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With freezing temperatures and rugged terrain, the climb up Mount Kilimanjaro is a serious undertaking. To give yourself the best chance to reach the summit, it’s imperative you keep warm, dry and comfortable — so you can focus on the task at hand.
Dramatic changes in weather are common on Mount Kilimanjaro, so clothing layers that can adjust to this are crucial. The trek takes you through four climatic zones, ranging from tropical at the bottom to Arctic conditions at the top!
Lighter clothing will serve you well at the beginning of the climb, as long as you still have something warm and waterproof in your pack. But insulated, waterproof and windproof clothing is essential for the final ascent where climbers will experience the coldest temperatures (that can be as low as -25 degrees Celsius depending on the time of the year).
As general advice, you should bring two pairs of socks, two/three layers for your legs and four/five layers on top. A neck gaiter and/or woolly hat are necessary to keep the head warm, while gloves and sunglasses are also necessary. You may find that you need fewer layers depending on the clothing you buy and your individual needs, so you should always test this out where you can.
It’s important your layers work together to help regulate your body temperature. Getting cold can be serious, as can overheating where sweat and wet clothes can rapidly become a problem. I look for a combination of base, mid and outer layers that are either breathable, waterproof, windproof and/or insulate against the cold.
With that in mind, you need technical clothing specifically designed for active pursuits in cold environments.
Below is an example of the kind of clothing and accessories you should consider to stay as warm and comfortable as possible. This will depend on your:
Waterproof Shell: A fully seam-sealed waterproof, windproof shell is essential to protect yourself from snow, ice and rain at any part of the journey. On a hike like this, durability is essential too. A tear in lighter fabric will expose you to the elements.
Waterproof Pants: Extra protection for the bottom half is essential too. Besides cold weather protection, rain will add additional weight to your legs, the last thing you want when you’re trudging towards the summit. Waterproof pants should slip right over your hiking boots when you need them in a hurry.
Down jacket: Down offers the best ‘warmth for weight’ on the market but suffers when it gets wet. To combat this, look for a down jacket with a waterproof shell. Treated, water-repellent down will also help you stay drier for longer. A DriFill down jacket is ideal for extreme cold conditions, but can also be worn when you’ve at rest.
Fleece Jacket: Polartec fleece is an ideal breathable midlayer. Again, excellent warmth without the weight, and features adaptable temperature regulating insulation. A hood that fits with a helmet will help block out the elements.
Long sleeve shirts: T-shirts or layers made with merino are an excellent mid or baselayer. Merino wool naturally helps to regulate your body temperature in both warm and cold conditions. Look for long-sleeved shirts designed for hiking- they can feature flat seams for additional comfort.
Warm pants: Softshell pants for this sort of trek should be warm, wind-resistant, and give you a good range of movement. They should be comfortable too!
Top and bottom thermals: Base layers are essentials for your trek. Again, merino, or a merino blend are recommended because of their great warmth for weight and natural temperature regulation. Whatever you choose, your base layer should provide next-to-skin comfort and work to wick moisture away from your body.
Socks: The right socks should keep your feet warm and dry and minimise blisters. A merino, seamless hiking sock is a safe bet. Some people will layer their socks or use a sock liner for added comfort, but test your sock system at home to find what works for you.
Hiking boots will depend on your individual conditions. For instance, the weight of your pack, how rugged your trail is, and if you require additional ankle support.
I wear the Fyfe which is an excellent hiking boot with good ankle support. They're flexible for comfortable long distance treks but stiff enough for crampon use on glaciers.
Mittens and ski gloves: For your own comfort, invest in a decent pair of waterproof, windproof gloves. Numb, freezing fingers can be painful, and in extreme conditions, can suffer from frostbite.
Woollen hat: Even your hat should be warm, breathable and moisture-wicking to minimise sweating.
Neck Gaiter: For extra warmth, find a wool or fleece neck gaiter. With no loose ends to tuck in or knot, you won’t have to worry about losing this in the wind.
Sunglasses: The effect of solar radiation increases at higher altitudes and the sun reflects off every white surface. Without proper eye wear, you’ll risk permanent damage to your eyes. You’ll need wraparound sunglasses with a high-level of UV protection; the highest you can find. Consider investing in a pair of glacier glasses just to be safe.
4-season sleeping bag: To perform at your best, a good night’s sleep is the best thing you can give yourself. Keep the cold out with a water resistant down sleeping bag.
Walking poles: A personal choice, but a wise one for when the going gets tough. Walking poles will help you balance on challenging parts on the trail and take some of the load from exhausted leg muscles and joints.
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