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.

2015-03-28 05.16.31
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.

2015-03-22 11.59.38
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.

A Good Travel Resource

We all have a go-to person when in need of advice. I might be an anomaly, but i go to several people, depending on what advice i need. My friend Tina is one of the most fashion forward people i know and never steers me wrong when i’m having a moment of fashion indecision. My best friend Julie is always there when i need to talk about work problems, or family frustration. And she’s also the first to tell me when i’m out of line and need to just get over something.

There are many others, except when it comes to travel advice. Then i don’t have a “go-to” person. For one thing, i tend to travel more than most people i know. (Scary considering i don’t travel HALF as much as i’d like to.) I do put things out on social media or personally ask people to share where they’ve been, what they liked, didn’t like, etc. Once i hear from several people, i look for similar interests and start building my recommendations into my own plans.

What i want is a list of great resources. Yeah, of course there is kayak, trip advisor, etc. While these are great tools, i consider them “buyer beware” resources, since not all reviewers disclose when they have some hidden incentive or “skin in the game.”

That’s why I’m sharing my latest discovery in my quest for new resources for travelers like myself. Nomadic Matt published, 17 Easy Steps for Planning Your Next Trip. If you are a reader and travel frequently, a lot of this will be intuitive. But for others, this will be an eye opener.

What i liked are the resources and links. There are a number of links for inexpensive airfare, accommodations and trip insurance. Not sure about other people, but some of these were new to me and i’ve already book marked the airfare resources.

To be clear, i have not fully researched all of these links yet, but i have used Nomadic Matt’s recently. In fact, I checked his site for walking tour recommendations as I know both of us are big proponents of this. His recommendations were great – in fact I booked a walking for Madrid and Barcelona based on his suggestions.

If you have travel advice and resources, please feel free to share them. Let’s come up with a list of reliable sites that benefit both the armchair traveler and seasoned nomad.

Inca Trail Pack List

While chatting with a co-worker about her upcoming Inca Trail trip this November, i realized i never included a recommended “what to pack” list on my blog. In honor of her upcoming trip, here is a packing list of things you really need.

As the italics indicate, the key word in the above sentence is *really.* Friends and tour operators will give you advice about what to bring. But here’s the thing. Most people hike the trial as part of an organized tour. And for most people (including everyone I know) that is the right way to go. In those instances, you are given a small pack and told you can put six pounds of items in the bag. Anything else that you want to bring will not be carried by the porter. Who might lug the extra pounds over a demanding terrain, where altitude is a factor, you ask? You.

The beginning of the Inca Trail
Welcome to the Inca Trail

If you are seasoned hiker, this is probably not a big deal. If you are new to long, steep and demanding hikes, i strongly recommend you follow this guidance. Friends will tell you to bring unnecessary things. What I recommend below equates to personal pack light enough to enjoy the hike.

Inca Trail Pack List #1. This is the stuff that goes in pack your porter will carry:

  • 4-5 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)
  • Select toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, travel size deodorant, bug repellant, sunscreen. That’s all you need. This is a hike, not a beauty pageant.) (Second note here: depending on how much your sleeping bag weighs, these may have to in your backpack)
  • 1 Headlamp and one small flashlight—invest in a good, light LED headlamp, you’ll thank yourself later.
  • 1 Deck of cards
  • 1 Sleeping bag

My body temperature tends to drop quickly after a hike. As a result, i get very cold. If you are genetically wired the same way, i strongly recommend sucking it up and packing two additional items: a long sleeve cotton shirt and a warm sweater. As soon as you get to your campsite, change into these. Immediately, don’t wait, or you’ll get cold and body temperature is key.

Not referenced above but necessary: dry bags. Invest in some dry bags for your clothes. I got my dry bags locally at Hudson Trail Outfitters. REI is another option—and I bet LL Bean has some terrific ones—they’re one of my favorite retailers out there. You don’t need anything super fancy, just something that has a very tight seal to protect your clothes. Tip: weigh your dry bags before you get to Peru! Once i was assigned my duffel, i realized mine were adding weight causing me to repack about six times.

One of the many types of dry bags you can purchase for your Inca Trial hike.
One of the many types of dry bags you can purchase for your Inca Trail hike.

Inca Trail Personal Pack List #2. This is what you carry up the mountains.

  • Water bottle—Alternatively is a Camelbak hydration system
  • Camera
  • Book or journal if you use them
  • Band-Aids and moleskin
  • Poncho
  • Rain jacket (yes, both)
  • Travel pack of kleenex
  • Any meds that you take regularly
  • Pocket Knife—Swiss Army variety is always useful
  • Sun Glasses
  • Passport, ID and $100-$200 in cash.

The cash is in the event you want to buy treats (candy, gum, Gatorade) along the trial. You may also want a t-shirt at Machu Pichu and of course you need to tip your guide. Regarding a camera, several people took photos on their iPhone. I love to take pictures and hauled a larger, more professional version with a zoom lens. The choice is yours but I do think you’ll be happier with at least a point-and-shoot camera. There are some images older iPhone cameras just don’t capture well.

I packed my bag a few different ways. Ultimately, the above is the smartest way to go. Pack list #2 are the items you will need throughout a given day. Don’t be foolish and have them miles ahead of you with a porter.

Now, i met a person on my trip who had a full on first aid kit on her back. It weighed a ton but she wanted to be prepared. I thought it was excessive but totally admit, we borrowed her duct tape. If you have questions about optional gear, shoot me an email. I’m happy to weigh in with my two cents.

Since i migrated my blog from Tumblr, i will be updating the Peru posts. As a side note: I am really unhappy with how the pictures transferred. I debated editing my posts but decided not to. It’s a reflection of my writing style and how it’s evolved. Thankfully, i’ve evolved a lot and found, what i think, is a better style. What do you think?

And so, good luck Ms. Toher!

Hometown Tourist, Ch 7: Union Market

Since Union Market opened, i’ve been hearing rumblings about it. The buzz i heard came from a very trusted, in-the-know foodie friend. It also came from a bartender in my neighborhood who knows what i like and what i don’t like.

I guess i assumed an ostrich pose and had my head in the sand because i completely missed that Union Market is THE place in DC for foodies, hipsters, parents, basically anyone willing and able to venture to undeveloped parts of Northeast DC.

I was expecting an experience like Eastern Market: local Mom & Pop type food shops, except that Union Market was better designed for an eat-in experience. In my head, i thought it would be like NYC’s Chelsea Market circa 2000-2006. It was not and i left very disappointed.

After visiting, i tweeted that Union Market did not meet my expectations. Not surprisingly, someone replied asking me to email suggestions that would improve the experience for future visitors. Here is what i replied. I’m sharing this because it sums up my disappointment in a way that gives novice visitors a sense of what they are signing up for.

The sign outside an uber-crowded Union Market, luring you in.
The sign outside an uber-crowded Union Market luring you in.

1. Market Union Market as upscale. The place, and almost every pop-up shop in it is expensive: $9 for soup? $14 for honey? I’m okay with paying these prices if you manage my expectations going in. Own what you are – an upscale destination for local, artisanal food.

2. Revamp the floor design. There were lines EVERYWHERE: bathroom, oysters, red apron, etc. Nobody had a clue where they should be. This caused more lines, visitor frustration and stress. It takes time to get to Union Market and clearly visitors are willing to drop cash. Why not make their experience more enjoyable by rethinking the floor design so it allows for an easier flow of traffic?

3. Revamp the seating. Outside of select food shops like Red Apron, there is limited seating at each end of Union Market. I suggest moving these tables and chairs to the middle of the market. People will be more likely to see/use the space. I also think it could help create a better flow of traffic.

4. Update your earned/paid/owned social channels TOGETHER. I checked the Union Market website before going. Nowhere did it say they were hosting DC Scoops. However, i learned after the fact that @UnionMarket had this information up as their Twitter wall paper. While i’m sure this violates somebody’s social media rules, i think it would be smarter to update all of your channels together. Don’t assume people only use Twitter or only check your website.

5. Create/Post a map of Union Market in a visitor friendly location. The one map i saw was located in the corner of Union Market by the restrooms. Since there was a massive line to use to the loo, it was tough to read.

I got the polite but obligatory response from Union Market after sharing my thoughts with them. I’m one person, a newbie blogger, who had a bad experience. I get it, my feedback is really not that relevant to the success of their business. They know people will come back regardless of what i say.

And at some point, i will probably be back too. But until these kinks are worked out, this place is my first official “skip it” in Washington DC. It’s not convenient to access, leaves your wallet incredibly light, your elbows bruised and your stomach empty.

Visiting SA? Here’s my ‘dream’ itinerary

Thinking of going to South Africa? If your friends and acquaintances are anything like mine, you will get loads of opinions about where to go and what to do. I dismissed 95% of the advice i got. It makes me sound like a snob but i had a good reason. My closest circle of friends, when i went to SA, had never been anywhere beyond London. And some of their input was border-line stupid (go to that place, you know, the one the song is about. Really?)

Let me start by saying it’s critical that you spend at least two weeks in South Africa. From the states, it will take two days of vacation time getting there/back. That’s a long flight. Why rush your return?

Starting by planning your safari. Everyone around me was like, “just do three days, that’s plenty of time. It’s only wildlife.” Wrong. Going on a safari, can truly change how you look at globalization and conservation. If that doesn’t motivate you, totally fine with me. I will say, it’s important to remember that animals don’t show up on command. You can easily spend five days walking or driving around your park in search of “the big five.” Sometimes you see them, sometimes you don’t. I wanted my safari to be the highlight of my trip and spent eight days at Phinda. It was phenomenal and i highly recommend it. However, you can probably have a great time on a five-day safari was well.

Next, decide where your “home base” will be. By home base i mean, where is the largest city, and surrounding areas, you want to most of your time. Typically, it’s Cape Town. It’s a better jumping off point for Stellenbosch, the Cape of Good Hope and in general is safer than other major cities. I recommend 3-4 days in Cape Town. Again, people will steer you to a shorter stay here. Don’t be fooled, Cape Town offers a lot and you don’t want to regret missing something.

While in Cape Town, spend a day climbing Table Mountain. Spend a day just exploring the waterfront and being lazy. Finally, spend a day or two visiting Kirstenbosch Gardens and/or Robbins Island and take some deep-sea diving. To this day, i am beyond bummed that i skipped this. I think it’s why ‘cage diving’ is the number to thing on my life list.

Finally, spend at few days in Stellenbosch, enjoy the scenery and wine. I did a whirlwind tour and it wasn’t enough so i strongly recommend 2-3 days here. You won’t regret it!

Happy travels.

PS: Can i get some props for sticking to my commitment to focus on my blog? Two posts this week! And, my SA series is officially done. That means i’ll be sharing Trek Across Maine adventures soon!