I’ve compiled a list of things to know before embarking on a trek to the tippity top of Africa. Some of these I did during my Kilimanjaro trip and was happy about, and some I didn’t do and was sad about, but all of them are important. Hopefully this is a useful list for all the other adventure junkies out there. Note that I haven’t included the super obvious things, like drinking a ton of water and making sure to break in your hiking shoes ahead of time and not being a couch potato beforehand.
- Firstly, and most importantly, choose an outfitter that provides a private toilet. The public ones are not a pleasant experience. Luckily our outfitter Kandoo Adventures does in fact provide a private toilet (in a tent, of course) because I would not have thought of this ahead of time when researching different outfitters but it would have been super rough without one. You could also just book with Kandoo because they were incredible.
- Bring an external battery for your phone and/or camera because the battery drains faster in the cold and obviously you need to have proof that you made it to the top, otherwise no one will believe you.
- Don’t leave your vaseline in the hotel at the base of the mountain like this idiot (that would be me).
- Bring slip-on camp shoes. They are super useful, especially for middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks. My tent-mate used my Keens all the time (not an affiliate link), and they may be nerdy but no one cares what you look like when you’re on top of a freakin’ continent.
- Don’t compromise when packing underwear. You can always fit n+1 underwear in your bag. It’s super worth having clean ones when nothing else is. I apply the same rule to socks but I’ve heard that some other people use the same socks more than one day in a row, weirdos.
During the trek
- “Africa time” is a real thing. Somehow minutes are way longer in Tanzania than they are in the US. My Mexican friends can relate, though.
- Paperwork overload is also a real thing. From the yellow fever vaccine card check at the airport to signing in at every single campsite to getting multiple permits for park entry, none of this bureaucracy is automated or online and there is tons of waiting around for pieces of paper with the proper signatures to change hands.
- Electrolytes are suuuuper important. I found this out the hard way when I got sick at the end of the third day and hadn’t yet taken any electrolytes even though I’d been drinking 6-8 liters of water per day. Your body can’t naturally replenish them fast enough. Once I figured out what the problem was, I drank two nuun tablets with dinner and woke up the next morning feeling amazing. Disaster averted.
- Wear more than you think you need on summit night. This is one of those should-be-obvious-but-somehow-isn’t tips because everyone says it and everyone still gets cold. I was cold with 7 top layers and 3 on the bottom as well as two pairs of gloves and hand warmers.
- The walking pace is excruciatingly slow. Slower than you think it will be. It feels absolutely absurd for the first few days. Just mentally prepare yourself to turtle along at less than one mile per hour most of the time and focus on the surrounding beauty of the landscape, or how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop, or how much you want a poptart right now, or whatever else you think about when you’re bored.
- Take Diamox with breakfast and lunch (I did 125 mg twice a day as recommended), but not with dinner because it’s a diuretic and you will pee all night. But also, just take Diamox, period, to help with altitude acclimatization. It works. For reference, the generic name is acetazolamide.
- Don’t take malaria pills while trekking. Mosquitoes don’t live on the mountain above 2000 m and the first camp is up at 3000 m, so you just have to use insect repellent for the first 24 hours you’re in Tanzania before you’re up on the mountain. Your stomach with thank you.
After the trek
- Brag about it to all your friends. (just kidding, mostly)