Training for a Kilimanjaro hike requires physical conditioning, mental preparation, and some logistical planning. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and a challenging trek, so it’s important to be adequately prepared. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you prepare for your Kilimanjaro hike.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a tough endurance challenge and to reach 5,895 meters and descend over a period of 6 – 8 days on varied terrain out in the elements, whilst combating the effects of altitude, you must train, whatever your current fitness level.   

Although walking is something you may do every day and 10 miles + per day may not seem a great distance, when you are on the mountain the pace will be slower than you are used to and, therefore, you will be spending on average between 5-7 hours a day on your feet.

Preparation is key and will aid your enjoyment of the challenge, whilst ensuring that your body is up to the rigors of the mountain. Combating the effects of altitude is not quite as simple. Altitude sickness can affect different people in different ways, and attempting to become as fit as possible may not ultimately help with the prevention of Acute Altitude Mountain Sickness. What an increased level of fitness will do, is ensure that the body’s ability to cope with lesser oxygen in the air is increased, making both acclimatization and the walking itself far less strenuous.    

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Training is a very simple concept; it is all about progressively increasing your body’s ability to do just that little bit more and giving it time to adapt, recover and to come back stronger. The trick is to train properly and to do it gradually, to ensure that you build up a good level of fitness, stamina and endurance before you set off.   

You will need to get used to spending prolonged periods of time on your feet, this also has the added benefit of toughening up your feet and getting used to your walking boots. Equally important, is increasing your resilience to the aches and pains you might experience during your trek and developing the mindset required to cope with the nature of the challenge. You should be looking to plan a structured training programmed, ideally starting now and leading up to your challenge. This level of preparation can be obtained with a mixture of aerobic fitness, interval and strength training, walking and by ensuring that you are eating the correct foods and keeping hydrated, both in training and on the mountain. Within this guide is a brief summary of the types of exercise and activity you should work into your plan. If you don’t go to the gym and are looking to start a new fitness regime to prepare yourself, we advise speaking to a member of staff at your local gym to work out a structured training plan which suits your current fitness level, and builds on areas for improvement suited to your end goal of summiting Kilimanjaro!    


Fitness and Exercise   

 Many people signing up to the challenge use it as a great motivator to join a gym, exercise classes, a local sports club, or to take up running. You can plan and fit exercise into your current lifestyle (we recommend a rounded approach with a mixture of different types of exercise) and set out a weekly plan which is achievable and manageable – something you can stick to! The aim of these sessions is to improve your cardiovascular system, core strength and stamina so that you have a solid basis from which you can gradually increase your overall general fitness level.

Aerobic conditioning – This will form the core of your training through regular walks, building up to longer distances and faster paces. Aerobic exercise trains the energy systems of the body that utilize oxygen and is used during all heightened activity. Don’t neglect hill training as this is key to getting the body used to the terrain you will experience.    

Varied exercises – Just walking to build up fitness levels can become monotonous so consider using different forms of exercise to keep your training varied and interesting. Team and racket sports or cycling, for example, can work well within a training programmed and means you don’t have to drop all of your other interests. The key is to undertake regular aerobic exercise with a long walk in-between.  

Interval Training – Interval training is bouts of intense exercise interspersed with short rest intervals. The intensity and duration of the work intervals and the length of the rest periods dictates the output and effectiveness of your training. Alternate between brisk walking or running for up to a minute, and then return to original pace for a set period before repeating.  

Strength Training – Basic strength programs adapt the body for more strenuous resistance training. This targets the major muscle groups, tendons, ligaments and joints to help prevent injury. Relevant exercises can include squats, bench press, overhead press, leg press and calf press, leg extensions and leg curls.  

A Good Long Walk! Our best advice is to practice for the activity you are going to be doing – walking! Taking up hiking in preparation for the challenge will give you invaluable experience of the different stresses and strains that uphill and downhill walking puts on your legs and feet. 

Look for nature trails and head for hills and mountains if there are any nearby. Use the weekends to do full day hikes. There is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy your training, and use it as a chance to get outdoors, see some of the countryside and get fit in the process!   

This also provides you with the chance to test out your walking boots, kit and backpack that you will be wearing and using during your climb. Breaking in your boots properly is key to ensuring you don’t suffer on the mountain. Only when you can walk a full day’s hike up and down hills without getting any blisters, do you know you have fully broken in your boots! It is crucial that the backpack you buy for Kilimanjaro fits your back and shape (most retailers will fit your backpack for you) and only by wearing this during your training walks will you be able to tell if it is fitted properly. The weight in your backpack will determine how you walk, and the pressure you put on your feet and your stride so it will also aid breaking in your boots too!    

If you are planning on taking energy snacks and drinks with you to  Kilimanjaro, take these with you during your training walks – after a long day of walking, you will soon learn which snacks and refreshments you crave the most.    

(Medical Advice – If you have any concerns about embarking on a serious training programmed, or indeed the actual walk, please contact your doctor)    

Footwear and Care Boots are worth investing in, we recommend going to a specialist retailer and getting advice on the right boots for you. Your footwear is key in such a climb – your boots should have a high ankle and a stiff heel to give lateral support.  

When buying walking boots please remember the following points:     

Do so at the end of the day; feet swell throughout the day and you need to try them on when your feet are at their largest.  Always wear socks and if possible, the same socks you will be wearing when walking.

  We recommend medium – heavyweight vortex (or breathable) and waterproof walking boots. Please ask the store for help to ensure that you are fitted with the correct boots.     Make sure you try both boots on, lots of people have one foot slightly bigger than the other.   

Diet and Hydration in Training and on the Mountain    

It is so important to keep eating and drinking to keep energy levels up when hiking, especially at high altitude – the most common observation at altitude is the initial loss of body weight as energy and protein intake levels continuously decrease due to a loss of appetite. Keeping both energy and hydration levels high will make strenuous portions of the climb far easier on the body.    

It is advisable to eat sufficient quantities even if you do not feel particularly hungry as stamina depletes quickly during the climb. It is also recommended to consume ample amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and mineral nutrients before the climb starts. During physical exertion, it is crucial to replenish fluids for optimal hydration and energy essential for the brain and muscles to continue their work. Sports drinks containing electrolytes and vitamins are significantly better absorbed and help to replace energy, electrolytes, vitamins and other nutrients essential for performance. 

 Ensure you incorporate these practices into your training. The importance of drinking water and energy drinks before, during and after training cannot be over emphasized. Being thirsty and having a dry mouth are signs of dehydration. Other signs are: dizziness, headache, mental irritation or depression, fatigue, water retention, lower back pain, recurring or chronic pain, decreased urine output and color, heartburn, stomach ache, The importance of drinking water and energy drinks before, during and after training cannot be over emphasized. Being thirsty and having a dry mouth are signs of dehydration. Other signs are: dizziness, headache, mental irritation or depression, fatigue, water retention, lower back pain, recurring or chronic pain, decreased urine output and color, heartburn, stomach ache, sunken eyes.    


Top 5 Training Tips    

Don’t over commit to training or overstretch yourself, you want to start the challenge in peak physical fitness but without being burnt out – these are the Kilimanjaro team’s top 5 tips:

 Wear your gear in! – Walk as often as you can and as much as you can. Wear the boots you will be wearing on the event (if they are new, then this is very important!) and find a way to carry your backpack comfortably – this will help to avoid blisters and any foot and back injuries.

Go climb a hill! – Before you set out on Africa’s highest mountain, we recommend you try something a little closer to home first or just the biggest hill you can find near to your home – the possibilities are endless! We recommend you aim to conquer a mountain at least two months before your planned climb, so you can judge your overall fitness levels, test out your boots, and gauge what areas of training and your fitness you might need to work more on. 

Fit exercise into your daily routine – Whether it is a case of getting off the bus a stop early, taking the stairs instead of the lift or even walking up escalators, you will be surprised at how much difference a few little changes can make to your day to-day wellbeing and overall fitness.

Keep hydrated – Most people as a general rule do not drink enough water. Start increasing your standard intake before the climb and be more conscious about how much water you consume during the day. This will not only improve your general well-being, it will also make you more sensitive to the early signs of dehydration, which will help you manage your hydration levels on the mountain.  

Don’t panic – If you miss a session then it’s not the end of the world. Don’t push yourself to try and make it up, one session won’t make too much difference in the end. However, if you start to try and fit your life around your training you will soon find yourself unable to keep up and more likely to throw in the towel. Keep your mind focused on the task at hand and remember your mental determination is just as important as your physical strength. In the week leading up to your challenge we recommend putting your feet up, eating and drinking lots of water, and getting as much rest and sleep as you can!