How to Pack for Kilimanjaro

Let me start with a few confessions.

Confession #1: I love a good capsule wardrobe for travel.

Confession #2: I admire people who can put 3 weeks of clothing into one carryon bag.

Confession #3: While I’m hardly “fashion forward” I do try to look my best at home and when I travel.

However, when I’m climbing a mountain, I’m all about comfort and safety so the above confessions are pretty much tossed out the window.

Whew, now that’s out of the way…Once you’ve committed to Kilimanjaro, you are going to get two things in abundance: advice and packing lists. Even the most well intentioned friends will have you over packed for this journey. Trust me when I say: Don’t. Do. It.

Before you run for the hills in tears, allow me to offer some advice. Do read the packing list from your trip organizer. Think about what you need, what you can borrow, etc. (Not so shameless plug: review my beg, buy or borrow post for ideas). Take a deep breath.

The best way, IMO, to tackle your packing list is to break it into two parts. The first is what your porter carries. While this is a godsend come day three, porters are only allowed to carry so much. Spend a few minutes deciding what you really need versus what’s a safety net.

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In case you thought I was joking. Our Porter and Guide doing the required gear “weigh-in” before we started climbing.

The second list is what you want in your own day pack. You don’t have a weight restriction for your own pack. But, you’ll enjoy your climb A LOT more if you don’t burden yourself with unnecessary items.

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All ready to be packed! A mix of Kilimanjaro items from pack list #1 and #2

Kilimanjaro Pack List #1. (Again, this is what your porter carries for you. Modify the quantity of items based on the duration of your climb. I did the Rongai Route, which is six days. Other routes are shorter so you’ll need less clothing.)

  • 6 pairs socks. Invest in heavy-duty running or hiking socks so your heels and toes have some “cushion.”
  • 3 dry weave type shirts, short sleeve
  • 2 dry weave type shirts, long sleeve
  • 1 pair of hiking pants (converter style that double as shorts are best—in a fabric that dries out fast)
  • 1 pair extra thick, wool socks*
  • 2-3 pairs long underwear/base layers (top and bottom)*
  • 1 pair of heavy duty down pants, ideally wind/water proof (think ski pants)*
  • 1 all weather down jacket*
  • Winter hat*
  • Gloves*
  • Neck warmer, scarf*
  • Hand/foot warmers*
  • Select toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, travel size deodorant, bug repellant, sunscreen. That’s all you need. This is a hike, not a beauty pageant.)
  • 1 Headlamp and one small flashlight—invest in a good, light LED headlamp, you’ll thank yourself later.
  • 1 Sleeping bag (Depending on how much your sleeping bag weighs, these may have to in your backpack)
  • 1 Sleeping bag insert/sheet

* items are for the final climb to Uhuru Peak. What’s odd about packing for Kilimanjaro is that half your gear is for the final 12 hours of the climb.

Kilimanjaro Personal Pack List #2. (What you carry up the mountain)

  • Water bottle—Insulated is best but a regular bottle will work
  • Camera
  • Book or journal if you use them
  • Rain jacket
  • Rain poncho
  • Warm fleece jacket or “outer layer”
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun screen and/or hat
  • Passport, ID and cash. (There is nothing to buy on Kilimanjaro so you really don’t “need” cash. But, if you bring cash on your climb its best to keep it on your person)
  • Hard candy (bring it, if you don’t use it the porters will HAPPILY accept it)
  • Starbucks Via packets (what can I say, I need my caffeine)

Put these items in a Ziploc or dry bag inside your own pack:

  • Band-Aids and moleskin
  • Sandwich bags (if you forget to water proof your boots, or the water proofing fails, put fresh socks on, add bags and get back on the trail. Thank MacGyver)
  • 1 pair of clean socks
  • Travel pack of kleenex
  • Any meds that you take regularly
  • Hand sanitzer, wet wipes

Not referenced: dry bags. Invest in some dry bags for your clothes. Don’t be a smarty and think your stuff won’t get wet. After getting soaked on the Inka Trail, I own several different try bags. My favorite were from a now closed local store, Hudson Trail Outfitters. REI, LLBean, etc., have decent ones. When purchasing dry bags, make sure the item has  a very tight seal, otherwise its worthless.

Pro tip: Put everything in your dry bags and weigh them before you depart. Bags often add unplanned weight to your items. Depending on the final weight or your gear, you may need to shuffle and repack so your porter isn’t breaking any park rules.

Two items I packed that, in hindsight, weren’t needed: mosquito spray and after bite (think: itch reliever). There are pretty much zero mosquitos on Kilimanjaro.

The final word goes to cameras. My preferred camera is a larger, multi-lens digital camera. Because of space and weight, I decided to bring the small “point and shoot” seen above. I was worried about the quality of photos but that was wasted energy.

Most camera battery’s (and iPhone’s) freeze half way to Uhuru Peak. Your best bet to capture those YOLO images is to bring an extra battery and keep it and your camera tucked inside your jacket. The warmth is usually enough to keep the battery from draining.

Happy packing (and climbing)!

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The start of the Rongai Route, Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa.

Packing for Spain: Don’t Overthink It

Even the most experienced traveler can get packing anxiety. You know: that moment the night before leaving, when everything is laid out on the bed next to your suitcase, and you realize it can’t possibly ALL fit. Or, even worse, you come this realization when only half of your clothes are laid out with the other half in the laundry.

Before Spain, my last big trip was to Peru and the Inca Trail. Packing for that trip was relatively easy because the trail strictly enforces the amount of weight porters can carry. Sure, it’s still possible to get carried away with gear (or “crap” depending on your point of view) you want to take, but it is kept in check by what you are willing to carry in the pack on your back. Thankfully this wasn’t an issue with our trip to Spain. But in a way, the “sky’s the limit” (along with airline weight limits) actually increased my anxiety.

When it comes to travel, my packing philosophy is simple: take what you truly think you will need, and always leave a little room for what you might pick up along the way. Now, there are a thousand and one blogs about the art, theories and strategies of packing. And it really is an art. Plus, it appeals to the OCD side of me. But I digress. What I’ll share are two over-arching, “umbrella” thoughts that are a good approach.

With that in mind, my first umbrella recommendation is straightforward. Pack minimally and wisely. Instead of packing to fill space, focus on the least possible number of things. If you ask “what can I take away,” then by default you are packing wisely.

In the checked bag: one sweater, one cozy, one cardigan, five t-shirts, two lightweight long-sleeve shirts, two fancy shirts, one pair of cords, one pair of khaki's, one pair of trouser jeans. Not pictured: three pairs of shoes: one pair of ballet flats, one pair of loafers and one pair of wedges.
In the checked bag: one sweater, one cozy, one cardigan, five t-shirts, two lightweight long-sleeve shirts, two fancy shirts, one pair of cords, one pair of khaki’s, one pair of trouser jeans. Not pictured: three pairs of shoes: one pair of ballet flats, one pair of loafers and one pair of wedges.

Wisely, for me, also means think “weather” first. I am always cold when I travel. So I bring scarves and usually a sweater even when the forecasts suggest high 80s, or above.

My second umbrella recommendation is to know what you want. By that, I mean identify those one or two critical, must have, go-to items that you need and use on travel. For me, it’s my bazillion year old Gap trench coat that almost always folds into my suitcase. The (mostly) wrinkle-free coat is a black, classic style that blocks the rain and wind in case temperatures plummet, voila, my dress up/dress down extra layer!

I have read other bloggers interpretations of “minimal” as packing five things, hoping on a plane, and buying whatever else they need in country. That is minimal but it doesn’t appeal to my environmental (why buy more clothes if you have what you need at home?) or financial (hello, it’s expensive to buy new clothes) sensibilities. If it works for you, go with it.

Spain was forecast to be in the high 70s with sun the entire duration of our trip. Unfortunately, that changed when we arrived. I made do with the above but would have preferred more sweaters than t-shirts. But yet again, that Gap trench was a lifesaver when it rained most of the time we were in Barcelona. Rule: Read more than the guidebook’s summation of weather over the past decade. Pull up weather reports online. For that matter, check out the local news. (ah, my travels to India. Sigh. A future blog.)

For overseas travel, I always use this massive L.L.Bean tote bag as my carry-on. It’s got a zipper so items won’t fall out in transit, and you’re not an easy mark for pickpockets. It’s large enough for souvenirs that I pick up along the way. Inside the tote there’s also my camera bag (doubles as a backpack, and my travel around town tourist “bag.” I rarely bother with a handbag when travelling for pleasure), my journal, guide-book, tissue, hand sanitizer and my sleep kit.

The trusty L.L.Bean "carry on" tote. Never leave home without mine!
The trusty L.L.Bean “carry on” tote. I never leave home without mine!
Wondering what a "sleep kit" is? Wonder no more! It's my own blanket, socks, eye mask and tooth brush.
Wondering what a “sleep kit” is? Wonder no more! It’s my own blanket, socks, eye mask and tooth brush.

Been to Spain? How did you pack?

(Editors note: any brand names in this post are my personal favorites—Especially L.L. Bean—and none represent paid endorsement).


My all purpose camera/travel bag.
My all purpose camera/travel bag.

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