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 should I wear on the way to the summit?
On the summit attempt, most likely you will be wearing more layers than you did on any other part of the hike. On the night of 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 at this briefing if there is anything that is unclear.
Most commonly, people are comfortable wearing four to six layers on top and three layers on bottom.
On the top, the four layers typically consist of: base layer, soft jacket, waterproof jacket, and down jacket. For those who get cold easily or for especially frigid temperatures, an additional base layer and soft jacket would make six layers.
Note that the down jacket will probably come on and off during the night, off as you warm up while climbing and on while you sit down and rest on breaks. So the down jacket will comprise your outermost layer.
On the bottom, the three layers typically consist of: long underwear, hiking pants, and waterproof pants. In some rare cases, you might need a fourth layer, fleece pants. Gaiters are optional as always but they do close the gap between your pants and shoes and therefore reduce the wind.
Wear gloves on your hands and a warm hat on your head. If it is extra cold and windy, use a balaclava or neck gaiter over your face.
You should already have all these items as they are required items from our complete gear list.
What do I need to carry during the summit attempt?
Below are the clothing, accessories, equipment and other things you should either be wearing or have with you during the summit bid.
On the head:
1. Knit Hat, for warmth
2. Neck Gaiter, for sun, wind and warmth
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 (hood recommended)
7. 1 or 2 Soft Jackets, 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 and/or soft shell.
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
11. Long Underwear, moisture-wicking
12. Hiking Pants
13. Waterproof Pants, breathable (side zipper recommended)
14. Fleece Pants, warm
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
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 and at the peak.
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. The best place to apply it is at the summit. And switch from the warm hat to 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 (highly recommended)
TIP: Trekking poles are optional for the trip, but highly recommended especially for the final ascent and downhill. They help save a lot of energy and reduce joint impact on steep slopes. The long descent after the hard summit is exhausting.
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.
What do I wear after the summit, on the descent?
Once the sun rises, so do the temperatures. You will need to strip layers off as you descend in order to stay comfortable. That means your insulated layer, hard shell and knit hat will come off at some point. It’s a long way down, around a 13,000 foot elevation loss, so don’t hike in clothing that is too hot or uncomfortable thinking that you’re almost done.
Remember to keep drinking water and eating snacks. Apply sunscreen. Take breaks. Use trekking poles. 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.
Here is a summit video made by one of our clients.
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