How do I train to summit Kilimanjaro? That’s a question we’re all-too familiar with. Some newer adventurers look at the 19,341-foot peak with doubt, and to be sure, Kili is a formidable challenge. However, summiting may be easier than you think with the correct tactics and moderate but consistent preparation.
Moderate is the key term here. There are often trekkers that put too much emphasis on “perfect” preparation regimens, and that game pulls them to extremes. One of those extremes is looking for a physical experience that perfectly reflects the experience of a Kilimanjaro climb.
Sounds reasonable, right? From crisis response to standardized testing, teachers and tutors will often tell you the best way to achieve an objective is training, drilling and simulating the situation as closely as possible. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done when your objective is summiting Africa’s tallest peak.
In the following, we’ll discuss some specific challenges that make Kilimanjaro summit simulation difficult, and we’ll offer some more practical alternatives and advice. Before that, let’s consider some context.
Preparing for Kilimanjaro Altitude
Just above 19,000 feet, the air pressure at Kilimanjaro’s summit is roughly 46% of what it would be at sea level, meaning you’re taking in less than half as much oxygen per breath as normal. This is the biggest obstacle for Kilimanjaro climbers, and unfortunately it’s the hardest to prepare for – thanks in part to a common misconception.
Don't mix up training to climb with altitude training
Altitude training is what some elite athletes do to prepare for competitions. It involves training at a high altitude – typically between 5,000 and 8,000 feet – and competing at a lower altitude. It has nothing to do with training to combat the effects of altitude sickness.
In fact, you can’t train against the effects caused by high altitude because your experience has nothing to do with your level of fitness. This is one reason acclimatization strategies on the mountain are critical to your success.
Do Learn About Altitude's Effects
Studying the effects altitude will have on your body is the best “training” there is. Spotting the symptoms can be incredibly helpful for pacing, and taking necessary precautions. Commonly, Kilimanjaro trekkers can experience low appetite, nausea and headaches due to the altitude.
It shouldn’t be all on you, though. Climbing with an experienced Wilderness First Responder-certified guide will ensure you and your party is checked for signs of altitude sickness frequently and effectively.