The 19,340-foot (5,895-meter) climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. As one of the Seven Summits, Kilimanjaro offers amazing views of its many landscapes — but with an estimated five to 12 hours of hiking ahead of you each day, you may worry that you are unfit or underprepared for the upcoming challenge. Fear not! Here, you will find the ultimate training guide to prepare you for your trek up Kilimanjaro.
You have a long climb ahead of you. Aerobic exercises (such as long-distance jogging, swimming, cycling, and walking) are good ways to build up your cardiovascular system. This will allow your body to function efficiently with less oxygen — and due to reduced oxygen levels on site, the ascent up Kilimanjaro is a multi-day cardio challenge. A happy heart equals a happy climb!
On that note, it’s worth mentioning that, every night, your Kilimanjaro guide will probably monitor your oxygen rate and pulse to make sure you are still in good condition to continue your climb up. If your heart rate drops below a dangerous rate, your guide will have you descend to a lower altitude for your safety.
If you are starting from a relatively unfit state, it’s a good idea to begin your training at least three to six months in advance with either long-distance walking or running. Aim to include aerobic exercise four to five times a week for at least an hour at a time. However, some days should definitely exceed an hour to increase your endurance, since the Kilimanjaro climb involves multiple days of hiking and climbing. The earlier you begin your training, the more prepared you will be!
For those who already have a steady cardio regimen, increasing your duration would be the best way to prepare. You should start doing this about one month before your climb.
One final thing to note. If you’re training on a treadmill, placing your workout at a slight incline will help set you up for success.
Along with aerobic training, it would be wise to also incorporate some strength training into your preparation, primarily targeting your legs and core.
For leg exercises, squats, lunges, and leg-curls are all good training suggestions. When building up your core muscles, planks, sit-ups, and kettle-bell swings can enhance your climb.
Two weeks before your climb begins, you can slightly alter your routine to focus more on resting and eating healthy, rather than your physical training.
The reason that strength training is important? Your strong core and good posture will allow your chest to open up so you can breathe better. This type of training also allows for muscle control, which will help you keep a slow and steady pace that will be less likely to bring on exhaustion.
Many injuries are related to lack of stretching. This is especially common in mountain injuries, since hiking involves many repetitive movements on tough terrain. This puts a great amount of stress on your joints and muscles and can quickly lead to injury.
Form a stretching routine, and spend at least 10 minutes every morning to loosen up your muscles and help prevent injuries.
As with any workout, tough hike, or fitness goal, much of the battle is mental — and one good way to train your mental stamina is with long-distance running. Whether you are starting out at 10k, half-marathon or even a full marathon, the last mile is usually all mental. If you can run long distances before attempting Kilimanjaro, your mental stamina is sure to increase, and you’ll be grateful for that during your climb. Facing challenges and succeeding, even while you’re training, will remind your brain that you can conquer anything.
Similarly, there will be times during your Kilimanjaro climb where you want to give up and go back down, but this personal drive will push you past your physical boundaries when fatigue arises. Think of all the people who have summited before you, and use that as a motivator to push through your summit attempt. Remaining positive, but not too arrogant, is a great mindset to be in.
Finally, being fully prepared with your gear and checklist will give you the necessary boost of mental confidence.
Standing at 19,340 feet (5,895 meters), Kilimanjaro is not your average mountain. Climbing it brings the additional challenge of living at high altitude. Ascending too quickly can put you at altitude sickness risk, due to the change of oxygen in your body and the low amount of oxygen in the air around you.
Your guide will lead you at a slow and steady pace to allow your body to acclimate to the altitude. A good pace and adequate physical preparation are good ways to prevent any altitude-related sickness. There is also altitude sickness medication that you can bring with you, and that will be a big help as well.
Lastly, remember to cut down on your alcohol and smoking as they do not mix well with high altitude!
We recommend that all climbers visit a doctor for a brief medical check before attempting the climb. Your doctor should assess if your fitness level, age, and health condition are suitable for your climb.
You should note that many climbing companies have the resting heart rate requirement of under 100 beats per minute. Further, the minimum age for climbing Kilimanjaro is 10, and while there is no maximum age, you should keep in mind that this is an extremely strenuous trek.
Be sure to review your suggested packing list a few months in advance to allow yourself time to purchase any new gear and break in all your new items. Nothing is worse than hiking with blisters, so you’ll want to incorporate your Kilimanjaro equipment — such as your boots and backpack — into some of your pre-climb training. If you’ll be climbing in new boots, you should aim to put in at least 25 miles in them before you fly to Tanzania. You should also add on an assembled daypack during these miles and practice hiking with your poles. Remember that the last thing you want to be doing on Kilimanjaro is fidgeting with new or rarely used gear that you find uncomfortable.
With these tips and some good preparation, you can climb Kilimanjaro, regardless of your age or starting physical condition. Happy training!
Where are you in the training process? Comment below your favorite way to prepare for your climb. For more information, check out our blog post on 10 things we wish we had known before tackling Kili, and to begin planning your trek, visit our trip page!
Post written by Kirsten Cusack