7 ways to prepare for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Altitude makes any trek tough — you'll need physical endurance, mental stamina and high-tech kit.

By Sam Lewis
Published 9 Oct 2016, 16:00 BST, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 16:39 BST
The Altitude Centre
Running at The Altitude Centre.

1. Aerobic training
Long-distance jogging, swimming and cycling will help develop your cardiovascular system and ability to operate with limited oxygen. Also try using a stair master or running machine on an incline. Rob McIntyre — a former Royal Marine who's spent time at Base Camp and is now a personal development coach — recommends training over different terrain in the UK and incorporating steep hills. He says Snowdon is similar to walking in the Himalayas.

2. Train at altitude
Aim high, train high is the motto at The Altitude Centre in London. Visit the centre for a consultation to find out how sensitive you are to the effects of altitude. They'll monitor you while passively breathing air at a simulated altitude of up to 5,000 metres and will devise a training plan to help you adapt.

3. Get strong
Build weight training, sit-ups, lunges and squats into your regime to strengthen legs, core, back and shoulders. Also hike up hills with a backpack filled with water or rocks and get used to using poles too.According to McIntyre, using two poles, at the correct height, requires around 25% less exertion.

4. Stay hydrated
Cut out alcohol and caffeine in the lead-up to your trip. Your body will operate best when it's well hydrated so increase your fluid intake when you step up training — it will also get you used to drinking the large amounts you'll need to consume on the mountain (a minimum of five litres of water daily). On the trip, only drink tea that's been made from bottled water, as it rarely boils at altitude.

5. Sleep
Aim to get up to seven or eight hours of sleep before you go as you may have problems sleeping at altitude — and don't be tempted to take sleeping tablets. On the trek, climb high and sleep low — as a rule of thumb, restrict sleeping height to no more than 1,000ft per day.

6. Be equipped
Pack gear to keep you cool and warm (for example, trousers that unzip into shorts and a waterproof/windproof jacket with vents). Wear in boots (Gore-Tex with good ankle support) and carry sunglasses, sun cream, lip balm and mosquito repellent. Clip alcohol gel wash to your belt and pack rehydration tablets (and toilet paper) as 'traveller's diarrhoea' is common.

7. Expert advice
Visit your GP before you go. They may suggest carrying Diamox, a prescription drug that's used to speed acclimatisation, although with a sensible programme of ascent this should be unnecessary. Listen to your guides, who'll advise ascending slowly, spending two-three days acclimatising before going above 3,000 metres.

Published in the October 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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