Kilimanjaro Hiking Boots & Footwear
The most important purchase you are going to make – if you haven’t done so already – for your climb is going to be your Kilimanjaro hiking boots. Secondly, your socks.
Blisters and sore feet can stop a climb in it’s tracks. You’ve got enough to challenge you without being uncomfortable in the foot department.
Once you’ve bought your boots, be sure to “break them in” properly. Wear them around the house to the annoyance of your family. Wear them to the shops. Wear them at every opportunity you get.
And don’t forget to wear them out hiking. Can they carry you for 6-8 hours without giving you blisters? In warm conditions and in cold conditions? You certainly don’t want to arrive on the mountain to find out that you haven’t broken them in well enough.
As an aside, my first pair of boots were some leather Scarpas and I thought I had them pretty well worn-in. I had selected these as they allowed crampons to be fitted and I was climbing the Western Breach. Off I went for a weekend of hiking. After the first three hours I had bleeding blisters which were so bad I walked back to my accommodation in bare feet. After more wearing in, and no further blisters, they carried me to the summit comfortably!
Conversely, my current hiking boots (non-Western Breach) took very little time to wear-in and are comfortable even when I’m walking to the pub. Salomon Quest. I like ‘em.
I’m all for saving money, but buying cheap boots is a false economy. Don’t buy something just because it’s expensive, but do expect to pay for quality. Your climb is already expensive, and cheap hiking boots is not the place to save a few pennies. Conversely, don’t just opt for the most expensive boot because it’s the “best”.
From our kit list, we need the following in the footwear department:
What to look for?
- Waterproof. Either synthetic or leather works well. Leather can take longer to “break in” and be heavier.
- Weight. You don’t want to be hiking up Kili with boots that feel like concrete.
- Ankle support: the trails are rocky and rough. A sprained ankle can mean your climb is over. And trust me, whacking your ankle on a rock is painful!
- Good grip, Vibram-style sole. You’ll need something with good solid traction, so look for deep lugs in the sole.
- Fit. Very important. Don’t borrow boots that “kind of” fit. Typically, you need hiking boots a half a size to one size larger than your normal shoe size. You will be wearing a liner sock and a thick outer sock, so room needs to be made to accommodate these.
Since you won’t be wearing crampons (except possibly if you climb the Western Breach), you don’t need heavy duty boots for this trek. A good medium-weight boot with a high ankle support and a rugged sole will do the trick.
Don’t buy hiking boots online unless you’ve tried them on first! You may get a much better price on Amazon than in your local outdoor retailer, but do go to the shop first! Even if you come home and order them. Some boots simply don’t agree with some people. Just because my Salomon Quest boots are the best thing in the world for my feet, your feet might disagree.
Take a trip to a local stockist of hiking boots, try various brands, then shop around online for the best price. If you don’t have any local shops worth going to, then make sure you purchase from somewhere with a great returns policy, so you can send them back if they are not perfect.
What to look for when fitting a boot:
- Space in the toe-box to accommodate your foot width. You might get away with a pair of dress shoes that are a little on the narrow side, but after a day’s hiking, you’ll be pleased you opted for a slightly wider fit. You should be able to wiggle your toes with your boot on.
- When you push your toes right down to the front of your boot, you should be able to fit your index finger snugly between your heel and the back of your boot. (Remember, you’ll want a hiking boot to be ½-1 size larger than your usual shoe size).
- Neither too tight nor too loose. A loose boot will move as you walk, creating friction, ending up in blisters. A tight boot will end up hurting you as your feet swell slightly through the day.
- When correctly laced, your toes should not hit the front of the boot – or you’ll lose a couple of toenails on the descent.
- Always try on the boots with the socks you intend to wear for your hike.
- If you wear orthotics (insoles) be sure to try these on with the boot.
Take your time to select a boot that you are comfortable with. Selecting any of the brands above will be a good choice, but before brand is correct fit and comfort.
In addition to your Kilimanjaro hiking boots, you’ll need a pair of sneakers or “light hikers” to wear around camp. At the end of a long day’s hiking, you’ll want to change out of your sweaty boots and let them air and dry out before the next day.
Some people bring sandals, which works fine for the first day or two, but thereafter it’s just too cold. Trainers or light hikers will allow you to move around your campsite and give your feet a rest from your hiking boots.
Your ordinary “trainers” or “sneakers” that you have at home will be perfectly fine.
Bring a spare pair of laces! Hopefully you won’t need them, but a broken lace can be highly inconvenient when halfway up a mountain. I always have a pair in my daypack.
Attaching to your boots, gaiters are waterproof lower leg protectors that extend up to your knees.
Wearing gaiters will prevent dust and small stones getting into your boots. They will also keep the bottoms of your hiking pants clean.
You don’t need anything fancy. You can often rent these from your operator or at various outlets in Moshi/Arusha.
Quick reminder: NO COTTON! Cotton stays damp and does not “wick” moisture away from your feet. Moist, clammy feet are more at risk of blisters.
Getting the right pairs of socks for your trek is crucial. A bad pair of socks can turn a well-fitting hiking boot into a blister-creating mess.
- Thermal socks for summit night
- 3-4 pairs of good quality “outer” socks (depending on how often you like to wear a clean pair
- 4-5 pairs of “liner” socks.
What does all this mean?
So I like to change my liner sock every day. That way there is no dried sweat next to my skin, and any dust or small stones that has managed to get into my boot is not rubbing my feet the next day. The advantage of wearing a liner sock and an outer sock is that you can change the liner sock and re-use the outer sock over a couple of days.
Some of the cheaper liner socks don’t maintain their shape. This can be a problem if they cause rucks which create friction and blisters. I recommend these Bridgedale Coolmax liner sock.
A good quality wool trekking sock is the best for keeping your feet dry and comfortable. You’ll need flat-seams (nothing that rubs). Personally, I take a clean pair of trekking socks and a clean liner sock for every day on the mountain. Others don’t mind re-using the trekking sock a couple of times.
These are my go-to brand: Bridgedale, although Smartwool are great.
In terms of the fit, they want to be snug, not tight and not too loose. Loose socks will cause blisters. I like thicker socks as they provide foot cushioning for long days.
Summit night is cold. Bitterly cold. You’ll be moving slowly and although frostbite is not normally an issue on Kilimanjaro, you don’t want your feet to feel like ice blocks. Get 1-2 pairs of super-warm socks.
Top tips for keeping your feet in perfect condition:
- Trim toenails, ensuring no sharp edges
- If you feel a ‘hotspot’ whilst hiking, don’t ignore it, put a blister-plaster or moleskin on
- Keep a Foot first-aid kit in your daypack
- At the end of each day, clean your feet and dry well before changing into your trainers
- Use antibacterial wipes and moisturize your feet, allowing them to dry thoroughly
- Don’t stay in wet socks!
Contents of Foot First Aid Kit:
- Compeed Blister Plasters
- Anti-friction cream (I just use Vaseline)
- Nail clipper
- Antibacterial wipes
Some people hate them, some love them. Some people use just the one, others love using two. It’s entirely your choice. At first it can feel odd walking with poles, but once you are used to them, they certainly help relieve your knees, particularly on the downhill sections.
I would never undertake a long trek without poles. They help you in difficult sections of the trail, you can use them to lean on and rest without having to sit down. And I find that using them keeps the blood flowing to your hands, so they don’t swell up.
Adjustable poles are great, they pack down smaller for when you are traveling to your destination and you can lengthen them for the downhill sections.
Features you want:
- Adjustable length so you can find the perfect length for your height, and adjust the length for when you descend.
- Lightweight – unless you are planning on doing many treks of this nature, the lighter the better. Although this makes them a little less durable than some of the really heavy-duty poles available
- Comfortable grip. Avoid poles with a simple plastic handle, as this will get uncomfortable and cause your hands to sweat. Rubber handles work well, though you can opt for foam or cork instead.
It is possible to rent trekking poles in Moshi or Arusha, but if you want to practice hiking with them, you might as well get your own.
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