1 or 2 Socks, wool or synthetic
16. Hiking Boots or Shoes, warm, waterproof
17. Gaiters, waterproof (optional)
TIP: Do not lace your boots or shoes up too tight as that may actually make your feet colder by cutting off circulation.
TIP: If you choose not to wear gaiters, you will probably need to empty gravel from your boots several times during the descent.
Inside the back pack:
18. Brimmed Hat, for sun protection
19. Sunglasses or Goggles
20. Water Bottle (Nalgene, 32 oz.)
21. Water Bladder (Camelbak type, 3 liters)
23. Snacks, light-weight, high calorie, high energy (optional)
24. Extra batteries for head lamp
25. Electrolytes, powder or tablets (optional)
TIP: Water freezes from the top down. Carry the water bottle upside down in your pack, with the cap down, to keep the lid from freezing shut. Also, most people forget to drink on the way up. Try to drink some water at every rest break.
TIP: Your water bladder will probably freeze during the ascent. An insulated hose does not help because the valve freezes first. Drink from your water bottle on the way up and water bladder on the way down.
TIP: Remember to apply sunscreen on the descent. And wear the brimmed hat.
TIP: Cold saps the charge from batteries. So keep your extra batteries and cell phone in your inside pocket of your jacket.
27. Trekking poles (optional)
TIP: If your hands are very cold, use one trekking pole and keep your other gloved hand in your pocket. Alternate hands every once in a while so each hand has time to warm up. Make a fist inside your glove.
Once the sun rises, so do the temperatures. You will need to strip layers off as you descend in order to stay comfortable. Remember to keep drinking water and eating snacks. The trek down to the last campsite after the long summit climb can be very exhausting. It is the usually the most physically taxing section of the route.
This is a general guide based on Ultimate Kilimanjaro®’s experience with thousands of clients. However, you should listen to what your body is telling you versus what we suggest. Always adapt to the environment based on how you feel throughout the hike. What works for one person may not work for you.
Leading up to the summit, your guides will discuss what you should wear and what to pack based on the expected weather conditions you will experience. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions.
Here is a summit video made by one of our clients.
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