If you’re aiming to climb Kilimanjaro, this ultimate training guide is for you!
You’ve trained for three months to reach the Roof of Africa, to see personally summit of the snow-capped mountain. What you really want is to kiss that sign at the summit, the weathered one with yellow letters and intimidating numbers: 5,895 meters (19,341 feet). You’ll make it because you’ve been preparing, hiking hills with higher elevations, heavy backpacks, and those shiny new trekking poles. You’ve done the work to set yourself up for success. You’re ready. In daydreams the summit wafts of clean ice drifting from the 12 million cubic meters of glaciated ice that hug the top, enough to fill Manhattan’s Central Park 4 meters deep. (Source).
After decades of successful summits, here’s what we found
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa and it’s also one of the highest nontechnical treks on the planet, meaning no ropes or climbing experience is necessary. Because of this, an estimated 25,000 people arrive each year to attempt one of its seven official routes. (Join Us Today).
But don’t underestimate this mountain. Each year hundreds of people come away without a successful summit. And while it’s true that you never quite know how your body will respond to high elevations, there are many things within your control to maximize your chances for success. After decades of Kilimanjaro summits, decades of surveying hikers on what works and what doesn’t, here’s your crowd-sourced guide to failsafe Kili training for body and mind:
Primary focus #1: Strength
Any Kilimanjaro training begins in the body. Most trailheads to the summit start around 5,000-6,500 feet (1,600 – 2,000 meters), with 2,500-4,000 vertical feet (800-1,200 meters) of hiking per day—for 5-8 days! This requires leg strength, core engagement, and stability. If you had time to do only five strength exercises to prepare for the demands of Kili, do these time-tested movements: (source)
Primary focus #2: Aerobic
An 8-year-old recently set the record for the youngest female to climb Kilimanjaro. She was from Florida. Sea level. How did she train her body? Hiking up stairs, parking garages, and bridges. (Source) “Aerobic” means relating to, involving, or requiring free oxygen, something hard to find when you’re sucking wind above 19,000 feet. However, the more aerobic fitness you have before going, the better. Hike stairwells, stadium bleachers, or stair-climber machines. Better yet, find beautiful trails and scale their steepest sections.
A note on acclimatization
How will your body respond to scraping the skies at nearly 20,000 feet? Who the heck knows. Kilimanjaro’s elevation is always the elephant in the room, and even the experts aren’t unanimous in their understanding of how humans respond to altitude. Recent findings show it comes largely down to genetics, but most experts will prescribe the same four things when preparing for trips to high elevations (hint: focus on #4):
- Slow, gradual approaches.
- Climb high, sleep low.
- Adequate fluids and rest.
- Plenty of strength and aerobic preparation beforehand.
Easy Travel guides are experts in designing Kili treks for optimal success—gradual ascents, lower-elevation campsites, plenty of fluids—but they can’t train you; that yours to own
Here’s your one-word training mantra: SIMULATION. The more you train in accordance with actual conditions found on Kilimanjaro, the better off you’ll be. Try walking at higher elevations, starting some hikes at night, and learning to use new gear before you go: trekking poles, hydration packs, footwear. Specificity. The more specific you get, the more success you’ll have.
A common no-no in training plans is to jump in too quick, too fast. Some of the best advice you’ll hear any trainer recommend is adhering to slow increases in workload over time. By starting a plan 3 months (or more) before Kilimanjaro, this affords you time to ramp your strength and aerobic sessions while avoiding burnout.
Of all the literature we’ve surveyed on successful training regimens for Kilimanjaro, here’s the sweet spot for summit success:
- DAYS: 1 hour of strength and aerobic training per day
- WEEKS: 4 days a week
- MONTHS: 3 months (at least) before arriving.
Reaching the top of Kilimanjaro will be an unparalleled moment in your life. It’s that good. But it’s no walk in the park, and training is critical: at least three months prior, commit to specific strength and aerobic training to simulate the experience. Night hikes, breaking in gear, and mental preparation are essential. Visualize success, do the work, and then relish in your achievement. Because, believe me: that summit tastes good.
Easy Travel supports responsible tourism and is a proud member of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project KPAP ensures that porters receive proper gear, payment and treatment from tour operators and less than 40 of the 300 Kilimanjaro Tour Operators in Tanzania are KPAP members.