We’re human and we make mistakes.
But if your Kilimanjaro climb is going to be a success (aka, you actually reach the summit), you’ll need to minimize beginner blunders and get everything right. They say hindsight is 20/20, and today we’ll be talking about the most common mistakes hikers make when climbing Kilimanjaro so you don’t fall for them too.
The 10 Most Common Kilimanjaro Mistakes (& How to Avoid Them)
Learn from these blunders to increase your chances of taking a selfie at Uhuru Peak:
1. Underestimating the difficulty of a Kilimanjaro hike
Check your assumptions about hiking the tallest freestanding mountain at the door; even though Kilimanjaro is not a technical climb, it’s still a challenge for both newbies and veteran hikers alike. Summiting Kilimanjaro requires stamina. Only 66% of all hikers actually reach Uhuru Peak as high altitude medical problems force many to turn back.
The 19,341-foot peak with arctic conditions at the summit is hardly a walk in the park — especially as you get to the steeper trails near the top. In fact, climbers die each year on Kilimanjaro.
While we always make sure we have done our best to keep you safe on your trek, you can’t underestimate how the changing Kilimanjaro altitude, weather and temperatures will affect your body.
To avoid this mistake: Be prepared. Your chances of summiting Kilimanjaro are slim-to-none if you don’t bring the proper clothes, the right gear and most importantly, train for weeks like you’re about to climb a mountain.
2. Finding the cheapest Kilimanjaro guides possible
There’s no easy way to say this: You get what you pay for on Kilimanjaro. Unlike a cruise where economy tickets only downgrade minor perks, booking with a budget trekking company means unnecessarily risking your life.
To keep the costs low, budget agents employ untrained guides who barely speak English, lack altitude emergency training and frequently camp with leaky tents and worn out equipment. Some of the worst don’t even pay their porters or let them eat more than once a day.
To avoid this mistake: Learn how to tell if your Kilimanjaro climb cost is worth the price to make sure you understand the risks you’re taking if you book with a company outsourcing their treks.
3. Taking the shortest route
Another tactic used by budget outfitters is taking the shortest route to climb Kilimanjaro. The fewer days these companies will need to employ guides, pay for food and collect daily park fees, the lower your overall cost.
While this may sound like a good idea in theory, climbing the five-day route – which is the fastest and least expensive – doesn’t give your body enough time to acclimatize to the high Kilimanjaro altitude.
Ascend Kilimanjaro too fast and you may develop Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), also known as altitude sickness. Symptoms include headaches, difficulty breathing, nausea and fatigue.
To avoid this mistake: It will cost more to take one of the 10–12-day Kilimanjaro routes, but science shows that the more time you spend ascending the mountain, the higher your likelihood of reaching the summit. So take in the extraordinary views and get to the top safely.
4. Assuming all park guides receive the same training
Kilimanjaro National Park requires that all hikers be accompanied by a registered /licensed guide. While this may ease your nerves, it doesn’t mean as much as it should. See, the park has no definitive training standards for Kilimanjaro guides.
Most guides have no idea how to prevent or handle high altitude emergencies. Assuming your guide knows what he or she is doing, and overestimating his abilities, can lead you into trouble.
To avoid this mistake: Only book your Kilimanjaro trip with a company that runs their own hikes and never subcontracts them. Before you book, find out what type of high altitude training guides receive, what type of medical equipment they plan to bring and confirm that they know how to use all of the tools.
You should be able to ask your guide tons of questions before your climb to assess their abilities. They should be committed to helping you safely climb at high altitude and reach the Roof of Africa above all else.
5. Skipping snacks and water breaks
In your excitement to reach the top of Kilimanjaro, you may want to forgo the snacking hour and stop drinking water so you don’t have to use the restroom (er, side of the mountain) as much. But these are bad ideas.
You should be snacking and hydrating at least every hour. Without adequate nourishment and hydration, you won’t have enough energy for the steep climbs ahead or the calories for warmth. You’ll also put yourself at a higher risk for AMS.
To avoid this mistake: Never bypass scheduled snack breaks and keep portable snacks handy in your daypack for quick nibbles each hour of your climb. Your water should also be within reach at all times.
In order to have any shot of making it to the top, the average trekker requires a rich diet balanced with healthy carbs and proteins. Food is your fuel, and you will need a full tank to summit. So, do you want to be dining on adventure cuisine or living on stale granola bars?
6. Hiking Kilimanjaro in new boots
Though you’ll probably be sporting new clothes and gear for your hike, climbing in brand new boots that haven’t been broken-in is an invitation for blisters, not to mention one of the worst mistakes on our list.
Don’t miss your opportunity for bagging the summit by not breaking in your boots before you leave home. Make sure they mold and conform to the shape of your foot so they’ll feel super comfortable on the mountain.
To avoid this mistake: Practice hiking in your new boots during your Kilimanjaro training. Ideally, you’ll want to go on at least 4 long distance hikes (each at least 5 hours long) in your boots before packing them. Your hiking boots should fit well, support your ankles, and have deep lugs for added traction and grip on the trail.
Finding the best hiking boots for climbing Kilimanjaro and following proper footwear tips will keep your feet free of blisters and always ready for walking.
7. Delaying treatment for a hotspot
When your heel is on fire, that means a new blister is forming. Instead of stopping your hike to treat it, you may decide to push on. This is bad news.
Not attending to a blister before it’s in full force could stop your climb immediately. Besides getting and feeling worse, there’s always a chance it can become infected if it’s not handled right.
To avoid this mistake: Treat the hotspot as soon as you feel it. Train in your hiking boots enough to wear them in and you shouldn’t get many (if any) blisters on your climb.
8. Relying on sleeping pills
No one’s saying it’s easy to get a good night’s sleep at high altitudes, but using medication may not be the smartest choice. While some climbers fall asleep fast on the mountain due to all the daily physical exertion, others can’t get comfortable or experience insomnia, which is another symptom of AMS.
Hikers looking to catch a full night of Z’s often pop sleeping pills with the hopes of waking up refreshed for their hike at dawn. The problem is that most sleeping pills suppress your respiratory drive, which is definitely not something you want when you’re already in thin air.
To avoid this mistake: Several natural remedies for falling asleep on the mountain work just as well for calming your mind and relaxing you for bed, as a trained guide should know. If you think you’ll have a hard time sleeping, you may want to bring along herbal teas, essential oils, earplugs or a sleeping mask.
9. Not getting your body temperature right
When you hike Kilimanjaro, you’ll be traveling through five different climate zones in less than two weeks. You’ll start out in the humid jungle and rainforest and climb all the way to the arctic peak.
In addition to these drastic weather changes, your body temperature will vary throughout the day from early morning to night. You may go from hot to cold to hot again several times a day. No matter which of the Kilimanjaro routes you choose, you risk hypothermia or heat exhaustion if you’re not keeping your body at the right temperature.
To avoid this mistake: Wearing layers of clothes will keep your body temperature constant throughout your trek. Everything should be easy to layer on and remove quickly while you’re walking. Your cold-weather gear should also be rated for the negative temperatures you may experience.
10. Ignoring a headache
Your first instinct may be to ignore that creeping headache by telling yourself you’re just a bit dehydrated and need to drink more water. Or, you may think your head hurts from getting too much sun or not getting enough sleep, etc. But that small headache can quickly develop into a pounding headache.
You risk a lot by ignoring a headache on Kilimanjaro, no matter how many different excuses you convince yourself to believe. Headaches are usually the start of AMS. And while that’s bad enough, they can also lead to developing High Altitude Cerebral Edema, which is often fatal.
To avoid this mistake: Only you know your body. Your guides should be checking in with you during your climb to monitor your health, but if you don’t tell them how you’re really feeling, they may not be looking for signs things may be more serious.
The Biggest Blunder? Not Choosing Tusker for Your Kilimanjaro Trek
Avoid these mistakes and your chances of reaching the Kilimanjaro summit will skyrocket. To ensure your trip goes according to plan, trust an expert like Tusker Trails to guide you on your journey to the top.
We never subcontract any of our climbs and have been handling them entirely in-house for the last 40 years. That means expert-level guides, amazing food and the safest equipment. What makes climbing Kilimanjaro with Tusker Trail an adventure unlike any other? Learn everything you need to know about a Kilimanjaro hike here to get started today!