We receive many questions surrounding photographic and electronic devices on the mountain. This article will discuss our recommendations on what to bring and how to operate your equipment while climbing Kilimanjaro. Let’s get right to it.
Nearly everyone who climbs Kilimanjaro brings a smart phone with them. The primary reason is to keep in communication with their friends, family and coworkers.
As you might expect, cellular service is neither consistent nor reliable on the mountain. However, there are a handful of locations where you might be able to get a signal, usually one or two chances per day. Your guide can let you know where you can turn your phone on and give it a try. Or, when you notice the porters checking their cell phones, you can assume that they are in a good spot.
Note that you should have your phone on airplane mode so that it is not constantly searching for a cell signal, which will run down your power. Only turn on the mobile network when you intend to send or receive calls or messages.
Emailing and/or texting uses the least data, and would be the most likely available option when you have a signal. You probably will have problems sending photos. But if you are really fortunate, you might be able to talk or even FaceTime!
Weather can play a role in the strength of cell signals. Water vapor is the biggest atmospheric condition that can interfere with cellular networks. This signal impedance happens because water conducts electricity, which allows water vapor in the atmosphere to reflect or refract radio waves on the frequencies used by cellular networks. So rain, snow, fog, clouds, and even high humidity can cause reception to drop off.
The bottom line is, do not rely on your mobile phone for communication. Do not tell people you will contact them everyday while you are on the mountain. There is a good chance you will not be able to reach them, which in turn results in a lot of worry and anguish on their end. Let your contacts know that you are on an expedition and that they probably won’t hear from you until you are off the mountain.
The second reason people bring their phones up is that it is a convenient way to take videos and photos. Hiking with a cell phone in your pocket is convenient because it is slim, light and very functional. And the quality of the cameras on phones today is very high. We do recommend that client take their smart phones with them at a minimum if only to capture moments on their adventure.
If you do not wear a watch as many people forego them nowadays, you might want to have your phone so you can check the time. This comes in handy throughout the day as we are on a schedule on the mountain – from wake up calls to meal times and more. Also, as you lie in your tent, you probably will wake up multiple times each night. It is good to know what time it is so you can gauge how much sleep you are getting. Knowing the time also will help you decide whether or not to try to keep sleeping or just to get up if it is close to dawn.
Lastly, smart phones also have flashlights, music (bring your headphones if you plan on listening to music), and step counters. These functions may be useful or entertaining to you while on your trip.
To bring a DSLR or not to bring a DLSR? That is the question.
When in doubt, bring it.
Mount Kilimanjaro is very photogenic. The way the environment changes as you trek through each ecological zone is spectacular. We have never heard of a client that regretted bringing a DSLR camera. Despite its weight and bulk, we believe that the opportunities for snapping beautiful, high resolution photos during the climb is worth the hassle. Our camera-toting clients often come down very happy, with several thousand shots.
If you are going to bring a DSLR, it is recommended that you use a camera bag. Or hike with it in your hand. This way, you have easy access when the perfect shot appears. Putting the camera in your daypack is a sure way to have few photos. It’s unlikely you will want to take it off your back with any frequency. Also be mindful of what you are going to do to protect your camera if it begins to rain.
The number many lens and extra batteries you bring is correlated to your ambition. If you are going to bring a single lens, a standard zoom lens with a wide range of adjustable focal lengths, say 18-300mm, is a good choice.
We suggest bringing at least one camera battery for every two days on the mountain. So for an eight day trek, bring four batteries. Assuming you only take still shots, not video, you will probably only use two or three batteries for the first six days. If you are going to shoot video, then you would probably want one battery per day on the mountain, plus extras. Bring a fresh battery for the summit. (TIP: Carry your camera battery in the inside jacket pocket so it stays warm and energized during the climb. Put it in your camera as the sun rises and snap away.)
Yes, we know that drone footage is literally on another level. Yes, we would love to see more aerial videos of Kilimanjaro. But no, drones are for the most part NOT ALLOWED in the park.
Tanzanian regulatory authorities have made it very explicit that it is illegal to use aerial drones in Kilimanjaro National Park as well as all other National Parks. To fly a drone legally, one must first register the drone in Tanzania, have a pilot’s license, have mandatory drone insurance, a special permit from the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority, and permission from the Ministry of Defense and National Service. In other words, it’s a tedious process.
Don’t even think about flying a drone without permission. If you get caught flying one the rangers will take it from you, fine you and fine our guides. Do not bring a drone.
You do realize you are climbing a mountain?
Don’t be that guy or gal with a laptop on Kilimanjaro. Leave it at home or at the hotel. Use your time on the mountain to think deeply, socialize, relax, or connect with nature – without the distractions of everyday life.
External Battery Packs and Solar Chargers
So what about charging your goods?
We suggest that you bring an external battery pack (also known as a power bank or portable charger) or two to recharge your phone or other electronics. External battery packs are small yet powerful. For instance, an average power bank is capable of recharging a phone several times. (TIP: Don’t forget to bring your USB to phone cable on the mountain.)
From our experience, solar chargers do not work well. They simply do not store or provide enough power, and are painstakingly slow. They’re also heavy and cumbersome. We don’t recommend them.
Lithium Battery Regulations
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states that “spare (uninstalled) lithium ion and lithium metal batteries must be carried in carry-on baggage only. This covers spare lithium metal and spare rechargeable lithium ion batteries for personal electronics such as cameras, cell phones, laptop computers, tablets, watches, calculators, etc. This also includes external battery chargers (portable rechargers) containing a lithium ion battery.”
Lithium ion (rechargeable) batteries are limited to a rating of 100 watt hours (Wh) per battery – about 27,000 mAh (milliAmp hours). However, there is no quantity limit.
What this means is:
- Portable electronic devices containing lithium batteries (cell phone, lap top, camera) and lithium batteries themselves (including battery packs) must be in your carry-on baggage. If they are put into checked bags, they can be removed and confiscated.
- Battery packs can have a maximum capacity of 27,000 mAh (milliAmp hours), which is equivalent to 100 Wh (watt hours). The capacity of the battery pack must be clearly written on the device or it can be confiscated for possible noncompliance.
- It is allowed to have multiple battery packs of 100 Wh or less.
Finally, battery terminals (usually the ends) must be protected from short circuit. In other words, you are not allowed to have loose batteries in your carry on. They must be packed in a way so that the terminals cannot come in contact with other metal. Some effective methods of storing batteries for transit include: leaving the batteries in their retail packaging, covering battery terminals with tape, using a battery case, using a battery sleeve in a camera bag, or putting them snugly in a plastic bag or protective pouch.
Note that rules may differ if you are flying from Europe or Asia, so you should check the rules of your airline company and on-route airports. However most airports implement the same rules and regulations.
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