Mt Kilimanjaro Summit

5 Tips On How To Summit Kilimanjaro Successfully

I summited Kilimanjaro back in 2016. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life and there are a few hard earned tips I’d like to share with any future climbers. Hopefully these will increase your chances of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro all the way to Uhuru Peak.

Approximately 50,000 people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro every year but the average success rate is only 65%. To put that in perspective, the Mount Everest success rate is 60%.

There are a whole host of reasons why someone might not summit. Fitness is an obvious reason but plenty of marathon runners and other extremely fit people have to turn back each year.

These are some simple, practical tips that any future Kilimanjaro climber can use.

Spend as Many Days On The Mountain As Possible

Being physically fit is great when starting to hike but when it comes to hiking at high altitudes, your acclimatization plan arguable has a greater impact on your chances of summiting than anything else.

Climb too fast and you’ll inevitably be hit with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). AMS symptoms include dizziness, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite. Even climbing at a slow pace, most climbers will be hit with mild cases of these symptons.

The worst case scenarios High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs or brain, can both be fatal.

That’s why, if you can, I highly recommend taking as much time to acclimatize as possible.

This is the single biggest thing you could do to improve your chances of summiting.

Say you were planning on doing a 6 day trek, if instead you did 7 days your chances of summiting Kilimanjaro increase by 20%. If you did 8 days, your chances increases a further 20%.

I personally did the 8 day Lemosho route.

The cost of the extra day or two is negligible when you compare it to a 40% increase in your chances of summiting.

So, leave your ego at base camp. You’re not setting any speed records going up Kili.

Instead optimize to increase your summit success chances.

Related Article: If you’re worried about Altitude Sickness, you might be asking yourself: Do I Need Diamox To Climb Kilimanjaro?

Prioritize Getting Enough Sleep

A common effect of altitude is difficulty sleeping. So you should try and do as much as possible to try and increase your chances of getting some sleep.

I’d recommend bringing an eye-mask and ear plugs, just in case you’re trying to catch a nap during the day-time.

I would also definitely recommend bringing a Pee Bottle. It might sound gross but you’ll be drinking a lot of water and having to get up and dressed and head to the toilet multiple times on a freezing night is a sure fire-way of not getting enough sleep.

Having a pee bottle in your tent allows you to quickly relieve yourself during the night. Trust me, you’ll learn to love it!

I used this nalgene wide-mouth bladder which I would recommend.

Check out these other pee bottle options too.

This also applies to women, so long as you add-on a She-Wee and many female climbers also use a Kula Cloth.

Pole, Pole!

You will hear this phrases dozens of times on your climb. From your guides, from passing porters and eventually from your fellow climbers.

In Swahili it simply means ‘Slow, Slow’.

High altitude trekking is a very different beast than just normal hiking at sea-level.

At sea-level you revel in making as much miles as possible, as quickly as possible.

At altitude, it’s all about elevation gained and how well you have acclimatized to it.

A Princeton study for example recommends that once above 10,000ft (3,048m), you should only gain 1000ft (304m) per day. A take a rest day for every 3000ft (915m) of elevation gained.

Of course, doing this would take forever to climb Kilimanjaro. With a height 19,340ft (5,895m) it would take 9 days once above 10,000ft if you only gained 1000ft per day.

To accelerate this your guides will make you ‘Climb High, Sleep Low’, this will increase your rate of acclimatization without the added risks.

The reason why ‘Pole,Pole’ is so important is that by taking it slow going up you are de-risking your chances of getting sick and by slowly going down you are actually better acclimatizing to that higher altitude, which will help you massively the next day.

Drink As Much Water As Possible

Acclimatization is usually accompanied by fluid loss so it’s imperative you drink plenty of water throughout the day.

At least 3 to 4 quarts ( which is roughly comparable to 3 to 4 liters).

I personally recommend starting each day by drinking a 1 quart/liter at breakfast before starting your hike.

Then 2 quarts/liters throughout the day as you hike and then 1 more once you’re at camp for the night.

Proper hydration will better aide your acclimatization which is really the name of the game on Kilimanjaro.

However, when drinking this much water it’s also imperative you replace your electrolytes. Either through salty snacks or by adding electrolyte tablets to some of your water. The Nuun tablets are a good option.

Book Reliable Guides Even If It Costs More

To climb Kilimanjaro you are legally required by Tanzanian law to have a mountain crew with you. There is a specific ratio of crew depending on the numbers of climbers.

Number of ClimbersRequired No. of Mountain Crew
110
214
317
421
528
631
734
840
944
1047
1152
1257
Mount Kilimanjaro: Legal Ratio of Climbers to Mountain Crew

It can be expensive to climb Kilimanjaro. You may be tempted to try and find the cheapest tour operator. This is understandable, we all want to save money where we can. But be aware, if you’re booking the cheapest tour that money is being disproportionately taken from the guides and porters first.

So I would definitely recommend just paying a little more to ensure you are getting a reputable tour company who provide their staff with the right gear and enough food to climb safely.

I personally went with Ultimate Kilimanjaro and would 100% recommend them (NOT sponsored).

I found all their guides and staff to be very professional and our mountain crew of approx 30 locals all seemed to have better gear than many other porters I saw from other tour operators.

Our guides even had uniforms which was a rarity on the mountain.

It was clear that other groups looked to our guides for guidance on the mountain and after summiting our guides even helped a collapsed porter from another tour who didn’t have any water.

Booking with the right operator can have a remarkable impact on your chances of getting to the top.

From having a good cook who can cook delicious food that you want to eat, even when the altitude suppresses your appetite.

From our guides checking our pulse and oxygen levels each morning to give us that extra peace of mind that we were safe to carry on.

From picking the right camp spots and acclimatization hikes it all adds up to give you the best chance of getting to the top.

And that’s all you can ask for; the best chance. Eventually you’ll have to put one foot after the other and hope luck and the weather are on your side.