2011 – Mount Kilimanjaro

I was asked to do a radio interview on SiriusXM Canada Talks Program “Native Traveller” about the gear I recommend for hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.

The full program can be accessed through the link below with my interview occurring between minute 28:00 – 32:00.


Because I spent 4-hours preparing and only 4 minutes speaking, I have shared the responses I prepared below:

1.You’ve climbed Kilimanjaro.  How critical is the gear to your success and your experience?

Most people will only get one shot at summiting Mt Kilimanjaro – so you don’t want your gear to let you down. You want to be comfortable when hiking and you want to sleep well, and gear can come into play for both scenarios.

2.Top items for the climb.  Why are they important, what features/qualities do you look for and why.  What type did you bring up the mountain? What items do you splurge on, where can you grab a deal that works well?

I’ve listed the gear that sticks out to me the most for this hike. These are items I believe should be considered wisely:

  1. Boots – must be well fitted and worn in ahead of time. Ensure that your feet don’t slide forward and that your toes don’t push against the end of your shoe when you’re descending – be sure to test this in the store on the ramp. If your heel slips when walking uphill, your shoes might be too big, or you haven’t laced them up tight enough. Because you’re not carrying too much weight on your back, you don’t have to wear a heavy leather boot. A lighter synthetic, waterproof boot is fine like the:
  • Saloman Quest 4D ($269) for those with a neutral to wide foot
  • Vasque breeze or St Elias ($199 – $229)
  • Scarpa Kailash ($265) for a narrow fitting boot or the
  • Keen Durand ($219) for a wider foot.

Try on a number of shoes in store so you can feel the difference between each one.

  1. Hiking poles – provide balance, reduce the impact of hiking on your knees joints and leg muscles, they stops blood flowing into your finger tips, help propel you on the uphills, and provide an audible rhythm to follow, helping you maintain a slow, steady pace.

My favourite hiking poles are the Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles ($169). They’re more on the expensive side but they pack down smaller than any other pole I’ve seen and are great for packing in your luggage (3 section Z fold), they’re some of the lightest on the market made from carbon, they’re adjustable and they’re incredibly strong. Cheaper poles tend to be heavy, have terribly made grips for your hands, and the adjustable mechanisms tend to fail so that the pole will suddenly collapse when you put pressure on it.

The Black Diamond Trail Poles are a slightly cheaper option ($99.00) but are still a high quality pole. They’re just a little heavier and don’t collapse down as small.

  1. Hydration –  It’s vitally important to take little sips of water every few minutes to avoid dehydration and altitude sickness – take a hydration system with a hose for this purpose so water is always east to access:
  • Platypus Big Zip LP Hydration System ($35) – 2/3 litres – it’s easy to fill, low profile, has taste free tubes and a high flow shut off valve.
  • Source Widepac Reservoir ($30) – similar features as above.

Consider an insulation tube for your hose ($20-25) as it’s freezing towards the summit and the water in the hose and mouthpiece will freeze. Sip regularly from your hose to stop it from freezing but plan that it will eventually freeze.

Take a 1L water bottle inside your pack to fill with electrolytes (NUUN tablets) or a powder like Vega Sport Recovery which replenishes energy and electrolytes, reduces inflammation and muscle and joint pain – it’s magical. The movement of the water in your pack will prevent it from freezing completely during the summit.

  1. Knee length gaiters – may seem insignificant, but for the descent, these are a must as you’re walking ankle deep in loose volcanic scree that will fill into your boots. I recommend MEC’s Kokanee Gaiters ($49), which come in 5 different sizes, are waterproof and durable and easy to take on and off.

 5. Sleeping bag – 10 degrees – If you sleep cold you may want to add in a liner for additional warmth at night. You don’t need the most expensive, lightweight sleeping bag on the market for this trip, just something reliable that will keep you warm.

I would also recommend using a waterproof compression sack like the Outdoor Research Airpurge to compress the bag and ensure it remains dry.

6. Day Pack: 25 – 35L – For your snacks, water, extra layers, basic first aid, sunscreen, camera etc. Ensure it has pockets in the hipbelt or take a fanny pack so you can access snacks on the go without stopping.

I recommend the Gregory Zulu/Juno 30L daypack ($159 – $179) – well ventilated trampoline backing, padded and contoured shoulder straps, hipbelt pockets, hydration compatible, sunglass attachment, hiking pole attachment, easy to access main compartment and front compartment for rain gear etc.

7. Clothing:

Under wear and bras for women should have low profile seams to avoid chaffing:

Patagonia active briefs ($27)

Patagonia Barely Bra ($40-50)

Merino wool layers that dry quickly and wick away moisture and a synthetic vest to keep your core warm while avoiding overheating. Down vests will get wet from the sweat on your back because of your pack and the down will clump up and lose it’s insulation.

8. Duffle 90L – MEC Outpost Duffle is perfect – water resistant with a rugged nylon, polyurethane coating for durability. Pack extra clothing in dry sacks in case the bag does get wet.

 Other recommended items:

  • Biodegradable wipes to keep you feeling fresh – pack them out though (leave no trace)
  • Moleskin, second skin and sports tape for blisters – treat hot spots before they become blisters
  • Headlamp – Black Diamond Ion ($28) – lightweight, waterproof, has dimming settings and a red light for reading/not disturbing others, 80 lumens, 2AAA batteries.
  • Earplugs to block out your snoring neighbours
  • Malaria tablets, Diamox for altitude sickness, water purification tablets
  • An iPod with some good pump up tracks as a pick me up on the final gruelling ascent:
    • Let’s Go – Calvin Harris
    • Hall of Fame – The Script
    • Dangerous – David Guetta

3.What words of encouragement/advice can you give to people planning their Kili climb? 

  • Start conditioning your body three months in advance by doing lots of uphill and downhill hiking prior to the climb and use the boots, clothing and gear you will be taking with you. Take the stairs at every opportunity; walk to and from work or a portion of your transit if possible. Training is not just for the body; it’s also for the mind. It helps you believe you have what it takes by pushing your body beyond to levels of exhaustion before you’re out there.
  • The summit night is the toughest part. Maintain belief you can do it. Others are doing it so why can’t you? Allow yourself a small treat every 20 or so minutes. Ride the rollercoaster of ups and downs. Slow and steady wins the race.
  • Take the hike – one step, one hour and one day at a time. Don’t think about reaching the summit on day one, just focus on making it to lunch and then to camp each day. You will be reminded to walk at a slow, consistent pace to avoid altitude sickness.
  • Take tons of snacks – little bite sizes pieces – break up bars in advance because they will get hard and freeze at the summit.
    • Stinger lollies for a quick pick me up
    • Jelly Belly Sport beans for when you need a sugar wake up
    • Clif Shot Bloks
    • Trail mix with M&Ms
  • Take gear you can leave behind for your porters, extra food to share with them and plenty of cash in hand to tip those who you interact with the most. These guys climb in cheap sandals and cotton t-shirts and hoodies, and will appreciate anything you’re willing to donate to them.

 It’s not about reaching the summit, it’s about pushing yourself to new limits! Happy Hiking! 

Discovering what it means to be alive, one step at a time…

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