The Minimalists' View on Packing for Kilimanjaro

Photo Credit: Matthew Hillier

Photo Credit: Matthew Hillier

Written by: Alice Lee

The most challenging feat just behind scaling Kilimanjaro is packing for the trip.  My traveling mantra, be it a weekender or a multi-month sabbatical, is to pack light – aim for zero check-in bags.  This may seem impossible, but did we not send a man to the moon?  Before sharing the minimalists’ packing list, we should first review five important packing principles.

1.     Identify your “unsubstitutables” and prioritize.

A handful of items cannot be replaced or substituted while traveling without significant consequence to you.  This includes your tried and true hiking boots, passport/visa, yellow fever card and medication for pre-existing conditions.

Carry your unsusbstitutable items on you at all times.  Chances are high that you will travel in a small aircraft in transit to Arusha/Moshi and will be forced to check-in your regulation sized bag.  If the airline loses your check-in bag from one of your three air transfers en route to Arusha/Moshi, you would not want to be caught having to break in a new pair of boots scaling the tallest mountain in Africa.

You should prioritize the rest of the items on your list.  Scrutinize each item.  Doing all the work to organize upfront just allows you to travel light, organized and hassle-free on your precious holiday time.

Identify items that would create a significant inconvenience to replace.  This may include your credit/debit card, anti-malaria tablets, and camera with memory cards.  As important as these items are, the reality is that each of these items can be replaced while on your trip.  You can always call your bank or credit card for cash advances and order a quick replacement card if you use American Express.  Medication can be borrowed from other travelers or purchased locally.  Cameras can be purchased in large towns and fellow travelers can always share their photos with you.  The main idea is that there is a work around.

If you find that you are running out of space, you can omit the items that are high hassle and/or low value-add on your priority list.  Think of alternative options or omit the items completely.

2.     To rent or not to rent.  Rent when possible.

Rent… what you can.  You are relying on the experience of your guide and tour company to offer equipment suitable for the conditions on the mountain.  After all, the reputation of companies hinge on the safety, satisfaction and success of their tours.  Trust the rental equipment.  Rather than packing your own sleeping bag and summit jacket, items that are not only expensive to buy, but also oversized to pack, just rent them.  For just $4 a day, I rented my summit jacket and was able to return it dust-covered.  I was glad to have opened my luggage to my summer wear instead of a dirty bulky jacket when I arrived in Zanzibar.

3.     Pack with strategy and method.

Buy space saver bags to compress your clothes.  Not only will you save an enormous amount of space, you can keep yourself organize by bundling clothes into usage categories.

Bag 1:  Dirty laundry. Put away and compress all dirty clothes into a large space saver bag.  Not only will you save yourself from the smell of soiled clothes, and contaminating anything clean, you’ll be able to keep yourself organized by putting away items you no longer need.  Bag it and forget it.

Bag 2:  “Refresher” apparel.  Bundle your underwear, t-shirts/under shirts, socks and bras together.  These items will be used until soiled and put away in the dirty laundry bag for the remainder of the hike.

Bag 3:  Layers.  Organize all your layers together.  This bag will increasingly shrink as you move further to the top since you’ll be wearing most of it.  This bag is more important for organization.  You’ll know exactly where to look when you need an extra base layer which makes changing at night much easier.  On cold nights, I kept this bag next to me as I slept.  As temperatures dropped, I dug into it without turning on the light and avoided disturbing my tent mate.

Bag(s): Jackets and fleeces.  Compress outerwear to save space.  Using one medium size bag for one item or one large size bag for multiple items accomplishes the same goal.

4.     Don’t fret over the little things.

You already have everything you absolutely need in your day pack.  Even if you forget to pack a thing or two, remember that you are traveling to a region heavily traveled by tourists, with a tourism dependent economy.  You will be able to find socks, sunblock, extra memory cards, pants, sanitary products, hats, and lip balm if you really do need supplies.

5.     Set the right expectations for yourself.  You will be dirty.

I wore a cap and did not shower during the entire hike. Pack with the right expectations of hygiene on the mountain.  You will be able to store your luggage where you lodge in Arusha/Moshi; take only what you need.  I wore two pairs of hiking pants the entire hike, rotating when one was wet from rain.  Everyone knows his/her own body so packing sparingly will be different for every individual.  If you are thinking through too many “what if” scenarios for an article of clothing, it’s likely that you will not need to bring it.  You are about to scale the highest mountain in Africa, a little discomfort will not break you.

Now, let’s apply those principles to your packing list: