5 Training tips to climb Kilimanjaro

The road to the top of Kilimanjaro begins months before you get there

One of the most common questions I get is "What is the best way to train for Kilimanjaro?"  Having failed to reach the summit on my first climb, I spent a lot of time learning about what it takes to reach the top of a big mountain like Kilimanjaro. In addition to this great training program from the mountaineer bible, Freedom of the Hills 8th edition, I learned that you really need to do five key things to get ready for your Kilimanjaro climb:  Start Early If you're already in good shape and engage in aerobic activity 3+ times a week for more than 40 minutes, then you may only need 2-3 months of hard training.  If you're more inactive or older you should plan on 6+ months.  The goal is to have a training program that build gradually to slowly stress yourself and build your strength for hiking up to 10 miles a day (5 of them up hill) for 7 days straight.  Stay Consistent On my first attempt my training was very patchy.  I had rough weekend backpacking trips with lots of miles and then several days off without any activity to recover.  One rule I learned in marathon training is to never go more than 2 days without a workout.  Even if you can only walk or run for a few miles, make sure you're consistent with your training.  You'll be hiking every single day on the mountain with no real rest day.  Your body needs to be prepared for that daily grind, not short sprints with long breaks.  Walk…lots Let's face it, climbing Kilimanjaro is all about walking.  You'll spend 5-8 days walking up and down hill.  While Stairmasters and free-weights are good, there is just no substitute for repeatedly practicing the activity.  Sports players train by playing the sport, not just visiting the gym.  You need to do the same.  And since you'll be hiking 5-10 miles a day, you need to train by hiking 5-10 miles per days, several days a week.  Build Both Physical and Mental Strength Every book I've read and mountaineer I've spoken with says the same thing: "it's your mental strength that really gets you to the summit."  Think about that as a part of your training.  Try jogging or hiking without the iPod, try to push yourself past your perceived limitations and try something new that you might actually fail at.  You want to train yourself to never think of quitting, to push yourself farther than you think you can and overcome your fear of failure. Have fun! One of the best quotes I've ever heard was "enjoy your suffering, that's what alpinism is all about."   You're going to spend 3+ months training, several thousand dollars and likely 2+ weeks of vacation on this adventure.  Climbing Kilimanjaro is a wonderful and potentially life changing experience.  Try to enjoy it!  When I was training for the Chicago Marathon I met several people who wanted to run a marathon, but dreaded the training.  What they really wanted to do was FINISH running a marathon.  But you can't train for months and run 26.2 miles if you only enjoy the last mile.  You can't spend 7 days climbing a mountain if you only enjoy standing at the top.
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11 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Brown
    March 8, 2014 | Permalink

    I am climbing Kili in August. I row 2 to 3 hrs a week, cycle and swim. No running because of injury. Will mountain walking once a week starting in April maybe fortnightly mixed with my other training be enough? Altitude sickness, would you take the tablets? I am excited and nervous and need some reassurance.

    • ddorr
      March 11, 2014 | Permalink

      Hi Elizabeth,
      Congrats on your upcoming adventure and good luck reaching the top of Africa. What route will you climb? Some are more/less physically demanding.

      Training is a hard one to answer as it’s different for all of us. Ideally you want your legs used to hiking up hill for 5-10 miles/day for 5-7 days in a row. If your limited to only walking once a week then I recommend focusing on other cardio exercise (like cycling and swimming) to ensure your body can process oxygen as effectively as possible.

      Diamox is also a very personal choice. I will say the majority of folks take it on the mountain. If you choose to take Diamox I recommend you start taking it a day or two before you climb to ensure your body is adjusted to it before you get on the mountain.

      –Daniel

  2. Connie White
    January 20, 2014 | Permalink

    I did it! Months ago, I wrote on your page for advice. I wanted to let you know that I summited. Thank you for your great advice and support. My gosh, that scree was a nightmare:). I had a great group on my trip and climbed with a measured pace on the Northern Circuit. September 19th, I made it to the top. What was interesting was that I didn’t have two much emotion when I reached the summit, but two and three days later I felt triumphant. I’m number 14,061.

  3. Jose
    December 7, 2013 | Permalink

    I have just climed Kilimanjaro . You really only need to walk with weights on your back pack for your training , don’t stress about your training you will be allright …it’s not a race take your time –pole pole …..

    We all react differently to the lack of oxygen and the cold weather ,It’s more of a mind game … You have to be strong in that department ….. You will need a reason to be there……. And that will help imensely …..

    Keep save and relax you will be ok ..
    Good luck

  4. Dan
    September 9, 2013 | Permalink

    I have been an active, multi -sport athlete my whole life. As I’ve gotten older, I have looked for bigger and more extreme challenges. Having run 7 marathons all over the country, skied double blacks, scuba dived with sea lions and climbed punishing (yet smaller) mountains. I’m now set for a bigger challenge and Kili is it. Compounding the challenge will be my double knee replacement – which will only serve to make my summit all the more satisfying. I enjoy both the pain and the journey knowing I go on when others quit. Quitting for me is never an option. I look forward to raising my arms at the top. Godspeed and thanks for the advice!

    • ddorr
      September 11, 2013 | Permalink

      Good luck Dan. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. And the marathons have probably prepared you well for the physical and mental challenges of Kilimanjaro. If you’re worried about your knees, I recommend you consider the Rongai route. The trail is a long gentle grade that is very well managed and less traveled. If you haven’t done so already, please join us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kissingkilimanjaro to share your adventure and inspire others.

  5. Belinda Musanhu
    June 16, 2013 | Permalink

    Hi ,

    I am a runner training also for a marathon sometime this year and climbing a tall mountation – kilimanjaro in December. Can I do both at the same time? because with kili, I should focus more on hiking right?

    • ddorr
      July 1, 2013 | Permalink

      Hi Belinda,
      Good luck with both your marathons and Kilimanjaro. Yes, the muscles are a bit different between walking and running. But the biggest thing you need to climb Kilimanjaro is mental toughness. If you’re fit (and running 26.2 miles seems to qualify) and mentally tough (again, 26.2 miles…) then you have a good chance of making it to the top of Kilimanjaro. If the marathon is your primary training focus you might want to augment it with some longer walks as part of your taper or “off days.”

      Good luck with both of your big adventures!
      –Dan

  6. Connie White
    May 12, 2013 | Permalink

    Thanks for your post. I am climbing Kili for the first time in September (climb is 9 days long) and
    I was wondering what you would recommend for altitude training. I bought a mask to simulate high altitude. Anything else? I would also appreciate whatever advice you have about keeping warm. I hate being cold above many other things. Thank you!

    • ddorr
      May 17, 2013 | Permalink

      Hi Connie,
      Good luck on your climb! I’m sure you’ll do fine. The biggest thing to combat altitude sickness is to give your body enough time to adjust, which you’re already doing with a 9-day climb. For training, my goal was to ensure my body processes the limited amount of oxygen as efficiently as possible. That meant both strength training and aerobic exercise. For me, I did weight training 2-3 days a week on top of 5-6 days of hiking. I also found it key to start early and build slowly to continually improve but also avoid the risk of injury.

      I’ve posted an example of an Everest climber’s training on our Facebook page as well: https://www.facebook.com/kissingkilimanjaro

      –Daniel

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  1. […] can’t just jump out of bed one day and decide to climb Kilimanjaro. You’ll need to prepare mentally and physically to make sure that you’re ready for the challenge. Make sure you do as much research as you can […]

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