Kilimanjaro Gear: clothing

 Kilimanjaro Packing List: Clothes

Download your complete packing checklist (printable) here.

By now you know that over the course of your climb you will be going from warm tropical rainforest to sub-zero icy temperatures. With everything in between. You may encounter rain and snow. Your Kilimanjaro packing list needs to reflect this.

The trick to keeping warm, dry and comfortable is the layering system. Utilizing different layers of clothing, you can easily adjust as the external and internal temperature changes. In the earlier parts of the climb, the day can start out pretty cold, and then by lunchtime you’ll be boiling.

Weather on any mountain is unpredictable and can change rapidly. Even if it’s not raining, a low cloud can make for a damp and chilly hike. The wind can make a sunny day icy cold.

The use of layers allows you to adapt quickly to the changing weather. Keeping an even body temperature is key to a comfortable, safe climb.

As the hike can be quite strenuous at times, your core temperature will increase, so the layers closest to your body need to be able to “wick” the moisture away. Sweat cools rapidly and you don’t want to be clammy and warm whilst hiking only for it to quickly turn to cold and damp.

As you’ll see, many of the recommendations below are made of Merino wool, though I’ve provided perfectly good options if you do not like Merino or if you are allergic to wool. It took me a while before I got comfortable with the very idea of Merino. Wool? Ugh, itchy, smelly nasty – oh how wrong I was. Totally different from “normal” wool, it’s hardly like wool at all. Warm when you need it and doesn’t overheat. Try it!

Lower Body

Consulting our kit list you’ll see you need:

Kilimanjaro Packing List

Let’s go into more detail:

Underwear

See our buyer's guide on Choosing the Best Base Layer

You should leave cotton underwear at home. For Kilimanjaro, you need fabrics that are quick drying, breathable and comfortable. You want flatlock seams to prevent chafing on a long day’s hiking. Most sports underwear is either naturally anti-microbial (in the case of Merino) or treated to keep you dry and smelling fresh.

Mens underwearGents, take a look at the Smartwool Men’s Boxer or Icebreaker. For a synthetic option try Under Armour Boxer, or for a more budget-buy, the Jockey Mens Microfibre.

LadiesUnderwearFor Ladies, a great choice is the Icebreaker Women’s Siren.  Or try ExOfficio Women’s Give-n-Go Sport Mesh Bikini Brief.

Base layer light/medium


A decent base layer is very important as you climb higher. Not only will it keep you warm, but it will wick moisture away from your body, keeping you dry too.
Things have come a long way since the old fashioned thermal “long-johns”. Technical fabrics mean extra comfort and breathability as well as superior warmth.

It will depend on you whether you prefer a “heavier” medium-weight base layer, or a “lighter” weight one. It will be very cold, and personally I like to take a pair of light long underwear (which makes good pyjamas in the first couple of days) and two pairs of medium long underwear.

The best (and most expensive) are Merino wool, such as Smartwool or Icebreaker which is naturally anti-microbial, keeping bad smells at bay. If you are opting for a synthetic fabric, make sure it’s been treated to manage odors.

Shorts/convertibles

ZipOffMens

Convertibles” or zip-offs are an excellent invention, allowing you to switch from shorts to long pants without actually changing. You will really only be wanting to trek in your shorts on the first (and possibly second) day. After that, it’ll be long pants for the rest of the hike.

You should only need 1 or 2 pairs of these, and make sure they fit well with the base layer underneath them.

Hiking Pants

ZipOffPants

You might like: Choosing the Best Hiking Pants for Men
Read the full review: What are the best Hiking Pants for Women?

I’m mentioning these separately from the “convertibles”, because some people don’t like the zips involved. You can simply bring along some shorts for the first day, and some standard hiking pants (1-2 pairs) for the rest of the trek such as these.

Winter hiking pants

winterhikingpant

Once you get higher up, and the cold really sets in, you will dispense with your “convertibles” or “ordinary” hiking pants, and you’ll need something a bit warmer.

Fleece-lined, normally water-resistant with a quick-drying outer, these need to fit well with your base layer underneath. You can go for some really good expedition-weight pants that are fully waterproof.  Since you’ll need to have some raingear (see below) for the rest of your climb, it’s not entirely necessary. Water-resistant is a must, however, for protection from light showers and cloud moisture. Check out our favorites here.

And what if it rains?

Waterproof shell pants

Waterproof pants

The waterproof pants I particularly like are those that have zips up the sides, so they are easy to take on and off as the weather changes. On summit night, when it’s bitterly cold, many people start the trek with their base layer, winter hiking pants and a waterproof shell over the top for added warmth. With the zips on the sides, these can easily be shed at daybreak.

On the lower slopes, where rain is more common, keeping these in your daypack will mean you don’t arrive in camp with soaking wet hiking pants and no way of drying them!

Upper Body

As we can see from our kit list here:

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 9.39.41 AM

Ladies only (I hope), you’ll need a couple of comfortable sports bras. Leave anything cotton, underwired or lacy at home. For this trek, you’ll focus on comfort!

Light T-Shirts

For the lower slopes, you’ll need a couple of non-cotton T-shirts, something light, easy to pack and with some UV protection built-in. You’ve probably got a couple of these stashed away somewhere.

Light long-sleeved T-shirts


Particularly important for people who are sensitive to the sun, some long-sleeved, cotton-free shirts are good for the warmer days. Additionally, these can provide an extra layer when worn over the base layer (see below). They can also be worn under a fleece if the weather suddenly turns chillier.

Base Layer


The base layer, which you wear next to your skin is very important for keeping  you warm and dry. This layer is what provides the insulation, when worn under any other clothes to keep you comfortable.
As you get higher up the mountain, you’ll probably find you barely spend any time out of your base layer! So it’s best to get a couple of decent quality base layers, to ensure best comfort.

Gone are the days of needing to buy nylon base layers that after a day’s hiking smell awful. Modern fabrics are either naturally anti-microbial or are treated to make them so. This significantly reduces odors and your tent-mate will thank you!

On the subject of base layers, this is where I urge people to buy something modern. The old polyester thing in the back of your wardrobe may be fine for a winter’s jog on the beach (and a good wash afterwards), but for Kilimanjaro, get something good!

The Ubiquitous Fleece


After you’ve chosen your base layer, you’ll need something to insulate you. Here’s where the fleece comes in. Most of us own one (or several) of these. Polartec fleeces are everywhere these days, but not all fleeces are created equal.

Before rushing out to buy new ones, have a look at what you’ve already got. Discard the old, tatty one with a broken zip that you wear round the house on a winter’s morning. Modern fleeces are all made with various types of polyester. Unless they are a 1980’s vintage, they all come in 100, 200 or 300 “category” which equates to their warmth.

Personally, whenever I travel to Kilimanjaro, I take a 100-weight and a 200-weight fleece, making sure that the 200-weight fits over the top of the lighter weight one.

I find that this strategy (bear in mind my minimum trek length is 8 days) gives me various options for staying warm:

  • T-shirt + 100-weight
  • T-shirt + 200-weight
  • Long sleeve T shirt + 100 weight
  • Long sleeve T shirt + 200-weight
  • Base layer + 100-weight
  • Base layer + 200-weight
  • Base layer + long sleeve t shirt + 100-weight + 200-weight PLUS everything else for summit night!

You get the picture. Also, bear in mind that once you arrive in camp, after a day’s hiking, you will very quickly get cold after the exertions of the day are over, and the sun sets. There is nothing worse than hanging around in a freezing mess tent with insufficient layers.

Why not buy a 300-weight? Well, you can. If you are prone to feeling very cold, then do consider buying 300-weight. You may find it too hot some days, but that’s really a personal preference.

Overall, it’s better to be too warm than too cold on Kilimanjaro!

Shell jacket

Once you’ve got your fleece lined up, you are well insulated, but for the most part, fleeces don’t give great protection from the wind. You can buy “wind-proof” fleeces, but I’ve never found them very effective in mountain conditions.

You might also like: Choosing the Best Hardshell Jacket

Selecting a shell jacket is often a source of much confusion. Do I get a waterproof one? Is water-resistant good enough? Should it be a ski-jacket?

This is why I always recommend taking separate “rain gear” (pants and jacket) which are relatively light-weight, easy to pack into your daypack and can be worn both when it’s hot and when it’s cold.

See also: Best Softshell Jackets for 2017

If it rains heavily in the forest, when it’s around 25 degrees C outside, you don’t want to bundling into a heavy-weight ski-jacket just to keep dry.

On the basis that you’ll have your rain gear already (see below), then this jacket needs to be water-resistant, wind-proof and warm.

I recommend having a down jacket as well as a soft-shell jacket. Though if you wanted to, you could opt for just one. My reasoning is that the warmth and comfort of a down jacket is fantastic when you are at camp, you can sleep in it at the very high camps, and you can put it on under your rain gear to keep it dry.

My soft shell jacket is a medium-weight, large enough to fit both my fleece layers underneath comfortably, and gives an element of wind-proofing and water-resistance. That way, in the case of light rain or cloud moisture, I don’t need to put on my rain gear. Unless the rain is very heavy.

Down Jacket

I love my down jacket, I wouldn’t set foot on Kilimanjaro without it. That said, apart from on summit night, I don’t use it for hiking very often. But for the freezing cold evenings, there is nothing nicer than a snuggly down jacket to keep me warm.

You might also like: 9 of the Best Down Jackets for Men (perfect for Kilimanjaro)
You might also like: What's the Best Down Jacket for Women?

There are various types of down jacket, some with actual “down” filler and others with synthetic filler. The ones that use real down are warmer, and can be considerably more expensive.

Unlike ski-jackets which can be cumbersome to pack, a good mid-weight down jacket will compress well and is light enough not to make a major impact on your weight restriction. Look for something with 700-down filling (or synthetic equivalent).

And For when the rain comes down…

You’ve got your zipper-side rain pants, now you need a waterproof jacket, with a hood, that will protect you from sudden downpours. Rain is less likely the higher you climb, so this also doubles as a final “outer” layer if your summit night is really cold.

It needs to be big enough to fit your other layers underneath, so don’t buy that close-fitting one that looks so good in the shops!

When you trek through the rainforest, rain is very possible, so something lightweight that you can peel on and off does the job well.

Some come with fancy hoods, personally I find rain gear to be the least exciting (after underwear) of my mountain-shopping, so I buy a good Gore-Tex jacket with a serviceable hood.

 

When it comes to rain, don’t forget that there are things called Umbrellas that have been used for centuries to keep dry! I keep a small travel umbrella in my daypack at all times.

So that’s it for Clothing. But, but, we’ve still got bare feet, hands and head!

Moving onto:

Kilimanjaro kit list
Questions, confusions, opinions – please leave them all below. If I get enough questions, I’ll do a video explaining the different clothing!

 

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