If you aren’t a hiker this is quite likely the most boring thing to read, and you may want to skip this entry. But, if Kilimanjaro is anywhere on your bucket list, I recommend you factor the above into your travel budget and planning. Sure some of these items—like hiking poles and sleeping bags—can be rented in Tanzania before you start climbing, but rental options can’t help you think through your weather personality and how best to prepare.
Anyone who’s been to summer camp is no doubt familiar with the “packing lists” of recommended items. If you’ve hiked or climbed in another country, or traveled with a tour company, you know their overwhelming versions of packing lists are like summer camp on steroids. And that’s before all the necessary inoculations, medical clearance and Visa ordeals (more on my horrible Visa ordeal in another blog/rant).
As I prepare to ascend “Kili”, I realized the tour company’s recommended list of items is enough to dismay and intimidate even the most enthusiastic aspiring climber. Thirty-three clothing and toiletry items, including multiple shirts (long sleeve and short sleeve), rain jackets, ponchos, jumpers (aka sweaters), etc. That’s before the gear like walking polls, headlamp, and on and on. And “hiking gear” I’ve learned is expensive. When a pair of pants is more expensive than a pair of Prada’s, that’s saying something.
Facing this list, and it facing me, I asked myself a few questions. Firstly, what from all this stuff is necessary? Second, what do I have (that I don’t need to replace) as well as what might I borrow? For example, I’ll probably not use “walking polls” again, but heard they’re recommended. Third and final question, is there anything missing from the list?
The first question is worth noting because it translates to weight. Humping up a trail with a sixty-pound pack, and you’ll quickly identify what’s superfluous. The trick is to identify what’s important. Schlepping stuff across the globe that was never used is not only infuriating, it can be expensive.
Packaging lists are good ‘guidelines’ but other things also come into play. Checking the weather ahead of time can guide in knowing what you need to be comfortable. If you hate being cold, layers are important. If not, that’s a perfect place to economize. No matter where I go, and what the season, I always bring a scarf and/or sweater.
Kilimanjaro is a different trip. Sure, I’m somewhat familiar with long day hikes and what I need. This is the third time I’ll traverse multiple ecosystems, which requires more careful packing. What’s different is the length of the trip (LENGTH) and that this is an extreme variation in climates. From rainforest to what was guaranteed to be temps below freezing at least once during our climb.
After taking stock of my current hiking gear from Peru, I realized I was going to need to gear up. Once I got past the overwhelming length of the Kilimanjaro packing list (its nearly two pages), I identified the things I absolutely needed. I decided against rain pants after being in Peru for the rains. When it rains, you’re gonna get wet. I also nixed a few items that I knew I wouldn’t appreciate (binoculars—I have my camera) and travel pillow (folded sweater).
After ticking the “non-essential items” from the list, it was time to separate the remaining items into three categories: begging, borrowing and buying.
My family celebrates Christmas and exchanges gifts. Somewhere along the way we adopted the idea of exchanging “wish lists” so that gifts would be something the recipient actually wants. This year, I begged Santa to help me get ready for my trip.
And Christmas delivered this great Marmot jacket. I have an old ski jacket but it’s bulky (I also question the warmth, since it’s about 15 years old.) The Pertex Quantaum model I got is lightweight and lined with goose down for warmth. The shell is nylon and will be enough to resist moisture, or light rain.
Mr. Os went all out and treated me to Trail Tech Quarter-Zip from LL Bean. This was on my list because my hiking gear overall is lacking when it comes to long-sleeve items. I liked this shirt because it’s a wicking fabric (aka, it keeps sweat off your skin which in turn keeps you warmer). I also think it’s important to have one outfit to change into after a day of hiking, and this shirt is a good choice for that. I also got a Polartec Windbloc fleece jacket. With the above Marmot jacket, it might be overkill but a fleece jacket at camp is worth it to me, and the pair will be my go-to items after each day’s climb.
In terms of warmth, few things help more than long underwear. As a skier, I advocate for the Hot Chili brand. It’s a little more expensive, but they wear well and keep you warm. I recommend a pair with stirrups at the bottom (to prevent your long underwear from running up your calf).
I don’t usually borrow things from people. It’s partly because I’m a borderline germaphobe but also because I worry items will get stolen. I don’t want to have to explain to someone that his or her gorgeous, expensive backpack was ripped or ripped off. That said, unless I begin to focus on these adventurous climbs, I won’t need a backpack with a frame moving forward. Luckily, if you talk to people about climbing, sooner or later you will stumble across someone who has gear they will push on you because “it never gets used.”
With all of the above, it’s crazy that I’m not done acquiring gear for this trip. And yet…
My old hiking boots would not make the trip. Of any single piece of gear, these are probably the most critical piece of gear to get right. I finally settled on a pair of Salomon’s, but I tried on about five different brands and several styles in each brand. Simply put, buy the most comfortable—your feet are worth the investment.
Tip: Go to an REI or other outdoor store. Spend a ridiculous amount of time talking to the staff about where you’re going. Earlier I mentioned the expense of hiking pants. One associate was insistent that I needed wind pants AND rain paints. But in passing I asked another sales associate. An avid hiker, turns out she leads tours throughout Southeast Asia. I explained my concern over the expense of dropping a small fortune on pants I might not wear much after my return. Without batting an eyelash she asked me to think about what makes me more miserable/cold – rain or wind. Oooo, good question! She pulled out two recommendations from a pile of pants and I walked about with this crazy expensive black diamond water resistant, wind-stopper pants.
It’s important once you buy your outfits that you begin wearing them immediately. First, you want to make sure there are no problems with the items. Second, you want to get used to them. We’ve been “blessed” with some crappy weather in the past month so I’ve given the pants and boots test runs while walking dogs. I’m pretty happy with my purchases and will keep the pants in my daypack for sure.
My final purchase was a Nike wicking long sleeve running shirt. I’m not a runner but these shirts made a quality-of-life difference when climbing Macchu Picchu. They’re lightweight and pack easily and keep one warm in damp, humid climates.
I will leave you with one final travel tip. This applies to both hiking as well as traveling with a guided tour. You’ll notice a fair amount of color among my jackets and fleece. In fact, the gear I already own ranges from blue, to orange to purple. Especially climbing Kilimanjaro at the time of year that I’m going, colored jackets are strongly recommended. Many people gravitate to subdued colors, if not all black. But color makes it easier for your guides to spot you. This is important for your safety especially in potential situations where the weather quickly changes.
*Authors note: the above items were all purchased, given or loaned to me. No company or brand provided these items in exchange for a “review.” The thoughts and opinions reflected are my own and should not be considered a professional endorsement.